Where did the word “bankruptcy” come from?

Some travel stories are told over and over again, by travel guides or books. Some travel stories are told by locals….but other travel stories you don’t hear so often, because there aren’t a lot of people who know them.

They can be about anything or anyone, and even though this title “Where did the word “bankruptcy” come from?” doesn’t sound at first as a travel story, it is. Let me tell it to you, I’m sure you don’t know this one…

In Ancient Greece, bankruptcy didn’t exist. As the time went on, people started gathering on different public places, usually near busiest areas in cities around Europe, especially Italy. That is where they would put their benches, which would represent and be used as their work space. Their job was to lend money. The borrower would return the money in certain amount of time with interests. You can see them as usurers, which they were, but they created a concept from which banks derived.

the street from which the term "Banca rotta" derived

Of course, since they started individually and had to lend their money, many of them have very quickly found themselves in an unfavorable position – they went bankrupt. In that situation, the precursors of today’s tax collectors would come to their bench and smashed it with an axe. That was your official bankruptcy; you were out of business. Since the Italian word for “bench” is “banca” and for “ruined” “rotta“, that is where the word “bankruptcy”, as you know it today, came from.

It is also believed that the term “banca rotta” was created in this particular street (you can see in the photo) in Rome, Italy. The street is located near Piazza Navona. For ones who want to see it when they visit Rome, or for the ones who know Rome better, it’s located near Via della Pace.

Stella – European Travelling Advisor

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7 Responses to “Where did the word “bankruptcy” come from?”

  1. February 2, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Hi Stella .. that was an interesting traveller’s tale .. it’s good to know where words originate from .. thanks for the enlightenment

  2. February 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Stella

    I wonder how do the people lives in banca rotta feels about living on Bankruptcy street?
    If this is the Chinese culture, they may have to change the street name. It is because most Chinese wouldn’t want to be on Bankruptcy street, they would think that it is bad luck :-)

    Thanks for the fun fact, I enjoy reading it. :-)

    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  3. 3 Stella Stopfer
    February 2, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Hi Hilary,

    yes, it was interesting to me too when I heard it so I decided to tell it here. I like stories, makes every place a little more special.

    Thank you Hilary, it’s always a pleasure!

    Stella – European Travelling Advisor

  4. 4 Stella Stopfer
    February 2, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Hi Giovanna,

    you’re welcome. :D The street isn’t called “Banca rotta” today. Actually, I forgot the name of the street but I know where it is and I did make a photo of it so anyone can find it. I know it doesn’t make much difference, but people in Europe don’t really care about those kind of things…you know, “let the people say what they want” or even “it’s kind of cool to live in a street that has story” no matter what it’s about, is more a European point of view.

    Thank for your feedback on the story, I love it!

    Stella – European Travelling Advisor

  5. February 4, 2009 at 7:19 am

    It’s always nice to learn new things. And in this case, learning how and where the word “banca rotta” originated from was a fun fact. Thanks for sharing.

    Many Blessings….
    Hugo and Roxanne
    ~Believe Achieve~

  6. December 16, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this brilliant blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and
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    • 7 Stella Stopfer
      December 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Lily, I’m really glad you like my site and that you have found some valuable information on it. If you ever need anything just drop me a note anytime. Happy travelling!

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