What is the oldest debt that any country is paying right now, and to whom? To another country, an institution like World Bank, or to private entities?

What were the historic causes for the debt? What are its present day figures : repayments, sources, % interest, etc?

Reference links:

  • Global Wealth Inequality Relevance: Sharing about the fact that there is a transfer of wealth continuing today from developing to developed countries. Popular perception was that such transfers were stopped when the countries stopped being colonies.

  • Debt: The First 5000 years, David Graeber Relevance: Importance of debt in shaping history (to answer the objection that debt doesn't have anything to do with history)

  • 1
    I'm not really seeing a connection to history here. This is more finance or economics, not really tied into history. As long as the debt is being paid, or actively attempting to be collected, isn't it more a current event, even if really old. Perhaps asking a question about the historical causes of the debt, maybe.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:59
  • really? history's been pretty much all about wealth. Let me edit it to reduce the space taken by the present-related questions and focus more on the past.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 15:04
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    The United Kingdom continues to pay interest on the Consolidated Annuities, a type of perpetual government bonds first issued in the mid 18th century.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 15:11
  • OP: please note that I did NOT suggest there was no/is no inherent connection from debt to history. What I said was your original question was simply (mostly) referenced in the present, and not to historical debt and its causes and effects. Your edit is much appreciated, at least by me. When I said "this is more..., not really tied into history" I meant your questions not finance or economics in a general sense.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 17:30
  • thanks. Now it seems less off-topic to me. Any clue on how to get the hold shackles off?
    – Nikhil VJ
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


As Semaphore points out, the UK is paying interest on consolidated annuities. His links are better, but here is a story from the New York Times. (Note: Semaphore corrected my quibble about UK vs GB; he was right, I've removed my text).

France continues to pay on a debt from 1738.

But the oldest active debt is Dutch:

The very oldest active bonds, however, were issued in 1624 by the Hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams, a Dutch water board responsible for upkeep of local dykes, and verified to be still paying annuities in 2003. KickAssFacts

(Aside: I'll be surprised if anyone finds a debt that is much older than that; I lack the scholarship to make a coherent argument, but the nature of debt, credit and money change around that period.)

How are these debts paid?? Like all government debts since the time of D'israeli, they are secured by the faith and credit of the government and paid through government revenues. Government has a variety of ways to raise money including taxes, fees, inflation, seignorage, etc. Note that in direct contrast to OP's assumptions, these are first world debts paid by first world debtors, and as far as I know, the creditors are also first world entities.

Interest on government debts is always paid to the holders of the debt, and since debt can be bought and sold, there isn't really an answer to the "who" question. The historic cause of the debt is the same as the cause of all debt; Britain borrowed money. In this case Britain borrowed money to pay off the South Seas bubble.

That includes borrowing that may have been used to compensate slave owners when slavery was abolished, to relieve the famine in 19th-century Ireland and to bail out the infamous South Sea Company, which caused the bubble in 1720.

Rather comical to ask whether the oldest debt is to the world bank (which was created in 1944).

Edit: I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and my inner curmudgeon is running rampant. I hope that OP will forgive my acerbic tone. I can either delete this answer or edit it after I've had some sleep.

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    It was indeed the Kingdom of Great Britain which issued those bonds, but it is the United Kingdom that is currently paying interest on those bonds.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 16:00

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