(Not sure if this belongs to politics or history).

Which is the oldest, still current, government debt?

The answer of course depends on definitions since debts usually are "rolled over" at least every couple of decades and with time you can't separate pound A that was borrowed at time X and pound B that was borrowed at time Y. I am looking for something along these lines:

  • A state that has been constantly in debt.
  • A state that haven't defaulted on their payments during the period, or if they defaulted and then started to pay again, paid all interest that was due.
  • Never any agreement with the debt holders to restructure the debt (e.g., a "haircut" where the debt holders agree to only receive, say, 50 % of the actual debt).

I guess some common-sense-restrictions about changing currency (e.g., Germany - the introduction of D-mark after WW2 could probably be seen as an interruption that disqualifies it while the switch from D-mark to Euro 2002 is not disqualifying.) and peaceful merging/splitting of countries and similar events also applies.

I suspect countries like Switzerland and Sweden, that are both old and haven't been to war or revolutions for hundreds of years, are likely candidates.

  • The USA last had 0 debt in 1835. I'd challenge this framing though, as someone has to hold that debt, and it seems unlikely any one person or entity has continually held US debt for that entire 186 years. In modern times most of it is in bonds with a maturity of 20 years or less.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 6, 2021 at 14:19
  • Also, many folks will tell you the USA has never defaulted on its debts, but that depends on what exactly you mean by "default". Being late in paying one day's worth of 20 year bonds, even due to accidental issues, is technically a "default" on the affected bonds. So arguing that any default whatsoever, no matter how short or how small a % of debts affected, resets the clock on everything seems arbitrary.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 6, 2021 at 14:29
  • 2
    @T.E.D. Some kind of common sense applies. If it something like a hurricane caused technical problems and delayed the payment a couple of days I think that is excusable. But your link was interesting, the event caused the interest to increase 0,6 %, which is pretty significant. That makes it a grayzone event.
    – d-b
    Apr 6, 2021 at 16:06
  • 2
    Going off the gold standard in the 1930s was a crystal clear default. So was tearing up Bretton Woods 40 years later.
    – C Monsour
    Apr 6, 2021 at 23:19
  • 1
    A lot of these comments turn what could be an interesting question into a caviling contest. For most people, a "default" occurs when you lose a significant part of your investment for a long-enough time to matter. (Yes, that's not a bright line definition!)
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 5, 2022 at 16:07

1 Answer 1


The definition of government debt is a bit problematic. What, exactly, constitutes a debt being "of the government" when we are looking at time frames much longer than most governments?

I would put up the 1648 Hoogheemraadschap Lekdijk Bovendams bond as a candidate. Not issued by a national body, but by a governing body (of that part of the Rhine), and continuously paying interest ever since.

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