A Brief History of….Pecuniary Losses

Time for another opportunity for myself to indulge in my amateur history and etymology.

Like all societies that have lasted their time, Roman society started as an agricultural society well before the empire, hedonism and numerous yawns for HSC students.

Every early society has understood value as an intrinsic thing well before there were minted coins with a specific value. The things these societies valued are not difficult to guess; life, family and livestock.

An abundance of livestock meant the survival of your family and community. Groups would fight for and defend their sheep and cows since at least the first domestication of sheep in around 10,000 BC and Cattle in about 8,000 BC. (Corrections are welcome)

Even the word “husband” did not originate as relating to marriage, but simply was a manager of animals. The “husband” was usually married as the head of a successful household. Hence the two became conflated.

That’s the context. Now for the exciting stuff.

Pecuniarius “pertaining to money,” from pecunia “money or wealth,” from pecus meaning “sheep”. In pre-monetary society, the most common form of barter involved sheep or other livestock. Hence in Roman society a pecuniary loss was a loss pertaining to your wealth, or sheep. The term morphed and stuck around and this is certainly where our term pecuniary originates from, but it is not the only example of this.

Further down the rabbit hole? you got it.

Caput is not just a great gangster word, it’s Latin for “head“…and you guessed it, head of cattle. Caput leads to Capitale which becomes anglicised as Catel and retains its reference to the amount of cows to this day. Obviously this became “Cattle” but interestingly the root was retained and “Capital” still exists alongside “Cattle” which evolved from it.

Keep going? all day son.

Fioh is old english and there are plenty of Celtic and other alternatives, but we don’t actually have all day so I’ll be brief. Fioh or Fehu (but that’s more Germanic Saxon) means cows. This evolved into “fee” and hence meant a collection of property. “Fee Simple” was a straight exchange of property for other (absolute ownership); fee simple came to relate specifically to pasture and now it exists in the system as relating to land. A “Fiefdom” became an area of land over which a party had exclusive licence to collect fees.

Sanskit, Gothic, Germanic and basically any society throughout Europe and the Middle East can trace the definitions of money, property or value directly to livestock. I’m sure it’s even more prevalent than these areas, but unfortunately my usefuless expired long ago. (once again, corrections welcome)

Will this information ever come in handy?…Probably not. But understanding the value and meaning of something usually involves understanding its context and importance. Money is the new livestock and losing it still means the same thing to most people that it did 10000 years ago, a loss of ability to provide for their family and community. Money is a very emotional subject and understanding the base human drive behind this is fundamental to understanding the emotions involved behind most litigation.

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