On any given trading day, tens of billions of pounds flow through the City of London’s bank and fund servers. Most of the transactions take place exclusively digitally. London (actually the City) has always been a strong trading center within the UK and even throughout Europe. The war didn’t change that, nor did Brexit.

A dozen years ago, an archaeological dig for Bloomberg’s new headquarters on Queen Victoria Street uncovered a wooden tablet containing a record of the first commercial transaction in the City. It took place some 2,000 years ago.

It retains traces of words engraved with a metal stylus on black wax (which has not survived).  

The record was made on January 8 in the year 57 AD. It is a correspondence between two freed slaves regarding an unspecified sale worth 105 denarii. At the time, this was about half the annual salary of a Roman legionary.

Dr. Roger Tomlin of Oxford University has translated the text from Latin as follows:

“During the consulship of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus for the second time and Lucius Calpurnius Piso, on the 6th day before the January Ides (January 8 AD 57). I, Tibullus liberator of Venustus, have written and declare that I owe Gratus liberator of Spurius 105 denarii from the price of the goods that were sold and delivered. This money I owe to return to him or to the person to whom the matter shall concern…”.

Today, terabytes of data on transactions worth hundreds of billions of pounds flow where someone lost the plaque.

In the consulship of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus for the second time and of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, on the 6th day before the Ides of January (8 January AD 57).I, Tibullus the freedman of Venustus, have written and say that I owe Gratus the freedman of Spurius 105 denarii from the price of the merchandise which has been sold and delivered. This money I am due to repay him or the person whom the matter will concern…

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