You may say to yourself that economics in the Middle Ages may not be that interesting to you. It definitely did not spark my interest either. However, the research was not at all painful and a lot of the stuff I read really grabbed my attention and gave me a lot of stuff to think about.
This page is all about trade routes. Some would have you think that trade stopped after the fall of the Roman Empire. Don’t believe those lies though. Trade continued throughout Europe after the end of the Roman Empire in the 400s. Really, trade had no reason to stop. There was still Byzantium in Eastern Europe, Visigoths in Iberia, the Lombardi picking up the pieces that the Romans left, and then in the next few hundred years Muslim forces dominated North Africa and the Levant opening trade to the far east.
For simplicity’s sake, trade during this time can be easily divided into trade around the Mediterranean and trade in Northern Europe.
Trade in the Mediterranean was really diverse. There is written evidence of Assyrian and Jewish merchants and traders all over France, Spain, Italy, Carthage, and Byzantium. These traders were well respected in the communities they chose to settle in Europe.
Interesting that the descendants of the great trading empire of the Phoenicians were some of the best and most well respected traders in the early Middle Ages. Many historians state that these traders mostly dealt with goods like spices from the east that came into the ports such as Cadiz or Marseilles. They feel it is only logical that ships bringing goods to Western Europe would take goods back to the East. Gregory of Tours is a great source that shines light into trade that occurred in Western Europe. Among other things, he mentions wine from Syria and Gaza and food from Alexandria. He also notes camels being used to carry gold and silver goods through France. Camels must have
come along with the traders from North Africa- most likely Carthage. Islam took over from East to West. As different Muslim forces gained control of the Levant, North Africa, and Spain, trade decreased in the Mediterranean. Moors owned the sea, and Berber pirates would commandeer unprotected trade vessels coming from Europe, forcing them to stop trade.
Trade had also been occurring in Northern Europe as well. Before the Vikings were raiders, they were accomplished traders. They traded with Merovingian, Frisian, and other
groups of people in northern Europe. The goods would come up through Europe by river with some crossing of
goods on land, and other goods going around Iberia, stop at Bordeaux, and continue along the coast of Normandy to Britannia and to the Rhineland or Scandinavia. Gregory of Tours confirms that there was trading going on between people from Brittan and Scandinavia with the Merovingians. The Vikings even traded with the Muslims and even people farther east. The Vikings would follow the Dnieper River to the Caspian Sea and goods like furs for other things. One
interesting find from Sweden is a Buddha that most likely came from the Dnieper trade route around the 800s AD. The Vikings soon stopped trading. By the Turn of the century, they began their famous raids and tore through Europe.
Here are some sources that you may want to look at if you are interested in learning more about early medieval trade routes. I’ve attached annotations to some of the longer sources to help.
- “The Economic Development of Medieval Europe” by Robert-Henri Bautier
-What I got most out of this book was the evidence of trade between the Norse traders and the East. It was pretty interesting to read about. It mentions that as trade stops in the Mediterranean due to hostilities between the Muslims and Christians on the coast, trade to the north through Eastern Europe began to flourish. Also mentions a few primary sources I wanted to get my hands on.
- “Dark Age Economics: The Origins of trade AD 600-1000” by Richard Hodges
– This book was useful, it had a few maps that showed possible routes of trade and used some archeological and written evidence to show continuation of trade after the Roman Empire. The book did focus mostly on Western European trade, but did mention connections with the east.
- “Mohammed, Charlemagne, and the Origin of Europe” by Hodges and Whitehouse
– This book was probably the most useful secondary source I read regarding trade routes. While it seemed to me that Gregory of Tours was the most used source, the authors did a excellent job of connecting trade between Northern Europe to Western Europe to the near East, and gave a few maps that helped me visualize it all. Also mentions cities and ports that help gain a better sense of where the important trade centers are.
- “Accounts of the Routes of the Jewish Merchants to the East, 847”
- “The Value of Foreign Coin in England, 1266”
- “Capitulary for the Jews, 814” by Charlemagne
- “Limits on Passage of Merchants” by Charlemagne
- “The Adminstando Imperio” by Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos
- “Grant of a Fair at St. Denis, 629” by Dagobert
- “The History of the Franks” by Gregory of Tours
– This book can be found at the library, but books I-X can seen easily by the link.
- “The Book of Routes and Realms” by Ibn- Kordadbeh
-I was not able to find this source, but from reading footnotes, it appears to give a lot of information about trade within the Muslim world.
*The maps on this page were made by myself, but they are based off maps from secondary sources or created from the names of places listed in the sources.