Nicolas Oresme und Gabriel Biel. Zur Geldtheorie im späten Mittelalter

Nicolas Oresme und Gabriel Biel. Zur Geldtheorie im späten Mittelalter, in: Scripta Mercaturae. Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte 37 (2003) 1, pp. 56-94.



The question how a just monetary value can be determined and substantiated has already been discussed many times since Aristotle. In the Middle Ages, this problem was central for the financing of sovereignty which was met, among other things, by currency devaluation. The opinion advocated by Thomas Aquinas or Ptolemy of Lucca that money was the property of the ruler and could be freely fixed in its value by him, changed to the extent that it was said to belong to the community, and the value of the money was thus to be determined by the estates. This view of things was presented most accentuatedly by Nicholas Oresme in his Tractatus de mutatione monetarum written around 1358. Gabriel Biel took over Oresme’s arguments, adapting them to the conditions within the German lands, even if he did not insist on monetary value stability quite so rigorously as Oresme did. Instead of devaluation of coinage, other ways of financing rule now had to be found, because even Oresme did not dispute that the ruler was entitled to revenue that was in keeping with his rank. In addition to the accelerating effect that wars had on the development of the tax system, the change described here in the understanding of money is to be seen as a further cause for the introduction of taxes, as the latter were conceded to the ruler instead of the profit from coinage.