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Med-Merchants-CA - 3/5/01

"Medieval Merchants and Artisans" by Catriona Macperson (AKA Milly McCloskey).

NOTE: See also the files: merchanting-msg, merchants-msg, commerce-msg, occupations-msg, p-prices-srcs-art, measures-msg, p-prices-msg.


This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan’s Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at:

Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.

                               Thank you,
                                    Mark S. Harris
                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous
                                         stefan at florilegium.org

This was originally published as a Compleat Anachronist pamplet.

Medieval Merchants and Artisans
By Catriona Macperson (AKA Milly McCloskey)

Compleat Anachronist Editor: Wolf Federweiss


Roman Times - BC to 500 AD
Dark Ages - 500 to 1000 AD
Medieval Times - 1000 to 1600 AD
SCA Merchants and the Medieval Look
Glossary of Occupations and Professions



How many times have we walked through Merchant's Row at an SCA event and admired the wares of the merchants and artisans without giving thought to their roots?  It occurred to me that they had a past as colorful as the nobility and the fighting men.  I began to look back in time and did indeed uncover a wealth of information about medieval merchants and artisans.  Fortunately records exist from which we can piece together their life and times.

The merchants were a hardy, daring and adventurous breed; willing to take chances not for profit alone, but to follow the spirit of enterprise which was to lead them to all parts of the known world.  From the dusty-footed peddlar making his rounds, to the hardy sea-faring merchant, to the prosperous, silk and velvet clad merchant in his counting house, the spirit of adventure and gain motivated one and all.

We cannot ignore the fact that merchants from pre-Roman times to the Renaissance and even later, enjoyed great power and were among the wealthiest of people in all that time.  What we must remember though is the hard work and the grave dangers they faced to amass that power and wealth.  

Artisans and Merchants belonged to the same guilds until the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.  Opposing interests between the two groups led to the artisans forming their own guilds.  

When we consider our merchants and artisans in the current Middle Ages, we certainly realize that the hardships they face are less dangerous than their forebears, but nevertheless there are many anxious moments.  It is not easy to put your entire stock in a car or van and drive many miles to a site only to find out that your space doesn't exist or is much smaller than you had expected.  Then on your first night a violent storm blows up and your tent is in danger of being blown down with the possiblilty of ruining your entire stock.   On the second day it rains cats and dogs and the populace huddles in whatever shelter it can find.  On the third day, however, the sun comes out and so do the customers.  

The early merchants were often at the mercy of the weather as well as pirates and highwaymen.  While our SCA merchants do not  have to deal with pirates and highwaymen, they do have mechanical dragon failures, road construction, washouts due to storms and other highway hazzards.

SCA merchants and craftsmen have a special place in the scheme of things in our current Middle Ages. What would an event be without the colorful tents, wares and interesting personalities of the merchants and artisans?  Strolling through Merchant's Row one can hear a cacophany of sounds, including merchants hawking their wares, and minstrels entertaining groups with their original ballads which they will gladly sell to you.  One's nostrils quiver with delight at the enticing aromas emanating from food booths or the exotic and captivating smells of spices, herbs and perfumes issuing from many of the stalls along the way.  Add to this the colorful garb, jewelry, weapons, armor, books, patterns, cloth, furs, ribbons, trim, shoes, boots, pottery, wooden chests, tents and pavillions, and one has a small idea of the variety of wares that are available from our merchants and artisans.

Some merchants display for sale, or decorate their stalls with bells of varying size, design and shape.  Their tinkling sounds are reminiscent of the bells worn by camels, a time long ago, when they plodded through the desert on well-worn caravan roads.

A day on Merchant's Row is much like any one of the country fairs or markets held in Medieval times.  The populace, dressed in its best, would sally forth to make purchases and be entertained as well as treated to foods cooked with exotic spices from foreign lands.  Peasants and gentry alike looked forward to market days which sometimes were held for a week, ten days, or even longer.  Young men and girls often went in search of mates for the fairs attracted people from other districts.  Usually market days were the only entertainment available to rural people in the Middle Ages, and were the best opportunity to meet people from nearby villages.

While our merchants strive to recreate much of the medieval atmosphere, there are many facets of medieval trade and commerce that are impossible to recreate.  When you wander through the merchant area at your next event, try to picture what it might have been like in the "Other Middle Ages".  As you pass by an armorer's tent, try to imagine how his Medieval counterpart might have worked.  Without a doubt he spent a great deal of time forging weapons and armor for his lord and seeing to the needs of his favorite warhorse?  Was his Medieval counterpart a third or fourth generation armorer, having learned from his father who had learned from his father?  In the Current Middle Ages how do our armorers learn their trade?  Ask any one of them for I am sure he will be willing to tell you.

In the Current Middle Ages, different political conditions tend to prevent a perfect recreation but with a little imagination one can realize that Medieval merchants and craftsmen played a key roll in the development of the Middle Ages.

Trade and commerce brought about great changes in the lifestyles of the people, influenced the way war was waged,  and often determined who sat upon the throne of a particular state.  What other group of people, ostensibly non-combatant, has had this great an effect on the history of its time?

In the Current Middle Ages, merchants and craftsmen add  authenticity to our events, as well as pageantry, but they also support our events financially; just as their medieval counterparts brought money into the local lords and eventually into the villages, towns and cities where they carried out their business ventures.  

This work has been more or less arbitrarily divided into three time periods.  Different dates have been assigned by different historians to Roman Times, The Dark Ages and Medieval Times.  My divisions coincide with some but not all historians and are only approximate points of reference.  


The Roman Empire was a Mediterranean commonwealth, with most of its territory situated within the watershed of the Mediterranean Sea.  Politically and economically it depended on mastery of this sea, the great trade route, to defend and govern the empire and its provinces.  

A class of independent artisans, with its own corporations, (guilds) was recognized and respected; along with a professional class of merchants organized along the same lines.  Merchants and artisans, together with small landed proprietors, formed a sizeable middle class.  Commercial activity continued until the fifth century and the great barbarian invasions.  

During its expansion, a giant network of military roads was built throughout the empire.  In addition to speeding up communications between the provinces, these excellent roads enabled merchants to transport their wares to many parts of the empire.(1)  Early Roman expansion into western and central Europe brought traders from Italy and the East.  These traders supplied the simple people from this part of Europe with cloth, pottery, tools and other necessities.

An outstanding network of Roman roads fostered an increase in land trade in Italy, with much of it funneling through Puteoli, Rome's main seaport.  Earlier, silt at the mouth of the Tiber was cleared away, making it possible for trading ships to enter the river to unload goods which were then shipped overland to western and northern Europe.  Trade goods were carried on the backs of men, horses and other pack animals and by boat where the water was navigable.(2)  

Through their military conquests, the Romans brought two centuries of peace to the Mediterranean World.(3)   Pax Romana (Roman Peace) brought more prosperity than the region had ever known.  Commerce had been hampered by robbers, pirates and wars.  After Pax Romana was forced on the warring tribes of the Mediterranean area and robbers and pirates were subdued, trade flourished.  Rome, as the capital of the empire, benefited the most.  In addition to peace, an excellent Roman legal system, which regulated commerce, made it easier for people in different parts of the empire to carry on trade with each other.(4)  The peoples in the Mediterranean now had the opportunity to prosper.

Roman money came into wide use which was a tremendous help to commerce.(5)  For centuries Roman coins were used in trade and were even copied later by the new world of western Europe.(6)   Large amounts of gold and silver from the mines in different parts of the empire were traded for Chinese silks, spices from Arabia, jewels from India and perfumes and ointments from different parts of the East.  In addition to luxury items, other articles of trade were:  bronze wares, furniture, glass, grain, iron, lead, olive oil, pottery, textiles, tin and wines, all products of the Empire.

In the third century, industry and trade declined, as emperors were made and unmade by the army, and barbarians invaded the weakening western half of the empire.  Heavy taxation ruined the middle class which in turn took its toll on urban life.(7)   Once again the people became impoverished.(8)  The rich lived on their villas with their magnificent houses, gardens, libraries and servants to wait on them.  They had no idea that the empire was crumbling about them.

Since the Western part of the empire had not been too successful in developing a native industry, when the Empire began to deteriorate, their revenues shrank.  Because commerce continued in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, it survived the break-up of the once powerful Roman Empire.  And then there were the invading barbarians who wandered around the empire in large crowds, carrying their meager possessions in crudely made carts.  When they found a place they liked, men, women and children just moved in and settled down.(9)  The result was much confusion and it is believed that while the Germanic peoples did not intend it to happen, the confusion contributed to the decline of trade and industry.

With the decline of commerce and what little industry they had, the cities began to wane.  They did not disappear altogether because the Church had a diocese in each of the major cities with a bishop and staff in residence.  The slump in economy caused the poor to become discouraged.  They lost faith in their old gods and turned to Christianity with its promise of a new life and new ideas.(10)

By the end of the fifth century the unity of the Roman empire was no more.  Commerce in the West was almost nonexistent, and industry was again carried out in the household for the most part.(11)

THE DARK AGES - 500 TO 1000

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the western part of the  Roman Empire, where from the fourth to the sixth centuries barbarian migrations poured into and across France and Germany.  It is no wonder barbarian tribes invaded the Roman Empire.  The mild Mediterranean climate must have looked very good to them considering the harsh lands they left behind; bogs, marshes, floods, almost continual rains, fog, harsh seas and nearly impenetrable forests.(12)  The barbarian kingdoms founded in Europe during this time created a new social and economic structure, while attempting to maintain the Mediterranean character of the Roman civilization with which they had integrated.  The Mediterranean Sea had always been the line of communication among the ancient civilizations living along its shores, and after the Germanic invasions it continued to play this role.  For the barbarians in Africa, Italy, Spain and Southern France it remained the means of communication with the Byzantine Empire.  This link between the barbarians and the Eastern Empire kept trade alive, but it was mostly carried on by Jews and Syrians.  Actually it was a continuation of ancient world trade.(13)

Destruction of the Roman Empire was even more fatal to European industry than to trade.(14)  In certain regions like Italy, an accomplished artisan could still make a living, but in general, Europe turned to a natural economy.  From the sixth to the eleventh centuries, industry was largely conducted on the manor, and except for the production of glassware and mosaic pieces (usually imported from Byzantine artisans), it was mainly restricted to agricultural equipment, such as plows hoes and rakes.

As far as possible the necessities of life were produced by the members of the family.  Because there were few other sources of manufactured articles, the family had to be self-sufficient.  There was little distinction  between the artisan and the peasant.  On great estates, articles were produced by the serfs of the manor, who paid their dues and rents not in agricultural labor and produce but in the production of manufactured articles.  This industry served the lords of the manors, and the monasteries as well.  Industry during the Dark Ages was kept alive in the large workshops of the many monasteries. In the later Dark Ages, the monastic workers were usually serfs, although at the beginning the monks had done the work.(15)  By the end of the eighth century Western Europe had regressed to an agricultural state.

Local markets of the eighth and ninth centuries, enabled the peasants to sell chickens, eggs, wool and coarse homemade cloth.  They were the only source of entertainment for people who worked on the land.  Charlemagne issued an order to the peasants on his estates not to run to the markets, a good indication that they were inclined to enjoy themselves more than to go for the purpose of trade.(16)  The professional merchant class had not yet reappeared.  Markets were held semiweekly, weekly or fortnightly and were established either by custom or feudal grant.  Markets were usually encouraged by feudal authorities because it was a source of income for them.

The commerce of Western Europe declined between the fifth and eleventh centuries.  The Frisian farmer-traders in the Merovingian era operated a trade route between the Low Countries and Sweden, trading in pottery, wines and grain, and later in silks and spices. Frankish and Saxon trade existed on a limited basis during Charlemagne's reign.(17)  During the ninth century, Jewish traders became involved in the slave-trade in Spain.  Their trade route started in the Rhineland and passed through Verdun on its way to Cordoba, and along this route they brought Slavic eunichs for the Arabian harems.

The West remained in touch with Byzantium until the eighth century.  Commerce nearly ceased due to Muslim expansion during the seventh century.  By their conquest of the eastern, southern and western shores of the Mediterranean, the sea now became an obstacle between the East and the West.   By the beginning of the eighth century European trade in the Mediterranean was on its deathbed.  The constant state of warfare between Christianity and Islam kept Western Europe from engaging in Mediterranean trade.  Muslim aggression finally drove the Western Europeans in upon themselves and eventually they abandoned the sea to their enemies.(18)   The West, in effect, was bottled up in its own territory and now ambassadors and pilgrims had to take a long, dangerous overland journey to Byzantium and Jerusalem.(19)  

Commerce was sporadic on the roads and waterways, and forced trips to get salt, a necessity of life, can scarcely be considered a commercial activity.  A merchant was created out of necessity and buying and selling were not the normal occupation of anyone.  One bought or sold as the need arose.

Muslim attacks in the seventh century and Norse raids in the ninth were responsible for most cities all but disappearing.  People lived in numerous little villages supporting themselves on what they could raise, make or obtain by barter. Since they didn't trade with other communities, they knew nothing of what was happening in other areas.  Civilization took a giant leap backwards.

During the eighth century, the cessation of trade by Muslim control of the Mediterranean, not only caused the disappearance of artisans and merchants, but urban life which they had created and maintained died out.  Roman cities remained because they were administrative centers for the Church.  However they lost their financial importance and municipal administrative status.  Gold currency was replaced by silver, an indication of a complete break with Mediterranean trade, which used the gold solidus as a medium of exchange.(20)  

With Western Europe now strictly a rural state, land was the main source of support and the only form of wealth.(21)   From the Emperor down to the lowliest peasant, all lived on the products of the land, whether they grew them or collected and ate them.  Social position depended upon property or possession of land.  

The great estate again became the economic center of a region.  With the disappearance of commerce and towns and the reemergence of an agrarian economy, the closed estate economy,(22)  or an economy without markets arose.  It was not because they did not want to sell but because merchants did not come within their range.  The lord lived on his land, the rents of his peasants and had his tools and clothing made locally because he could not obtain them anywhere else.  All this was done to make up for the lack of trade and commerce.(23)

If a harvest failed and surplus stores were used up, the lord might be reduced to having his plate melted down or borrowing from the local monastery to buy emergency supplies to carry him, his family and serfs over until the next harvest.  This activity could hardly be classed as commerce.  

During the eighth and ninth centuries the larger monasteries traded their surplus grain, wine and salt for luxury items.  This was regional trade and certainly not comparable to the trade of the earlier Romans, however, it helped to keep trade alive.  The Church also became the moral authority and financial power of the age.(24)  Because the Church was the only source of men who could read, write and figure, kings and princes  had to look to the Church for people to run their estates.  From the ninth to the eleventh centuries government was in the hands of the Church.  

As far as the Church was concerned, lending money at interest was a sin.  Commerce, in general, was dangerous to the soul and  usury even more dangerous.  According to the Church, "To seek riches was to fall into the sin of avarice".(25)  So strong was the Church's influence that it was centuries before men could easily accept profits from commerce, the employment of capital and loans at interest.  Many wealthy merchants made arrangements to leave large sums of money to the Church upon their death, no doubt to save their souls.

Ninth century nobles began building castles surrounded by high walls.  The peasants, from the surrounding area, came to these fortified castles in times of danger.  Once a week the country people came to trade.  Fairs and markets were held to enable traders and customers to buy and sell under the walls of a castle or monastery, where they would be protected.  Since this early commerce was seasonal, not many men could set up shops or stores to support themselves all year round in one place.  Most of the traders moved from place to place seeking gatherings of people at religious festivals, where there were customers and security.  Many churchmen and lords encouraged merchants to come to their castles to exchange goods, realizing that they could increase their income by collecting a tax on all sales in exchange for their protection.  A considerable number of churchmen and lords obtained grants from kings to hold fairs and markets, which were held for a week or so.  Travelling merchants went from fair to fair where customers gathered to buy annual supplies.  Lords offered inducements such as stalls and booths where the merchants could display their wares, and many tried to secure protection for merchants while they were coming and going.(26)

During the tenth century Western Europe became dotted with fortified castles, built by feudal princes to shelter their men.  These castles (or burgs) were protected by an earthern or stone embankment, and surrounded by a moat.  Generally there were several gates in the embankment.  They were built and maintained by the local peasants, who also built barns and granaries were built to hold grain, smoked meats and whatever foods the peasants were to supply in lieu of dues.  A garrison of knights was quartered in the castle.(27)

Traders who made regular rounds of castles and fairs arranged to travel in bands, accompanied by armed men to protect them, and also obtained security by buying freedom of passage through the fiefs of lords along their regular routes of travel.  Soon a little colony of houses and shops would mushroom under the walls of a lord's castle.  If the location were suited to trade, the colony would prosper, and in many cases a town would eventually appear.  Most of these towns were located at crossroads or places where goods could be unloaded for transshipment.(28)   Walls would be built around the town and as the population increased and economic conditions improved, artisans and merchants would settle in these walled towns permanently.

Wandering merchants began to seek the protection of the walled towns, many of which lay along the rivers and natural routes they traveled.  The most frequented spots were places where cargo had to be unloaded before it could be transshipped elsewhere and these became stopping places for merchants and their goods.  As trade increased, there was not enough room inside the walls for the merchants so they built new burgs (towns) beside the old, and surrounded them with walls making them burgs also.  Where there were merchants, artisans also gathered. It was from these walled communities, with their regional markets, that medieval cities came.(29)  

Because of lack of land to support an increasing population, fierce northmen from the western Scandinavian and Danish peninsulas left their homes in search of food and plunder.  Crossing the North Sea and the Baltic was a hazardous experience but their seafaring spirit and courage conquered these dangerous waters.  From the North Sea they came to the coasts of England, Ireland, France and Spain and from there into the Mediterranean.  They ranged far inland, burning, killing and plundering, particularly the monasteries where there was a great deal of gold and silver.  Coins found in the area give evidence of their long-distance travels.(30)  The Norse invasions nearly put an end to commerce in Northern Europe, but during the eighth and ninth centuries trade between the cities of Italy and the Eastern Empire continued.  Muslim conquests of the central and western Mediterranean did not prevent the Italians from trading by sea with Constantinople and Byzantine Greece.  Venice, the leader, grew wealthy.  The towns of Provence (southern France) could not compete with the Italians because of their exposure to Muslim raids.  The Byzantines and Muslims were trading but not with the Christian west.(31)

From eastern Scandinavia the Swedes crossed the Baltic Sea to Russia, and some continued overland to Constantinople. Other  Scandinavian and Danish Northmen went to Constantinople by way of the Mediterranean, raiding as they traveled.  The Vikings, as these Northmen came to be called, became avid traders.  Their routes of invasion became trade routes both on land and sea.(32)  The Swedes carried goods from Gotland to all parts of the world.  They maintained trading posts on the Swedish coast and the coastal areas between the Elbe and Vistula Rivers and in Southern Denmark.  

The Baltic and North Seas enabled the coastal lands of Northern Europe to engage in commercial and maritime activity at a time when Continental Europe was tied to a faltering agricultural economy.  The Viking raids of the ninth century destroyed the northern port cities of the Carolingian Empire and for a half century the Scandinavians annually invaded down its rivers and along the Atlantic Coast.  Piracy is the first stage of commerce and when the Vikings stopped raiding they settled down and became merchants.  They had the ships, excellent navigational skills and the merchandise (obtained by plunder) with which to trade.  Among the trade articles they dealt in were:  herring, furs, salt, slaves from Russia, honey, dyes, grain, wine, spices, textiles, weapons, jewelry, precious metals, glass vessels, leather goods and Baltic amber.(33)  Even though they had become merchants, they were always ready to become raiders again at the least provocation.  

After the Danes and Norwegians invaded the Carolingian Empire, the Swedes established armed camps along the Dnieper and its tributaries very much like the Danes and Norwegians had done earlier in the country surrounding the Meuse, Seine and Scheldt rivers.  These camps or gorods, a Slavonic term, became permanent fortresses where they stored the furs, honey, captured slaves and tribute exacted from the people they subjugated.  Their secure position and a surplus of goods and slaves eventually led to trade.  Baghdad to the east and Constantinople to the south furnished lucrative markets for their wares.  

What a picture these Swedes (or Rus as the Slavs called them) must have made, assembling a flotilla at Kiev each year after the ice melted.  As they travelled down the Dnieper they encounted many dangerous rapids forcing them to tow their ships close along the banks to get round the surging waters.  The Dnieper  gave them access to the Black Sea where they sailed along the coast to Constantinople.(34)  Here the Russians, as they were known to the Byzantines, were forced to live in special quarters.  They were also allowed to stay only for a specified length of time and must allow city officials to monitor their activities.  Their trade with the city was governed by treaties, the oldest dating back to the ninth century.

One early tenth century trade treaty permitted Russian merchants to enter Constantinople, under guard, to trade for a limited time and according to certain other specified conditions. In 912 the treaty was supplemented with reciprocal clauses regulating punishment for murder and theft.(35)   In 941 the Russians secretly assembled an armada to attack the empire.  When the Russian ships  arrived at the mouth of the Bosphorus, the Byzantines attacked with Greek Fire, and drove the Russians off.  When the Russians attempted to flee across the Bosphorus, the Byzantines hit their ships with Greek Fire, naptha-grenades, rock and metal projectiles, poisonous vapor bombs and pots of burning oil.  Their ships sank, plunging them into the water, where most of them could not escape the burning oil.  The few who escaped were beheaded, and the impressed Russians concluded a new trade treaty with the Empire in 944.(36)   Eventually a cultural and commercial exchange grew up between the Empire and the Russians.  The Russian trade confederation acted as intermediary between the empire and the North, where the bazaars of Kiev and Novgorod featured Byzantine gems, goldware and brocades.  

In spite of their role as intermediary, the less cultured Russians disliked the sophisticated and wealthy Byzantines.  During a minor quarrel at Saint Mamas, a Novgorod merchant was killed giving the Russians an excuse for still another expedition against the empire.  In 1043, the Prince of Novgorod  with a band of adventurers from Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, the Hebrides and Orkneys sailed for Byzantium.  The Prince and his band defeated the Black Sea squadron, but once again, at the mouth of the Bosporus, Greek Fire destroyed their armada.(37)

Despite a history of violent and bloody relations between Byzantium and the Russians, there is no doubt that trade was important in other ways.  Apart from profit, the Russians received their religion, Christianity, from Byzantium.  Their writing, their art, the use of money and much of their political and economical organization were borrowed from the Greeks.  From Byzantium, Russian merchants turned their eyes eastward to the Caspian Sea, where they engaged in lucrative trade with Jewish and Arab merchants.

In the early Middle Ages the Byzantine Empire monopolized the international commerce of the Christian world, which was centered in the Mediterranean Sea.  The meeting place of all the great land and sea trade routes of Asia and Europe was Byzantium.  From her favorable position, she was able to engage in both the export and the carrying trade.  Market and Customs dues annually swelled the imperial treasury by 7,300,000 bezants of gold, which by the eleventh century became the standard coin in all the markets of the world.(38)  Magoffin and Duncalf record the figure as 7,300,000 solidi and estimate the value of a solidus as three to four of our dollars.(39)  Without a doubt the Byzantine merchant fleet was the mistress of the Mediterranean.  

Caravans from the farthest reaches of Asia and Africa, along with Turkish and Arab merchants enabled eastern Europe to receive such exotic merchandise as: perfumes, spices, precious stones, metals, musk, camphor, sandalwood, raw silk, cotton, brocades, silk and fine woolen materials, carpets and muslin.  Salt, fish, corn, skins, furs, wax, honey, caviar, amber and slaves flowed into Constantinople from the barbarous area around the Caspian Sea, Turkestan, the Dnieper and Volga Rivers.  Slav, Bulgar and Magyar traders brought salt fish, honey, flax, cattle, furs, skins, leather and partially worked iron and steel.  From Spain, Italy, Germany and Gaul metals, wool, linen cloth, coarse woolens and rough carpets were brought to Byzantine ports and storehouses.  Products from all over the world were piled up in her bazaars and on her quays and docks.

The great wealth from trade spawned a huge middle class made up of industrialists, merchants, bankers, master craftsmen, small tradesmen and clever, able men who were anxious to share in this wealth.  Commerce, along with colonization, agriculture, master craftsmen and artisans made the Byzantine Empire the richest state in the world.(40)

During the centuries following the invasions of the barbarians, the Christian West worked slowly to bring about economic reconstruction.  What the Church and some of the barbarian kings accomplished, invasions from the north in the ninth and tenth centuries almost destroyed.(41)  The excellent ships of the Northmen gave them the opportunity to increase their trade.  By the tenth century these Vikings carried on commerce from the Bay of Biscay to the Baltic by way of the North Sea and from the Baltic to the Black Sea and Constantinople.(42)   Their most important articles of trade were herring from the Baltic Sea, furs and slaves from Russia, resin from Scandinavia, Oriental and manufactured goods from Constantinople, grain and wine from Northern Europe.  By the tenth century professional traders made regular trips across Russia on the Varangian Trade Route, and a Norse trading center arose where the Meuse, Rhine and Scheldt Rivers met. The herring fisheries of the Baltic sent their salted fish all over Northern Europe to supplement its limited agricultural supplies.  

By the end of eleventh century the southern (Italian) and northern (Norse) trading areas were beginning to expand across Europe which encouraged the revival of inland commerce.  Even though inland trade generally lagged behind coastal trade, rapid development occurred during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries along the great natural routes.  One route ran from Venice and Milan to Hamburg, another followed the Rhine downstream to Antwerp and Bruges and a third route connected Lyons with Troyes and Bruges.  By end of the twelfth century heavy commercial traffic passed over these arteries between the Mediterranean lands and Northern Europe.

In the late tenth century the Normans of Sicily, the Venetians, Genoans and Pisans began to recover the Mediterranean trade from the Muslims and to replace the Byzantines as the chief carriers on the Mediterranean sea.    Venice, Genoa, Pisa and the Normans of Sicily began commercial expansion of Southern Europe more than a century before the Crusades.(43)

When western Rome fell to the barbarians, the Greek portion of the empire became the ruler of what was left of the Roman world.  Constantinople, as the new Rome, was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Constant wars with her neighbors left Byzantium too weakened to defend the empire from the wave of Arabs, who swept out of the desert determined to conquer the empire, including Constantinople.  The Arabs, fortified by faith in a new religion (Islam), conquered the southern half of the Eastern Roman Empire but were unable to take the well-fortified city of Constantinople.

In a very short time, the Arabs built an empire, by driving the Persians out of Mesopotamia, conquering Egypt, occupying Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus, securing Syria and finally northern Africa.  Allied with Berber tribes from north Africa, whom they had converted to Islam, the Arabs overran the Spanish peninsula and travelled over the Pyrenees into southern France.  At the battle of Tours in 732, Charles Martel and his Franks stopped their progress but could not drive them from France, leaving the Arabs unable to expand their power further.(44)  

The Arab countries were prosperous.  With considerable agricultural knowledge and industrial and commercial activity, the Arabs, who liked to travel, were extremely shrewd merchants.  They built up a widespread commerce in the countries which they had conquered and nearly drove Greek merchants from the Mediterranean.  In the east, Baghdad became the rival of Constantinople as an important trade center. The Arabs not only dealt in products of their own country, but imported precious stones from India, silks from China and spices from the Spice Islands, to be sold or traded later.(45)

The Muslim invasion of the Mediterranean area in the seventh century, closed the waters to Western European Christians but not to Christians from Southern Italy.  Bari in the east, Amalfi, Gaeta, Naples in the south, Salerno in the west, and Venice on the Adriatic recognized the Emperor at Constantinople.  Although political ties to the Empire were not very stong, a thriving trade existed between the Italian cities and Constantinople.  This city, the heart of the Greek or Byzantine Empire, was uniquely located for commerce.  "Greek fire" enabled the navy to protect the waters surrounding the city.(46)  Shops and bazaars lined its busy streets and merchants from many lands, dressed in bright colored garb, bought, sold and bartered.  With a population of one million, the capital desperately needed foodstuffs, timber, honey, furs and other provisions the Italians could supply.  In return, the Italian merchants received silks and spices from the factories and bazaars of Constantinople, goods without which they could not exist.

From the sixth to the eleventh centuries, nearly everything produced on the manors of Europe, either by family members or serfs, was for local use.  Important exceptions to this were English woolen exports as early as Charlemagne's time, and metal wares sent abroad from Dinant and Liege by the ninth century. The only important technological developments of the Dark Ages were brewing improvements, the birth of bell founding, and a suitable method for making lead pipe.  Stained glass was first made in the late Dark Ages.(47)

Political stability is necessary for commercial growth.  From the sixth to the tenth centuries political stability was for the most part non-existent in Europe.  In Charlemagne's time he brought a measure of stability to his empire but that was due to the fact that his government was based largely on his personal control of men.  Internal dissension and foreign invasions prevented his successors from developing what he started.

Not long after Charlemagne died Vikings began raiding the coastal regions of the continent.  During the second half of the ninth century the incursions changed from summer plundering expeditions, mainly of the rich monasteries and churches, to permanent fortified settlements on Frankish land.(48)  In the beginning of the tenth century the Magyars invaded the eastern part of the kingdom, devastating many areas of it.

As if the Vikings and Magyars were not enough, Europe was also seriously affected by the Moslem takeover of most of the Mediterranean.  In the sixth and seventh centuries, the Byzantine Empire lost two provinces to the Moslems and Egypt, Syria and Palestine fell shortly thereafter.  At the end of the seventh century the Arabs took Carthage and in 711 they and their Berber allies occupied nearly all the Spanish peninsula.(49)  While most of the foregoing action was far from Western Europe, soon it was to have a serious effect on the west, which could not escape forever these two powerful economic forces pressing in on its borders; the Western Mediterranean and Adriatic trade and the Baltic and North Sea trade.


Western commercial revival began in Italy.  Because of its close ties to the Eastern Empire, Italy had retained a trade of sorts with Constantinople while commerce in western Europe came to a veritable standstill.  Hardy Venetian traders carried salt to Constantinople, a dangerous venture, because if Muslim pirates captured them they faced death or slavery.  Greek merchants traded eastward because the Muslims controlled the south and dominated the commerce of the Mediterranean, and Europe was too poor to make trade there worthwhile.  Occasionally an enterprising Jewish or Syrian merchant would bring a few luxury items to the West, but nearly impassable roads, robber barons and lack of money kept this activity to a minimum.  Like the Jews and Syrians a few Italian merchants took their goods to the land north of the Alps, but they fared no better than the Jews or the Syrians.  Actually these so-called merchants were merely peddlers, who carried their merchandise on packhorses over narrow trails  or went up and down rivers in boats, portaging from one stream to another.  Through every feudal lord's land they passed, they paid a toll when they used bridges, ferries and fords.  They paid these tolls in money or merchandise.  The risks were great, transportation costs were high and so was the price of their goods.  Oddly enough the more these peddlers travelled around, the more demand there was for their goods, even though they were often scornfully thought of as tricksters or parasites.(50)  Understanding of the role of the middleman was yet to come, still there was a small start of a commercial class.  

Without trade, Venice, the city of lagoons, could not exist because the entire population depended on it.  It was a city of artisans, merchants and seamen with no serfs.  Since Venice had always been a commercial city, her people never knew anything but the freedom to come and go as they pleased, freedom that many other cities had to fight for or buy from the nobility.(51)   The only thing that separated the classes was money, with the rich merchants obviously at the top.  Through vigorous trade Venice became an important maritime power.  By driving the Dalmatian pirates from the Adriatic in 1100, she became mistress of the east coast of that sea.  She formed an alliance with Byzantium and by the end of the eleventh century she had a monopoly of transport in Europe and Asia wherever Byzantium ruled.

Venice controlled all the major ports from the Adriatic Sea to the Syrian coast.  Its ships brought minerals, timber, textiles, and raw materials from Europe to North Africa, Egypt, Anatolia, and the Black Sea, and returned with shiploads of silks, cotton, ivory, precious stones, spices and other luxurious items.  After being unloaded at Venice, these items were sent overland to the northern fairs.  Venice also manufactured woolen and cotton goods, gold cloth and articles of iron and brass.(52)

The Crusades brought the people of the West into contact with Greek and Moslem civilizations.  When Christian colonies were established in the eastern Mediterranean, the business of the Italian merchants rapidly expanded.  The Italians carried pilgrims and merchandise to and from the Holy Land.  Crusaders returning to Europe desired the luxuries with which they had become familiar while in the East.  The Italian merchants bought spices, pepper, cotton, silk, velvets, carpets, sugar, drugs and precious stones and sold them throughout western Europe.(53)

Venice and the Italian towns resumed their commercial relations with Syria and Africa, which were Moslem lands.  Profit proved to be stronger than religious principles.  The Italians were ready to trade with anyone who paid, regardless of his religious beliefs.  Venetians sold Christian Slavs, mostly from Russia and Hungary, (slav was later Latinized to slave)(54) to Egyptian and Syrian harems.  The slave trade persisted in spite of the fact that the Church condemned this activity.  Venetian merchants brought timber and iron to the Moslem countries even though they knew they would be used to build ships and make weapons which would be used against the crusaders and perhaps even against them.  

The Crusaders aided Venice in the conquest of Zara, a rival city on the Dalmatian coast.  Zara was captured in 1202.  In 1204 the Venetians, with Crusader help, treacherously captured and sacked Constantinople.(55)  Venice gained control of the capital and received more than half the Byzantine territory.  She held this new territory for about two generations and Venetian merchants dominated the eastern Mediterranean.(56)

The Crusades fostered a sense of travel and adventure in Medieval man.(57)  They were responsible for the revival of commerce between the East and the West.  For some time historians thought the Crusades were entirely responsible for the revival of East West commerce, but we now know they were merely a stimulus to a trade that had already begun its revival.(58)  It was not one particular crusade but the whole period during which there was a constant flow of crusaders between the east and the west, with its accompanying interchange of goods and ideas.(59)  Christian merchants, mostly from Pisa and Genoa, drove the Moslems from the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The Italians destroyed the Byzantine and Muslim monopoly of Mediterranean trade, allowing new goods to pour into Western Europe.  Italian merchants following in the wake of the crusaders, brought spices from China and India to Syria and from there they carried them to the West in their own ships.  Genoa obtained commercial privileges in the maritime towns along the coast of the Holy Land.  The Mediterranean once again became an open seaway connecting the thriving East to the slowly reviving West.  It was this stimulus of sea trade with the East that produced  the revival of Europe's internal commerce.

An important benefit of the crusades was to give Italian, Provencal and Catalonian towns mastery of the Mediterranean Sea.  Control of all trade from the Bosphorus and Syria to the Straits of Gibraltar was in the hands of Western Europe.  The economic and capitalistic movement which developed here spread to all the lands north of the Alps, by the end of the eleventh century.  Revival of maritime trade moved inland rapidly.  The demand for grain and wines from the country and linen and woolen materials from the towns stimulated agriculture.  In the twelfth century Lucca was manufacturing silk from raw material obtained by sea. Commerce spread to the coast of the Gulf of Lyons and the Rhone basin.  Marseilles, Montpellier and Narbonne traded throughout Provence, Barcelona and Catalonia.  In the eleventh century this dynamic commercial activity spread through the Alpine passes to Germany, via the Saone, Rhine and Rhone valleys.  Without a doubt Italian merchants were attending the Champagne Fairs at this time and dealing with the stream of commerce from the coast of Flanders.(60)  

Prior to the Crusades, local markets in the Christian West were the only important centers for the exchange of goods.  They were held either  semiweekly, weekly, or fortnightly, and were established by custom or feudal grant.  Here the local peasants sold chickens, eggs, wool and coarsely made cloth.(61)

The demand for a greater variety of goods than the local area could supply led to the expansion of European trade in the eleventh century and the rise of the great medieval fairs.  These fairs were markets for exchange of European and foreign commodities not to be confused with the local and regional markets, which dealt only in local goods.  They were held seasonally or annually rather than semiweekly or weekly.  Long heavily armed caravans of merchants from every nation travelled to the medieval fairs of Europe.  Their wagons loaded with valuable merchandise were protected by men-at-arms.(62)

In all countries, down to the end of the thirteenth century, the fairs played an important part in commerce.  As long as merchants travelled the fairs prospered, but as merchants became more sedantary, the fairs dwindled.  By the ninth century fairs were beginning to appear in larger numbers all over Europe.  They were so similar in makeup that they could be called universal.  These early fairs were different from the fairs of the Middle Ages and played a much more important role than those of the later period.  Fairs were periodic meeting-places for professional merchants  They formed centers for wholesale exchange and deliberately sought to attract the largest number of people and the greatest amount of goods. Any person from anywhere bringing anything which could be bought or sold was welcome.  Due to the extraordinary amount of preparation necessary to hold such fairs, they could only be held once or twice a year in the same place.  Actually only the Champagne fairs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries attracted merchants from all over Europe,(63) technically though, every fair was open to all trade, as each seaport was open to all shipping.  In the second half of the Middle Ages fairs were founded to bring money into the towns by attracting large numbers of people, and they featured mostly local trade.

The busiest fairs, Champagne and Brie, were situated about half-way along the great trade route, which ran from Italy to the coast of Flanders.(64) Fairs were held there from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. Seven major fairs followed each other during the year.  Each fair continued for about six weeks, barely giving the merchants enough time in between each to pack up their wares and move on to the next fair.  At the conclusion of these fairs the merchants moved to the North Sea and the five Flemish fairs of Bruges, Ypres, Lille, Thourout and Messines.(65)   The merchants had  year-round, prosperous markets which left them little leisure time.  The Champagne fairs enabled merchants and money-lenders to stay in this region the year round, going from one fair to the other.  Here merchants from southern Europe met merchants from the North.  French, English, German, Flemish, Catalan, Provencal and Italian merchants flocked to the Champagne fairs to exchange their wares.  English wool and Flemish woolen cloth were bought there by the Florentines, who could dye and refine it and still make a profit.  From France, particularly  Bordeaux, merchants brought good wines.  Gold, silver, precious stones, iron, incense, charcoal, wool, silk, cotton, hemp, linen, and salt were brought from all parts of the East and West to the Champagne fairs.  Syrian, Jewish and Italian merchants dealt in Antioch leather, Tyrian purple cloth, other rich fabrics, spices and jewels.   Copper pots from eastern Belgium, tubs from Alsace, haberdashery and cloth, gloves, shoes, saddles, whetstones, arms, carts and the products of skilled goldsmiths could be found at the Champagne fairs.66  Certain fairs were famous for particular products.  If a knight needed a new war horse, he could find the best available at the fair of Lagny.(67)
Medieval fairs played an important part in the development of Western civilization.  Commerce brought to the fairs many civilizing influences.  Bringing together different cultures and ideas drives bigotry and provincialism away.  Internal trade was stimulated by the fairs as were agriculture and industry.  They were also a prime factor in the change of the barter system to a money system.  Since many currencies were used at the fairs, a special merchant or money changer was born.  He weighed and set the value of the different kinds of money used at the fairs.  Generally he was a Jew or Lombard, who besides changing money also lent it out at usurious rates.  He also assisted in settling debts and aided in the development of instruments of credit.(68)  All fairs began with a period of sales followed by a period of payments.  These payments could be clearing of debts contracted at the fair and also debts from one or more prior fairs.  These activities led to credit organizations and bills of exchange (written promises to pay debts in a place not necessarily the one in which the debts had been contracted).(69)  Most debts were paid at the Champagne fairs because most merchants attended them at one time or another.  Merchants probably played as important a part in the growth of Western civilization as anything else that happened in Europe before European expansion which started in the late fifteenth century.

A special peace protected the soil on which fairs were held.  People who broke the peace could be punished severely.  The prince in whose territory a fair was being held hired special "guards of the fair" to maintain peace.  If a guard sealed a letter of obligation with his seal, it was considered more binding than a plain sealed letter.(70)  Some fairs obtained special permission to hold gambling activities, in addition to the regular attractions of plays and feasts.  Merchants who had committed crimes somewhere else could not be arrested at a fair so long as it continued to operate.  Ironically, even the Church's prohibition of usury and its maximum rate of interest were suspended at a fair.

A very active trade was carried out between the Champagne and Flemish fairs.  Flemish cloth was traded for gold and silver products, silk cloth and spices.  In the thirteenth century Flemish cloth merchants grouped their tents according to towns.   Personal banners identified each of the merchant's tents, much in the same manner as many of our SCA merchants at their stalls and/or their camps.

A class of free merchants and artisans emerged from the large number of men who had left their homelands to seek their fortunes.  Many were second or third sons who would have no inheritance.  Some worked at harvest time, some lived on religious charity, some hired out as mercenaries but the really successful ones found employment when the merchants arrived along the river estuaries and coasts.  Many hired on as sailors; others joined the merchant caravans which eventually arrived at the ports.  Some found opportunities to make fortunes in commercial undertakings.  With a little luck and much hard work, a peddler's pack could be put together.  Profits from the sale of these items would enable the peddler to buy more goods and maybe have a little extra to save or invest elsewhere.  In time and with hard work a man could band together with other merchants and load a ship to engage in coastal trade.(71)   By carrying goods to a place where they were scarce, a large profit could be realized and the process would be repeated on the return trip.

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, towns were established at the foot of castle and monastery walls, under the protection and control of the feudal lords on whose lands they were built, and their inhabitants (called burghers) were subject to all the feudal restrictions.  Many of these burghers actually were still serfs.  As the number of free merchants and artisans increased and their wealth followed suit, they began to demand release from the feudal restrictions, which curtailed their activities.  Law under the feudal system was slow and clumsy, and apt to hinder commerce and industry.  The nobility and the Church found it profitable to protect artisans and shopkeepers who had settled near their castles.  While the Church opposed excessive commercial profits, seeing them as a danger to salvation, it did not oppose commerce per se; even engaging in it when the need arose.  They espoused the theory of a `just profit' which was never broken down to a specific percentage.  Since the nobility and the Church had no experience governing people engaged in these new occupations, the shopkeepers formed associations, called communes, to regulate their own affairs.  They built walls around their settlements as safeguards against robbery.  Together traders and artisans  made a place for themselves, forming a class of people separate from the Church and nobility.  From such a small start their power grew at an astonishing rate.(72)

The burghs were peopled by many former serfs.  In order to carry on trade and commerce, they needed personal freedom.  Their struggle for personal and municipal freedom led to the formation of communes.  In the beginning each commune was made up of only those burghers who voluntarily participated and who took an oath of allegiance to the commune.  As a feudal organization, the members of a commune drew up a feudal contract with the lord on whose land the burgh was located.  They were to pay for the use of the land with money rather than the heretofore traditional services to the lord, and freedom was guaranteed for all the commune's members.  Without the power to come and go, to buy and sell, trade could not have effectively been carried on.  Many of the people had freedom because they had run away from a lord who was too far away to be found.  Since it could not be proved that they were serfs, they passed for free.  To prosper the merchants and artisans needed a workforce made up of people who could not forcibly be taken back to some manor from which they had escaped. By the end of the twelfth century  all those inhabitants of a town who wanted to live within its walls as freemen, were forced to swear an oath of allegiance to the commune thereby becoming full members.  Any who refused were forced to leave.(73)   In return for their oath the populace received all the rights and privileges that the commune had to date wrung from its lord.  Their quest for personal freedom was so successful that eventually a serf merely had to live in a burgh or town for a year and a day to be free.  A well-known German proverb of the Middle Ages stated that city air made a man free.

In addition to personal freedom there had to be laws appropriate for commerce.(74)  Traditional law was inadequate because it was slow and unwieldy and did not apply to the special needs of commerce.  At the beginning of the eleventh century a commercial code was adopted, based on international business experience, to be used by the merchants.  It was not legally valid so it could not be used in the existing law courts.  To facilitate their business the merchants chose arbitrators from among themselves who did have the necessary experience to understand their disputes and settle them fairly and promptly.  Speedy settlements often were vital to commercial ventures.  In 1116 the Count of Flanders established, in most of his towns, courts made up of local merchants who were competent to judge their fellow merchants.  This practice spread to other countries in time.  In England, France, Germany and Italy the towns not only obtained jurisdictional autonomy but this was followed shortly by administrative autonomy.(75)

Municipal autonomy did not occur overnight.  In fact the Church and nobility in many cases resisted strenuously the demands of the burghers.  The burghers, being resourceful people, discovered ways of overcoming this opposition.  They might make a respectful demand backed up by a promise to pay large sums for a particular privilege.  More often than not, the merchants had to resort to violence and bloodshed to achieve their goals.  Gains made through violence were often temporary for as soon as the lord could regain his power he might rescind  whatever privileges he had been forced to grant.(76)  Some burghers were known to play off lesser nobles against great lords, the Church against the great lords and the king against both.  By playing one faction against another the great merchants won the right to make their own laws and obtain greater trading concessions.(77)  Some feudal lords desiring immediate cash, often as not to go on a Crusade, sold charters of freedom for which the merchants were more than willing to pay.  Merchants, who heretofore had no place in feudal society, (nobility, Church, knight and serf) now had enough money to buy a place in society for themselves.(78)  

One of the most important needs of the burghers was defense.  The merchants and their wares needed protection from robbery so strong walls were built around the burghs.  Taxes and fines from borough courts provided some money for defense, but most of the money came from the merchants themselves who realized the necessity of cooperation for mutual defense.  They were an inordinately practical people.  Each merchant paid on the basis of his wealth.  Town councils were elected to assess and collect taxes, look after the needs of the people, which included building bridges, parish churches, wharfs and markets.  These magistrates also regulated the crafts and supervised the food supplies.  The communes promoted the common economic interests of the burghers (the bourgeoisie or the urban middle class).  During the eleventh century this practice spread to towns and cities in other countries.  

The revival of towns was a natural outgrowth of increased
commerce and industry.  As times became a bit more settled there was a steady increase in the population, and growth in commerce and industry.  Using legumes to enrich the soil, combining ashes with manure to nourish the soil, selective and crossbreeding of herds, multiple yokes for oxen, water mills and windmills,(79) irrigation and the draining of swamps to open new agricultural lands, provided surpluses to be traded or sent to the towns to feed the growing number of people who left the manors and came to live in the towns.(80)  Most of the people who lived in the towns were artisans making industry a prominent factor in urban development. Towns and cities made their appearance on the natural trade routes of Europe, near large monasteries, prominent markets and where natural resources, such as fisheries, timber and mines were plentiful.(81)  
Urban society was divided into six classes of people.  The most privileged class was the wealthy merchants and the higher clergy.  Following these were:  1. lower clergy, 2. small businessmen, 3. artisans, 4. men-at-arms, menials and servants and 5.  peasants who worked the nearby fields.(82)

The European middle class rose from the burgher class of the medieval towns.  Progress and new ideas came from the towns and cities.  History has shown the middle class to be instigators of change.  Urban wealth brought new social developments.  A ship or a caravan stopping at a town or city was sure to bring new developments: a better dye for wool, a new glaze for a potters bowl or perhaps a new thought about man's future.  

As the power of the feudal nobles and clerics declined, the burgher class took shape.  They had no place in the feudal order and were looked down upon by the Church because they were involved in commerce.  The burghers, desiring a place of their own in society, built towns with walls for defense, and then proceeded to wrench, bit by bit, from secular and religious rulers, the right to make their own laws and administer their own affairs.  It was from the burgher class that the new leaders of the West came. Based on commerce and industry, to which they gave their full attention,  middle class wealth and power increased with the growth of their experience and knowledge.  In addition to creating town law, they created banking and credit instruments,(83) improved methods of building, manufacturing, navigation and became a legally recognized social class.  Modern Western civilization is mostly a  burgher civilization made up of cities and the middle class.  

The burghers did not achieve complete control and enjoyment of the society they were instrumental in creating without serious opposition from the clerics and nobles.  Royalty opposed the spread of self-government to the towns in their own domains but protected the towns situated on the lands of the great nobles.  Royalty used the power of the rising middle class to reduce the feudal lords to obedience.  Of course, when the aid of the towns was no longer needed, kings attempted to curtail their independence.  Middle class merchants had long been under pressure from the Church because it did not believe in large profits and usury, convinced that they would corrupt a man.  Some merchants bought salvation by donating large amounts of money to the church upon their death and some merchants ignored the Church altogether.  The Church also opposed the merchants of the towns because they stirred up the people and led them in their quest for more privileges.  Anything the merchants had a hand in was viewed suspiciously by the Church. An English preacher was said to have uttered these words:  "God made the clergy, knights and laborers, but the devil made the burghers and usurers."(84)  Neither the Church nor the nobility could stop the municipal movement and by peace or force the towns obtained constitutions appropriate to their needs, and charters which spelled out the rights and privileges granted by feudal lords.

The middle class ultimately underwent a transformation.  As their numbers grew and their wealth increased, they split into the upper and lower middle class.  The controllers of wealth, the financiers and capitalists, (descendants of merchants and artisans) were the upper class.  The lower middle class was made up of the small shopkeepers, skilled technicians, clerks, bank employees and draughtsmen, and others in similar occupations.  The upper middle class eventually seized power from the nobles and the bishops.  The real wealth of a city depended on her venturesome merchants and skilled craftsmen.(85)  They collected their own taxes, coined money, maintained courts, and made war or peace as independent, sovereign city-states.  Italian merchants even made war on each other as they competed for commercial advantages.

Except for the wealthy merchants of the great international trading companies, the majority of merchants lived in towns which eventually became crowded and dirty.  Because land was expensive, the people built up instead of out.  Traffic was forever in a tangled mess because booths and stalls of the merchants and artisans lined the sides of the streets.  Some towns employed a man to ride through the streets once a year with a lance laid horizontally across his saddle.  Any obstruction which the lance could not pass had to be removed.(86)

People threw their slops and garbage out their windows into the street, which could prove hazardous to passersby.  Perhaps this might explain the custom of ladies walking on the inside of a walkway opposite the curb.  There was no sewer system and animals scavenged what they could from the streets.  Few towns had street lights, police or firemen.  Frequent fire often destroyed a whole town.(87)  City supplied hooks were used to pull the burning thatch from the roofs into the streets, and from this came our hook and ladder companies.(88)

The artisan's workshop and living quarters were in the same building.  The shop was on the ground floor and the living quarters were above it.  The  well-to-do burgher decorated his home with luxurious furnishings, colorful cushions and rich tapestries.  The shops of the artisans and the markets of the merchants contributed to the color and life of a town.(89)  

Early on the dangers faced by merchants forced them to travel in caravans or armed groups.  Roads were infested with bands of criminals, down-at-the-heels knights and thieves, most of whom lived by pillage.  Some nobles (the robber barons) became highwaymen to augment their income.  Banding together gave the merchants the armed force necessary to maintain their security.(90)  Enough sources are available for us to form a clear picture of the many armies of merchants, for that is what they were, their number rapidly increasing in Western Europe from the tenth century on.  The pack-horses and wagons loaded with sacks, cases, bales and casks were surrounded by the merchants who were armed with bows and swords.(91)  These were not soft, silk and velvet clad fops in counting houses or effeminate figures at home in some lady's chamber, but were experienced, battle-hardened travel-wise tough men who were perfectly willing to die rather than lose a profit by letting predators steal their goods.  At their head were a standard-bearer and a leader of the company of "brothers" who were bound together by an oath of loyalty to each other.  Usually the merchandise in these "trains" was bought and sold in common and the profits divided according to each man's investment.  The longer the journey and the rarer the goods, the bigger the profits would be.(92)  Except in winter, the venturesome merchant could be found on the road, motivated by profit and adventure with its accompanying thrills and excitement.  He travelled on land or sea, doing everything himself, going to places far and near to see first-hand the goods he would buy for trade or resale.  As time passed this situation changed.  The economic system became more complicated and the merchant was needed at home at the center of his affairs.(93)  An era of peace meant the merchant did not have to personally guard his goods but could rely on ships carrying his goods to make it safely into port.  As merchants became better educated they could carry on their business by correspondence.  The wealthier merchants now had partners or agents to represent them in their foreign branches.(94)  Well in place in the latter half of the thirteenth century in Italy, it spread to other countries, enabling the merchants to rid themselves of the military equipment which was so necessary in earlier days.  At sea merchant ships on a long voyage still had to arm themselves for centuries against piracy.

Despite the difficulties merchants of the Middle Ages faced, commerce thrived.  Roman roads fell into ruin even though the tolls to keep them in repair were still being collected.  Princes were collecting tolls and taxes but were not using any of the revenue for rebuilding roads and bridges.  Many wealthy towns, from the twelfth century on, gained exemptions from tolls in foreign countries where their merchants travelled, but there were still enough tolls to hinder traffic on the highways of trade and travel.  Bridges were built in towns at the expense of the merchants.  Without sound bridges, crossing large rivers would be another obstacle.  Pilgrims, merchants and travellers kept open the passages through the Alps, providing a line of communication between Italy and Northern Europe.(95)  

Even though water transportation was a better method than land transportation for moving goods, it was not without its obstacles.  Most ships were small and light and many times foundered in storms.  Privateers armed with letters of reprisal seemed to be everywhere.  If a Genoese captain attacked and plundered a Venetian ship, its captain would go to his government and  secure a letter of reprisal which authorized him to attack the first Genoese ship he met.  This practice would start a neverending chain.  This practice often affected merchants of other cities also because not always was the person attacked from the enemy city.  Slow communications often caused problems because a merchant could lose his cargo and ship by entering what he thought to be a friendly port, only to find out that a war had started while he was out at sea.(96)  Floods in the spring and fall, droughts in the summer, and heavy winter frosts quite often made the rivers and streams impassable.  In an effort to improve water transportation, quays for loading and unloading ships were built along the major waterways, along with dikes and canals.  Wooden dams, much like present day locks, were constructed to maintain the water level, through which boats could be pulled by ropes operated by a windlass.  Ports with storage sheds and cranes for unloading ships were built.(97)  Once unloaded the ships were hauled from the water to be repaired.  Money for all these improvements was paid by towns and frequently by merchants.  At sea ships propelled by sails and oars were small and not very seaworthy.  Navigation, to say the least, was crude, even so, there were more losses due to piracy than shipwreck.  Piracy in the ninth and tenth centuries was the chief trade of all the northern nations.  Goods from wrecked or stranded vessels became the property of the lords of the shores on which they were found.  False lights were sometimes placed to deliberately cause ships to run aground.(98)

Each feudal lord taxed the goods which passed through his territory.  There were sales taxes and fees charged for the right to hold a market.  These lords also established units of weights and measures and coined money.  In each new territory the merchant entered, he had to deal with different units.  This hampered trade, forcing the merchants to ally themselves with kings to destroy much of the power of the feudal nobles.

During wars enemy merchants were arrested, their ships and cargoes were confiscated.  Foreign merchants who were not protected by treaties ran the risk of having their goods confiscated by territorial princes who might need them.  Foreigners were also liable for special taxes.  While princes could oppress merchants, they could also protect them.  Merchants were protected from robbers and highwaymen by the public peace of the lords whose lands they travelled through.

In the thirteenth century, most of the merchants engaged in international commerce, were better educated than the average citizen.  Some knowledge of foreign languages was necessary for merchants to deal in international trade.  A number of little conversation books are still in existence.  They were written at Bruges in the middle of the fourteenth century to teach French to businessmen.(99)  The keeping of books and accounts required a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Children of the merchants, in order to carry on the family business, needed these skills.  There were monastic schools but they were inadequate to fulfill the special needs of the children.  Towns began to open small schools which were the beginning of lay education in the Middle Ages.(100)  This practice upset the Church and even though they could not stop it, they were able to put the schools under their supervision, while the towns obtained the right to nominate the schoolmasters.

The growth of trade, industry and towns changed medieval life radically.  As trade and industry grew, prices rose.  The manorial system continued to support the nobles.  While manorial markets, in some cases, began to show a profit, most nobles did not try to live within their incomes which were fixed by feudal custom.  Unfortunately their fixed incomes did not keep pace with the rise of prices and standards of living.  The noble ladies wanted to dress as well as the wives of the wealthy merchants, but this proved difficult to accomplish with their shrinking incomes.  The castles began to look more like country residences rather than fortresses.  No longer could the lords take what they wanted by force because the merchants knew how to protect themselves, and did not hesitate to do so quite handily.  When their expenditures exceeded their incomes, the lords borrowed and mortgaged the future income of their manors.  Usury brought on bankruptcy and many small nobles lost their estates to merchants.

The merchants knew that because of their low birth the nobility looked down on them.  It must have been particularly satisfying to many merchants to know they had the wealth to sustain the very class of people who looked down on them.   When kings became stronger than feudal lords, the merchants looked to them for protection.  Frequently merchants allied themselves with kings to reduce their nobles to obedience.  There had always been three classes in feudal society.  The first was formed by the clergy, the second by the nobles and the third by the peasants.  The townsmen, forming a new middle class, sandwiched themselves between the nobles and the peasants.  In this position they continued to grow in size and importance.  Since they did not pray, rule or grow anything, they were looked on with suspicion by all three classes.  Their growth continued in spite of this unfriendly attitude.(101)

The merchant guilds had their beginnings in the commercial revival of Europe from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.(102) These guilds were instrumental in the growth of towns and the release of many from feudal control.  As individual men without status in the medieval social order, they were forced to band together and form merchant guilds to gain the power to fight for the rights and privileges they wanted.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries every important town had a merchant guild whose members were bound together by an oath.  These guilds usually were older than their town's charter of freedom because, it was the guilds which obtained the charters of freedom.  The early guilds included both artisans and merchants.  Occasionally merchants from other towns and even some clergymen were members.

Each merchant guild met in its own guildhall and was managed  by an elected official and several assistants.  These men led the meetings and controlled the guild's property and wealth.  The interests of the individual were subordinate to the interests of the association.  While each member was bound to come to the aid of his fellow members, all had to obey the regulations which promoted the welfare of the whole organization.(103)

Members of the guild had to sell their goods at times and places set forth by the guild.  Unfair business dealings, such as underselling other members, and adulturation of wares were punished severely.  Competition was forbidden because it was seen as injurious to the guild.(104)  If a guild member were imprisoned the guild officials were bound to secure his release at the guild's expense.  A member who came upon hard times financially was aided; sick members were visited; and the guild provided for last rites and attended the funerals of its members.

Monopoly of trade of the town was the primary purpose for the organization of the guild.  The activity of nonmembers was always restricted wherever there was a guild.  At first the merchant guilds supervised the crafts, and even when the craft guilds were organized, they were still to a certain degree dependent upon the merchants who controlled the export of their products.  In exchange for membership privileges, the guild collected taxes and dues to raise money to build storehouses, guildhalls, markets, provide protection for trade routes, deepen harbors, build docks and ships, supervise markets and provide insurance against trade losses.  The trade monopoly of the guild was designed to do away with middlemen and to control prices, specifically food and raw materials.  In some guilds if a member picked up an unusual bargain all members could demand a share in it.(105)  James VI, in a charter dated 6 March 1588, granted a charter to Inverness, in Scotland, which established a Guildry with a Dean of the Guild.  The charter stated that there would be only one tavern and that no one in the shire would make cloth except the burgesses.  This charter is still in existence, along with several earlier charters.(106)

Medieval commerce developed from the export trade, not local trade.  The export trade gave rise to a class of professional merchants who promoted the economic revival of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  By looking at the goods they carried, which were of foreign origin, it is easy to see that long-distance trade revived the economies of Italy and the Low Countries.  The spice trade made Venice and the large ports of the Western Mediterranean wealthy.  Spices from Arabia, China and India were brought to Syria, then taken in European ships to Italy and from there to countries north of the Alps.  From the beginning of the thirteenth century, apricots, figs, raisins, oranges, rice, perfumes, medicines, dyestuffs such as alum, cochineal and Brasilwood (which actually came from India)(107) were imported into Europe.  Raw silk and cotton were imported into Italy and later into Europe.  Damask from Damascus, muslins from Mosul, baldachins from Baghdad and gauzes from Gaza soon followed the importation of silk and cotton.  Modern Europen languages still contain words of Arabic origin, which were introduced by Oriental commerce.  For example we have English words such as artichoke, bazaar, orange, arsenal, tarragon, magazine, taffetas, tariff and jar to mention a few.  Returning from Europe the Italians brought timber, arms and slaves to the Levantine ports.  In the thirteenth century Italian merchants maintained agents at Bruges to purchase wholesale Flemish and Brabantine cloths.(108)  Bruges took the place of the Champagne fairs as the chief trading center of the north.  Bruges became a wealthy commercial and industrial town.  Instead of periodical visits, as at the fairs, the merchants established permanent settlements at Bruges.(109)

During the twelfth century, control of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea passed to the German cities, which improved the fortunes of Bruges.  The Hansards and Italians were drawn to Bruges because of the cloth industry.  

In Northern Europe, the German Hansa was the trade link between Western Europe and the East, much like the large Italian ports in the Mediterranean basin.(110)  The Hanseatic and Italian East were quite different though.  The Moslem and Byzantine worlds supplied for trade, products from a well-developed civilization, while the Hansard East, mostly in the process of colonization, was still in a state of primitive barbarism.  The Hansards operated in a harsh, cold climate, where they had to contend with forested lands and waters which froze in the winter, making trade difficult to say the least.  German towns appeared along the shores of the Baltic, and on the island of Gotland, from the middle of the twelfth to the middle of the thirteenth centuries.  Traders established themselves on the coast of the Lithuanian, Slav and Lettish lands before they were completely conquered.  

German merchants not only traded at Gotland, but soon followed the Scandinavians towards Russia and the Novgorod fair, which was an important market for oriental goods, furs and wax.  They speedily acquired a place of their own on the edge of the marketplace, known as the Peterhof, and were granted privileges by Prince Constantine in 1205-07.  Two distinct groups of German merchants made the journey from Gotland to Novgorod annually.  One group travelled in winter (Winterfahrer) and the other in summer (Sommerfahrer).  Merchants, who arrived in autumn, spent the winter in the Peterhof gathering choice furs.  They left in the spring with the first thaw, generally before the arrival of the summer merchants who stayed until early autumn.(111)  

Still following in the path of the Scandinavians, the German merchants extended their activity to the Baltic countries and up the Dvina to the Russian markets in Polotsk, Vitebsk and Smolensk on the upper Dnieper.(112) In the Baltic countries they came into contact with the pagan Lithuanians, Livonians, Letts and Finnish Estonians.  Trading with the pagans was a very risky business. However, the merchants, whether as soldiers or traders, played an important part in the colonization and establishment of cities where they could carry on their trade.  

German merchants and settlers spread into eastern Germany, founding towns between the Elbe and Oder Rivers, where all the princes, both German and Slav, welcomed them.  Not content with eastward expansion, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, German merchants and colonists moved into Scandinavia.  Not only merchants but German craftsmen settled in Swedish towns. Hanseatic merchants carried on trade in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and from the thirteenth century on, German trade began to expand across the North Sea, in the direction of England and the Low Countries.  Towards the end of the twelfth century, German merchants from Lubeck followed the Scandinavians to Bergen, Norway's busiest port.  They traded rye, flour and malt for dried cod, fish-oil, butter and hides.(113)  By the end of the thirteenth century the Hanseatic merchants, because of their geographical position, made themselves indispensable middlemen between the West and the East.  Hanseatic trade stretched from Novgorod in the east, Bergen in the north, and Bruges and London in the west.(114)  

In 1157 Cologne merchants obtained their first privileges in London.  In less than twenty years, (ll75) they obtained the right to trade freely throughout the kingdom.  Richard Lionheart freed their London house from all impost duties, in return for three ships which they fitted out for his crusade.(115)  In 1266-67 merchants from Hamburg and Lubeck were given the privilege of forming a Hansa of their own similar to that of the merchants of Cologne.  By 1281, after much feuding between Cologne and Lubeck, there emerged in London a single German Hansa of merchants.  By the middle of the fourteenth century the Hansa of merchants was replaced by the Hansa of the towns.

Up to the middle of the thirteenth century most merchants were itinerant traders or peddlers.  Sometimes aided by one or two servants, they travelled abroad with their goods, sold or traded them at their destination and returned home to sell the goods they had acquired abroad.  Dangers on land and sea forced these merchants to travel in bands.  They were armed, on their guard, ready and willing to fight the ever-present thieves and pirates.  Early sea trade was carried on by groups of citizens from various towns, who jointly bought vessels.  The profits from each shipload would be divided according to the size of the  investment each man made.  The most important man in each group of owners would be captain. (schep-herr, from which was derived schepper, schiffer, then skipper).(116)

Before ships left port, merchants and captains would work out  contracts for transporting goods.  Until the thirteenth century, these were oral agreements, made in the presence of witnesses over a glass of beer, but by the fourteenth century written contracts replaced the oral ones.(117)

Because of high risk and the exacting nature of their work, many merchants never married.  Records of 187 merchants show that 82 were married and of these 43 had legitimate children.(118)  Toward the end of the thirteenth century, early traders were replaced by independent merchants in charge of their own firms.  Gradually, as conditions became safer, merchants would remain home to carry on their business affairs, sending clerks to accompany their merchandise.  The travelling merchant now became a sedentary worker, carrying on his business from home or office aided by a small staff.  

When he was about six years old, a merchant's child would go to the parish school.  Between the ages of twelve and fifteen his formal schooling would end.  Rarely did a merchant go to a university.  At the end of his schooling, his commercial apprenticeship began, under the direction of a merchant, usually a relative.  During his apprenticeship, he would spend years in different countries, learning accounting, bookkeeping,  how to inspect merchandise, the buying and selling of goods and the credit system.(119)  He became a clerk after two or three years, which entitled him to buy and sell on his own, after attending to his employer's business.  Eventually he became head of his own firm.  Dollinger gives us an account of what was expected of a merchant, who attended meetings in the guild hall, as recorded in the statutes of the Artushof of Danzig.  

"...show a proper concern for preserving the good name of the association, maintaining a fitting standard of behaviour and avoiding extravagance.  It was forbidden, under pain of fines or even exclusion, to throw plates and dishes at other members, to draw a knife, to play at dice for money, to pour into one's neighbour's glass a mixture likely to make him drunk, to talk scandal, particularly about women, or to utter abuse, especially of the authorities.  The number of courses at a meal was strictly limited, as was the number of mounte-banks.  Wine was reserved for guests.  The company was ex- pected to break up at ten o'clock when the `beer bell' was rung, and so on.  One of the favourite amusements was betting, of which a careful record was kept, the stake being usually a sum of money or a length of cloth.  The merchants betted on anything:  an approaching marriage, the duration of a war, the price of herring, the result of an election or a tourney.  The subject of some bets was preposterous.  For example, one man betted that a certain cook would acknowledge that her master was the father of her two children; another undertook for ten guilders not to comb his hair for a year.  Feasts, celebrated with splendour, occasionally enlivened the rhythm of the daily round."(120)

The average merchant started his day right after mass and breakfast soup and finished with a four or five o"clock snack.  He worked later if a ship was expected to arrive or sail in the evening.  He liked good food, good drink and the opportunity to spend evenings in the guild hall, where he could drink beer, play games or sing and dance.  To quote Franz Wessel from Stralsund, by the age of 22, a young man was expected : "to drink much, smash glasses, devour great quantities, leap from one barrel to another etc. and be seen at banquets and carousals."(121)

Not all merchants elected to remain home while agents carried on their foreign business.  Many must have felt the call to adventure and the desire for the active trading life.  Even when they were old, most merchants went on a long journey from time to time.  Before starting on such a journey, they would put their affairs in order.  Quite often this was the time for making wills and it was not uncommon for large sums to be left to the Church, in an attempt to purchase salvation.

Merchants doing business in foreign lands usually were protected by charters issued by the ruling sovereign.  In times of war or civil strife, these charters failed to provide much protection.   Merchants, particularly the Hansa merchants, faced arrest and seizure of their goods.  The Kontor (fortified trading center) at Novgorod is an excellent example.  In 1424 all the German merchants there were imprisoned and at least thirty six died.  Seventy years later Ivan III deported forty nine merchants of the Peterhof to Moscow.  Three years later they were released and on the way home they all died at sea.(122)  

Abroad, in towns where the guilds had their own houses, the merchants lived fairly well isolated from the local townspeople.  This isolation was encouraged by the guilds mostly for protection against attack and robbery.  When they lived in rented quarters amongst the local population, they were able to move about more freely.

I would be remiss if I did not include an account of the "famous Bergen games".  Each spring at the Kontore (plural of Kontor) they were held shortly after the arrival of the Hanseatic fleets.  Here the young journeymen were tortured before they could become full members of the groups.  There were three ordeals.  First the journeyman was raised and suspended over a smoking chimney, while the members questioned him.  When he was nearly asphyxiated, he was let down.  Next he was tossed into the harbor three times, and each time as he was climbing back into the boat, members in other boats thrashed him.  Last and by far the worst ordeal was by whipping.  Naked, blindfolded and drunk, he was whipped till he bled.  The noise of cymbals and drums covered his screams.  After all this he had to sing a funny song for the members.  The Church protested these games but not until the death of the Hansa did they stop.(123)  This cruel torture had one advantage.  If a member survived, and he usually did, he became a full member with all its attendant privileges, and he became a member of a family which would stick by him in good or bad times.  The Bergen Games are reminiscent of some modern day fraternity initiations.

Hanseatic merchants carried on trade between eastern and northwestern Europe, dealing primarily in cloth, furs, wax, salt, dried or salted fish, grain, timber, iron, copper and beer.(124)  The cloth trade brought in the most money, with profits ranging from fifteen to sometimes over thirty per cent.  Eventually French and Spanish wines, oil, spices, figs, grapes, sugar and English wool became part of their commerce.  Contact with Italian merchants at Bruges eventually led the Germans to travel to Italy.  They took Russian furs, Baltic amber, Westphalian cloth and dried fish to trade for spices, silks and Mediterranean fruits.(125)

The Hansa played an important part in the cultural unity of northern Europe.  There was a unity of language because the Low Saxon dialects, spoken between the Rhine and the Elbe, were the main language of the Hanseatic world.  One third of the words in the Swedish language are of Hanseatic origin, particularly in the vocabularies of business, handicrafts and mining.(126)

Chivalrous literature was popular with aristocrats.  The urban merchants in Hansa towns, always eager to copy the nobility, played a large part in spreading foreign literature, which they copied and translated.  An outstanding example of this is the Low German poem Reynke de Vos (Reynard the Fox) which was translated, by a Lubeck cleric, from a Flemish adaptation of the French Renart.(127) Hansa merchants commissioned chronicles to be written and plays to be written and performed.(128)  The Hansa founded a university at Rostock.  The Hansa towns Lubeck and Rostock became leading centers of printing.  The bronze doors of St. Sophia of Novgorod were cast in Magdeburg near the end of the twelfth century.  They were a gift to the archbishop of Novgorod from the archbishop of Magdeburg through the courtesy of Hanseatic merchants.(129)  Many Hanseatic towns contained fine examples of Medieval architecture in their buildings and fortifications.  Ornate walls, gates in towers, and churches testify to the interest of German merchants in the beautification of their towns.  Many bronze castings and woodcarvings were sent to Hanseatic towns in the Baltic region, Scandinavia and Finland.  While the German merchants often acted as intermediaries, nevertheless, their role was important.  

When necessary the Hansa resorted to blockades or trade embargoes to maintain or strengthen its position.  By blockading  Norway in 1284 (130) and Bruges in 1358 and again in 1388, Hanseatic merchants were able to gain extensive trading privileges which they exploited to dominate the east west trade.

In England the fortunes of the Hansa rose during the reign of Edward I, but correspondingly fell during the reign of Edward II.  In 1327 the Hanseatics lent money to Edward III to make it possible for him to take the throne from his father.  Throughout his long reign he hardly ever failed to grant them other important trading privileges.

Beginning with the end of the thirteenth century, certain German merchants, primarily from Westphalia, acted as credit bankers, lending small amounts of money to London citizens and much larger sums to the crown.  According to records, Edward I borrowed 500 marks sterling in 1299 from a group of Hanseatic merchants.  In 1317 Edward II borrowed 416 pounds from various Hanseatic merchants.  The most important loans were those made to Edward III.(131)  From 1338-1344 certain Hanseatic merchants lent him 44,000 pounds.  For these sums the merchants received export licenses, reduced customs dues and the right to collect customs dues from other merchants.  All told the sums Edward III borrowed to finance his war with France came to 330,250 pounds; 44,250 from Hanseatic merchants, 210,000 from Bardi and Peruzzi (Italian merchants and bankers) and 76,000 from an Englishman, William de la Pole.  In 1339 Edward III pledged his great crown to the archbishop of Trier for 50,000 guilders and later his little crown and his queen's crown to several Cologne financiers for nearly 10,000 guilders (more than 1,500 pounds).  In 1344 a group of Westphalian merchants redeemed the royal regalia, which was perhaps the greatest service they could render Edward.  When the Bardi and Peruzzi banks failed, the Hanseatic merchants, mostly the Westphalians, realized the risks they were taking by engaging in the business of credit, and gradually restricted their business to commercial enterprises.(132)  The foregoing makes it clear just how much influence the German merchants had acquired in England.  Without their financial support, Edward III could not have waged war against France as effectively as he did.  We could even speculate that the outcome of the war might have been different.  

In 1267, the Hanseatic League, an association of North German trading cities, was formed.  Cologne and Lubeck were the strongest and most important cities in the league.  The Holy Roman Empire was weak at this time and in no position to protect trade, so the Hanseatic League furnished its own protection to members abroad, and controlled the activities of each of its member towns.  Its three main sources of wealth were the monopoly of the herring fisheries of the Baltic, almost total control of Russian trade and a monopoly of trade between England and the continent, chiefly in the wool trade  Owing to its great commercial wealth, the Hansa of the towns became a great power in northern Europe and remained so for about one hundred and fifty years.  During this time it maintained a large navy and a good-sized army and achieved victories far beyond its former economic show of strength.(133)  No longer subject to the will of powerful princes, it fought its own battles and made peace when and how it chose.  One of the terms of the Peace of Stalsund signed in 1370, was that the election of the next Danish king would not be valid unless the Hanseatic League approved him.

Internal dissention, renewal of piracy in the Baltic and several wars took their toll of the Hansa.  At the beginning of the fifteenth century it appeared in a defensive position, seemingly intent on retaining the advantages it had secured rather than acquiring new ones.  The beginning of its end was slow at first but undeniably its downward turn had begun.  The Hansa Diet decreed that sea traffic was to be suspended between Martinmas, 11 November and St. Peter's Day, 22 February, due to frequency of ports being ice-bound. The penalty was stiff for those who disobeyed.  If a ship's captain, entering a Hanseatic port after 11 November, could not prove he had started his return journey before 11 November, his ship and cargo would be confiscated.  Ships of 30 lasts (60 tons) were exempt.  Traffic in the Baltic was pretty well suspended for the winter, but the rule was less strictly observed in the North Sea.  Hanseatic ships sailing between the Baltic and North Seas, travelled in convoys protected by warships paid for by the merchants in the convoy.  Each vessel also provided one or two soldiers.  Cessation of winter trade and costly protection against pirates contributed to the decline of the Hansa.  As monarchial power increased, various rulers began to favor their own merchants rather than the foreign Hansa merchants.  Trading privileges, which had allowed the merchants to become so successful, were now rescinded and given to the merchants in each monarch's lands.  Expansion of foreign competition, mainly the Dutch and south Germans, upset the system of economic regulation on which the Hansa was founded.(134)  Collapse of the Teutonic Order, loss of the Novgorod and Bruges Kontore, wars in Europe, internecine conflicts and religious reform undermined the strength and stability of the Hansa.  Unlikely as it may seem, the shift of the herring's spawning ground from the Baltic to the North Sea, coupled with the rise of national states in Western Europe destroyed the League in the sixteenth century.  

The merchant guilds were usually closely related to the municipal governments and in many cases they were the town government.  The merchants (guild officials) were often the chief municipal authorities.  There can be little doubt that the interests of the merchants were uppermost in the minds of the town authorities, with laws designed to promote their economic interests.  Simple, logical and rapid legislation was needed to settle business disputes, and carry on daily commerce.  As a closed community, each town protected its inhabitants, but in exchange for this protection, each individual had to swear to put the welfare of the entire group before any personal gain.(135)

The merchant guilds flourished so long as they retained a monopoly of trade.  Crafts expanded as industry developed in the fourteenth century.  Eventually the artisans broke away from the merchant guilds and formed guilds of their own.  Along with this the free middlemen, who were outside the guild, found an opening for business.  As the power of the crowns increased, the monarchs turned against the merchant guilds in an attempt to control the local governments.(136)  As wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few  guildsmen, the democratic basis of the earlier guilds broke down.  Little by little power within the guilds was taken away from the ordinary guild members due to special privileges granted by the crown.  Only the wealthiest of men had access to these privileges.  By the fifteenth century the merchant guilds were relegated to social and religious organizations but they still enjoyed considerable influence in municipal governments.(137)  

As production increased the free industry of the towns quickly replaced the unfree industry of manors and monasteries.  In the eleventh century a special artisan class, quite distinct from the peasant class, arose.  These artisans were free townsmen who could choose their craft and sell their products to whomever they wished.  Instead of producing only for their lord, they could produce and sell in the town and surrounding countryside.

No matter how large or small, each town had a variety of craftsmen according to its size.  Luxury crafts were found only in large cities.  Artisans such as bakers, tanners, saddlers, blacksmiths, butchers, fishmongers, tailors, candlemakers, weavers, dyers, bellringers, minstrels, grocers, potters, pewterers, joiners and roadmenders could be found all over.  Each town provided the basic necessities of life for its inhabitants and the surrounding countryside.  The country people supplied the town with food in exchange for manufactured products.  

The free craftsman usually had a small shop where he either worked alone or with his family or several apprentices and journeymen.  He owned his own tools and quite often his raw materials, unless they were supplied by a customer.  He produced most of his goods on order, and if he had any surplus it was sold at the town market.  The shops of artisans who produced similar products could generally be found on the same street in a town.  The streets were named for the products made there, i.e. cobblers might be found on Shoe Lane.(138)   Instead of lettered signs, shops were marked by symbols:  perhaps a boot for a cobbler or an axe for a carpenter.(139)  

As wealth grew and control of the guilds became concentrated in the hands of a few of the wealthiest merchants, wide social distinctions appeared among the guildsmen.  Before long the master-craftsmen became little more than laborers for the rich merchants and large-scale manufacturers.  Eventually conflicts arose between the craftsmen-producers and the merchant class which had gradually extended its control over production as well as sale.  The rift widened and eventually the master-craftsmen lost their independence and their position of free producers.  The essential raw materials of their crafts and the marketing of the finished products came under the control of the rich merchants.(140)

In order to strengthen their position against the merchant class, they organized their own craft guilds to protect both the artisan, who manufactured and sold and the customer who purchased.  They supervised manufacturing processes, guaranteed the quality of workmanship, fair prices and conditions of sale for the licensed guilds.  For example linen shops were required to wash and shrink a shirt at least once before it could be sold.(141)  Craft guilds protected the artisan from internal and external competition and regulated wages and labor.  Artisans paid annual dues for their monopoly of trade.  They were controlled and supervised by municipal overseers who had the right to enter their workshops at anytime day or night, and they were required to work at their windows where everyone could see them.  When destitute or ill a guildsman could turn to his guild brothers for help.  Along with religious and social activities, the guilds also furnished schools for the children of its members.  In some cases, craft charters were issued by the merchant guilds, but most of the charters were granted by municipal, feudal or royal governments.  As Renard so ironically observed, "Charters were always most plentiful when the Crown was most in need of money."(142)

The craft guilds were divided into three categories:  masters, journeymen and apprentices.  Only the masters were full-fledged members who participated in the management of their guilds.  

An apprentice was a boy who was bound by his parents to a recognized master to learn the trade.  He received technical and moral training while he lived at his master's house.  He did whatever work the master and his wife asked of him and they in turn fed and clothed him.  Strict obedience to his master was required, his conduct was to be proper and above all he must not betray his master's secrets.  (Further research failed to show whether these secrets were business, domestic or both!)  As a rule the apprentice was treated as a member of the master's household for the length of his service.  Apprenticeship could last anywhere from three to twelve years, and sometimes longer, depending on the difficulty of the trade, i.e. a goldsmith, who had to learn many intricate skills.  Oftentimes the boy's parents had to pay money to the master before the articles of apprenticeship were signed.  It was customary for the master to give the apprentice a small sum (part of the agreement) when he completed his indenture.  In some crafts, apprentices were paid wages, on a regular basis, until the end of their service.  Runaway apprentices were returned to their masters who had the right to punish them.  Masters guilty of mistreating their apprentices were usually punished by the guild.(143)

At the end of an apprentice's period of service he became a journeyman, or "day-worker".  Journeymen worked for wages for a few years in order to gain further experience and to save money to open their own shops and become masters.  If there were no setbacks, by the time the journeyman reached 23 he became a master.  In order to become a master the journeyman had to show proficiency in his craft and prove he had the capital required to set up his own shop.  During the early days of the craft guilds the journeyman could easily become a master.  Since he worked side by side with the master and had about the same training, there was very little social distinction between them.  Later when some of the masters became very wealthy, membership in the guild became hereditary, which kept the journeymen in the position of a dependent wage earner.(144)

Only masters participated in guild government.  Guild officials were elected annually.  They took care of the guilds' finances, presided over their courts, inspected the members' workshops, saw to the welfare of the apprentices and journeymen and supervised the production of the crafts' wares.  These officials swore in new masters and presided over ceremonies and banquets.  Each guild had its own banner, chapel, patron saint and special seal.(145)

There had been good will between the masters and their journeymen and apprentices as long as it was relatively easy for journeymen to become masters.  When the population ceased to grow, causing the crafts not only to cease to expand but in some cases, to cut back, it became more difficult to attain master status.  The masters introduced new requirements which must be satisfied before artisans could become masters.  Apprenticeship terms were lengthened, fees, which had to be paid before the title of master could be obtained, were raised, and a so-called "masterpiece" had to be executed to show the artisan's skill in the craft.  These new requirements were designed to make it more difficult for journeymen to become masters, and to keep each master's business in the hands of his sons and sons-in-law. Discontent arose when the apprentices and journeymen saw their chances for improving their status disappear.  Strikes, demand for higher wages and equal share with the masters in the government of the craft were attempts on the part of the apprentices and journeymen to retaliate, but the established order was more powerful and the journeymen found themselves in the position of wage-earner, with very little chance for advancement.

In the early days of the guild system, industry was local and the guilds dealt mainly with municipal authority, and very seldom with the state.  This was still the case even when their charters were granted directly by the crown.  As the guild system was beginning to decline, the state was developing an economic policy which comprehensively covered industrial organization.  Medieval industry was organized for a self-contained local type of society and with the coming of national and international economy it fell apart.  Capitalism broke their democracy and destroyed their very system of operation.  After the breakdown of the guilds, the state assumed complete direction of industrial affairs.(146)

The Arabian desert was a highway open to trade from every direction.  It possessed the ideal means of transportation for this trade, the camel, often referred to as the `ship of the desert'. East of the Arabian desert stretched Iran, and to the south and east of it, beyond the Persian Gulf, lay the magnificent wealth of India.  The Red Sea, to the west, connected Arabia to central Africa with its exotic products.  To the north the Isthmus of Suez linked the Arabian desert to Egypt, and many excellent harbors on the shores of Palestine, Phoenicia and Syria, connected Arabia with the Mediterranean lands, Byzantium, Italy and Spain,(147) and the territory as far north as the fairs of Champagne.

Arabs from the desert and hills of Iran led strings of shaggy two-humped camels, and along with trains of heavily loaded donkeys from northern Syria and Asia Minor, they moved down the Euphrates and Tigris valleys toward Egypt.  These caravans carried copper, wood, stone, gold and silver, gems, pearls, ivory, incense, cosmetics and spices which they traded for weapons, glass beads, brightly colored fabrics, bread, dates, oil and wine.(148)

As early as Babylonian times, numerous trading towns appeared in the fertile crescent, bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and Palestine, Phoenicia and Syria became important centers of commerce.  In the seventh century B.C., coined currency was used in the commerce of Asia Minor and Greece.(149)  Caravan trains came overland to these maritime ports where a trade was begun with the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  

The Byzantine Empire was the home of the most active trade center in the civilized world.  Through Byzantine commerce, which was fed by caravans from Asia and Africa, Europe had access to spices, gems, rare metals, perfumes, sandal-wood, camphor and musk, cotton, raw silk, fine silk and wool fabrics, muslin and carpets.  Many of the large caravans were equipped and financed by trading and banking houses.  The desert Bedouins and highlanders of the Upper Euphrates, the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau and Asia Minor, who used to be shepherds or highwaymen, became merchants and businessmen.(150)

In the early days land routes were used more frequently than the sea, which was used only when absolutely necessary. Camel caravans travelling across the desert were considered safer than ships on the sea.  It was mostly land caravans which brought the products of Arabia, India and Africa to Syria and Egypt, and even much farther to the north and west.(151)

A highly developed network of roads, built for military purposes, was also used by merchants.  They preferred the safe and guarded roads across the desert and along mountain ranges which had been built and were maintained for armies.  These early established caravan routes were continued down through the ages.  

This excellent road system which crossed Persia from east to west and north to south, permitted extensive trade with Greece, the Black Sea coast, Italy, Sicily and northern Africa, as well as the tribes of southwestern and northern Europe.  It was mainly the products of caravan trade which were exported to these countries: incense for religious observances, perfumes, cosmetics, ivory, exotic woods, cloth dyed purple and embroidered with gold, ginger peel, thyme, pepper, cinnamon, precious stones, gold and silk cloth, tortoise shell, exotic animals and slave girls.(152)  More local caravan trade dealt in bread, oil, wine, vegetables and beasts of burden.

As the caravans left the well-guarded roads and descended the steep, narrow defiles that led into the desert cities, both the merchants and the drivers made it a practice to hurry the camels into the cities to avoid being attacked by unfriendly Bedouins or other nomad tribes who preyed on the slow-moving camel trains.  Nomads on their fast ponies could ride in and quickly surround a caravan and steal the goods and quite often take prisoners.  Caravan trade survived wars, robbers, unfriendly desert tribes and greedy local dynasties.  Not only did it survive, but it prospered and during the time of Pax Romana the entire Mediterranean and its adjoining countries were open to it.(153)

Gorges through many of the mountains served as main roads which were travelled by Bedouin merchants with their camels, mules, and horses.  Commercial caravan life was made up of a union of the desert Bedouin, caravan leaders and the powerful merchant princes who controlled huge caravans which travelled back and forth from north to south.(154)  

Generally all caravan routes would, upon entering a town, make their way to the main caravan street which they had already seen as they descended from the hillsides ringing the town.  As a caravan passed through the city gates, it would make its way to one of the caravansaries, an inn or court where caravans rested at night, which was located within the city.  A caravansary was a market-square, surrounded by shops, store rooms and other storage areas.  The camels would be unloaded in the square and the goods placed in store rooms.  The merchants and travellers would wash, don clean clothes and then go to the temple.(155)

     Profits from caravan trade provided large sums of money to build cities with beautiful monuments and fine buildings.  Profits also provided the means to hire mercenaries, mounted archers on camels and horses, to protect the wells, roads and caravan stations.  Caravan trade built caravan states and in one instance created a caravan empress, Zenobia.(156)    

The standard of life and the pattern of political activity were established and controlled by the wealthy merchants who financed the caravans.  These powerful merchants had offices in both the East and the West and their ships were based in most of the major ports.

The rich merchants of the middle east belonged to the aristocracy, in direct contrast to their fellow merchants in Europe.  The burghers and merchants of Europe were distinctly middle class, a class which they had carved out of feudal society.  In the middle east, the wealthy merchants lived in fine houses, wore clothes made from richly embroidered fabrics and read and wrote in both Aramaean and Greek.  Even their wives dressed in clothes studded with precious stones and wore much heavy jewelry which covered them from head to foot.

As has been noted before, the Crusades reestablished contact between the East and the West, socially and commercially.  Some of the early settlers in Palestine had built up a flourishing import-export trade in goods from the Orient.  Merchandise was brought to Palestine and other coastal cities by camel caravans, where it would be shipped to Europe.  

Trade goods coming from the Far East to the Middle East  travelled either by land or sea.  Merchants dealing in trade goods from China and India, often transported them by water.  Prior to the days of the Mongol Empire in Asia, caravans were heavily guarded, being subject to frequent attacks by nomad tribes through whose lands they travelled.  Merchants led caravans overland from the Persian Gulf to Baghdad.  From there they went to the Levant or Byzantium.  From c. 1250 to c. 1350, Pax Mongolia permitted goods to flow freely from Asia to the West.

"The Mongols reopened four major trade routes which had been closed, or disrupted by wars and bandits, for centuries:  (1) the old Silk Road, going from West China, through the Tarim Basin, West Turkestan and on into Iran; (2) an alternate route from the lower Volga, along the Syr Darya, through Dzungaria to West China; (3) a sea route from China to the Persian Gulf; and (4) a Siberian route, possibly pioneered by the Mongols, which began in the Volga-Kama region, ran through southern Siberia to Lake Baikal, and then turned south to Karakorum and on into Peking."(157)

The life of a merchant could be extremely dangerous as can be seen in the account of the large caravan of Moslem merchants sent, in 1215, by Jenghiz Khan to Muhammad Shah of the Khwarazmian empire.  Jenghiz desired a trade alliance with the Shah who controlled the trade routes between China and the West, and to this end he sent a caravan made up of five hundred camels loaded with goods for barter.  Upon arriving at Otrar, in the Shah's territory, the merchants were arrested by the governor.  He told Muhammad they were spies and the Shah ordered them put to death and their goods seized.  Jenghiz, enraged at this affront, amassed his armies and attacked and defeated the Shah, and added Khwarezm to his expanding empire.(158)

One of the most publicized caravans in history was the first journey of the Polo brothers, Maffeo and Niccolo.  Beginning at Constantinople, they loaded a ship with costly jewels and beads and sailed to Sudak, where they assembled a caravan of camels and horses, and headed overland to the steppes of the Golden Horde on the lower Volga.  Here they traded their goods for double the original cost, and received profitable trading concessions from Berke Khan.  These trading concessions further increased their profits.(159)  Later, Marco Polo left his home in Venice and travelled to the Mongol Empire in China, via the Silk Road.  Polo and other traders exported to the West such Eastern products as rice, lemons, apricots, melons, sugar, sesame, spinach and artichokes.  (Without refrigeration, one wonders about the condition of some of these foods when they reached their destination.)  The West also developed a desire for cloves, ginger, perfumes, muslin, damask, cotton, satin, tapestries, rugs and new dyes for new colors (lilac, indigo and carmine).  Also Arabic numerals replaced the more cumbersome Roman numeral system in the West.(160)

There were many similarities in the lives and activities of merchants, both in the East and the West.  Both faced piracy, robbery, severe weather conditions, wars, famines and disease.  They had to hire mercenaries for protection.  Along with great wealth came power and prestige in both East and West.  The wealth from their commercial activity caused cities and towns to be founded, promoted education and the spread of culture.  Eastern merchants did not seem to encounter the disapproval of their religious leaders as did Western merchants.  For merchants everywhere, there were profits to be made if they were willing to take the accompanying risks.   Merchants, bankers and lawyers, solid upper-middle class rich, gradually controlled the policies of governments both in their countries and abroad, simply because they controlled most of the countries' money.  They were rich, strong men who craved a voice in the affairs of their countries and they possessed the wealth to buy that voice.  

SCA Merchants and the Medieval Look

From the twelfth century on, many of the stalls and booths at the fairs, having been constructed at the expense of the local lords, became permanent.  The Counts of Flanders, notable examples, recognized that permanent stalls and booths would give the merchants incentive to return each year.    

An SCA merchant's booth could be made to resemble a medieval merchant's booth by hanging a cloth across the front and down the sides of the booth.  The cloth could be cut out in the shape of an arch, with stones or bricks painted on it.  Many of the artisan's shops were in buildings with arched windows, facing on the street.  Here patrons could watch the artisan at work and also see his wares.  

A pole could be stretched overhead across the front of the booth, from one side to the other, to display the merchant's wares.  Behind a counter or table, in the center of the stall, the merchant/artisan could be working on a sample of his craft showing the buyer how it was made and from what material.  Prospective buyers seem to like to watch demonstrations.  

A three-sided frame, (left side, back and right side) might be constructed of 1x2s or 2x3s bolted together, for easy erecting and dismantling.  Upon the sides of this frame could be hung cloths, dagged or plain, from top to bottom.  Across the front could be hung either a dagged drape or a cloth with a framed arch painted on it.  Upon a framework of 1x2s overs the top, a dagged or plain cloth could be spread, affording protection from rain or sun.  

Medieval merchants displayed their personal banners and or colors close to their stalls.  Their banners became a way of advertising their presence at a fair.  In Tournaments Illuminated, Winter 1990, issue 97, pages 28-29, Tagan the Talesmythe gives excellent directions for making a banner staff which may be set up or dismantled as the need arises.  The directions are clear and the materials relatively inexpensive.  

Bells, jewelry and other small items could be displayed on a standing rack near the front of the merchant's space.  If the overhead framework is strong enough to support it, some of the items for sale could be hung from it.  

A merchant selling chess sets and other medieval games might have a pair of gamesters (in period garb) locked in mortal combat using one of his chess sets.

A seller of boots, shoes and slippers, might also display a few bow and crossbow holders as well as bags and pouches, since, in medieval times, they often were made and sold by the same artisan.  

Glossary of
Documented Occupations and
Professions of the Middle Ages

Armorer - made armor for men and horses

Armor Worker - made shirts, collars and armpieces for armor; removed rust from armor

Astronomer - predicted eclipses and read the stars

Bagmaker - made leather bags, pouches, purses and gloves

Baker - made biscuits, bread, cakes, pretzels and rolls

Barber-Surgeon - made salves, operated for cataracts, pulled teeth,  cut hair and bled patients

Basin Maker - decorated brass wares with stamped foliage and  flowers

Bathhouse Proprietor - washed people, gave sweatbaths, rubdowns,  bled customers, cut their hair and got rid of their fleas

Bell Founder - made bells, cauldrons, mortars, ovens and rifles out  of bell metal

Bell Maker - made small bells for sleighs, tambourines, tourneys,  carnival fools' caps and harlequins

Belt Maker - made punched and stamped leather belts, dies and  branding irons and engraved seals

Blacksmith - made horseshoes, wagon wheels, clipped horses' tails  and treated sick horses

Block Cutter - engraved art, prepared by a draftsman, onto wooden  blocks

Bookbinder - bound books in parchment or planed boards which were
fitted with clasps and ornamented, gilded some on edges

Book Printer - applied the ink, his aide pulled the lever and a
page was printed

Brewer - made bitter and sweet beer from barley and hops

Brickmaker - baked smooth bricks and rooftiles from clay

Brush Maker - made brushes for all purposes, from decorative to  utilitarian

Butcher - sold freshly slaughtered beef, veal, mutton, pork,  rer -sheared
cloth, pleated material and removed stains from cloth

Cobbler - made shoes, bags, belts and assorted articles from  leather

Coin Stamper - made artistically stamped coins of proper metal
content and weight

Comb Maker - made combs of boxwood, horn and ivory

Cook - prepared rice, vegetables, fowl, fish and pickled food for
the gentry and barley, lentils, peas, beans, millet, sausages,  soups, turnips and cabbage for farmers and workers

Cooper - made barrels, tubs and beer and wine casks from Scotch  pine, fir and oak

Coppersmith - made basins, bathtubs, pails, pans, stills, troughs, vats, washtubs and wine bottles

Cordwainer - made articles from cordovan leather

Crossbow Maker - made bows of horn or steel with very tough  strings

Currier - one who treats leather with oil or grease

Cutler - made knives, daggers, spears, swords and scabbards and  cleaned and etched swords

Dentist - removed teeth, sold oils, salves and other medications,
flea and louse ointments and rat poison

Draftsman - drew letters and pictures on wood blocks, engraved
pictures on copper

Draper - a dealer in cloth and sometimes in clothing and dry goods)

Dyer (dyed cloth for merchants, pressed and smoothed cloth

Embroiderer - embroidered with silk thread, worked gold and precious stones into garments, made caps, garlands and hair ribbons with gold and pearls

Enamellers - mainly decorated churches, palaces and residences of  the wealthy

Farmer - ploughed, sowed, harrowed, made hay, gathered wood and
harvested his crops

Fisherman - used rod, net and weir, to catch a wide variety of  fish, including pike, carp, eels, lampreys and crabs

Fuller - one who shrinks and thickens woolen cloth by moistening,
heating and pressing it

Furrier - made and lined coats, cloaks, hoods and other garments
with furs such as sable, marten, lynx, ermine, polecat, wolf,  fox and goatskins

Gem Cutter - cut diamonds, emeralds, garnets, sapphires, rubies,  beryl, chalcedony and jacinths, and also cut coats-of-arms for  signet rings

Glass Painter - painted pictures of people and coats-of-arms on  glass

Glazier - made high quality wine and beer glasses and "Venetian"
circular and diamond shaped panes for churches and fine rooms

Gold Leaf Maker - hammered gold thin for painters, illuminators,
and other artists; gold was also ground and rubbed into a
writing material, and woven and sewn into textiles

Goldsmith - made seals, signet rings, pendants and jewelry set
with precious stones, chains, necklaces, bracelets, goblets
and silver platters and bowls

Grinder - sharpened knives, files, halberds, daggers, swords and
parts of armor

Grocer - sold dry goods and food staples

Gunsmith - made guns which he tested before selling to prevent
injury to the purchaser

Harp Maker - made harps of all sizes, shapes and designs

Hatter - made well-shaped hats and warm socks of good wool felt

Hunter - shot grouse, wild ducks and geese, and caught herons
with falcons

Huntsman - a nobleman's servant who hunted bears, wild boars, deer,
foxes, wolves and hares

Illuminator - colored and gilded pictures on paper or parchment

Ironworker - made farm tools, carpenter's tools, armor and weapons

Jester - did many foolish things to entertain his master and earn  his living

Joiner - made furniture with fancy moldings, chests, wardrobes,  dressers, tables, beds and board games

Lantern Maker - made everyday lanterns, large church lanterns, dark

lanterns for military use and fancy lights for festivals

Laundry worker - washed, mended often dyed and refoth, from one sig

Lawyer - often defended an unjust cause in court, using shrewd  ploys and obtaining delays; if his client lost, the lawyer  still filled his own purse

Locksmith - made locks, keys, bolts, chains, grates, iron chests
and weathercocks

Luthier - made lutes by bending fir wood over a block, putting on  strings and varnish.  He also made bowed string instruments and guitars

Mercer - a dealer in expensive fabrics

Merchant - dealt in spices, various kinds of cloth, honey, wax, timber, metals and furs

Metalworker - made statuettes, coats-of-arms for noblemen's tombs,  candlesticks, censers, fire hose nozzles and key rings

Miller - poured grain between millstones and ground it, and he also  pounded stockfish and crushed herbs

Miner - dug for ore in shafts, tunnels and quarries

Minstrel - sang verses (often of his own writing), played the harp
and wrote poetry

Mirror Maker - built and painted frames, reflecting glasses and  magnifying mirrors

Nail Maker - manufactured all sizes of nails and tacks for  builders, coopers, shoemakers and other artisans

Needle Maker - cut needles from iron wire, filed them, made eyes
and sharpened the points, then strengthened them by heating

Oil Maker - gathered, crushed and pressed many kinds of fruits and  seeds to produce edible and medicinal oils

Painter - made lifelike portraits, painted towns, castles, bodies  of water, hills, woods and armies

Paper Maker - in his water-driven mill, he made smooth white sheets
of paper from rags that had been chopped up, soaked, placed  on a sieve, pressed and dried

Parchment Maker - placed sheep and goat skins in lime, washed them,
stretched them on a frame and scraped and dried them

Peddler - sold bells, brandy, combs, eyeglasses, hair ribbons,  mirrors, needles, rattles, spices, straps, sugar and    whistles, usually carried his goods strapped on his back and mostly walked on his rounds

Pewterer - made bottles, candlesticks, flagons, keys, keyrings, pitchers, platters and salt cellars from pewter

Pharmacist - sold candy, prepared enemas and purges and filled doctor's prescriptions (also called an alchemist)

Physician - diagnosed illnesses by observing the patient's urine and then prescribed appropriate medication

Pinmaker - made fine, smooth, round-headed pins from brass wire and clasps for clothing

Potter - trod the clay, mixed with hair; put it on his wheel which was driven by his foot; shaped the jars, pots, tiles  etc.; glazed, painted and fired them

Rifle Butt Maker - mounted iron rifle barrels in artistically
finished butts with inlaid ivory

Roadmender - built and repaired roads and bridges

Ropemaker - produced heavy ropes for ships and for hoisting  construction materials, snares and nets for hunting and fishing and other types of ropes and cords

Saddler - made fine saddles for ladies, special jousting saddles
and saddles for farmers and carters

Scale Maker - produced a variety of balances for many uses,
including merchants' scales for weighing gold and grocers'  scales for weighing spices

Sculptor - made idols and figures of wood, stone and crystal

Scythe Maker - made well-sharpened scythes and sickles for
harvesting and mowing

Sea Captain - guided his vessel, cast anchor when there was a
storm, signed contracts with merchants to carry their goods  and frequently owned a share of the merchandise

Shoemaker - made shoes, boots and slippers and other leather goods
such as bags, cases, crossbow holders and fire buckets

Sieve Maker - sawed wood very thin for the sides of his sieves,  which were used for sifting flour in mills and spices in
grocers' shops; he made coarse sieves for farmers

Sommelier - court official charged with transportation of supplies,  a pack animal driver (a sort of Medieval logistician)

Soap Maker - made laundry and scented bath-soaps

Spectacles Maker - made eyeglasses with frames of horn or leather

Spur Maker - made iron and steel spurs and bits; cheaper ones for

Stonemason - built stone houses, castles and towers and walls

Tailor - made military tents, clothing for jousts and tourneys,  Italian and French style garments of silk and satin for  courtiers and ladies and of wool for commoners

Tanner - soaked the hides in a stream, threw them into lime, left  them a long time to tan, then dried them on poles

Tapestry Weaver - made woolen coverings with colors and patterns  for beds and tables

Thimble Maker - made his thimbles from brass which was heated,  shaped and riddled with holes; they were used by cobblers,  tailors, embroiderers and seamstresses

Thong Maker - made painted leather thongs and straps of various
styles, qualities and colors

Toolmaker - made compasses, tongs, pliers and other tools for
turners, joiners, pewterers, barbers and other artisans

Turner - crafted little jewel boxes of boxwood, cases, pulpits,  bedposts, hammer handles, bowling pins and mallets

Typefounder - cast type from bismuth, tin and lead, with Roman,  Gothic and Greek alphabets, capital letters and punctuation  marks

Vinegrower - dug, grafted, hacked, planted, propped, and pruned vines in springtime to have wine in autumn

Vintner - made many varieties of wine

Wagonwright - made wheels, many types of carriages, wagons, and
carts, ploughs and harrows

Weaver - made linen clothing in fustian and other weaves,  tablecloths, towels and coverlets in checks and other patterns

Wiredrawer - made copper and brass wire on his wheel; he made twisted wire and other types, wire brushes for goldsmiths, clavichord strings and small wires used in hatmaking

List of occupations compiled from the following:  Amman, Jost.  Book of Trades; Boissonnade, Prosper.  Life and Work in Medieval Europe; Geise, John.  Man and the Western World; and Power, Eileen.  Medieval People.


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Pirenne, Henri.  Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe,
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Further reading:

Bloch, Marc.  Feudal Society, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1961.

Braudel, Fernand.  The Structures of Everyday Life:  Civilization and Capitalism, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century, Volume I,
Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1981.

________.  The Wheels of Commerce:  Civilization and
Capitalism, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century, Volume II,
Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1982.

Bridbury, A.  England and the Salt Trade in the Late Middle Ages,
Oxford, 1955.

Cantor, Norman F. and M. S. Werthman, ed.  Medieval Society, 400- 1450, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York, 1967.

Carus-Wilson, E. M.  Medieval Merchant Venturers, Methuen and  Company, London, 1954.

Casson, Lionel.  The Ancient Mariners, Gollancz, London, 1959.

Chahin, M.  The Kingdom of Armenia, Croom Helm, United Kingdom,
1987.  The author covers the history of Armenia from the
ancient literate people of Mesopotamia, who had commercial
dealings in Armenia (2500 BC), to the end of the Middle

Cheney, Edward P.  The Dawn of a New Era, 1250-1453, Harper and
Row, Publishers, New York, 1936.

Darby, H. C.  `The Medieval Sea-State', The Scottish Geographical
Magazine, July, 1932.

Ewbanks.  `Navigation of the Tiber', Classical Journal, 1929 and

Fawcett.  `The Nordic Region', Scottish Geographical Magazine,
March, 1932.

Ganshof, F. L.  Feudalism, translated by Philip Grierson, Third
English Edition, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1961.

Greenhill, Basil.  The Merchant Schooners, Naval Institute
Press, n.d.

Hartman, Martin.  `China', Encyclopedia of Islam, Volume I, n.d.
An interesting resume on the overland trade between China
and the Muslim world.

Keary, C. F.  The Vikings in Western Civilization, London, 1891.

Kendrick, T. D.  A History of the Vikings, New York, 1930.

Lattimore, Owen.  Caravan Routes of Inner Asia, n.d.

________.  The Desert Road to Turkestan, Boston, 1930.

Lopez, R. and I. Raymond.  Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean
World, Columbia University, New York, 1955.

Ormsby.  `The Danube as a Waterway', The Scottish Geographical
Magazine, April 1923.

Ozment, Steven.  Magdalena and Balthasar, Simon and Schuster, 1986.
A couple in business, in sixteenth century Europe, with a  commuting marriage based on letters exchanged between the  couple along with commentary.

Postan, M. M.  The Medieval Economy and Society, Penguin Books,  Middlesex, England, 1972.

Rosenberg, Nathan and L. E. Birdzell, Jr.  How the West Grew Rich,
Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, New York, 1986.

Rostovtzeff, M. I.  `The Origin of the Russian State on the
Dnieper', American Historical Association:  Annual Report,

Simon, A. L.  The History of the Wine Trade in England, London,

Stephenson, Carl.  Mediaeval Feudalism, Cornell University Press,
Ithaca, New York, 1965.

Tagan the Talesmythe.  `Banner Staffs', Tournaments Illuminated,
Winter 1990, Nimber 97, pp. 28-29.

Thompson, James Westfall and Edgar Nathaniel Johnson.  An
Introduction to Medieval Europe: 300-1500, W. W. Norton, &  Co., Inc., New York, 1937.

Thomsen, W.  The Relations between Ancient Russia and
Scandinavia and the Origins of the Russian State, Oxford,

Vasiliev, A. A.  `Economic Relations between Byzantium and Old
Russia', Journal of Economic and Business History, IV, 1932.


Catriona Cattanach of Clan Macpherson, a fourteenth century Scotswoman, lives in Loch Ericht part of the time.  She has turned over the care of the tennants on her father's farm to his housekeeper and travels with him to Turkestan and the Orient.  

Milly McCloskey, a retired educator, lives in Glendale, Arizona still enjoying a life of research and revelry but there appears to be more research than revelry!

Lady Catriona Macpherson
(Milly McCloskey)  
14228 N. 45th Drive
Glendale AZ 85306


To all the merchants and artisans who lend so much color, ambience and support to SCA events.  


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31. Geise, p. 512.
32. Hall and Albion, p. 33.
33. Geise, p. 515.
34. Cross, S. H. & O. P. Sherbovitz-Wetzor, translators and
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41. Boissonnade, p. 71.
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50. Boissonnade, p. 108.
51. Lamonte, p. 371.
52. Geise, p. 518.
53. Hitti, P. K.  The History of the Arabs:  From the Earliest
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63. Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, p. 97.
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67. Painter, p. 77
68. Geise, p. 523.
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70. Boissonnade, p. 171.
71. Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, p. 47.
72. Magoffin & Duncalf, p. 576.
73. Geise, p. 532.
74. Schildhauer, p. 17.
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76. Lamonte, p. 371.
77. Boissonnade, p. 193-195.
78. Burke, p. 31.
79. Schildhauer, p. 16.
80. Bishop, p. 189.
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88. Bishop, p. 209.
89. Boissonnade, p. 222.
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97. Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, p. 90.
98. Geise, p. 514.
99. Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, p. 123.
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101. Geise, p. 540.
102. Geise, p. 524.
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111. Dollinger, p. 27.
112. Schildhauer, p. 34.
113. Dollinger, p. 38.
114. Schildhauer, p. 38.
115. Dollinger, p. 39.
116. Dollinger, p. 152.
117. Dollinger, p. 156.
118. Dollinger, p. 163.
119. Schildhauer, p. 104.
120. Dollinger, p. 181.
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122. Dollinger, p. 182.
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124. Barber, p. 304.
125. Clough and Cole, p. 59, 62.
126. Dollinger, p. 261.
127. Schildhauer, p. 217.
128. Schildhauer, p. 220.
129. Dollinger, p. 272-273.
130. Schildhauer, p. 41.
131. Schildhauer, p. 42.
132. Dollinger, p. 58.
133. Geise, p. 520.
134. Schildhauer, p. 234.
135.  Geise, p. 524.
136. Geise, p. 525.
137. Renard, p. xxii.
138. Bishop, p. 207.
139. Boissonnade, p. 214.
140. Renard, p. xxi.
141. Magoffin & Duncalf, p. 590.
142. Renard, p. xix.
143. Geise, p. 528.
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151. Rostovtzeff, p. 13.
152. Bingham, Woodbridge, H. Conroy and F. W. Ikle.  A History
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155. Rostovtzeff, p. 77.
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160. Bishop, p. 107.

Copyright 1998 by Milly McCloskey, 14228 N. 45th Drive, Glendale AZ 85306. <author’s email address>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org