A Source Book for Medieval Economic History

By Roy C. Cave; Herbert H. Coulson | Go to book overview

SECTION IV
TOLLS

Introduction

The exaction of thelony or tolls was one of the greatest obstacles to town, intertown, and interregional trade in the Middle Ages. At the same time, tolls were an important source of revenue to the central governments, and to the numerous local authorities. The right of thelony was freely granted as a means of developing a monastery, of meeting a public need, or of rewarding a royal favorite. The practice of levying tolls had already become widespread long before feudalism became well established in France. Reduction of tolls and elimination of abuses in their exaction were subjects of royal legislation during the eighth and ninth centuries, but even Charlemagne's attempts to free commerce ultimately proved futile. With the break-up of his empire conditions grew worse. Nearly everywhere feudal kings, lords, gilds, and other authorities imposed tolls on almost everything conceivable. The chief objects of thelony appear to have been goods being transported or traded, ships and vessels of any sort, and travellers. Military, royal, ecclesiastical, and medical supplies were supposed to be exempt from tolls, as were also university students; but these at best only enjoyed partial exemption in fact. Some immunity from tolls was also obtained by gilds and hanse leagues. Tolls were commonly levied at ports, markets and fairs, river toll-stations, and on roads. The elaborate lists at important river and sea ports which appear from the eleventh century onward perhaps justify the use of the expression "toll system" as applied to such localities. Toll documents are, of course, a valuable source of information concerning the nature of medieval commerce, as well as being indispensable to a study of medieval taxation.


1. Tolls on the Rhône

When commerce of a migratory nature began to develop in the seventh century tolls were fixed among the Visigoths and Franks. Most

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