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efreysson
10-24-2011, 07:11 PM
I haven't needed to tackle this subject in any way yet, but now that I'm expanding my fantasy universe and writing deeper, more complex plots, I feel I should figure out the commerce.

And since I barely even know anything about modern-day commerce, I felt I should ask for input.
What controlled commerce in the pre-industrial days? When did people do business on more than a strictly local level and how was something like that arranged? Basically, what do I need to know to create the broad strokes of commerce in my world?

(BTW, the setting by-and-large has a central Europe-like climate)

areteus
10-24-2011, 08:12 PM
Which part of the medieval period? There's a massive chunk of history called 'the medieval period' which ranges from what was essentially (for most people) a barter economy to the more organised economies of the period just before the Renaissance...

I'm sure you'll get Medievalist in here in a bit with an opinion that is more expert than mine but here are some thoughts...

Remember, this is your world that you are making up so you can pick and choose how your own economy works. These are just suggestions based on what I have picked up on history.

Usually, economy was controlled by the monarch. They ran the royal mint and therefore made the coins that everyone used. They also set taxes (but only in wartime for most of history and, in England at least, only with the approval of parliament). Value of the currency was largely based on the value of the metal used to make it which is why, until they started to debase the currency with cheaper metals and the value was based more on the number printed on it, you could cut a coin in half or quarters to give change.

For the many people, actual coins were rare and trade was often done by barter for goods or services in exchange. Certainly in smaller communities this was more common than actual coin.

The first banks were established (according to the 'lies to children' version of history I was taught on this) by Knightly orders during the Crusades who had the resources (armaments, manpower, trade routes) to transport large amounts of cash around Europe. The idea being that you lodged some money with the knights in one city and could travel to another city unmolested by thieves and pick up your cash in another city on presentation of the correct credentials. This is one of the reasons cited why the monarchs of Europe were so keen to accuse the Templars of something heretical and get them all disbanded - so they could get their hands on all that gold.

A bit later in history for your needs, I think, but there was a mention in a show about the Tower of London of some gold coins the size of dinner plates which were used in the Renaissance to buy entire cargoes of goods - one of those was worth an entire ship's hold worth of cloth, for example.

Dave Hardy
10-24-2011, 08:54 PM
Guilds played a big role in crafts. They trained the apprentices, they set prices & production, they also acted as social clubs, political pressure groups, and even militia.

There were Italian & Spanish sea-going merchants who were critical to trade in the Mediterranean. They traded with more-or-less every port, whether Christian-controlled or Muslim. They had a type of one-shot corporation, called a "Commenda" where investors bought a share and got paid when the voyage was over & the profits could be divided.

These are more elements in trade rather than "controlling" commerce. Maybe you should look at the Hansa where an alliance of N. Sea/Baltic cities set out to dominate trade in the north. There were also families like the Fuggers who had the right connections in mining and at the royal courts to act as international bankers (esp to finance the Habsburgs' wars).

Dave Hardy
10-24-2011, 08:59 PM
Oh, don't forget the church. Where noble families tended to "use-up" their holdings (selling, mortgaging, etc) to finance wars, the church held on to its wealth. They also had a complex system of selling indulgences (forgiveness of sins for cash) and a practice of paying annates: a new bishop paid the first year's income of his office to the papacy. This was clerical high finance, one of the things Martin Luther made a fuss over.

Alessandra Kelley
10-24-2011, 09:41 PM
I'd just like to toss something in as an amateur numismatist.

Medieval coins were wafer-thin, as thin as they could make them without falling apart.

You know all those poker-chip thick coins in popular movies and images? Nuh-uh. They weren't like that.

I don't remember which Italian city's silver coins were called "sequins," but that should give you the idea.

waylander
10-24-2011, 09:43 PM
The markets in each town were tightly controlled. Anyone who wanted to sell stuff in a market had to pay a fee to the local guild or lord. Travelling merchants and pedlars would have to pay tolls on the roads/bridges/ferries.

You need to look at this
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Medieval-Town-Peter-Hammond/dp/1848681267/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319478313&sr=1-1

Buffysquirrel
10-24-2011, 11:01 PM
This is a huge and fascinating subject. I have a book called English Local History: An Introduction which includes a map showing the overseas trade routes from England in the later Middle Ages. Trade went as far afield as Riga, Malaga, and Sicily. It wasn't necessarily a case of a merchant from England travelling all that distance; a lot of trade was done along routes and goods would travel a certain way before being traded, and would then be traded again and set off on the next part of their journey.

The Romans traded along a Red Sea route; this was barred later because of Islamic occupation.

efreysson
10-24-2011, 11:15 PM
Which part of the medieval period? There's a massive chunk of history called 'the medieval period' which ranges from what was essentially (for most people) a barter economy to the more organised economies of the period just before the Renaissance...


Yes, I know. I don't have any particular period in mind that I'm copying exactly. As a rough guideline, weapons and armor are circa 11th century, medicine and literacy are much more advanced, and coins are heavily used in many areas (largely because it's easier to write . . .)

I'm just sort of trying to get a grip on commerce in general.


I'd just like to toss something in as an amateur numismatist.

Medieval coins were wafer-thin, as thin as they could make them without falling apart.

You know all those poker-chip thick coins in popular movies and images? Nuh-uh. They weren't like that.


Interesting.





You need to look at this
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Medieval-Town-Peter-Hammond/dp/1848681267/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319478313&sr=1-1

VERY interesting. I think I do need to look at this. Thanks.


But aside from the big picture, I'm also thinking about stuff like, for example, when did trade take place? Was there a specific trading season or could a merchant run caravans and sailing routes all year round and profit?
I guess I need to understand work, resources and craft in the old days a little better.

Dave Hardy
10-24-2011, 11:28 PM
I expect weather played a VERY big role in movement of goods. Lacking well-engineered Roman roads, ground travel could be halted by mud.

I'm not so sure about sea travel, but of course the Med has different weather patterns than the N Atlantic. Think of how many sagas have some business about "merchants staying for the winter."

waylander
10-24-2011, 11:30 PM
But aside from the big picture, I'm also thinking about stuff like, for example, when did trade take place? Was there a specific trading season or could a merchant run caravans and sailing routes all year round and profit?
I guess I need to understand work, resources and craft in the old days a little better.

Depends on the weather and the roads.
No merchant wants to run the risk of his precious cargo getting sunk in an autumn gale, but a couple of enterprising fellows with a train of mules could make a killing if they were the first traders through the pass in spring.

Snick
10-24-2011, 11:52 PM
No one can give you a good overview in a few hundred words, because things changed dramatically over the centuries, and trade was different in different regions. If you aren't anchoring your story in one time, then you can say all sorts of things about how trade was done, and it probably will match what happened in some places at some times.

Medievalist
10-25-2011, 12:25 AM
Some things to Google:

Guilds

Silk road

Salt road

Hanseatic league

Timbucktu gold

Venice and quarantine

Buffysquirrel
10-25-2011, 01:15 AM
It's later, but I'm reading in 1493 about the 'season' for trade between the Spanish galleons and the Chinese, which was pretty much limited by the storm season.

Shakesbear
10-25-2011, 02:10 AM
Plague changed commerce in many ways. Populations were decimated and this had a knock on effect on commerce.

You may find this site http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/main of use. Scroll down to the Gazetteer of markets and fairs an incredibly comprehensive survey.