The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages began with an explosion of distance trade in the 11th and 12th centuries. Its culmination was the rise of manufacturing on a large scale – what economic historan R. Lopez calls the “pre-industrial rise” of the later Middle Ages.
Medieval commerce spurred the creation of a political corporation, the commune. Commerce and industry produced a social and economic corporation, the guild. Guilds were fundamental to town and city life in medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Guilds were “professional associations that tried to monopolize a branch of trade and to promote its interests.” (Lopez) Two types: MERCHANT and CRAFT guilds The merchant guild: a society of entrepreneurs – bankers, traders, investors. The craft guild: an association of skilled artisans or craftsmen. Lopez defines the medieval craft guild: “a federation of autonomous workshops.” The members of the guild were workshop owners recognized as “masters” of the craft.
How essential were guilds to medieval and Renaissance town life? In 1294, more than 36,000 of 50,000 inhabitants of Bologna were members of a guild or relatives of members, according to one statistical study. Excluding 2000 university students and 1500 clergy, fewer than 10,000 people in Bologna ranked too high in status or too low to be included in Bologna’s guild structure – a structure which covered lowly shopkeepers and well-paid university-trained physicians.
By the late Middle Ages, Cologne had 45 guilds for a population of 45,000, including 122 master goldsmiths. Paris had 130 trades regulated by guilds in 1292.
GUILD FUNCTIONS: -- standardizing the quality, size, price of its products (the mark of a guild was a form of advertising and a guarantee to wholesale buyers) -- sponsoring religious ceremonies and assistance to impoverished members (or widows and their children) -- holding banquets and feasts for its members -- lobbying government, intervention in political conflict
Another function was to regulate the training of new workers. To join a CRAFT guild, one had normally to be male, and to pass through two stages -- 1. as an APPRENTICE to a master craftsmen – typically in boyhood, for 7-14 years 2. as JOURNEYMAN or day worker (“bachelor”) – for a wage, learning advanced skills A journey applied for status as a master by submitting a MASTERPIECE for examination by guild officials.
Medieval Industry: Textile Manufacturing The most important manufactured product after 1200: CLOTH LINEN, made from flax (a plant that grew in the marshy regions of the Netherlands) was the first fabric made fine enough for distance trade. Fine, but expensive (underwear, table cloths, bed sheets for the rich. SILK, imported from China since Roman times, was produced in Europe after 1200 in Lucca, Venice, Florence, Bologna, and Milan. A greater luxury than flax. The humblest fabric brought the greatest profits, the most sophisticated industrial development, and the greatest power: WOOL.
Sheared from English and Spanish sheep, wool was processed and refined in FLEMISH and ITALIAN workshops. The processing of wool into cloth involved a complicated series of operations, each performed by a different guild or unit of unorganized workers: cleaning combing spinning weaving fulling dyeing finishing The above list is grossly simplified. Lopez counts 30 separate steps in the making of woolen cloth mentioned in 13th-century sources.
In most wool-producing cities, one guild financed, supervised, and profited most from all the stages of production: the DRAPERS (Ital. lanaioli) Florence in the early 14th c. boasted 200 workshops belonging to lanaioli and producing 75,000 pieces of finished cloth per annum. Milan had at least 363 lana workshops in the later 14th c.
The complexity of medieval wool production anticipated the mass production techniques of modern times. These include the recent practice of outsourcing. The stages of wool production were such that they did not have to be brought – expensively – under one roof. Woolen material was simply “put out” as required to the craftsmen or workers responsible for the next stage of processing.
Agents of the drapers guild -- in Florence, the Calimala [cloth finishers] guild and its competitor, the Lana [wool importers] guild –owned and controlled each stage of wool production through agents. wool WASHED in the Arno sent to the contado (Florentine countryside) for spinning (by women “spinsters”) brought to city pieceworkers for WEAVING sent to vats for DYEING to fulling mills on the Arno for FULLING Then to a CENTRAL FACTORY for finishing and export
The Second Major Medieval Industry: MINING Benedetto Zaccaria (d. 1307/8) – merchant adventurer and alum magnate alum: a hardener in tanning leather, a color fastener (mordant) in dyeing cloth produced by a time consuming process of boiling and crystallization in a vat (better crystals on top, which are skimmed off)
fat profits in alum were made by processing the mineral and shipping it in BULK requires owning a large quarry, large vats, large ships, controlling a large share of the market this ideal realized by the 13th-c. Genoese merchant, B. Zaccaria – a member of the merchant social elite of the commune of Genoa
BZ’s career was colorful and varied… -- earned money and fame as naval commander in service to the BYZANTINE EMPIRE, to HIS OWN CITY, and to the kings of CASTILE and FRANCE -- wrote in French a plan for the blockade of England, carried out delicate diplomatic missions for Genoa and France -- at other moments in his life he was a PIRATE in the Aegean sea, the GOVERNOR of a seaport in the Arab-controlled south of Spain (Andalusia), and RULER of a Greek island
From the CRIMEA to FLANDERS there was scarcely a port that ships of his personal fleet did not visit routinely. How did he become an alum magnate? He was a young but experienced trader in wool cloth and color dyes when he noticed a huge, clean deposit of ALUMITE near PHOCAEA in ASIA MINOR. In 1274, he took advantage of a mission to the Byzantine court to obtain the land in return for NAVAL SERVICE.
BZ and his co-investors set up ALUM refineries near PHOCAEA with enormous boiling vats. They protected the refinery area with a FORTRESS on the land side, BATTLE CRUISERS in the sea. Italian technicians and artisans joined crews of Greek laborers – and a mining and refining community of 3000 grew up near the old seaport of Phocaea.
BZ’s took turns transporting heavier and heavier ALUM cargoes all around the Mediterranean – on board, they had armed men to withstand an attack. They were also covered by MARITIME INSURANCE CONTRACTS. BZ’s ships also plied the Atlantic to bring ALUM to northern ports.
In the 1290s, one of BZ’s sons was sending ALUM ships to BRUGES in FLANDERS. At the same time BZ himself was helping the King of France fight a war against FLEMISH rebels! (He was in charge of a fleet of his own ships contracted for service to the French royal court.)
During the campaign, BZ heard a rumor that a group of men and women were going on a Crusade to the Holy Land. He dropped everything to join them. There was no Crusade in fact, and BZ died disappointed in 1307 or 1308. His descendants kept the ALUM industry and trade going -- by 1330 the PHOCEA mine was producing 700 TONS of refined Alum per year. Annual profit: 50,000 Genoese lire.