12.05.14, Holbach and Pauly, eds., Städtische Wirtschaft im Mittelalter

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Albrecht Classen

The Medieval Review 12.05.14

Holbach, Rudolf and Michel Pauly. Städtische Wirtschaft im Mittelalter: Festschrift für Franz Irsigler zum 70. Geburtstag. Cologne: Böhlau, 2011. Pp. xiii, 374. ISBN: 978-3-412-20779-3.

Reviewed by:
Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

Ironically, as much as we have long recognized the supreme importance of cities since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the interest has mostly focused on their constitutional, social, cultural, and everyday life conditions, as Franz Irsigler once formulated quite appropriately. He himself, to whom the present Festschrift is dedicated on the occasion of his 70th birthday, has made many attempts to combat this shortcoming, and the contributions to the present volume follow his path. However, every Festschrift faces the serious problem of not establishing a solid thematic focus, unless a specific framework channels each piece into the right direction. As the two editors indicate in their introduction, here they even allowed the authors to reflect on the vast array of possible topics regarding the economic conditions in medieval cities. This has the advantage that the thirteen articles really address highly divergent aspects, a phenomenon which illuminates the richness of the question at stake. But it also has the disadvantage of taking us at random from the early Middle Ages to the seventeenth century, from Italy to Bohemia, from Prussia to Vienna, from Luxemburg to Steyr. Most authors pursue an economic aspect, and thus demonstrate how urban history also could, or rather should, be studied. This all makes only good sense, however, as long as we also keep in mind how much those financial and mercantile concerns subsequently became the foundation for cultural, religious, and literary phenomena closely associated with city life throughout the Middle Ages.

The wide extent of trade carried out by Prague merchants during the early and high Middle Ages is the topic of Josef Zemlicka's article, in which we learn about the extensive trading routes connecting the city with east and west, which also takes us to fascinating questions regarding the use of currencies far beyond the own economic zone of interest. Jean-Luc Fray introduces us to the area of the French Massif Central with its numerous small cities and their economic orientation toward each other and more distant markets. He studies the variety of mineral resources and the methods to establish trade connections. The huge role which city markets and squares have always played becomes even more poignant in Francesca Bocchi's study of the Italian piazzas from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, especially because most trade and administrative tasks were carried out there. Rosa Smurra continues with this line of arguments by focusing on Bologna, where very similar conditions dominated.

From here we must follow Roman Czaja in a huge jump to the Prussian trade at the turn of the fourteenth to the fifteenth century, where the global economic crisis, which had affected the entire Hanseatic League, was very much noticeable because of the dependence on the markets to the west. One way to cope with the crisis consisted of resorting to the taking of credits, which quickly became a pervasive strategy, though it ultimately undermined the entire economic health in that region. Not specifically concerned with the crisis, but still with the phenomenon of taking credits, Hans-Jörg Gilomen discusses the need for small credits in late medieval cities, such as Basel and Zürich, and observes that virtually everyone from every social class resorted to this form of financing for a large variety of projects. Most valuably, he provides extensive records for loans granted by the merchant Stephan Offenburg in Basel. The world of late medieval apothecaries with their rules and regulations as a source for our understanding of urban hygienic policies is the topic of Volker Henn's study, who emphasizes how much city councilmen tried hard to control their local health system for the improvement of all citizens.

From here we move to Ferdinand Opll's investigation of the archive of a papal legate in Vienna in the Stadt- und Landesarchiv, certainly a most valuable resource for social and political history, even though the economic element does not matter much in this case. Michel Pauly and Martin Uhrmacher examine where the city of Luxemburg received its resources during the late Middle Ages, and focus on the raising of pigs, utilizing the forest, harvesting grain, the production of lime, the quarrying of slate, metal ores, leather, etc. Rudolf Holbach analyzes the textile industry in the area between the rivers Maas and Rhine, that is, especially in Boppard, where we find a detailed rule regarding the weavers' guild. Knut Schulz authored a detailed investigation of the mining of iron ores in the area of Steyr in modern day Upper Austria, where the territorial dukes began to assume a leading role since the fifteenth century in their attempt to reap their own profit from this growing industry. In light of the production of salt in Lüneburg in northern Germany, Harald Witthöft discusses the various ways we can gain good insight into late medieval measures, weights, and currency. After all, the monetization process set in already with the twelfth century, steadily transforming the entire medieval economy.

Finally, Carl-Hans Hauptmeyer surveys the global history of urban growth since early antiquity, trying to grasp major leaps in the development. For him, the emergence of the medieval city represents the third major movement, followed by the rise of cities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considering the vast corpus of relevant research literature, such a brief and overly generalizing overview seems too broad and does not help to profile in greater relief to what extent medieval cities really mattered. The volume concludes with a list of short biographical blurbs of the contributors, but an index is missing.

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Albrecht Classen

University of Arizona