Medieval Monday: Trade

Trade in Medieval Europe by Mark Cartwright

Trade and commerce in the medieval world developed to such an extent that even relatively small communities had access to weekly markets and, perhaps a day’s travel away, larger but less frequent fairs, where the full range of consumer goods of the period was set out to tempt the shopper and small retailer. Markets and fairs were organised by large estate owners, town councils, and some churches and monasteries, who, granted a license to do so by their sovereign, hoped to gain revenue from stall holder fees and boost the local economy as shoppers used peripheral services.

International trade had been present since Roman times but improvements in transportation and banking, as well as the economic development of northern Europe, caused a boom from the 9th century CE. English wool, for example, was sent in huge quantities to manufacturers in Flanders; the Venetians, thanks to the Crusades, expanded their trade interests to the Byzantine Empire and the Levant, and new financial instruments evolved which allowed even small investors to fund the trade expeditions which criss-crossed Europe by sea and land.

Markets & Shops

In villages, towns, and large cities which had been granted the privilege of a license to do so by their monarch, markets were regularly held in public squares (or sometimes triangles), in wide streets or even in purpose-built halls. Markets were also organised just outside many castles and monasteries. Typically held once or twice a week, larger towns might have a daily market which moved around different parts of the city depending on the day or have markets for specific goods like meat, fish, or bread. Sellers of particular goods, who paid an estate owner, the town, or borough council a fee for the privilege to have a stall, were typically set next to each other in areas so that competition was kept high. Sellers of meat and bread tended to be men, but women stallholders were often the majority, and they sold such staples as eggs, dairy products, poultry, and ale. There were middlemen and women known as regrators who bought goods from producers and sold them on to the market stallholders or producers might pay a vendor to sell their goods for them. Besides markets, sellers of wares also went knocking on the doors of private homes, and these were known as hucksters.

Keep reading at Ancient History Encyclopedia…


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