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Beheadings, Blindings Cost Margrave Many Florins: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of
The cover jacket of "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" by David Graeber. Source: Melville House Publishing via Bloomberg

Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) -- After his father ran up huge debts, German Margrave Casimir forced him to abdicate and took over. He put the creditors in charge of running Brandenburg-Bayreuth, and they began squeezing the peasants, many of whom soon became hopelessly indebted themselves.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

In 1525, riots broke out and bands of armed villagers began to loot castles, cathedrals and monasteries. Unable to raise an army, Casimir hired mercenaries, who swept across his realm killing women and children and pillaging towns.

After the uprising was put down, Casimir received an itemized bill for the help: 80 beheaded, 69 eyes put out and fingers cut off costing a grand total of 114 1/2 florins.

I spoke with David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” on the following topics:

1. First Credit, Then Barter

2. Military Cash Markets

3. Debt and Morality

4. Human vs. Market Economics

5. The Scourge of Debt

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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