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Traditional historiography has overestimated the significance of long-distance trade in the medieval economy. However, it could be argued that, because of its dynamic nature, long-distance trade played a more important role in economic development than its relative size would suggest. The term commercial revolution was introduced in the 1950s to refer to the rapid growth of European trade from about the 10th century. Long-distance trade then expanded, with the commercial integration of the two economic poles in the Mediterranean and in Flanders and the contiguous areas. It has been quantitatively shown that the integration of European markets began in the late medieval period, with rapid advancement beginning in the 16th century. The expansion of medieval trade has been attributed to advanced business techniques, such as the appearance of new forms of partnerships and novel financial and insurance systems. Many economic historians have also emphasized merchants’ relations, especially the establishment of networks to organize trade. More recently, major contributions to institutional economic history have focused on various economic institutions that reduced the uncertainties inherent in premodern economies. The early reputation-based institutions identified in the literature, such as the systems of the Maghribis in the Mediterranean, Champagne fairs in France, and the Italian city-states, were not optimal for changing conditions that accompanied expansion of trade, as the number of merchants increased and the relations among them became more anonymous, as generally happened during the Middle Ages. An intercommunal conciliation mechanism evolved in medieval northern Europe that supported trade among a large number of distant communities. This institution encouraged merchants to travel to distant towns and establish relations, even with persons they did not already know.


Thilo R. Huning and Fabian Wahl

The study of the Holy Roman Empire, a medieval state on the territory of modern-day Germany and Central Europe, has attracted generations of qualitative economic historians and quantitative scholars from various fields. Its bordering position between Roman and Germanic legacies, its Carolingian inheritance, and the numerous small states emerging from 1150 onward, on the one hand, are suspected to have hindered market integration, and on the other, allowed states to compete. This has inspired many research questions around differences and communalities in culture, the origin of the state, the integration of good and financial markets, and technology inventions, such the printing press. While little is still known about the economy of the rural population, cities and their economic conditions have been extensively studied from the angles of economic geography, institutionalism, and for their influence on early human capital accumulation. The literature has stressed that Germany at this time cannot be seen as a closed economy, but only in the context of Europe and the wider world. Global events, such as the Black Death, and European particularities, such as the Catholic Church, never stopped at countries’ borders. As such, the literature provides an understanding for the prelude to radical changes, such as the Lutheran Reformation, religious wars, and the coming of the modern age with its economic innovations.