Banking, Templars and Crypto

Written by Aimee Matthews

One year after the French Revolution, writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, ‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’. An albeit satirical comment on a turbulent time in history, but it does reflect an undeniable truth, that no matter how much the human race evolves, we carry the same principles with us. 

While cryptocurrency and tokenization may be considered modern innovations, the concept of creating tokens to replace currency is not a new one. Various forms of tokens have existed for a long time (some physical examples include casino chips or even bank notes) but their origins can be traced all the way back to the 11th century and the formation of early banking systems. 

Many credit the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly known as the Knights Templar, as the world’s first bankers. When Jerusalem was captured during the first crusade in 1099, the Templars needed to fund months of travel in order to reach the Holy Land and protect Christian pilgrims. Money in those days consisted of silver and gold, but the roads were treacherous and travellers were easy targets for bandits. In order to protect themselves and their wealth, the Templars developed a system which would provide a safe transfer of money across vast areas. In exchange for depositing their money at a temple church in London, they would receive a letter of credit which could later be used to withdraw their money in Jerusalem. 

The crusades brought a rise in business across many trading colonies. This included Venice, which at the time was one of the most powerful cities in Europe due to the large profit gained from trading with the Middle East. The Venetians played a big role in commercial activity and soon became a major ship builder. The state would lease galleys to private enterprises and even allow smaller traders with limited resources to buy shares of the ships, thus allowing them to participate in international trade and a share in the profit, much like the act of tokenizing real-world assets today. 

In a way, crypto developers today are much like the Templars, paving the way for the future of banking. Let’s just hope that unlike the Templars, no one comes after them with burning torches!