While the merchants as a social group were deliberately closing their ranks in order to preserve and exploit their advantages, the problem of competition began to present itself on two levels. The first was that of the kingdom or of the town, or even the guild—the arte or corporation, hansa or "company." Despite their efforts, the merchant groups, whether large or small, found themselves challenged, outside the frontiers defined by their privileges, by other groups enjoying similar privileges. This is evident in the fierce and sometimes dramatic competition between Florence and Pisa during the thirteenth century or the struggle of the Florentines against Lucca during the fifteenth. During the same century, rivalry also existed between Bruges and Antwerp, and between Lübeck and Nuremberg, although competition between Paris and Rouen was long standing. Nor should we forget the parallel and hostile histories of the two Florentine guilds, the Arte della Lana and the Arte di Calimala, or the interminable cases brought before the Parlement in Paris involving the dressmakers, the doublet makers, and the drapers. The group stood firm against outside competition, but this competition had the effect of making the group still more exclusive. To lift the barriers would be to court its own destruction.
The second level of competition was, needless to say, that between individuals. Even though a member of a group, each person continued to seek to make more money than his neighbor. For all the legally enforced egalitarianism—quite widespread and with a noticeable effect on the customs of everyday life—in practice business drew its vitality from a very real sense of competition. The delicate play of restrictions imposed on this competition, and the extent to which this affected individual initiative and fortunes, is often what most clearly distinguishes one marketplace from another.