The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Resurgence of Town Life and of Commercial Activity

THE SECOND HALF OF the ninth century saw the opening of a period marked by a fresh wave of invaders: Northmen on the Atlantic and North Sea coasts, Hungarians in Central Europe, plundering Slavs on the eastern frontiers of the Empire, and in the south the Saracens.1 Yet, although this period was disturbed by perpetual raids, and in the western part of the Frankish Empire by the phenomena of political dissolution, it did not end in collapse or even in a serious upheaval such as that which accompanied the fall of the Roman Empire. After more than a hundred years of unrest and uncertainties, there dawned at last the great eleventh century, a century of economic as well as of religious and intellectual revival. Unfortunately this revival, less miraculous and complete than has been claimed, was preceded by a century of incubation which is one of the least well known in the whole medieval past. Nevertheless the temptation is great to pick out the preliminary signs of a recovery which was to be marked by a renewal of collective life and the introduction into it of a series of innovations: merchants settling down in one place, goods warehouses being built in towns, stalls appearing, then small shops and workshops, and populations no longer consisting solely of clerics, nobles and peasants, industries coming into being, capitalism making its timid appearance under the name of 'commenda', the oldest form of production loan, and hitherto unknown in the West.

These signs are not easy to discern, since they are few and far between and often obscure, but we should not be discouraged,

____________________
1
R. Kötzschke, Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Mittelalters, p. 300.

-235-

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