Paul Halsall

Introduction to the Medieval World

Class 12: The Commercial Revolution

Assigned Reading:

I.      Introduction

The civilization of the West in the middle ages.
Rebirth 1050 on. In 12th and 13th centuries a distinct an
impressive civilization is formed.

A thematic approach is called for.
In next four weeks we are going to look at
-Economic life
-Social life - for the aristocracy, and for the majority
-Intellectual life
-Theological developments
-Medieval Art
-Medieval Women

II.     Nature of Medieval Economy

A.      What people need to live [Q&A]

        1.      Food
                -Where from? -local production, own production
                -What extra? - spices. meat. corn in cities.
                -Beer & Wine

        2.      Housing
                -Where from? -intrinsically local
                -What extra? -Marble, gold leaf, timber, furniture
                -only for the rich

        3.      Clothing
                -What did people wear?  -wool, linen, fur
                -Where from? -Flax fields, Sheep
                -led to most important trade of middle ages - cloth.

III.    How Commerce Works

A.      Local

B.      Regional

C.      Distant

        1.      Problems - Transport, Safety in Travel, Finance

        2.      Places - The East, The Baltic

D.      In general
        -Local trade accounts for most activity in any economy
        -Foreign trade brings most profit and most risk

IV.     Agriculture

Remains basic form of life for most.
But growth of towns and commercial life changes agrarian
life as well.

Specialization of production.
Money economy effect land values, and social relations.

Aristocracy and King
Aristocracy and town dwellers
Peasants and lords

V.      The Commercial Revolution

A.      Why called a `revolution'.
        -Long term
        -But totally changed way Europeans lived
        -Importance of economic approach to history

B.      Time Frame
        -11th, 12th and 13th centuries - periods of accelerating
        economic activity
        -Period of depression after 1300.

C.      By c.1200 trade is dominating factor in European economy,
        although most of the population remains on the land.

D.      Why did it happen?

        1.      Increase in population  from 8-9th centuries
                -rise in demand and opportunities.

        2.      Technological improvements
                -Liberation of Labor
                -Spread of water mills after 9th century
                -Heavy plow - more land cultivable.

        3.      Safer to Travel
                -Peace of God applied to merchants. Also
                increased central control limits, does not stop,
                 private warfare.
                -Mediterranean cleared of pirates.

        4.      Gathering momentum - produces own effects.

        5.      Ready existing Jewish commercial network

        6.      Crusades facilitate trade in the East.

VI.     Trading Areas

A.      The Mediterranean

        1.      Goods - Spices, Silk, Cloth - high quality

        2.      European End
                Amalfi , Venice, Genoa, Marseilles

        3.      Eastern End
                Alexius I Comenus and Treaty with Venice
                -Holy Land

B.      The Baltic

        1.      Goods - Fish, Wheat, Fur

        2.      German Domination - Drang Nach Ostern am See
                -Hamburg, Lubeck, Riga, Revel
                -Hanseatic League

C.      The Atlantic

        1.      Goods -Wool, Wine, Beer

        2.      England and wool

        3.      Gascony and Wine

D.      Concentration of production of one good in an area
        leads to need to import others.
        -Threads are created. These threads make an economy

VII.    Growth of Towns

A.      Decline of towns after fall of Rome

B.      Major exception - Italy, Venice

C.      Survival of Towns elsewhere

        1.      Administrative centers. Episcopal centers.
                London had perhaps 8000 in 1066

        2.      Burghs

        3.      Provide locus for markets

D.      Rise of Towns

        1.      To do with cloth trade in North - Basic goods
                - Flanders - Ypres, Bruges, Brussels, Liege
                - Champagne - Fairs - Troyes
                - Spain - also has military component

        2.      To do with spices and cloth in Italy - luxury goods.

        3.      New Towns all over Europe - fewer after 1250

E.      Town Life

        1.      Migration  - Towns typically lose population
                -Many are unmarried - servants etc.
                -Incidence of disease.
                -Population comes from migration into towns.
                -Stadtluft macht Frei

        2.      Guilds - create a new urban oligarchy
                -Masters & Journeymen
                -Widows as business people.

        3.      Price Control
                -Idea of fair price.
                -Not unfettered capitalism by any means

        4.      Town culture
                -Religion & Confraternities

F.      Communes

        1.      Town government by Bishops or lords.

        2.      In Italy, France and Germany
                Commune movement - from 12th century
                1057 - Milan revolt

                Towns responsible for own life - They become a baron.
                Notion of corporation
                -Councils - Town Halls - Civic saints

G.      Growth of Town Walls - Successive rings of walls
        1300 population not surpassed until 19th century.
        London had 30,000 by late 13th century.
        [1300 ale shops, 354 taverns]

VIII.   Jewish Contribution

A.      Anti-Semitism and Violence
        Do not describe Jewish life or contribution
        to medieval history.
        Peaceful existence for many decades at a time

B.      Jewish presence in Spain and Muslim World

C.      Usury
        Jewish condemnation & Christian condemnation
        Not an issue of unfair rates, but of natural law.

D.      Jews and Usury
        -Need for interest in an economy
        -Jews excluded from many other activities - specifically
        land holding.
        -Jews, Cahorsins, Lombards

E.      Royal and papal treatment of Jews
        -borrowed money
        -Turned against them.
        -York 1190 & France 1290

IX.     Long Term Effects/Significance of Commercial Revolution

A.      Commercialization of Life
        -money reintroduced
        -money as root of evils
        Importance of Avarice as a sin to medieval moralists
        -But as root of a more advanced economy.
        -Knight service replaced by scutage

B.      Governments need money
        -In early middle ages no distinction between a monarchs
        private income and public expenditure.
        -It was possible to run a state on that.
        Government did very little.
        -As society becomes commercialized, money becomes more

        How do governments get money. Not through feudalism.
        -They impose tariffs
        -But not enough - need special taxes on income.
        -Leads to calling of assembly.
        -No taxation without consent, not as a principle but as a practicality

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© Paul Halsall, 1996.

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