Merchants in the Middle Ages

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Trade in a medieval city. French miniature of the 15th century.
Trade in a medieval city. French miniature of the 15th century.


Traders have existed for centuries. They played an important role in the development of many ancient cultures and helped them learn from each other. During the Middle Ages, merchants transported goods to and from Europe. Although their role in society was not valued as highly as other professions, they were an important link in the development of Europe and the rest of the world. Especially during the Crusades.



General characteristics


At that time, the other classes of Europe based their wealth on the amount of land they owned, and merchants had cash on hand, which became increasingly necessary as the Crusades progressed. As a result, the role of merchants changed somewhat: from hated consumers, they turned into respected members of society who had their own rank and weight.

Merchants traded various things. In fact, they traded everything that, in their opinion, had at least some value to others. On their travels, traders also collected interesting things for themselves. This made merchants famous for their role during the French Renaissance, as they often had extensive collections of art from their travels. Some of them were passed down by inheritance, some were kept in guilds for years.

The traders did not make anything themselves. Instead, they were intermediaries between producers and consumers. Although merchants initially only traded goods needed for survival, they later began selling more valuable items to the nobility at high prices. Merchants received mountains of money for such goods, and the nobility felt their status.

The main products were:

• slaves;
• perfumes;
• silk and textiles;
• horses;
• spices;
• gold and other precious stones;
• leather products;
• animal skins;
• salt.

How did people treat merchants in the Middle Ages?


In the Middle Ages, merchants had a bad reputation, thanks to the feudal system that existed then. According to feudalism, your importance and social status depended on how much land you owned. Most professions belonged to peasants, who were farmers, bakers or skilled workers.

Landowners included nobles, knights and royalty. The royals and clergy held the most power in the country, followed by the knights and nobles. Peasants worked the farms and paid taxes to landowners for protection and housing.

Since merchants did not fit into the feudal system of that time, the church did not particularly like them. She believed that merchants had no honor because their trade was profitable. They also did not own land, which made them even more isolated.

The Church called merchants "consumers" because they did not produce their goods themselves. People on earth had only one duty - to prepare themselves for a blissful afterlife. They had to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, caring for the less fortunate, while living in poverty themselves.

The Church categorically rejected the collection of earthly property and therefore refused to lend money and make a profit. However, she was unable to withstand the tsunami of change, and in the 13th century she adjusted her position. For the first time in stories she recognized that people are allowed to strive for happiness on earth.

Christians were not allowed to become merchants, so this profession was often reserved for Jews. Of course, some traders sold products from their lands in markets. They were treated differently from international merchants, who were essentially resellers.

Due to their bad reputation, the market was difficult for foreign traders. They often had to wait several hours before gaining access to the market. Foreign traders also paid higher taxes on goods imported into a city or country.

Local residents and nobles benefited from them through taxes. However, merchants were often considered an inferior class, and nobles, knights, and clergy unnecessarily avoided working with them.

However, despite their bad reputation, the foreign trade sector continued to grow throughout Europe, meaning that the same people who looked down on the merchants had no problem buying the luxury goods they sold.

Merchants often had to entertain and impress nobles in order to gain their favor and respect. The support of an aristocrat gave merchants security and status in society. Traders transported medicines from different countries, which helped Europeans monitor their health.

"Fair in medieval Ghent." Felix de Vigne
"Fair in medieval Ghent." Felix de Vigne

The merchant's road is hard


Given the poor reputation of merchants, they received no assistance or protection from the nobility when entering a new country or province. They also traveled with expensive goods and usually had money with them, which attracted robbers.

In the Middle Ages, there were two types of logistics: land or sea. Of course, most foreign merchants traveled by sea, buying goods and bringing them home. Sea logistics was cheaper and often safer, but not all goods could be transported by sea. For example, cattle. Traders traveling by sea had to deal with pirates and bad weather. In addition, merchants disappeared for several months, leaving their families without protection.

On land, bandits and thieves often attacked merchants for money and goods. Roads between cities were often in poor condition, and travel along them in the Middle Ages was not as fast as it is now.

Trade guilds


During the Middle Ages, merchant guilds played a significant role in the regulation and growth of trade. They were created as collectives of traders working for mutual benefit and protection. They played an important role in the development of trade routes and the establishment of trade practices in Europe, and their influence is still felt even today.

Guilds provided a sense of community and support for merchants navigating the complex economic landscape of the Middle Ages. They regulated trade, set standards for goods and services, and looked after the welfare of their members. They were responsible for fair competition.

The hierarchy of trade guilds was complex and dependent on the region. However, some common features and ranks can be identified.

At the top of the structure were the chief merchants or craftsmen, who held the most important positions and controlled the affairs of the guild. They were responsible for negotiating with other guilds and overseeing the activities of their guild.

Below the masters were journeymen, who were trained and considered skilled workers. They had some rights within the guild, including the ability to vote in elections and participate in certain events. Journeymen constituted the lowest level of the guild hierarchy. They were inexperienced and had to work their way up the ranks by undergoing training and demonstrating their skills.

Joining a merchant guild in the Middle Ages required a significant investment of time, effort, and resources. Potential members had to undergo a rigorous apprenticeship system that could last several years. Once the student completed his training, he could apply for admission to the guild.

However, membership was not automatic, and potential members had to meet a variety of criteria. These include demonstrating your skill level, providing evidence of financial stability, and being sponsored by an existing guild member.

Membership in a trade guild was highly coveted as it provided members with a number of benefits and privileges. These included access to exclusive trading networks, protection from external competition, and the ability to influence trade rules and standards.

Many kings viewed the merchant guilds as a threat to their power and sought to limit their influence on trade. For example, in some regions, rulers imposed taxes or duties on goods traded by guilds. Sometimes they were abolished, viewing the guilds as a threat to their power and control over the economy.

Hack and predictor Aviator


The life of a merchant in the Middle Ages was not luxurious. The Church considered them consumers and immoral. Traders often faced danger when traveling to new countries and cities. But they still played an important role in medieval society.
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  1. +12
    2 March 2024 05: 24
    Quote: Zotov Sergey
    Merchants traded various things
    The cow was walking along the road wink
    1. +15
      2 March 2024 08: 01
      Quote: Dutchman Michel
      The cow was walking along the road

      *It’s a pity that we never heard from the head of the transport department...*M. Zhvanetsky. laughing
      According to the article. Not interesting.
      1. +7
        2 March 2024 10: 07
        According to the article. Not interesting.

        From the word absolutely. Weak competition for Shpakovsky.
        1. +6
          2 March 2024 18: 07
          It felt like it was just a different genre. If Vyacheslav Olegovich’s articles can be classified as educational materials with documentary evidence, then this article is similar to an abstract made based on the results of reading such educational articles. The trouble is that an essay is a text designed to convince the teacher that the student read the textbook and listened to lectures. For VO, such a genre is useless.
          1. 0
            April 12 2024 16: 32
            It's hard to replace warspot...
            The articles there were selected very carefully
  2. +5
    2 March 2024 05: 54
    Come on - the merchants are all Jews. And Hansa, and Venice, and Genoa? The famous fairs of Provence, etc., etc.?
    1. +1
      4 March 2024 15: 23
      Quote: paul3390
      And Hansa

      I thought about her first too. Its own fleet, its own politics, its own wars...
  3. +4
    2 March 2024 07: 31
    But in the vastness of Europe, merchants did not transport anything, or what?
    And when were those who transported their own and not their own cargo from region to region called hated consumers?
    What perfume??? Maybe incense?
    After all, even in our time you can hear from an enlightened car owner the question of “which stinker smells better.”
  4. +5
    2 March 2024 07: 47
    At different times, the Catholic Church treated trade and merchants differently. At the beginning it was extremely controversial, since trade was considered a craft displeasing to God. But the Catholics of that time were especially infuriated by the moneylenders, and for this the moneylenders were promised only hellish torment in hell. Officially, usury was prohibited for Catholics and only non-believers, that is, Jews, could be lenders. This was another stone to provoke persecution of Jews and Jewish ghettos appeared.
    But during this time, the Catholic Church itself became fabulously rich and the attitude towards merchants changed. And the Catholic Church treated one category of merchants with special love and respect. These merchants were under the patronage of Catholic Venice and then Genoa and they traded in slaves, slaves and captives. In a strange way, this craft was not prohibited for Catholic merchants, it seems that their religion pleased them... Here, too, Rus' “became” from these merchants and their trade. The Genoese colony in the Crimea
    ancient Feodosia was famous for its Genoese merchants whose main goods were slaves and captives.
    And since Rus' was then under the Tatar yoke, many noble European merchants then became rich by trading in Russian slaves and captives, whom they had previously bought from the Tatars for resale. And somehow, not very well, for such “business” for Catholics, the Catholic Church threatened them with torment in hell! Moreover, she also protected this “business”, which is why her attitude towards merchants then changed to extremely positive...
  5. BAI
    +3
    2 March 2024 09: 00
    The Church categorically rejected the collection of earthly property and therefore refused to lend money and make a profit.

    1. Did the monasteries know that it is forbidden to have property?
    2. Lend. The Church has never engaged in usury.
  6. +12
    2 March 2024 10: 00
    From the first lines you can identify the author. The level of a sixth-grader is a C-grade student.
    According to feudalism, your importance and social status depended on how much land you owned.
    Landowners included nobles, knights and royalty.

    It is obvious that the author has extremely vague ideas about medieval land ownership. And these same ideas are absent in principle about “regional” features.
    For example, in England, since the time of William the Conqueror, the only landowner has been the crown. All others are land users.
    1. +5
      2 March 2024 16: 06
      Do you still have enough strength to read to the end? Amazing. Broke on the first paragraph.
    2. +5
      2 March 2024 16: 37
      Quote: Dekabrist
      From the first lines you can identify the author. Level of sixth-grader - third-grader

      Just from one style of presentation, knowledge of history and the uncontrolled eruption of the mind, the reader can easily be taken to Kashchenova’s monastery...
  7. +11
    2 March 2024 10: 02
    "gold and other precious stones."
    And I thought that gold was a metal.
  8. +6
    2 March 2024 10: 35
    Sea logistics was cheaper

    A good ship was then incredibly expensive even for the state.
    The Spaniards made a good film “1492: The Conquest of Paradise”, which showed how it was not easy for the queen to allocate money even to rent three ships for the expedition of Christopher Columbus. Moreover, the displacement of ships in those days was ridiculous (compared to modern ones) - about 100 tons. You can't take much.
  9. +6
    2 March 2024 12: 15
    The Church categorically rejected the collection of earthly property and therefore refused to lend money and make a profit.
    Yes?! Are you seriously? Why did Luther scold them then?
  10. +1
    2 March 2024 16: 32
    The merchants in the Middle Ages, of course, were not counts, but they didn’t complain much about their living conditions either. Because they could afford it from the profits. And those who were larger lent money to the kings at interest (and more often they received it than they did not receive it, otherwise they would not have lent it). So one should not consider the medieval merchants of St. Petersburg to be completely defenseless. They were the ancestors of the financial oligarchy, and they had prototypes of PMCs and private security companies under their command. Small traders, of course, were small traders, but large ones could pinch aristocrats and put them in their place. And when planning major geopolitical events, the kings spoke very politely with respected people with jingling reputations
  11. +1
    2 March 2024 18: 28
    The roads were bad for a reason; it was not for nothing that the saying “what fell off the wagon was lost” was used. I remember that in a textbook on the history of the Middle Ages there was even a story about a French royal courier who, on the way, met the servants of a local feudal lord who were ruining the road and he tried to stop them.
  12. Des
    +3
    3 March 2024 19: 29
    Marvelous. How such an article passed the VO test and was published. Bravo(. That’s not possible!
  13. 0
    5 March 2024 20: 48
    “Christians were not allowed to become traders... The Church considered them consumers and immoral” - where does this come from?? In general, it looks like a compilation translation of some foreign language text.
  14. 0
    7 May 2024 12: 04
    In the Middle Ages, merchants had a bad reputation, thanks to the feudal system that existed then.
    A very correct statement! But it goes on as usual... In general, under feudalism, paternalism, hated by capitalist society, flourished. This very word causes writhing and foam at the lips of all propagandists of the capitalist system. And why?
    Patrenalism is the concern of the higher for the lower. How a father takes care of his children. Capitalists are simply dying of hatred for the traditional family, and for any similar manifestations anywhere. After all, a merchant does not produce anything himself, right?) Therefore, what is his main idea, the basis of his well-being? This is to buy as cheaply as possible, sell as expensively as possible. “I live on this 2%”)) Yeah. 200%, 2000%, more... the more, the nicer the merchant.
    And here the damned feudal lords, who paternalistically care about their subjects, stand in the way of double deception (producer - once, consumer - twice)! Feudal lords are educated people with the ability to obtain data. What the producers and consumers of that time did not have at all. Only the merchant decided to buy a stack of skins from Kozhemyak for two money, and then the feudal lord - the average price for skins is five money per skin! And he’s not lying (otherwise there will be no trade at all). Fork out, you cunning merchant! As soon as the merchant decided to sell “rarities and wonders” for gold, then the feudal lord again...
    In general, it is completely unclear where merchants got their bad reputation?! Mystery and riddle...