The Town Merchants
| Trading Goods | Trading and the City | Dangers of Trading |
While peasants worked the fields and the lords and ladies of the
castle feasted, medieval merchants were sailing the seas around Europe and the
Mediterranean. They traded in food, raw materials, and luxuries: wool from England,
furs from Russia, wood from Scandinavia, salt and wine from France, horses from
and tapestries from Flanders, glass from Italy, and silks and spices from Asia.
Trade made the merchants rich, and it also brought wealth to the
rulers of the land in which the trading took place. Many of the rulers would demand
a fee or a gift to them for allowing the foreigners to trade in their land, and they
also taxed all traded goods. Numerous wars were fought over trade, because of the
great profit it brought to the land. The Crusades were not just holy wars, but they
also aimed to take one of the largest trading centers and routes in the world.
Trading and the City:
Merchant and traders were not part of the medieval feudal
society, yet they had great influence in it. As trade developed, towns along the
trade routes became richer and richer. Some developed into great cities, such as
This increase in wealth and riches lead to the increased prosperity of the local
merchants, and also of the farmers in the area. There was more of a need for their
services, and more and more money to be made each day. Many wealthy trading towns
became virtually independent states, and they soon became exempt from the feudal system.
The merchants and the leading figures in a town often struggled
with the lord of the manor, whose land they were making such a great profit upon. So
that they could be free and rule themselves, town leaders might arrange to buy a
charter from the lord, or from the king himself. In return for their hefty payment,
the town became a "free borough," ruled by its own council and led by a
democratically elected mayor.
Dangers of Trading:
There were many concerns on the part of the towns and the rulers
of the towns concerning the detrimental effects that trading had on the towns. Many
of the local merchants were often run out of business because they could not compete
with the selection and the quick service of the traveling guilds of merchants. Also,
some towns left their former suppliers for these new, cheaper services that the
merchants could supply, and many towns fell into ruin because of the foreigners. Also, as
the sheer number of people were attracted to these wealthy capitals of the medieval
world, crime and overcrowding became major concerns. Disease spread easily and
quickly through these towns, usually killing thousands instead of the usual hundred or so in
the smaller towns.
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