Gold & Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages

By Jean Favier; Caroline Higgitt | Go to book overview

TEN
Business

Few merchants could survive by trading in a single item. The varying needs of different economic regions led to the organization of diversified trade. The lands to the north lacked sunshine and wanted wine. The wine-producing countries were generally short of grain. Wool came from England, Spain, Languedoc, or Provence, while alum came from the East or from Italy, and the dyes—woad, indigo, saffron, cochineal, khermes, and roccella or orseille—from a variety of places. Although this situation encouraged reciprocal trade among marketplaces and rotating cargoes, it did not necessarily mean that every single merchant diversified.


Universal Trading

Reinvestment of profits provided the first stimulus for universality. Until the development of the money market in the fourteenth century, businessmen had only two alternatives: to ensure the recovery of their earnings or to use their profits to buy goods for the return journey. The first meant leaving the capital idle—for as long as six months in the case of long‐ distance trade—so the choice was obvious.

The introduction of bills of exchange—of banking and the movement of capital—did little to change the basic problem. While it was easy enough to bring money home, nobody was prepared to pay high rates for freight and risk returning without a cargo. Although such voyages were tolerated in certain kinds of trade such as that of salt, where convoys would sometimes return home empty from the Baltic, the business world was nevertheless unanimous in regarding them as a last resort. Once again it was a matter of financial sterility: what was to be gained from leaving capital and ships

-175-

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Gold & Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Gold & Spices - The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages *
  • Contents *
  • Maps *
  • Introduction 1
  • One Horizons 8
  • Two Opening the Way 31
  • Three Learning About the World 53
  • Four Privileges 77
  • Five Competition 95
  • Six Foreigners 109
  • Seven Currency 125
  • Eight Payment 142
  • Nine Capital 151
  • Ten Business 175
  • Eleven Credit in the Marketplace 193
  • Twelve Toward Modern Banking 215
  • Thirteen the Risks of Business 237
  • Fourteen Accounting 258
  • Fifteen the Power of Business 280
  • Sixteen the Businessman and the Prince 297
  • Seventeen Social Aspirations 312
  • Eighteen Fortune and Conscience 332
  • Nineteen the Merchant and the Arts 349
  • Conclusion 363
  • Bibliography 365
  • Index 376
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