What my credit can do in (medieval) Venice

January 2, 2013

Mueller, Reinhold C. (1987) I banchi locali a Venezia nel Tardo Medioevo. Studi Storici, 28/1: 145-55.

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There is a lot to be admired in Austrian economists, their resilience, their attachment to simple elegant ideas and their sound understanding of the long-term factors that give the economy its cyclical nature. But one must admit that their Ludite-like hatred for finance is to the very least puzzling. They claim to trust nothing but gold and they would like to see the activity of banks restricted to little more than a locker service. Their trust in free market and in the adaptive nature of human ingenuity ends at the door of their local branch of HSBC. Read the rest of this entry »


Seurot F. (2002) Something rotten in the state of medieval banking

October 20, 2009

Seurot, François (2002) “Les crises bancaires en Italie au Moyen Age: un essai d’applicationn de la théorie de Minsky-Kindleberberger”, paper presented at the XIX Journée d’économie monétaire et bancaire, 21p.

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This paper is available online (pdf).

Following a long tradition, Minsky and Kindleberger [1996] have based their analysis of financial crises in the early modern and modern periods on their vision of credit as intrinsically unstable and thus naturally prone to crashes. Their model is based on five steps:

  1. An exogenous shock modifies the incentive system the economy is based upon.
  2. These new incentive channel credit toward a given sector and produces a localized economic boom.
  3. Euphoria leads to the overestimation of the ROI and to overtrading.
  4. Fundamentals are reconsidered and credit dries up.
  5. Torschlusspanik, or bank rush (p.1). Read the rest of this entry »

Dorestad. A Medieval Metropolis

October 10, 2009

Picture 5I’m just back from Leiden where Jaco Zuijderduijn took us (a group of recently-arrived PhD students) to visit the exhibition devoted to the archaeological findings from the medieval emporium of Dorestad held at the National Museum of Antiquities. The curator, Annemarieke Willemsen, was kind enough to introduce us to several of the pieces.

I must confess, the city was unknown to me. However it seems to have been an important port dedicated to the transit of goods from and to Scandinavia and the Rhine area. Like most of the commercial hubs of the time (i.e. the 8th and 9th centuries), it evolved into a significant consumption center of its own while at the same time not hosting any significant production (be it agricultural or industrial) with the exception of the minting of coins.

Picture 6The city may have counted some 3,000 inhabitants and was dominated/protected by the lords of the neighbouring countryside. Numerous goods were traded in Dorestad: wood, wine, amber, Frankish blades, potteries, millstones, hunting dogs, slaves, etc. The city was finally destroyed by the viking raids in the 840s and by the collapse of the Carolingian empire at the same period which suddenly made impossible the type of long-distance trade the city was based upon.

Dorestad seems to have been the most important trading center of NW Europe at the time and was particularly remarkable by the 150m jetties the inhabitants had to build as the rivers tended to shift westward leaving un-navigable muddy terrains in its wake. Noticeably, the city was also constructed without any distinctive defensive feature indicating that it was highly reliant on peaceful conditions.

The exhibition was truly nice and there is a host of beautiful pieces but I must say I was a bit skeptical about the whole Dorestad being the key emporium in NW Europe theory. Indeed, all the artifacts presented come either from Germany or Scandinavia, but any important city at the time should have been flowed with goods from England, Russia, the Muslim World (in particular Spain), Italy and of course Northern France/Belgium where the emperor spent most of his time. I really do not see how such an important trading center could have arose just by connecting two rather small and peripherical markets (Germany and Scandinavia). But then again I am no specialist.


De Roover R. (1955) Old dead right men

July 1, 2009

De Roover, Raymond (1955) “Scholastic Economics: Survival and Lasting Influence from the Sixteenth Century to Adam Smith”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69/2, 161-190.

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However economics textbooks sometimes mention Thomas Aquinas, they generally overlook the fact that he was followed by almost five centuries of refined followers who greatly improved and expended his system. Of course, those scholars never considered economics as a field in itself but as an appendix to ethics and law (p.162). Read the rest of this entry »


Gelderblom O. (2005) The decline of fairs and merchant guilds

March 13, 2009

Gelderblom, Oscar (2005) “The decline of Fairs and Merchant Guilds in the Low Countries, 1250-1650″, Economy and Society in the Low Countries before 1850, Working Paper 1, 47p.

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This article is available on line

Between the 11th and 13th century, during the Commercial Revolution, long-distance trade in Europe expanded rapidly thanks to organizational improvements such as fairs and merchant guilds (p.1). In fairs, merchants increased their chance to find business partners and benefited from the protection and the contract-enforcement abilities of the local jurisdictions. Merchant guilds were associations of traders from the same origin present in a foreign market and united in order to increase their bargain power with local authorities (p.2). Read the rest of this entry »


Bolton J.L. and Guidi Bruscoli F. (2008) When did Antwerp replace Bruges?

March 12, 2009

Bolton, Jim L. and Guidi Bruscoli, Francesco (2008) “When did Antwerp replace Bruges as the commercial and financial centre of north-western Europe? The evidence of the Borromei ledger for 1438”, The Economic History Review, 61/2, 360-379.

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This article is part of the on-going research project, the Borromei family and its banks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

The classic account of the rise of Antwerp

In the 1940-60s, the Belgian scholar J. A. van Houtte produced what was to become the classical account of the rise of Antwerp. In his view, Bruges was not only the entrepôt where goods from the Mediterranean and the Baltic were exchanged, but also the door to and from the dynamic Flemish market, which at the time was boosted by a large urban population, a wealthy bourgeoisie and the magnificent court of the dukes of Burgundy. Read the rest of this entry »


Epstein S. (2000) States and fairs

March 6, 2009

Epstein, Stephan R. (2000) “States and fair”, in Freedom and Growth. The rise of states and markets in Europe, 1300-1750, Idem, Abingdon: Routeledge, 73-88.

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New fairs everywhere

During the second half of the 14th century and the 15th century a great number of fairs were created around Europe. Testimony to their success, most of them lasted until the 1500s and beyond. They responded to the problems posed by the lack of “cheap and flexible system of distribution” over the continent, specially between the depopulated cattle-grazing uplands and the meat-, wool- and dairy-consuming towns (p.75). Livestock fairs where thus “often set up at the foot of major mountain passes”, Besançon for instance (p.76). Read the rest of this entry »