Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What was the status of merchants during the feudal age in Europe? Did they, like peasants, serve/have allegiance to certain land owning lord? If yes, do they have different status or privileges from usual peasants? Or are they free from allegiance? If the latter, how did they become free from feudal lords who were generally powerful?

share|improve this question
1  
Can you be a bit more specific? There's all sorts of different people who can be considered "merchants", from poor village peddlers to people owning shares in West India Company –  DVK Dec 26 '12 at 16:37
    
@DVK how about people who make (most of) their living from trading? –  Fitri Dec 26 '12 at 16:58
    
I think they called those "peddelers". I'm not sure there was enough trade to make the question meaningful, and I'm not sure "feudal Europe" is specific enough to make the question meaingful. You might look into the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanseatic_League; they might serve as prototype merchants. –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 26 '12 at 17:51
    
Imprecise. Please specify century and location. –  Samuel Russell Dec 27 '12 at 6:37
    
@SamuelRussell I want to be generic, but, will it help you explain if I say, 14th century England? –  Fitri Dec 27 '12 at 15:46
show 1 more comment

2 Answers 2

Merchants usually raised from the people of the cities, that is craftsmen. They usually did not originate from the peasants and as such had no allegiance to the feudal lords.

They also could originate from the city aristocracy, especially in Italy.

share|improve this answer
    
how could they resist being "conquered" by the powerful feudal lords, and who gave them security, protection, etc.? –  Fitri Dec 26 '12 at 16:46
    
@Fitri merchants often traded over water paths, that way they often were subject to piracy. The protection could be by hired mercenaries or sailors; or the guards from the merchants' home city. Some cities had formidable armed forces and protected their convoys. –  Anixx Dec 26 '12 at 16:52
    
I see.. who held power in these cities? –  Fitri Dec 26 '12 at 16:59
2  
@Anixx: I think it's almost a contradiction in terms. Who owes homage to whom in a feudal republic? Specifically in Venice? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 26 '12 at 17:50
3  
@Anixx: Ah, I see! But the term is misleading - maybe just "merchant republics" would have been better? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 26 '12 at 18:24
show 5 more comments

Merchants during the feudal system, tended to be Jews or other "foreigners." Lombards (from the most entrepreneurial part of Italy), and Greeks, tended to perform this function in northern Europe, Dutch (and other western Europeans) in Eastern Europe, etc.

Merchants were basically independent of the feudal system, being neither landowners nor peasants. As such, they were regarded with suspicion by the local elites. Their main selling point was that they had good connections with foreigners who could help them produce scarce goods. Hence, they were likely to be "foreign" (rather than local) members of a given society; most locals would not want to take on such a "foreign" role, at least at home.

Merchants weren't particularly well respected, but they were tolerated, and were allowed to live a bit outside the usual rules because they performed an essential (trading) service.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.