The story

Economic transformations in the medieval period


As we already know, in the Middle Ages, most of the population of western Europe lived in the countryside. This eventually led to a reduction in urban life and a decrease in commercial activity. Only with the Crusades from the eleventh century did this reality begin to change.

The movement caused by the Crusades brought the growth of trade routes between East and West, through the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the routes located within Europe itself. The intense commercial activity, in turn, favored the development of cities.

Trade and city formation have brought about profound changes on the European scene. After a few centuries, the structure of feudal society would no longer be predominant on the continent. Then came new social groups enriched by trade and desires to control political power as well.

The resurgence of commerce and cities

One of the factors responsible for the resurgence of trade in Europe was the Crusades, as they contributed to the re-establishment of relations between the West and the East and the opening of the Mediterranean Sea to Western European merchants.

In addition with the Crusades, Europeans began to use new products brought from the East, such as ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, rice oil, sugar, figs, dates and almonds. Rugs came to replace the straw and reed used to line the floor of the castles. Silks and brocades changed the garments, and glass mirrors replaced the polished metal discs used so far.

Many of these products were expensive and difficult to buy. As a result, some of them have become known as spices - such as pepper and ginger.

The traders' way of life was not based on agriculture or land tenure, but on trade and money. In general, they used the ancient Roman roads as their trade route. They transported their goods in caravans of pack animals and often traveled protected against burglary.

At the confluence of the main trade routes, major fairs were held. In them, goods could be sold and bought from various parts of the world.


Medieval fairs signaled the rewarming of business in Europe.

As trade expanded, towns and cities formed. For security reasons, merchants sought to concentrate in places near a fortified, walled area called borough. Often in these fortified places were the cathedral, the bishop's dwelling, and sometimes the landlord's castle.

In the Burgos, besides the merchants were the workshops of the artisans, such as shoemakers, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, potters and carpenters. These residents were called bourgeois and gradually they became a new social group within the medieval world: the bourgeoisie.

Corporations and guilds

The expansion of commerce and the growth of cities have caused various social conflicts. The areas that the cities occupied belonged to the feudal lords, bishops, nobles, and kings. These gentlemen intended to subject the residents of the Burgos by charging them taxes, fees, and services. This practice was common to servants, but the bourgeois were unwilling to accept it. They thought this was a major obstacle to the development of their activities.

In their wanderings the merchants had learned the importance of unity. They traveled in groups across unfamiliar roads, seas and regions, to protect themselves against burglars and pirates or even to get better deals.

Thus, over time, associations of artisans and traders emerged, whose main purpose was to defend the economic interests of their members. The artisan associations were called craft corporations, and those of merchants, guilds or leagues. United, they intended to avoid competition, to set prices and to regulate labor, and to meet the limits imposed by feudal lords and nobles.