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Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe
Synopses & Reviews
The earliest surviving check was drawn in 1365 by two Florentines to pay a draper for black cloth for a family funeral.... In 1477 a confidence man persuaded a citizen of Cologne to buy shares in a nonexistent silver mine.... From a thousand tiny facts like these, the fruit of nearly thirty years' research in the municipal archives, commercial records, account books, and letters of a dozen countries, Peter Spufford creates a revealing picture of the medieval business world. The book opens with the emergence of a European entrepreneurial class and the origins of modern banking, insurance, and borrowing. The wealth that generated these changes came largely from the royal courts and their demands for luxuries, demands that were met at the great international fairs. Practical problems—primitive transport, bad roads, dangerous Alpine passes, and the threat of robbery—were impressively surmounted. Key elements in the story are provided by the connection between cheap raw materials and expensive manufactured goods, and the role of centers of power and wealth such as Paris, London, Bruges, Venice, and Florence. Professor Spufford concludes by examining the balance of trade between countries, both within Europe and far beyond its boundaries, assessing their relative wealth on the threshold of what we now call the capitalist world. Virtually every aspect of medieval society is illuminated in this wide-ranging and immensely detailed study, which includes stories of individual merchants whose fortunes and misfortunes bring the subject vividly to life. The illustrations have been chosen largely from unpublished material, and there are over a dozen specially drawn maps. 265 illustrations, 29 in color.
"Spufford, until 2001 the Professor of European History at Cambridge, has written the definitive history of commerce in the Middle Ages, a subject to which some of the most original medieval scholarship ? including that of Fernand Braudel and Robert Lopez ? has been devoted for the past forty or so years.... This book would not be nearly so effective without his aptly chosen, authoritative, and often wryly captioned illustrations, mostly details from paintings and illuminated manuscripts; it and Nicholas Orme's Medieval Children are the most beautiful and intelligently designed works of scholarship I've encountered in recent years." Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly
Book News Annotation:
European historian Spufford has written widely about money in the Middle Ages, and here describes the enormous expansion in European trade at local, regional, national, international, and even intercontinental scales during the 13th century, sparked by increases in population and money supply. Courts and consumers, helps and hindrances, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, slaves, and trade imbalances are among his topics.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A comprehensive picture of the role of merchants and money in the medieval world. It covers the financial revolutions of the 13th century that led to the rise of modern banking, borrowing and insurance; luxury markets; international fairs; trade routes; manufacturing; and the balance of trade.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 414-428) and index.
Virtually every aspect of medieval society is illuminated in this wide-ranging and detailed study, which includes stories of individual merchants whose fortunes and misfortunes bring the subject vividly to life. 265 illustrations, 29 in color.
About the Author
Peter Spufford was until 2001 Professor of European History, University of Cambridge, and is the author of definitive studies of money in the Middle Ages.
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