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I am trying to find sources on how a medieval German market would have looked. Any artwork (painting, wood carving, wood print) would be perfect, but even just a description would already be great. My struggle is specifically with the time frame: The closer the material could be to around 900-1000, the better.

In more specific detail, I am interested in sources on the layout of the market and how the stalls would have looked that the traders used. Anything that would help make the picture of a market at the time clearer.

I am interested in such material for Westphalian cities of the time frame. Anything that is roughly in the area of modern Lower Saxony would be fine though.

Optimally, this source would reference a city that wouldn't later become a part of the Hanseatic League, but either cases are useful sources for me.

I fear that such sources may be rather sparse, considering the mundane content of it. What are general ideas for finding such specific material? Where could one search for stuff like this?

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    We tend to view source requests skeptically, because they make it difficult to select an authoritative answer, but I think this question is less likely to cause that problem. In my opinion, this is probably a legitimate source request. – Mark C. Wallace May 25 at 20:18
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    @MarkC.Wallace: In which case, this could potentially be re-framed as "What descriptions of Early Medieval German marketplaces do we have?" which would necessitate primary source accounts as answers? But I also don't think that applies here. – gktscrk May 25 at 20:54
  • Have you looked thru commons.wikimedia.org? There are a lot of images there, but it is not as well organized as it could be. – llywrch May 25 at 22:42
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    @VladisBecker: there's so much information about every day life during that pariod and in that area, in German of course. Here's a starter: lwl.org/westfaelische-geschichte/portal/Internet/input_felder/…. You would, of course, need specific depictions, in word or picture, of a market layout in a town or where people met. Are we sure markets had a fixed layout ? I doubt (but don't know it). – user43870 May 26 at 12:51
  • @a_donda Thanks for the pointer! Even if markets had no fixed layout, a typical layout would already be very helpful. I will definitely go into what you have given me. – Vladis Becker May 26 at 13:34
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My answer is going to be less detailed than what I hoped—and not provide you with any artworks!—but perhaps it can serve as a useful focal point for further research. I was hoping to find at least a reference for a chronicle which would describe such a market but no luck. Yet, the textual descriptions from modern research do provide a mental image of a market (though it's a poor one).


Market Development

In the 8th century and after, the demand for luxury goods increased, and itinerant merchants, notably the Frisians in north-west Germany, began to segregate in small communities in the vicinity of these new seats of secular and ecclesiastical administration, where they found a permanent group of consumers, protection afforded by the stronghold, and special privileges of communal life. ... Here mercantile communities (urbs mercatorum) were early established, and gradually acquired a special law (jus mercatorum). ...

With their roots in the mercantile settlement (in suburbio) there developed the first market settlements. A clear distinction must be made between the market as an institution and as a settlement. The first involved merely the business of exchange at a fixed place; the second involved both an institution and a permanent settlement. Provision markets (macelli publici) were held in places of fixed settlements and temporary assembly in the Roman, Early German and Frankish periods. As statutory markets, they increased in number after 900, and were held within the strongholds, catering both to the local groups of consumers and to travelling merchants on the great trade routes. Such markets of themselves did not give rise to permanent settlement, but were incident upon it. ...

Both the stronghold and the mercantile settlement were of necessity placed on the main routeways, especially at break of bulk points, and in places centrally situatied with respect to the then peopled areas...

—Dickinson, 'The Development and the Distribution of the Medieval German Town: I. The West German Lands'

This also goes on to describe that much of the trade was local as evidenced by many licensed markets existing well away from established trade routes.

The Ottonian market grants of the 9th and 10th century all assigned the ownership of the market place to a market entrepreneur, namely an abbot or a bishop. The King granted to a market lord the right to hold a market, to raise taxes, to set up a mint, and to establish a separate market law with institutions for enforcement. The market lord then specified and amended whenever deemed necessary all the details of the market left open in the deed, such as the frequency and dates of market sessions, and all details of the market order and law. ... the market users did not have any property rights in the market place. They might use the market place under the conditions set by the market lord; but if they are not happy with the conditions of use, they could only terminate transacting with the market lord. The contracts were of a short-term nature: The sellers rented (or received freely) a certain space or a booth on the market place for the time of one market session and the buyers (who often were sellers at the time) agreed explicitly on a short term contract by entering the market place during the market session.

—Bindseil & Pfeil, 'Specialization as a Specific Investment Into the Market: A Transaction Cost Approach to the Rise of Markets and Towns in Medieval Germany, 800-1200'

The above also included two market charters from the 10th century which can provide you with helpful information of who created a market, what they expected from it, etc.


Westphalian Urban Development

In Westphalia, however, the narrow zone of open rolling country which lies between the Münster lowlands to the nroth and the Rhine Massif to the south was traversed by the Hellweg. This route linked up a series of springline points on the northern edge of the chalk outcrop, where both fresh and saline water early attracted permanent settlements, which soon reached town status (Dortmund, Soest and Paderborn). This zone, however, lacks north–south routes, and its chief towns, Dortmund and Soest, lost their early pre-eminence because of their lack of nodality, and were superseded by the towns of Lower Saxony, where, in the Saxon Foreland, the east–west land routes were crossed by north–south river and land routes...

—Dickinson, 'The Development and the Distribution of the Medieval German Town: I. The West German Lands'

This article looks best of all the sources, but it is nearly fully reliant on German sources. All sources for Dickinson are included at the end of this article.


Market Functions

...the two main roles of the market in the German middle ages were to overcome spatial separation and to create a limited sphere in which legal certainty and an efficient legal system existed. In addition, the market place allowed to economise on money, and therefore, market places also regularly received the right to have a mint. ...

A market place without a mint had the problem that no single monetary unit was available in a sufficient quantity. The existence of a mint and of an exchange office allowed one currency unit to be a generally accepted means of payment a the market place...

An additional important element of the special legal environment was the market peace and protection which was granted by the King to the market participants. The market peace did not only provide a special protection of the trader against illegal attacks (through higher penalties than during normal times) but also against any civil or penal legal claim against him. During the market session, it was the market court alone which could decide to enforce any claim based on previous transactions of traders travelling to or from the market place.

—Bindseil & Pfeil, 'Specialization as a Specific Investment Into the Market: A Transaction Cost Approach to the Rise of Markets and Towns in Medieval Germany, 800-1200'


Market Overview

As a first step, authorities granted licenses that allowed marketplaces to operate. The new markets were usually located in the center of a town, in an open plaza near the main church or cathedral. On market days sellers would set up booths and stalls to offer their wares to customers, closing up and moving away at the end of the day. Over time markets multiplied from under 100 in the 10th century to over 250 in the 12th century.

—Pavlac & Lott, 'The Holy Roman Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia', Ch. 'Markets and Trade'


Towns were important centres of commercial activity. Most trade took place at markets and fairs. Markets were held once or twice a week in the town square or in a covered market hall. Here local farmers and craftspeople sold their produce. Fairs were held on holy days at fair-grounds on the outskirts of towns. These attracted merchants from much further afield.

—Woolf, 'The History of the World', Ch. 'The Rise of Europe's Towns and Cities: 1000-1500'

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  • Great collection of sources! While not a direct graphic representation, it does serve my purpose very well! Not to mention the very thorough presentation of sources so that I may look up more information as needed. Solved my problem! – Vladis Becker Jun 20 at 12:03
  • @VladisBecker: Glad to hear that! I think that if you wanted to go beyond the 10th century, especially into the 13th and 14th, there would be a lot more sources available. Some of the linked articles do end up in those times in any case, but if there's anything that's unclear, another question might be apt :) – gktscrk Jun 20 at 13:34

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