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The Rise of the Merchant Class in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages, which is considered to be the time between 500 and 1500 AD gave rise to a new economic and cultural experience in Europe. The transition rom the !lassical Age to the "enaissance was a process o evolution. A ter the #barbarian# invasions o Europe during the ourth and i th centuries b$ the Anglos, %axons, &oths, and 'uns, the great "oman Empire declined. (t was onl$ starting in the eighth centur$ that Europe slowl$ began its cultural, as well as economic, recover$. )oliticall$, several new states emerged starting in the $ear *00, including the consolidated %candinavian states under +ing %we$n o Denmar,- the creation o a 'ungarian state- and the states o .ohemia and )oland. These states were ver$ stable monarchies, which helped widen commercial exchange between one another. The %candinavians traded extensivel$ with the east, the Mediterranean countries, and with "ussia. The end o various civil wars in Europe helped countries li,e (tal$ ma,e a name or themselves in trade with the Mediterranean. )isa, &enoa, and Amal i, were all ma/or commercial hubs. &erman$ and northern Europe were also able to ma,e use o trade routes to the Mediterranean through (tal$ and 0rance. Another result o the more settled Europe was the revival o agriculture, which was urther stimulated b$ commercial expansion due to the growing exchange econom$. Man$ cities began expanding, creating the demand or larger amounts o agricultural produce. As a result, previousl$ unproductive lands in countries such as 0rance and &erman$ were converted to ertile arms, rich with gra1ing herds. 2obleman with large pieces o uncultivated land o ered these lands to peasants or cultivation in return or which the$ collected pa$ment or rent. This was the beginning o the eudal s$stem in Europe. 3nder the eudal s$stem, ,ings gave nobleman large grants o land in exchange or soldiers. (n exchange or ighting, the soldiers were given gi ts o /ewels, horses, and sometimes land, in territories that had been newl$ con4uered, called ie s. These vassals, or servants to the ,ing had authorit$ over the peasants, called the ser s, who wor,ed on their land. The vassals became power ul local rulers who made their own laws, which the wor,ers on their land were re4uired to obe$. Economic progress stimulated b$ this s$stem gave rise to new towns and a rise in population in areas that were previousl$ unsettled. The rapid increase in population due to the economic revolution resulted in a shortage o land. 'owever, instead o causing a problem, arming and land cultivation techni4ues improved so that land could be used more e icientl$. This also shi ted 4uite an amount o the population awa$ rom arming /obs, and into /obs in towns and cities. .$ the 1100s, these hard wor,ing urban citi1ens ormed the middle class and were enterprising, ambitious, and contributed to the success o an earl$ orm o capitalism. This medieval capitalism is o ten re erred to as the birth o capitalism. !ontributing to the development o the European intellectual, religious, and moral recover$ was the setting up o new monasteries, since the church had also su ered due to the numerous invasions in the past. The more settled political climate helped bring bac, the in luence o the church. A ew o the great noblemen ounded new re ormed monastic houses that were more inclusive including the amous abbe$ o Einsiedeln, the monastic school o %t. Emmereram, and the Episcopal school o .amberg. This re ormation o the monasteries bro,e down regional di erences and revived discipline as well as literar$ and artistic li e. The eudal ideas o lordship extended even to the monasteries, as in the case o the abbot o !lun$ who was the head o all monasteries ounded or re ormed b$ his order. Even though there was much political, economic, and religious progress, new problems were created b$ all this development. !onsolidation o ,ingdoms created complications or &erman, (talian, 'ungarian, and )olish rulers. (n &erman$, the economic recover$ caused tension between the aristocrac$, which was onl$ interested in pro iting as much as possible rom the revived econom$, and the government. (n (tal$, it led to antagonism between the ,nights, and their eudal lords, or bishops. 'owever, the social revolution between the ,nights and the bishops gave rise to power ul new classes that strived to better their positions, leading to nobles and non5nobles. (n spite o all o these tensions, people still had /obs to support the growing population in cities and towns. An$ commodit$ that was unavailable in individual ie doms, was obtained b$ barter. Artisans made arm implements, dishes, and clothing, which the$ exchanged or the grain, wine, and meat produced on the arms. .eginning in the tenth centur$, a new class o trading people emerged, re erred to as peddlers. )eddlers traveled rom town to town, suppl$ing the nobilit$ and the peasants with the products the$ needed. The areas re4uentl$ visited b$ them 4uic,l$ developed into towns, which emerged as ma/or centers o trade and attracted man$ merchants who supplied the prospering nobilit$. As the nobilit$ got wealthier, the$ were able to a ord gems, sil,s, exotic spices, and other s$mbols o wealth. The merchants who previousl$ went rom town to town, were now traveling to oreign locations such as Eg$pt, Morrocco, and Tur,e$. The activities o the traders permanentl$ altered the ace o European societ$, leading to a commercial revolution, which was essentiall$ the shi t o power rom the landlords and nobilit$ to the merchants. !oncentration o wealth in emerging cities such as 0lorence, 6enice, 7ondon, and )aris attracted merchants worldwide. .$ the tenth centur$, extensive trade routes had been established connecting .ritain, the European continent, the Middle East, and 2orth A rica, b$ river and b$ sea. Asia and the Middle East had several excellent overland trade routes. 0or instance, the our thousand mile long %il, "oad led out o !hina all the wa$ to the .lac, %ea in Eastern Europe, through )ersia, A ghanistan, and (ndia. &erman$8s 'anseatic 7eague saved traders time with their larger ships that carried wine and salt to the East in exchange or the grain and timber the$ bought bac,. %ome traders and merchants began pl$ing the sea routes in search o more goods and pro its. Due to its location between the East and Europe, (tal$ was a vital trading countr$. Merchants rom 6enice traded with those rom the .$1antine Empire through Tur,e$, and merchants rom )isa and &enoa traded with cities in 2orth A rica. The$ brought bac, A rican gold and ivor$, precious stones, sil,s, per umes, and spices rom )ersia and (ndia, Tur,ish carpets, )ersian ceramics, and %$rian glass and metalwor,, all o which commanded high prices in Europe. (n the eleventh centur$, local merchants primaril$ sold their goods in wee,l$ mar,ets. A networ, o wee,l$ mar,ets was one o the main components o the booming economic progress that swept across Europe in the Middle Ages. These mar,ets spurred the creation o mone$, and harbored huge amounts o wealth to the merchants. 0airs, which lasted or wee,s and were held at crossroads o important trade routes, were another means b$ which well5established merchants bought and sold goods. %ome o the most important trading airs included the 195da$ cloth air and the :5da$ leather air, both held in !hampagne, 0rance. %ince airs and mar,ets could easil$ be ruined b$ undesirable weather conditions, some traders eventuall$ came up with wa$s to ma,e pro its without ever leaving their homes. 3sing credit, the$ bought and sold goods through agents at various airs, giving rise to a orm o ban,ing. This contributed to a ree low o mone$, which enriched the lives o people in all classes o societ$. This increase in wealth helped patroni1e artisans, goldsmiths, and retailers. The towns that expanded around the air sites attracted business and brought about the standardi1ation o currenc$, weights and measures. The merchant class largel$ populated the new towns that sprang up, and in luenced the econom$ and social li e o their societies. The towns attracted specialists such as grocers, spice merchants, cobblers, apothecaries, and goldsmiths who ormed unions called guilds. These guilds set the prices or the goods the$ produced, as the$ were the onl$ ones in the area creating this product in the area. There ore the citi1ens in this area were willing to pa$ whatever price the$ charged. Their control over these prices led to much o their control over the econom$. Additionall$, the$ e ected and in luenced social li e with the elaborate easts and celebrations the$ held or religious services, holida$s, and similar events. ;ith the increase o merchant activities and the rise o the merchant class, it became necessar$ or them to learn to read, write, do arithmetic, and have a general ,nowledge o oreign a airs. 7ocal governments and scholars, both o which pro ited rom teaching the children o these merchants, set up schools to ta,e care o the demand or education. The success o the schools in turn, led to the

establishment o universities, so that people were able to continue their education i the$ desired. %ome o these universities include <x ord, !ambridge, !hartres, "eims, and the 3niversit$ o )aris. The rising importance o schools bro,e the monopol$ that the church previousl$ had in the area o education. %ince merchants made great pro its rom bu$ing and selling goods, the$ were considered sinners b$ the church, because the$ enriched themselves rather than wor,ing or common good. The ear o hell was ver$ real and the church o ten con iscated merchant estates. To avoid this, merchants began contributing some o the wealth the$ made to monasteries and churches, and providing unds to charitable causes including hospitals and homes or those without shelter. The rise o the merchant class gained them access to high societ$ and some became amous patrons o the arts, constructing concert halls, churches, and other cultural centers. These merchants spread wealth and culture to the masses and assisted in dissolving the previousl$ existing social structure b$ creating a societ$ where even a peasant was able to rise in wealth and status. Merchants that /oined the ran,s o nobilit$ urther strengthened their position in societ$ b$ patroni1ing the arts even more. The$ hired artists, musicians, and writers to produce wor,s that still live on toda$, including wor,s o art such as Madonna and !hild, 2ativit$, and the ;ise Man, b$ renowned artists such as Michaelangelo, .otticelli, and 7eonardo Da 6inci. %ome o the extremel$ success ul merchants, ,nown as the merchant princes, sometimes became so power ul the$ controlled their countries wealth. The Medicis, a amil$ o ban,ers that lived (tal$, are an example o such power ul and success ul merchants. As a result o this patronage o the arts, man$ architectural and artistic gems were produced during this time. %ome o the buildings built during the Middle Ages using the &othic or "omanes4ue st$les used such advanced techni4ues that these buildings are still existent toda$. The !hartres cathedral, the 7aon !athedral, and %t. Denis, all in 0rance or instance, represent the 4ualit$ o the churches, houses, and castles built during that time. Also produced during the Middle Ages was some beauti ul art wor, that is o ten overloo,ed, including /ewelr$, potter$, metalwor,, carved woodwor,, sculptures, and illustrated manuscripts. Most o the art wor, was created in the setting o the church, such as murals o .iblical stories, chalices, shrines, reli4uaries, and statues o angels and saints. The rise o the merchant class also made portraits ver$ popular, along with intricate wor, or personal use such as woven tapestries, decorated manuscripts, tableware, /ewelr$, and carved urniture. (nventions and technolog$ during the Middle Ages were in the orm o a gradual improvement in the wa$ things were done, rather than a series o dramatic discoveries. (t too, place in the orm o a gradual shi t awa$ rom mass slaver$, the use o wind power, o open ields in agriculture, the use o the wheelbarrow, double entr$ boo,5,eeping, and inall$ the use o irearms and printing. The windlass, a rope around a barrel which turned using a cran,, was used to li t heav$ loads. ;ater mills and windmills were used to power all ,inds o machiner$. 0or instance, a hammer driven b$ a mill was used in ulling cloth, which is a method o cleaning abric used in textile production. A new ,ind o loom was introduced as well as the invention o the spinning wheel, which greatl$ reduced the time ta,en to weave cloth, and produce new abrics. The secrets o producing sil, were passed on rom &reece to other parts o Europe. )aperma,ing was brought bac, rom !hina, greatl$ reducing the cost and time to write and produce boo,s. The growth and progress o the European civili1ation in the middle ages was largel$ due to the rise o the merchant class. ;ith their ambition and hard wor,, the$ paved the wa$ or modern times. 3nder their leadership, Europe en/o$ed a prosperit$ not ,nown since the "oman Empire. ;hen Europe emerged rom the Middle Ages, it had attained a level o sophistication in its universities, literature, art, learning, science and technolog$, that were unmatched in the world. %igni icant advances were made in the areas o tenant arming, harnessing the horse to the plough, cloth ma,ing, iron wor,ing, ship building and navigation. This technical progress would not have amounted to much i it had not been coupled with the intellectual tools that the businessmen o that time used to manage his business and observe and measure luctuations in the econom$. The world o trade had to per ect various s$stems= rom dealing with rates o exchange or goods and services outside their towns or even countries, establishing credit procedures, legal bases in ,eeping with the times, and methods or monitoring and balancing their accounts. All o these eventuall$ became the oundation or our modern s$stem o economic relations. Although it is o ten ignored in histor$, the Middle Ages saw the birth o a new cultural experience in Europe, which eventuall$ led to the "enaissance. The cultural heritage o the Middle Ages is still apparent in architecture, art, education, science and technolog$, that have survived the test o time.

1. &old and %pices= The "ise o !ommerce in the Middle Ages, >ean 0avier 9. The Medieval Merchant, %tuart A. +allen ?. The Middle Ages, &iovanni !aselli @. The 7ate Middle Ages, "aintree %tec,56aughn 7ibrar$ 5. The Medieval ;orld, Mi,e !orbishle$ A. 7i e During the Middle Ages, Earle "ice, >r. "ead more= http=BBwww.u,essa$,Bessa$sBhistor$Bmerchant5class5in5the5middle5ages.phpCix119ta%n 1Du