I'm looking for a term (say "X") that describes a general category of process. Over time, the details of the process or even the process it self changes, but they would all still fall under the term. "How did 'X' change with the introduction of the telegraph?".

I'm interested in the mechanics of what happens when (and more so; after) a person in one country transfers money to someone in another country. What are all the gory details? An example of the sort of details I'm thinking of; There is a bit in The Count of Monte Cristo where Dantes pulls out a letter of credit from his bank in another country/city and give it to a local banker. This implies that that sort of interment was a common means of transferring value at that time. (Presumably with a transfer of notes or bullion to balance things up after the fact.) If I was willing to limit by interest to a single country and only concern myself with checks the term "check clearing house; history there of" would likely be the answer, but my interest is a "bit" more global.

The best answer I know of is "international finance", however the majority of the result I get when searching for that (having more to do with markets and regulations and the like) are unrelated to what I need to know, and as a result rendering it nearly useless to me.

Ultimately I'm looking for a good history of the subject. Preferable starting around about where the whole subject just started to get more complex that "physically transport some commodity from person A to person B". (If anyone knows of such a history... ?) My hope is that if I can find a term that refers to what I'm interested in, and doesn't get swamped with stuff I'm not, that I can go find the rest on my own.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi! I am not a downvoter, and I agree that they should have left a comment. Your question is unclear. It seems like you are looking for a term that covers the means for conducting transactions from the iron age to the present age. But these means have gone through considerable change during this long time period; it is unlikely a single word will cover all. Perhaps post a new question asking about the history of international finance, or international trade? Not sure if this is what you are after - the question is unclear. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 9:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm also not a downvoter, but was very confused on reading "mean" in your title, which to me suggests "average". You might like to edit it to "means" if that would reflect your intentions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ balance of payments maybe? $\endgroup$
    – ChinG
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamBailey damn autocorrect :o( $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Giskard See edit to question. -- International finance/trade are the thing I'm not trying to study but which every search term I've tried wants to tell me about. IIRC trade is goods and finance is things like loans. -- I'm not looking for the term for a specific means/process but more the category of all of them. E.g. "currency" not "USD". -- Also, I though packing around physical wealth dominated for at least a few centuries AD, well past the end of the iron age? $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 0:51

3 Answers 3


The terms would be "near money" or "quasi money" in my opinion. However, I doubt that will help you much. Your example of "Count of Monte Cristo" goes back to at least the Code of Hammurabi (Ancient Mesopotamia), which predates coinage.

I am not sure what your interest is, but seem it is simply financing of international trade? Some examples in Hammurabi discuss merchants who engaged in international trade.

I do not think searching for a single category will help you much. Using a non economics example; if you are interested in hash tables / has maps (which is the common name for it), you are better of trying to google for a Dictionary if you want to get the best results for Python. I have not read it, but I suspect if you read History of Money by Glyn Davies, you will have a good idea of what was available at what period. If you do not care about Ancient Mesopotamia or Ptolemaic loans, you could skip right to the parts you deem interesting.

  • $\begingroup$ That might get something going. OTOH money and coinage isn't really the point I'm after. More the back end accounting process. How do/did banks transfer money from cash accounts in one bank to cash accounts in another while maintaining sufficient reserves? -- The end goal is a world building project: what will interstellar banking look like when some round trip communications take hours to weeks or more? $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 17, 2022 at 17:18

I do not think there is any specific term for it within economics. The general term for the means of financial transactions is just: communication.

A transaction is simply by definition:

A transaction is a completed agreement between a buyer and a seller to exchange goods, services, or financial assets in return for money.

And financial transaction just further qualifies that money or financial assets are involved in the the transaction.

So any financial transaction is done with some means of communication, since any agreement requires some communication to occur. People exchanging tally sticks, clay tablets, pieces of paper, sending messages by telegram later by internet etc.

If you want to review history of how people made transactions you will want to read some books about history of finance. Any book about history of finance will talk about what was used to conduct the financial agreements.

My two recommendations are:

  • Ferguson The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
  • Cassis, Y., Grossman, R. S., & Schenk, C. R. (Eds.). (2016). The Oxford handbook of banking and financial history. Oxford University Press.

The first book is good casual read, it describes finance from antiquity and also describes the ways how transactions were done (e.g. clay tablets, systems of couriers etc). It does not go into too much detail though because it is book written for lay audience.

The second book is much more rigorous and if you like to get into the weeds more interesting, but if you do not like academic books you won't like it. Also this one does not go as far back, it starts from medieval times and focuses more heavily on the West.

  • $\begingroup$ There may not be a term :-(. -- OTOH, if I'm reading you correctly, the "communication" you are taking about is setting up and agreeing to conduct a transaction. More or less everything up thought the proverbial "the check's in the mail" stage. Well, the stage I'm interested in is the bits starting just after the bank teller accepts the check for deposit and continuing thought clearing transfers between banks that don't share a central bank, or where/when there were no central banks. $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ @BCS well that happens by reading some communication. Financial transaction are mainly about exchanges of information. For example, simplified financial transaction is bank A sends information to bank B to debit account of person X after they credited account of person Y $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ okay, but them what? The point you stopped at is where my interest starts. Where does the money that appears in person Y's account come from? Where does the money that was debited out of person X's go? They can play the same game as with deposits and loans, but that only goes so far before they run into reserve limits or the like. Eventually the money has to come from somewhere. E.g. say a bank is getting a lot of international checks deposited and then withdrawn as cash. How do they keep getting more cash? $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @BCS 1. Some of what you describe is no longer part of financial transaction, you are now asking what happened before the financial transaction. Before the financial transaction person A had to get some money deposit for example deposit money from his work. 2. If bank needs cash they will just ask Fed to send more cash to them and Fed can make orders for new notes at treasury bureau of engraving and printing. In the past cash would be moved between banks as well but now that most money is electronic the amount of cash is so minuscule that is no longer necessary $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Giskard after the back and forth I don't think the OP knows what she/he wants to ask about because clarifying questions are all over the place, I guess this question needs details and clarity $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:53

You are still asking for two things: a term, and how international money transfers work. The term seems to be "credit" or "establishing a line of credit".

On how transfers of value work: Credit works because of trust. Some measures are used to establish this trust, but there is a lot of variation in this. It is also possible to call to collect the debt.

An extreme example is Yapese money, where money existed but the owners agreed not to move the money (huge stone circles) around, they rather just remembered which unit belonged to whom.

  • $\begingroup$ 1) While I'd welcome information on the topic, "please give me a 1500+ year history lesson" seems like the wrong kind of question for here, and one I can answer on my own... if I can find sources. 2) "Credit" is something else. The processes I'm wanting to learn about would be needed even if there was no credit being offered and all transfers are between cash accounts. $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BCS You write "There is a bit in The Count of Monte Cristo where Dantes pulls out a letter of credit from his bank in another country/city and give it to a local banker." So exactly how far back do you want to go, if 1500 years is too much, but Monte Cristo is fine? Also, if you are not asking about credit, then I still do not understand your question. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is the history I'm looking for goes back 1000-1500 years. I'm not asking for anyone to give me that history here. It would be way to long. What I want is something I can search for to find some articles or essays that have already been written. $\endgroup$
    – BCS
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 16:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.