FORMS OF WEALTH
The material welfare of a people may be gauged in many ways. Among the most important are the amount of social wealth and income and the manner in which these are shared by the different classes of society. While it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain with exactitude the amount and distribution of income in the Middle Ages, there are strong indications that the total income of different areas was not usually very large, while at the same time inequalities in its distribution were exceedingly great. Estates of lords and kings were literally farmed out for what they would bring, and poverty among serfs was widespread.
Owing to the importance of agriculture, wealth in the Middle Ages consisted overwhelmingly of land and its improvements. The great bulk of this wealth was held by kings, nobles, and the Church. A steadily increasing proportion was acquired by the Church, until by the close of the period it is said to have owned about a third of all the wealth of Europe. At the same time, it would be rash to conclude that ownership of wealth, if serfs are considered as owning their holdings, was more unequal than in modern times. Only the slave and the lowliest serf were apt to be without a landholding.
A clearer notion of the varieties of wealth can be obtained than of their amount and value. Our problem is made even more difficult with respect to the latter by the lack of accurate statistics concerning medieval population. The chief forms of social wealth appear to have been the following: (1) land and its improvements; (2) agricultural produce; and (3) livestock and poultry. Of lesser importance were the products of household and handicraft industry, of mines, and transportation facilities. Ownership of slaves, and rights to the services of serfs were hardly social wealth
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Publication information: Book title: A Source Book for Medieval Economic History. Contributors: Roy C. Cave - Author, Herbert H. Coulson - Author. Publisher: Biblo and Tannen. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1965. Page number: 305.