History of Lucca
Augusto Mancini, Storia di Lucca, Maria Pacini Fazzi Editore,
Tolomeo, Annales Lucenses, in Mon.Germ.hist., Script.,n.s. VIII,
1930, ed. Schmeidler;
Rangerio, Vita Anselmi, in Mon.Germ.hist., Script., XXX, 11, 2,
1929 ed. Schmeidler;
G. Sercambi, Le Croniche, in Fonti per la Storia dItalia,
ed. S. Bongi, Lucca, 1892;
Lopes Pegna M., Liguri ed Etruschi nella zona Pisano-Lucchese,
Notiziario Filatelico Numis, n. 142, Lucca, 1973;
Mostra delle relazioni storiche fra Lucca
e lInghilterra, Lucca, 1945;
G. Puccinelli, La repressione delleresia a Lucca,
P. Marmottan, Bonaparte et la Republique de Lucques, Paris,
Merchant-Bankers from Lucca
E. Lazzareschi (ed.), Libro della comunita dei Mercanti
lucchesi a Bruges, Milano, 1947;
R. de Roover, La Communaute des Marchands Lucquois
a Bruges de 1377 a 1404, Brugge, 1949;
A.Sapori, Mercatores, Milano, 1941;
A. Sapori, Le Marchand Italien au Moyen Age, Parigi, 1952;
Richard W. Kaeuper, Bankers to the Crown: The Riccardi
of Lucca and Edward I, Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J.,1973;
Paolo Mencacci, Lucca, Le Mura Romane, Accademia Lucchese
di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, edizioni San Marco Litotipo, Lucca, 2001;
Caroncini, Le mura di Lucca, Voghera-Roma, 1904;
Roberta Martinelli Giovanni Parmini,
Percorsi Lucchesi, immagini e storia: Le Mura Rinascimentali, Maria Pacini
Fazzi editore, Lucca, 1991;
Maria Adriana Giusti, Restauro a Lucca, temi orientamenti
e metodi, Maria Pacini Fazzi editore, Lucca, 2000;
Maria Adriana Giusti (con gli studenti della Facolta
di Architettura del politecnico di Torino), LOrto Botanico nel Parco
delle Mura di Lucca, progetto di restauro e di valorizzazione, 2000;
Maria Adriana Giusti, Materiali e tecniche costruttive
tra il XVI e XVII secolo, Lucca 2000;
Barber, Richard. The Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe, Penguin
Books, Middlesex, England, 1984.
Bishop, Morris. The Middle Ages, American Heritage Press,
New York, 1970.
Boissonnade, Prosper. Life and Work in Medieval Europe,
to Fifteenth Centuries, translated by Eileen Powers, Alfred A. Knopf,
New York, 1950.
Cambridge Economic History of Europe,
volume II, Trade and
Industry in the Middle Ages edited by M. Postan and E. E. Rich,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1952.
Cipolla, Carlo M. editor. The Fontana Economic History of
Europe, (The Middle Ages).
Clough, Shepard B. and Charles W. Cole.
Economic History of Europe, D. C. Heath, Boston, 1952.
Franzius, Enno. History of the Byzantine Empire, Funk &
Wagnalls, New York, 1967.
Hall, Walter Phelps and Robert G. Albion.
A History of England
and the British Empire, second edition, Ginn and Company, New York, 1946.
Hodges, Richard. Dark Ages Economics, The Origin of Towns
and Trade, AD 600-1000, G. Duckworth, Ltd., 1982.
Holmes, George, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval
Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990.
Humble, Richard. Marco Polo, G. P. Putnams Sons, New
Lamonte, John L. The World of the Middle Ages, Appleton-Century-
Crofts, Inc., New York, 1949.
Painter, Sidney. Mediaeval Society, Cornell University Press,
Ithaca, New York, 1951.
Pirenne, Henri. Economic and Social History of Medieval
translated by I. E. Clegg, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York,
Renard, Georges F. Guilds in the Middle Ages, Harcourt,
Rowling, Marjorie. Everyday Life in Medieval Times, Dorset
Press, New York, 1968.
Zacour, Norman. An Introduction to Medieval Institutions,
Second Edition, St. Martins Press, New York, 1976.
Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society, University of Chicago Press,
Braudel, Fernand. The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization
and Capitalism, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century, Volume I, Harper &
Row, Publishers, New York, 1981.
Bridbury, A. England and the Salt Trade in the Late Middle
Ages, Oxford, 1955.
Carus-Wilson, E. M. Medieval Merchant Venturers,
Methuen and Company, London, 1954.
Simon, A. L. The History of the Wine Trade in England, London, 1906.
walls, mercatores & medieval "global" bankers
WRITTEN BY: Lorenzo Matteoli
DATE: August 2002
The UWA Extension
October 22nd, 2002
As John Chancellor remarks, by the third of the thirteenth century the
attitude of the average Englishman towards his Welsh neighbours was far
beyond the usual boundaries of tolerance:
they, like the Irish, were a nation of barbarians. Their
detestable sexual promiscuity played havoc with the Laws of God and the
principles of hereditary succession, while their lives were spent in theft
and rapine or slothful ease."
(John Chancellor "The Life of Edward I (Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
1981 page. 95). Therefore:
"in the face of such attitudes it is small wonder that, when Edward
announced on 17th November 1276 his decision to go against Llewelyn, Prince
of Gwynedd, as a rebel and disturber of the peace, he had the support
of his English subjects.".
As Troy Southgate reports (the price of Westminster Imperialism):
"During the Welsh campaign Edward employed the services of up
to 15,000 foot soldiers (of whom 9,000 were actually Welsh) and, at one
stage had a mobile infantry numbering no less than 30,000 men scattered
throughout Wales. The men had to be clothed and fed and the cost of transporting
supplies from one place to another was simply immense."
At the time of Edward the feudal system was no longer in full operation
and the army had to be paid-for mainly by the kings purse, that
is to say by taxes imposed on the subjects. Edwards taxation system
was able to raise approximately 100 thousand pounds a year between 1290
and 1307, but clearly the war required extra funding and he had to seek
the support of private bankers.
I was surprised to discover that the most important merchant bankers to
the Crown at the time of Edward were families from Florence and Lucca:
the Frescobaldi, Peruzzi, Bardi and Pozzi from Florence. The most important
of them was known as Luke from Luka (possibly Niccolo Lucasio) as
the first agent and possibly founder of the Societas Riccardorum
The Riccardi was actually a partnership of many members with different
shares and different responsibilities. They started operating in England
around the year 1245 and their operation ceased at the turn of the century
after a long struggle against bankruptcy. The first reference to merchants
from Lucca is to Reiner of Lucca and Peregrine his partner to whom the
King paid 50 Pounds for a length of samite (a rich Medieval fabric occasionally
interwoven with gold). In another document the names mentioned are: Peregrino
Sesmundi, Bartholomeo Bendini, Reyner Senaci, Enrico Saraceni, Luca Natali,
Reiner Magiari. Sometimes they were referred to as Luke de Luka and his
fellows. Many important families in Lucca supplied members and leaders
to the Societas Riccardorum: notably the Guidiccioni, the da Pogio and
the Gualteri. Baroncino Gualteri appears to have been the leading member
of the Riccardi from the spring 1278. He was indeed the most important
manager and the strongest personality of the partnership for the operation
in England. When he left the Societas in 1286 to set up his own agency
he probably anticipated that government financing was too risky. The three
main Riccardi clients, the Pope Boniface VIII, Philip the Fair in France
and Edward I in England, were dangerously important to handle in times
of peace, but would pose irreconcilable problems in the emergency of a
war. Without Baroncino Gualteri the English Agency was a lame duck.
The Riccardi alone were responsible for financing approximately
25% of the Kings budget during the years between 1290 and 1300.
A rough estimate (Kaeuper) sets the number at 400,000 Pounds. (the equivalent
to day can be estimated as somewhere between 600 and 1,000 million Au
They all went bankrupt because neither they nor their Royal Client were
able to foresee the real risks and difficulties of international banking
and of government financing.
The story is quite complicated and it took Prof. Richard Kaeuper a lot
of painstaking research to discover exactly what occurred. Even today,
the matter is still open to controversial debate. (cfr "Bankers to
the Crown: the Riccardi of Lucca and Edward I" Richard W. Kaeuper,
Princeton University Press. 1973)
Here is a direct quote from Kaeupers book (page 254-255):
.Yet Henry III had not been able to make lay taxation work
. From 1237 to 1269 he was unable to convince "the community"
to provide a single tax grant, although he had made nine requests. He
dealt from a position of serious financial weakness through most of his
Edward I took three great steps toward solving the problem of revenue
sources. First, he imposed the duty on wool and leather in 1275, tapping
the profits of the most important English export trade. Second, because
his character and policies inspired confidence in the politically potent
groups of the realm, he was able to collect parliamentary taxes on personal
property with regularity. Third, he assured liquidity by creating the
special relationship with the Riccardi. Despite the increased revenue
from the wool custom and taxation, the problem of liquidity remained.
Unless he devised some means of anticipating his basically sound revenues
in an emergency, unless he could find at all times some means of securing
cash from his erratic income, he could scarcely act in a decisive and
vigorous manner; the conquests, the diplomacy, the impressive program
of kings works carried out in the first two decades of the reign
would have been impossible.
The impact of the Riccardi can thus be seen in the flexibility Edward
achieved, a flexibility which would have been the envy of his father and
grandfather. These arrangements M.M. and E.B. Fryde have observed
reveal Medieval public credit at its best and most useful. They
were advantageous to both parties, endured for a long time and contributed
to the financial stability of an efficient government. For twenty-two
years the Italian firm was vitally important in guaranteeing supply of
ready money the King needed to carry out his plans. These were not years
free from financial strains, but the crippling problems which had plagued
John and Henry III were notably avoided; the credit facilities of the
Riccardi made the first half of the reign a resounding financial success.
It cannot be mere coincidence that these two decades were the most productive
years of the reign, bringing general peace and stability in the realm,
an important diplomatic role abroad, the great statutes which shaped English
law for centuries, and the campaign which resulted in the conquest of
Wales. Nor can it be mere coincidence that the period of greatest emergency
in the reign coincided with the years after 1294 when Edward no longer
had the services of the Riccardi and could not yet depend fully on their
successors, the Frescobaldi of Florence. These would have been severely
trying times even if the merchants of Lucca had not been crippled; but
the severity of Edwards difficulties and the high handed nature
of his response might have been considerably modified. The great crisis
of the reign would have been of a different order had Edward been able
to count on the financiers who had served him so well in all the major
enterprises of the past twenty-two years.
Royal power of this strength required sound finances. Whatever other qualities
of Edwards kingship went into the formula of his success, solving
the problem of revenues was one key element. The story of the first half
of the reign would read quite differently without the Riccardi. In their
significant addition to the financial strength of the crown we can measure
the importance of the Riccardi to Edward I and the growth of the English
Another quote from Kaeupers book illustrates the type of relationship
the Riccardi had with Edward and his entourage:
] the treasurer John Kirby died owing money to the Riccardi,
the King ordered these debts to be levied from Kirbys goods, "as
if they were debts owed the King himself".
"Protections, trading licenses, and safe conducts were often given
to the Riccardi in England, Ireland, and Wales when they sent their agents
there during Edwards campaigns. Although the documents sometimes
state that they were going on the kings affairs, we may be sure
this would in no way preclude private business. During the first Welsh
campaign the Riccardi made use of a journey to Conway to buy wool from
the abbot of Aberconway and transport it back to Chester under a safe-conduct.
Occasionally a ship laden with Riccardi goods was covered with the kings
protection. When the "Sainte Katherine" coming from Ireland
with a cargo of leather owned by the members of the company put into Portsmouth
and was forcibly unloaded against their will, firm orders were sent from
the throne to the bailiffs of the port and the sheriff of Cornwall to
set things right.
At various times the Riccardi were exempted from murage, stallage, and
lastage in various parts of the realm. When they were with the King in
Gascony the merchants were freed from contributions, tallages, loans,
or other actions whatsoever in the city of the duchy "even as familiars
of our household are free (tamquam familiares hospicii nostri sint liberi
et quieti." [
] Furthermore, all officials in the duchy were
ordered to maintain, protect and specially defend the merchants, and their
] Since the Riccardi moved in the circles of the great men
of the day, they personally became men whose influence was sought by others.
Through them one might be able to gain some favour from the King or his
ministers, if the proper sum were offered. For example, at the request
of Labro Volpelli of the company, in 1292 the prior of Lewes, who had
been a frequent seller of wool to the Riccardi, was granted a respite
of three years on a debt of 2,000 marks owed the King. The prior apparently
paid handsomely for this service by the kings merchants."
Things eventually went wrong.
In the year 1294 the crisis that had been looming, undetected for a quite
a while exploded. In a dramatic simultaneous sequence Boniface VIII demanded
that the tenth that the Riccardi had been collecting for him in Sicily
be given to Charles Angevin and to Edward I to pay for their expenses
in the Crusade, Edward asked the Riccardi to finance his war against Philip
the Fair over Gascony with the customs that the Riccardi had been collecting
for him, Philip the Fair froze all the Riccardi assets in France because
he did not want to help the bankers of his enemy. The olther minor creditors
(prelates, Royals, nobility and gentry) more or less informed started
what in modern terms is called a "bank run". The Riccardi, who
had been unable to foresee the sudden simultaneous huge withdrawals and
demands, had made large loans to the Bettori of Lucca and to the Bonsignori,
and were not able to pay. Edward, who was an indirect cause of the cash
shortage, in a fit of rage and delusion, seized their assets in England
and the customs concessions. From then on the once powerful Riccardorum
Societas were engaged in a long and unsuccessful fight for survival.
Twenty years of confidence and trust were a useless reference. Edward
was to regret his impulsive behaviour and there were attempts to make
up for it, but once the confidence in a banker is destroyed, it is not
In this dire emergency, the Riccardi probably lacked the competent and
authoritative personnel that used to manage their London branch: Baroncino
Gualteri (signore e maestro of the London Agency) had left them in 1286
to form an independent group with his two sons Brunetto e Riccardo. Outstanding
"managers" might have been able to handle and counter the enraged
King but regrettably none was at hand.
" Looking at the fate of the merchant-bankers who entered government
service between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries it is logical to
conclude that however seductive the profits and privileges awaiting kings
bankers, the relationship was inevitably fatal for them. In England [the
Riccardi], the Frescobaldi, the Bardi and the Peruzzi learned this hard
lesson in the course of the fourteenth century. On the continent loans
to princes likewise proved disastrous to the fifteenth century Medicis
and the sixteenth century Fugger." (Kaeupers "Bankers
to the Crown", page 249)
This report on the visit of Labro Volpelli to the Pope Boniface gives
an idea of the dramatic struggle of the Riccardi of Lucca to save their
"Labro arrived at the curia and went to the pope and threw himself
at his feet and said: "Holy Father, you know our condition and our
affairs as well as we do. Both in France and in England we do not have
the power to give a penny; but you know what the King of France holds
of our money against God and reason, so that we ask you by God to send
someone there and ask for the money as if it were yours, and take it,
and you will have it right away. Similarly, we have to receive much money
from prelates; take this and pay yourself and what we owe you." Therefore
the Pope took compassion on us and granted us grace, as you will learn
Boniface deceived them instead.
Lucca: brief history
The reason for telling this story of the dramatic Riccardi bankruptcy
instead of beginning my lecture with a short perusal of the history of
Lucca is to give a specific perspective. The town I will explore with
you in my lecture is not just a small provincial town in Tuscany. At the
beginning of the thirteenth century, it was the town which housed the
most important merchant-bankers of Europe. They were powerful people with
important connections in all the European capitals of the time and with
all the ruling families of the time, who controlled and managed vast fortunes
in cash or gold with the consistent political leverage and authority.
These things do not happen overnight, or by chance. Let us see if we can
find some clues through a specific reading of the history of Lucca and
of its people from the pre-Roman foundation through the Middle Ages up
to Modern times. Or if by reading the history of Lucca with that specific
peculiarity in mind we are able to discern any significant indications.
The most important historian of Lucca Tolomeo Fiadoni, who lived at the
beginning of the fourteenth century (or end of thirteenth) starts his
chronicles from the year 1063. Giovanni Sercambis history starts
from 1164. Neither of them reports any documentation on the origins of
The first historical reference to Lucca in history is by Titus Livius
according to whom after being disastrously defeated by Hannibal on the
river Trebbia (218 bc.) the Roman Consul Sempronius Longus retreated with
the surviving army to Lucca. Another important reference to Lucca is made
by Caius Julius Caesar (De Bello Civile) who chose to meet there in the
year 55 bc. to organise his triumvirate with Licinius Crassus and Gneus
Pompeius. Clearly the city must have been a safe and secure place to host
such an important conference.
The general agreement is that Lucca was conquered and fortified by the
Romans between the years 265 and 220 bc. immediately after the wars against
Hannibal. Before the Roman conquest Lucca was an Etruscan or Ligurian
village (a much debated question) with names that were written and recorded
in many different ways (Luna, Lunae, Lueria, Luce, Luca). In the same
years the territory around Lucca was subdivided in "centuriae"
and populated by Roman colonists.
The Roman wall no longer exists, except for a few dispersed blocks of
lime-rock. During the Middle Ages the wall was used as a quarry for the
construction of houses, palaces and churches. Parts of the wall are found
in the foundations of houses and palaces and a great effort has been made
by archaeologists to reconstruct the trace of the wall. The reconstruction
is now available and I have made some pictures from the current literature.
According to the available documentation the most important manufacturing
activity in Lucca was "swords". This activity possibly brought
by the Goths with Odovacar (476-489) and hosted by the remnants of Roman
Army iron-smelting shops, continued until the fourteenth century. Lorenzo
il Magnifico is said to have had his personal swords and daggers crafted
by the blacksmiths of Lucca.
Why did the Romans fortify Lucca? An interesting question! After all,
they were the lords of the country and there was presumably nothing to
fear. Not quite so. Immediately after the wars against Hannibal the Roman
control of the Italian peninsula was not secure. Lucca was a frontier
outpost on the northern boundary of the Republic. The neighbouring Ligurian
people had been strong allies of Hannibal and they were a fierce and independent
"nation" not going to be trusted for many decades to come.
Lucca fared through the slow fall of the Roman Empire (5-6 centuries)
and enjoyed/suffered the various plagues, famines, invasions of Huns,
Germans, Goths, Visigoths, Longobards just like all the rest of Italy
The history of Lucca is not an easy one to trace through the complicated
history of Italy and Europe.
But reading carefully through the various events the signs of the specific
conditions that shaped Luccas future stand out. Here is a rough
breakdown of the reasons that made Lucca one of the most powerful financial
centres of the Middle Ages and Renaissance:
A. The original environmental condition of the region is important: good
pastures, good farming land, plenty of water.
B. The mixed breed Etruscan-Ligurian of the people in the early Lucca:
a very intringuing contradictory multicultural integration of courage
and aggressive temerarity (Ligurians) with middle Eastern wisdom (Etruscans).
C. The Roman land subdivision (centuriae) and the colonisation with personnel
of the Roman Legions supplied the structure for the healthy "fundamentals"
of the economy. Wheat, olive oil, wool, milk and cheese.
D. From the beginning Lucca was the "third" party between Florence
and Pisa, a position that implied continuous diplomatic balance between
the two powerful cities.
E. Lucca was not a sea-port and by necessity had to depend either on Pisa
or on Genoa for export-import operations
F. Given the reliability of Lucca at the time of the Visigoths (Teoderich)
when the Roman walls were still a powerful defensive bastion Lucca was
granted the right to mint coins by one of the Kings (Teoderich himself?).
That decision, probably related to some existing metal smelting/minting
facility left by the Romans was to be of paramount importance for the
future of Lucca in the field of "money handling".
G. The silk worm was imported at the turn of the millennium and by the
year 1200, Lucca became a leading center for the production of silk draperies
exporting them throughout the whole known World. These goods were not
cheap stuff. Silk fabrics interwoven with gold were items for Kings, extremely
expensive and, moreover, they required the personal choice of the buyer.
When Luke of Luka sold his precious samite drapes he sold them directly
to the King and negotiated personally with him. Nobody else would take
responsibility for such choices and decisions. That is probably the origin
of the "high ranking" contacts of the Lucca merchants in England
H. The language: the people in the Middle Ages enjoyed a great advantage,
possibly the most important legacy of the Roman Empire. One language,
Latin, allowed them to communicate with no barriers. Latin was spoken
only by the "well to do" so it was a means of communication
and a social qualifier at the same time. The merchants of Lucca (Florence,
), though commoners, spoke Latin as their everyday language.
I. The roads: Europe in the twelfth century was still served by the major
roads built by the Roman Military (it would be more romantic to say the
Roman Legions, but in fact they were Armies). They were damaged by centuries
of neglect, but still utilised. There was no way a messenger could go
from London to Lucca in 5 weeks without the Roman road network.
The currency of Lucca was highly valued in Europe as a means of exchanges
and trade. The Crusaders relied on Luccas coins to pay for whatever
services they required (equipment, food, logistics, transportation, ransoms,
fees, soldiers salaries, rights of passage etc.). You travelled the world
with Luccas money in your pockets: like the US dollars today. Or
should I better say like Euros today. Just for the record the name of
the Lucca currency was "lira".
The privilege to mint (il privilegio della Zecca) was confirmed by Frederick
Barbarossa and by Frederick II Hohenstaufen, and also by the Popes. When
Pisa tried to counterfeit Luccas coins the Pope issued a terrifying
"anathema" against the Pisani and brought them to order. The
"mint" privilege was given to Lucca for the reliability of the
people and for the "security" of the walls, and the "mint"
was the foundation of the "money culture" that eventually resulted
in Lucca being the city of some of the most powerful financial and merchant
bankers of the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th century.
Trading with the whole of Europe (buying wool from England, fish from
France, silver and gold from Spain, selling silk, wool fabric, steel artefacts
like swords and cutlery) through the centuries allowed the merchants of
Lucca to gather considerable fortunes and the need to invest the money
they accumulated. This brought them inevitably brought them into the field
of money lending and, eventually, merchant banking and financial banking
with the most powerful Royal families of Europe.
As with all the true monied throughout history the Lucchese did not (and
still do not) like to show their wealth. The palaces and mansions of the
leading families are severe and austere on the outside, but inside they
have beautiful gardens and parks, and the endowment with paintings, frescoes
and sculptures is unique. Lucca is an "inside" city.
Another feature of the peculiar character of Lucca and its people is the
privilege they gave to negotiation over war to solve conflicts. Many times
in history Lucca "paid" its way out of military confrontation:
saving with money lives, structures and properties. (The first recorded
instance of this "culture" is the payment to Henry Duke of Bavaria
to leave the siege around Lucca in 1135)
The endless confrontation with Florence and Pisa, the intrigues with the
Papacy, jockeying between Popes and Emperors are the "theme"
of the history of the Republic of Lucca. Lucca has always been jealous
of its autonomy and freedom and defended it always with dire severity.
Any attempt (even suspected) to overthrow the Council and become "Signore"
was punished by the beheading of those responsible and of their friends
and family. Freedom (Libertas) is the logo of Lucca and you can find the
sacred word, almost obsessively repeated, on all the monuments, entrances,
Many authors and historians relate to the Lucchesis obsessive worship
of "freedom" the "Wall" that enclosed the city and
defended it from the outside physical and ideological World. They were
"free" because the wall granted their independence from the
"rest of the World". Only one moment in history saw the betrayal
of this value and that was in 1545 when Lucca capitulated to the pressure
of the Pope and issued very tough Laws against the Reformists (Protestants).
The Republic stated that also the citizens of Lucca who went and lived
abroad could be charged and tried for heresy: if caught they had to be
handed to the Roman Inquisition for trial, their properties confiscated
and the family banned from public offices for two generations.
This law seriously damaged the economy of Lucca because bankers, merchants,
traders, silk weavers and textile workers who lived and operated abroad
applied for another citizenship and no longer invested their money in
the city any more. Charles IX of France the Senates of Geneva and Bern
censored the law and denied its enforcement in their jurisdiction.
One of the victims of the law was Francesco Burlamacchi who attempted
to create a Federation of independent towns in Tuscany against the arrogance
of the Medicis and of their Popes. Even though his attempt was strictly
political and had nothing to do with religion he was accused of heresy
and beheaded in Milan on February 14th 1548. Francesco Burlamacchi was
one of the most brilliant and heroic representatives of the utopian dream
for communal independence: ahead of his time and one of the noblest heroes
in the history of Lucca. Betrayed by the City on account of their excess
Lucca has three systems of "walls": Roman (50 bC-100 aC), Medieval
(1000-1265), Renaissance (1550-1700).
Only bits and pieces are left of the Roman walls which were mainly exploited
as a quarry to build houses and churches. Large sections of the Medieval
walls are still visible: one large section being incorporated into the
Northern Bastion of the Renaissance wall.
The Renaissance wall is the system that we still see today almost intact
even if completely transformed from a military defensive bastion against
external attacks into a "linear elevated park" : as they say
today "an urban amenity".
Many cities (all in fact) in Italy had walls to defend them from the attacks
of hostile neighbouring cities: Pisa, Siena, Florence, Massa Marittima,
Grosseto, Volterra, San Gimignano, Milano, Verona, Turin, Padova, Palermo,
Napoli, Lecce, Foggia
Very few have kept the walls most of which
were demolished in the 19th and 20th century to allow for the expansion
of the urban centers.
Lucca is one of the very few cities in Italy (Palmanova ia another I can
think of) that kept and maintained the entire system of the Renaissance
wall gradually transforming it into a very interesting inner city elevated
Wether the wall has been shaping the character of the Lucca people or
if the people of Lucca kept the wall on account of their specific character
is a subject that may be worth debating.
The way in which urban shape and urban values interact suggests a provocative
example: as if the city were a mirror of the culture that lives in it
and, at the same time, the matrix of that very same culture. A good example
of self referenced system (cfr Luhmann) (i.e. a system the structure of
which is the system itself).
If the city is a mirror of its culture, (perhaps a provocative assumption),
it is indeed a mirror with a lot of suggestive peculiarities. Mirrors
reflect sharp and immediate images: even before you can capture it with
the eyes the image is flashed back clearly, mirror like.
Instead it takes years, ten, twenty, fifty to get back from the city mirror
the images of the cultures that wanted and designed it. Such images never
have clear contours: overlapping, intruded, pasted one over the other,
they shape other images and bring other messages with them. For centuries
they remain chips, debris, fossil pieces, or strong marks of superimposed
urban forms, variously associated in a strange and ambiguous way.
With the stories of the famous merchant-bankers in mind one could perceive
the walls of Lucca like a safe-box protecting the inner treasure. It is
likely that that was the conceptual vision which supported the whole project.
The wall certainly enhances the identity of the city: the strong physical
separation between inside and outside has meanings that go beyond the
mere physical sphere and impinge on the ideological set of values. So
it is quite possible that the emphasis on "freedom" is the effect
and at the same time the cause of the strong identity of Lucca and its
The beginning of the construction of the Renaissance walls dates from
the 1550 when the Repubblica di Lucca felt the pressure of the expansion
policy of the Medicis in Florence who were clearly trying to expand their
power over the whole of Tuscany (Siena, Volterra and Pisa had already
been conquered). The Pope Leo X was a Medici which made matters even worse.
The Medieval wall was not designed or built to resist the power of cannon
balls, the passages on top of the wall were narrow and could not host
So by the year 1504 the Office for the fortification of the City and of
the State was instituted (Offizio delle Fortificazioni della Citta
e dello Stato) with a special magistrate in charge of the design and construction
of the new defensive system. By 1513 the "tagliata" was started:
a large area with no buildings and no trees on the outside of the walls
with the strategic purpose of depriving any approaching enemy of any possible
protection and no opportunity to hide on the terrain. Between 1516 and
1521 the towers were built and the guns were put in place. The actual
new wall construction began in 1544.
The wall today and the documents of the construction and management of
the great artefact supply a very precise idea of the magnitude of the
enterprise and suggest some consideration on the financial power behind
such a deed. The pressure placed on the administrators that brought them
to the decision of spending the money must have been dire: with the suspicion
and hatred against Florence and the Medicis who were a constant menace
to the "Libertas" of Lucca.
The construction of the wall implied specific contractual deeds with the
suppliers of labour and materials and, given the huge quantity of bricks
required, that specific industry lasted for many years after the completion
of the walls and some of the present brick manufacturers in the region
date their history from that time.
The maintenance and upkeep of the wall after construction was also a demanding
problem. The military organisation of the watch, the guards and the "castellani"
responsible for opening and closing the three doors every day at dawn
and dusk required a special magistrate "The Office of the good watch"
(LOffizio sopra la Buona Guardia). Each door was guarded by two
Commissars and 30 soldiers and each door had a "Castellano"
who lived in the small barrack on top of the door and was responsible
for manoeuvring the gate. Any Castellano who allowed a "stranger"
into his house at night was punished with the head (beheading). Soldiers
who played cards or shot dice were also severely punished.
Along with the specific military routines there were many other maintenance
problems: the doors, the bridges, and the clearing of the "tagliata"
required continuous attention. The most difficult problem was the water
in the canal surrounding the wall. This was stagnant and, in many places,
the ditch was a foul smelling swamp. Moreover the water infiltrating at
the foot of the brick wall caused decay in the structure.
The trees on top of the wall and on the internal side had the function
of consolidating the earth slopes, but needed constant care. In time,
the trees became in time the most pleasant feature of the wall: supplying
an agreeable shaded protection to the promenades.
With the removal of the guns (1799) the military function of the wall
ceased completely and gradually they became an "amenity" so
much so that in 1810 a decree of Felice Baciocchi transfered to the Municipality
the task of maintaining and conserving the walls (Mantenimento e conservazione
della muraglia che circonda la nostra Citta di Lucca). In 1822 a
plan was drafted a "Piano per il passeggio delle Mura" (Plan
for the promenade on the Walls).
The "promenade" on the walls by foot, horse riding, in fancy
horse drawn coaches and elegant "berlinas", light "spiders"
and the fancy convertible "cabriolets" , became part of the
daily routine for the common people and for the rich elite bourgeois families.
To deal with all the related problems a specific commissar was nominated
in 1866. The Marquis Gerolamo Mansi had the title of "Deputy to the
public promenade" and a small budget that was totally inadequate
to solve the problem of the stagnating water.
That was eventually solved more than 50 years later by the Fascist regime.
Chronology of the history of Lucca
900 bC Ligurian settlement on the border with Tuscia (Etruscan territory)
750 bC Foundation of Rome
578 bC Tarquin Priscus seventh king of Rome (Etruscan) expelled
578 bC Rome becomes a Republik
400 bC Etruscan occupation of Lucca
250 bC Ligurians return with the help of the Romans
218 bC Sempronius Longus Consul retreats to Lucca after losing the battle
on the Trebbia against Hannibal (Titus Livius 21,59)
180 bC federation of Latin Colonies
89 bC Pisa and Lucca become Roman Municipia
90 bC Cicero (Ad Fam. XIII, 13) quotes the first citizen of Lucca that
made history with the unlucky name of Lucius Castronius Paetus princeps
44 bC Caesar Caius Julius killed
00 Jesus Christ is born in Jerusalem
31 bC Caesar Octavianus Augustus Imperator
313 aC Konstantin Edict allows Christian worship
476-489 Odovacar (Odoacre) Goth
491-520 Teoderich (Teodorico) Visigoth
500 documents report a "Lucensis fabrica spatharia": sword manufacturing
workshop in Lucca
500-530 War between Byzantium and the Visigoths
552 Lucca surrenders to Narsetes Byzantine General
570 the Longobards conquer Tuscany (Alboino, Desiderio, Adelchi)
600-760 Longobards Bishops and Bishop-Counts, Walpert, Walprand, Pertuald,
Peredeo, Anspald, Teutpald,.
800 Charles the Great crowned Roman Emperor
760-800 the vassals of Charles the Great: Prandulo, Tachipert, Tudipert,
900-1000 Marquis of Tuscany, Adalbert II
940 the Huns invade Italy
950-1000 the German kings Otto I, Berengarius. Otto III control Italy
and in Lucca they have their vassals: Hugo, Hubertus, Bonifazius from
1050-55 war with Pisa
1154-1189 Heny II Curtmantle (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1160 Lucca buys the rights on the city from the Marquis Uldarich von Attems:
90 golden coins a year for 90 years to be paid to him and his heirs.
1160 Beginning of The Communal period of the Republic of Lucca
1189-1199 Richard I Lionheart (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1190 death of Federico Barbarossa Emperor
1194 Frederick II Hoihenstaufen is born in Jesi
1199-1216 John Lackland (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1215 Frederick II Hohenstaufen crowned Emperor in Augsburg (Aquisgrana)
1216-1272 Henry III (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1250 Frederick II Hohenstaufen dies in Castelfiorentino (Puglia)
1272-1307 Edward I Longshanks (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1307-1327 Edward II (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1315 Lega Pisano-Lucchese Signoria di Uguccione della Faggiuola da Montefeltro
13027-1377 Edward III (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1316-1328 Signoria di Castruccio Castracani degli Antelminelli
1345-1348 The Black Death wipes off 25% of the European Population
1360 Return of the Black Death in Europe
1377-1399 Richard II (Plantagenet, Angevin Line)
1392-1430 Signoria di Francesco, Lazzaro e Paolo, Guinigi
1430 Lucca Repubblica Oligarchica
1492 Christopher Columbus hits land in the Caribbean
1504 The Office for the walls is instituted in Lucca (Offizio delle Fortificazioni)
1513 the "tagliata" is cleared on the external side of the future
1522 plot of the Poggi
1532 uprising and Government of the Straccioni (rag-people)
1542 plot of Pietro Faitinelli
1516-21 construction of the towers and installation of guns
1529 Francesco Burlamacchi nobleman of Lucca promotes a federation of
Tuscan towns against the Medicis, Cosimo wants him executed.
1515-1600 La Riforma a Lucca
1544 construction of the walls initiated
1545 tough repression against the Reformists (Protestants) to prevent
the Inquisition to establish a Tribunal in Lucca
1549-1556 the Bishop Alessandro I Guidiccioni promotes an even tougher
persecution of the Reformists (Protestants).
1590 the last plot: Bernardino degli Antelminelli and his four sons are
executed accused of plotting to become "Signori di Lucca". The
Bishop Guidiccioni was a secret accomplice, but was not indicted.
1561 Lucca called to order by the Inquisition for excessive leniency.
1562 tighter measures against the Reformists (Protestants) to prevent
expansion plans of the Medicis with the support of the pope Pius IV
1548 (14 Febbraio) Francesco Burlamacchi is accused of heresy, convicted
in Milan and executed by the Visconti: Lucca did not want to deal with
1556 the oligarchic republic of the Gonfaloniere Martino Bernardini
1571 Oct. 5th The Naval Battle of Lepanto is won by the Christian fleet
1600 construction of the walls completed
1758 Ottaviano Diodati nobleman of Lucca publishes the Encyclopedie ou
Dictionnaire Raisonne des Sciences des Arts et des Metiers par une Societe
de Gens de Lettres. (printed in Lucca by Vincent Giuntini Imprimeur)
1770 James Cook charts the Eastern coast of Australia and lands in Botany
1788 ( January 18th) the First Fleet (9 ships plus 2 navy vessels) with
Captain Arthur Phillip and 759 convicts lands in Botany Bay
1788 (January 26) the settlement of the convicts starts in Port Jackson
1779 The guns are removed from the wall by the Austrian general Klenau:
they never shot one single volley against any enemy
1789 The Bastille is taken and prisoners freed by rioters in Paris
1799-1814 Napoleon I Emperor of the French
1799 (Feb. 4th-July 17th 7) First Democratic Government of the Repubblica
Lucchese (motto Eguaglianza e Liberta, colours of the flag the French
1805 (June 24) Lucca is entrusted to Felice Baciocchi husband of Maria
Anna Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleons sister.
1813 Baciocchi ousted: English occupation and temporary Government by
Giovacchino Murat (Naples)
1814 Restoration: Arrival of General Count Antonio di Stahremberg
1815 18 June Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo
1815 Vienna Congress: Europe reorganised after Napoleon wars
1815 Stahremberg replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Werklein
1817 Duchess Maria Louisa from Austria in charge of Lucca
1817 The Duke Charles Ludwig from Austria ( Bourbons)
1847 Charles Ludwig turns over Lucca to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold
1859 Tuscany and Lucca are annexed to the Kingdom of Italy (house of Savoy)
1865 (August 26th) Lucca signs the contract with the Italian Government
to buy the "walls" for 112,350.00 Lire
1967 the Centro Internazionale per lo studio delle Cerchia Urbane (C.I.S.C.U.)
is founded in order to promote proper and consistent usage of the great
Renaissance walls of Lucca: the walls are recognised as one of the most
important cultural assets of Lucca.
The Architects of the Renaissance Walls
Alessandro Resta, Jacopo Seghizzi, Baldassare Lanci, Francesco Paciotto,
Pietro Vagnarelli, Vincenzo Civitali, Ginese Bresciani, Matteo e Muzio
Oddi, Lorenzo Nottolini.
Consultants for military fortifications
Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, Alessandro Farnese, the dukes of Urbino
Francesco MariaI, Guidobaldo II della Rovere.
The early Medieval Merchants: a tough lot.
Medieval Merchants and Artisans
By Catriona Macperson (AKA Milly McCloskey)Early on the dangers faced
by merchants forced them to travel in caravans or armed groups. Roads
were infested with bands of criminals, down-at-the-heels knights and thieves,
most of whom lived by pillage. Some nobles (the robber barons) became
highwaymen to augment their income. Banding together gave the merchants
the armed force necessary to maintain their security. Enough sources are
available for us to form a clear picture of the many armies of merchants,
for that is what they were, their number rapidly increasing in Western
Europe from the tenth century on. The pack-horses and wagons loaded with
sacks, cases, bales and casks were surrounded by the merchants who were
armed with bows and swords. These were not soft, silk and velvet clad
fops in counting houses or effeminate figures at home in some ladys
chamber, but were experienced, battle-hardened travel-wise tough men who
were perfectly willing to die rather than lose a profit by letting predators
steal their goods. At their head were a standard-bearer and a leader of
the company of "brothers" who were bound together by an oath
of loyalty to each other. Usually the merchandise in these "trains"
was bought and sold in common and the profits divided according to each
mans investment. The longer the journey and the rarer the goods,
the bigger the profits would be. Except in winter, the venturesome merchant
could be found on the road, motivated by profit and adventure with its
accompanying thrills and excitement. He travelled on land or sea, doing
everything himself, going to places far and near to see first-hand the
goods he would buy for trade or resale. As time passed this situation
changed. The economic system became more complicated and the merchant
was needed at home at the center of his affairs. An era of peace meant
the merchant did not have to personally guard his goods but could rely
on ships carrying his goods to make it safely into port. As merchants
became better educated they could carry on their business by correspondence.
The wealthier merchants now had partners or agents to represent them in
their foreign branches.) Well in place in the latter half of the thirteenth
century in Italy, it spread to other countries, enabling the merchants
to rid themselves of the military equipment which was so necessary in
earlier days. At sea merchant ships on a long voyage still had to arm
themselves for centuries against piracy.
Despite the difficulties merchants of the Middle Ages faced, commerce
thrived. Roman roads fell into ruin even though the tolls to keep them
in repair were still being collected. Princes were collecting tolls and
taxes but were not using any of the revenue for rebuilding roads and bridges.
Many wealthy towns, from the twelfth century on, gained exemptions from
tolls in foreign countries where their merchants travelled, but there
were still enough tolls to hinder traffic on the highways of trade and
travel. Bridges were built in towns at the expense of the merchants. Without
sound bridges, crossing large rivers would be another obstacle. Pilgrims,
merchants and travellers kept open the passages through the Alps, providing
a line of communication between Italy and Northern Europe.
Even though water transportation was a better method than land transportation
for moving goods, it was not without its obstacles. Most ships were small
and light and many times foundered in storms. Privateers armed with letters
of reprisal seemed to be everywhere. If a Genoese captain attacked and
plundered a Venetian ship, its captain would go to his government and
secure a letter of reprisal which authorized him to attack the first Genoese
ship he met. This practice would start a neverending chain. This practice
often affected merchants of other cities also because not always was the
person attacked from the enemy city. Slow communications often caused
problems because a merchant could lose his cargo and ship by entering
what he thought to be a friendly port, only to find out that a war had
started while he was out at sea. Floods in the spring and fall, droughts
in the summer, and heavy winter frosts quite often made the rivers and
streams impassable. In an effort to improve water transportation, quays
for loading and unloading ships were built along the major waterways,
along with dikes and canals. Wooden dams, much like present day locks,
were constructed to maintain the water level, through which boats could
be pulled by ropes operated by a windlass. Ports with storage sheds and
cranes for unloading ships were built. Once unloaded the ships were hauled
from the water to be repaired. Money for all these improvements was paid
by towns and frequently by merchants. At sea ships propelled by sails
and oars were small and not very seaworthy. Navigation, to say the least,
was crude, even so, there were more losses due to piracy than shipwreck.
Piracy in the ninth and tenth centuries was the chief trade of all the
northern nations. Goods from wrecked or stranded vessels became the property
of the lords of the shores on which they were found. False lights were
sometimes placed to deliberately cause ships to run aground.
Each feudal lord taxed the goods which passed through his territory. There
were sales taxes and fees charged for the right to hold a market. These
lords also established units of weights and measures and coined money.
In each new territory the merchant entered, he had to deal with different
units. This hampered trade, forcing the merchants to ally themselves with
kings to destroy much of the power of the feudal nobles.
During wars enemy merchants were arrested, their ships and cargoes were
confiscated. Foreign merchants who were not protected by treaties ran
the risk of having their goods confiscated by territorial princes who
might need them. Foreigners were also liable for special taxes. While
princes could oppress merchants, they could also protect them. Merchants
were protected from robbers and highwaymen by the public peace of the
lords whose lands they travelled through.
In the thirteenth century, most of the merchants engaged in international
commerce, were better educated than the average citizen. Some knowledge
of foreign languages was necessary for merchants to deal in international
trade. A number of little conversation books are still in existence. They
were written at Bruges in the middle of the fourteenth century to teach
French to businessmen. The keeping of books and accounts required a knowledge
of reading, writing and arithmetic. Children of the merchants, in order
to carry on the family business, needed these skills. There were monastic
schools but they were inadequate to fulfill the special needs of the children.
Towns began to open small schools which were the beginning of lay education
in the Middle Ages. This practice upset the Church and even though they
could not stop it, they were able to put the schools under their supervision,
while the towns obtained the right to nominate the schoolmasters.
The growth of trade, industry and towns changed medieval life radically.
As trade and industry grew, prices rose. The manorial system continued
to support the nobles. While manorial markets, in some cases, began to
show a profit, most nobles did not try to live within their incomes which
were fixed by feudal custom. Unfortunately their fixed incomes did not
keep pace with the rise of prices and standards of living. The noble ladies
wanted to dress as well as the wives of the wealthy merchants, but this
proved difficult to accomplish with their shrinking incomes. The castles
began to look more like country residences rather than fortresses. No
longer could the lords take what they wanted by force because the merchants
knew how to protect themselves, and did not hesitate to do so quite handily.
When their expenditures exceeded their incomes, the lords borrowed and
mortgaged the future income of their manors. Usury brought on bankruptcy
and many small nobles lost their estates to merchants.
The merchants knew that because of their low birth the nobility looked
down on them. It must have been particularly satisfying to many merchants
to know they had the wealth to sustain the very class of people who looked
down on them. When kings became stronger than feudal lords, the merchants
looked to them for protection. Frequently merchants allied themselves
with kings to reduce their nobles to obedience. There had always been
three classes in feudal society. The first was formed by the clergy, the
second by the nobles and the third by the peasants. The townsmen, forming
a new middle class, sandwiched themselves between the nobles and the peasants.
In this position they continued to grow in size and importance. Since
they did not pray, rule or grow anything, they were looked on with suspicion
by all three classes. Their growth continued in spite of this unfriendly
Medieval commerce developed from the export trade, not local trade. The
export trade gave rise to a class of professional merchants who promoted
the economic revival of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. By looking
at the goods they carried, which were of foreign origin, it is easy to
see that long-distance trade revived the economies of Italy and the Low
Countries. The spice trade made Venice and the large ports of the Western
Mediterranean wealthy. Spices from Arabia, China and India were brought
to Syria, then taken in European ships to Italy and from there to countries
north of the Alps. From the beginning of the thirteenth century, apricots,
figs, raisins, oranges, rice, perfumes, medicines, dyestuffs such as alum,
cochineal and Brasilwood (which actually came from India were imported
into Europe. Raw silk and cotton were imported into Italy and later into
Europe. Damask from Damascus, muslins from Mosul, baldachins from Baghdad
and gauzes from Gaza soon followed the importation of silk and cotton.
Modern Europen languages still contain words of Arabic origin, which were
introduced by Oriental commerce. For example we have English words such
as artichoke, bazaar, orange, arsenal, tarragon, magazine, taffetas, tariff
and jar to mention a few. Returning from Europe the Italians brought timber,
arms and slaves to the Levantine ports. In the thirteenth century Italian
merchants maintained agents at Bruges to purchase wholesale Flemish and
Brabantine cloths. Bruges took the place of the Champagne fairs as the
chief trading center of the north. Bruges became a wealthy commercial
and industrial town. Instead of periodical visits, as at the fairs, the
merchants established permanent settlements at Bruges.
During the twelfth century, control of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea
passed to the German cities, which improved the fortunes of Bruges. The
Hansards and Italians were drawn to Bruges because of the cloth industry.
In Northern Europe, the German Hansa was the trade link between Western
Europe and the East, much like the large Italian ports in the Mediterranean
basin. The Hanseatic and Italian East were quite different though. The
Moslem and Byzantine worlds supplied for trade, products from a well-developed
civilization, while the Hansard East, mostly in the process of colonization,
was still in a state of primitive barbarism. The Hansards operated in
a harsh, cold climate, where they had to contend with forested lands and
waters which froze in the winter, making trade difficult to say the least.
German towns appeared along the shores of the Baltic, and on the island
of Gotland, from the middle of the twelfth to the middle of the thirteenth
centuries. Traders established themselves on the coast of the Lithuanian,
Slav and Lettish lands before they were completely conquered.
German merchants not only traded at Gotland, but soon followed the Scandinavians
towards Russia and the Novgorod fair, which was an important market for
oriental goods, furs and wax. They speedily acquired a place of their
own on the edge of the marketplace, known as the Peterhof, and were granted
privileges by Prince Constantine in 1205-07. Two distinct groups of German
merchants made the journey from Gotland to Novgorod annually. One group
travelled in winter (Winterfahrer) and the other in summer (Sommerfahrer).
Merchants, who arrived in autumn, spent the winter in the Peterhof gathering
choice furs. They left in the spring with the first thaw, generally before
the arrival of the summer merchants who stayed until early autumn.
Still following in the path of the Scandinavians, the German merchants
extended their activity to the Baltic countries and up the Dvina to the
Russian markets in Polotsk, Vitebsk and Smolensk on the upper Dnieper.
In the Baltic countries they came into contact with the pagan Lithuanians,
Livonians, Letts and Finnish Estonians. Trading with the pagans was a
very risky business. However, the merchants, whether as soldiers or traders,
played an important part in the colonization and establishment of cities
where they could carry on their trade.
German merchants and settlers spread into eastern Germany, founding towns
between the Elbe and Oder Rivers, where all the princes, both German and
Slav, welcomed them. Not content with eastward expansion, during the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries, German merchants and colonists moved into Scandinavia.
Not only merchants but German craftsmen settled in Swedish towns. Hanseatic
merchants carried on trade in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and from the thirteenth
century on, German trade began to expand across the North Sea, in the
direction of England and the Low Countries. Towards the end of the twelfth
century, German merchants from Lubeck followed the Scandinavians to Bergen,
Norways busiest port. They traded rye, flour and malt for dried
cod, fish-oil, butter and hides. By the end of the thirteenth century
the Hanseatic merchants, because of their geographical position, made
themselves indispensable middlemen between the West and the East. Hanseatic
trade stretched from Novgorod in the east, Bergen in the north, and Bruges
and London in the west.
In 1157 Cologne merchants obtained their first privileges in London. In
less than twenty years, (ll75) they obtained the right to trade freely
throughout the kingdom. Richard Lionheart freed their London house from
all impost duties, in return for three ships which they fitted out for
his crusade. In 1266-67 merchants from Hamburg and Lubeck were given the
privilege of forming a Hansa of their own similar to that of the merchants
of Cologne. By 1281, after much feuding between Cologne and Lubeck, there
emerged in London a single German Hansa of merchants. By the middle of
the fourteenth century the Hansa of merchants was replaced by the Hansa
of the towns.
Up to the middle of the thirteenth century most merchants were itinerant
traders or peddlers. Sometimes aided by one or two servants, they travelled
abroad with their goods, sold or traded them at their destination and
returned home to sell the goods they had acquired abroad. Dangers on land
and sea forced these merchants to travel in bands. They were armed, on
their guard, ready and willing to fight the ever-present thieves and pirates.
Early sea trade was carried on by groups of citizens from various towns,
who jointly bought vessels. The profits from each shipload would be divided
according to the size of the investment each man made. The most important
man in each group of owners would be captain. (schep-herr, from which
was derived schepper, schiffer, then skipper).
Before ships left port, merchants and captains would work out contracts
for transporting goods. Until the thirteenth century, these were oral
agreements, made in the presence of witnesses over a glass of beer, but
by the fourteenth century written contracts replaced the oral ones.
Because of high risk and the exacting nature of their work, many merchants
never married. Records of 187 merchants show that 82 were married and
of these 43 had legitimate children. Toward the end of the thirteenth
century, early traders were replaced by independent merchants in charge
of their own firms. Gradually, as conditions became safer, merchants would
remain home to carry on their business affairs, sending clerks to accompany
their merchandise. The travelling merchant now became a sedentary worker,
carrying on his business from home or office aided by a small staff.
When he was about six years old, a merchants child would go to the
parish school. Between the ages of twelve and fifteen his formal schooling
would end. Rarely did a merchant go to a university. At the end of his
schooling, his commercial apprenticeship began, under the direction of
a merchant, usually a relative. During his apprenticeship, he would spend
years in different countries, learning accounting, bookkeeping, how to
inspect merchandise, the buying and selling of goods and the credit system.
He became a clerk after two or three years, which entitled him to buy
and sell on his own, after attending to his employers business.
Eventually he became head of his own firm. Dollinger gives us an account
of what was expected of a merchant, who attended meetings in the guild
hall, as recorded in the statutes of the Artushof of Danzig.
"...show a proper concern for preserving the good name of the association,
maintaining a fitting standard of behaviour and avoiding extravagance.
It was forbidden, under pain of fines or even exclusion, to throw plates
and dishes at other members, to draw a knife, to play at dice for money,
to pour into ones neighbours glass a mixture likely to make
him drunk, to talk scandal, particularly about women, or to utter abuse,
especially of the authorities. The number of courses at a meal was strictly
limited, as was the number of mounte-banks. Wine was reserved for guests.
The company was ex- pected to break up at ten oclock when the beer
bell was rung, and so on. One of the favourite amusements was betting,
of which a careful record was kept, the stake being usually a sum of money
or a length of cloth. The merchants betted on anything: an approaching
marriage, the duration of a war, the price of herring, the result of an
election or a tourney. The subject of some bets was preposterous. For
example, one man betted that a certain cook would acknowledge that her
master was the father of her two children; another undertook for ten guilders
not to comb his hair for a year. Feasts, celebrated with splendour, occasionally
enlivened the rhythm of the daily round."
The average merchant started his day right after mass and breakfast soup
and finished with a four or five o"clock snack. He worked later if
a ship was expected to arrive or sail in the evening. He liked good food,
good drink and the opportunity to spend evenings in the guild hall, where
he could drink beer, play games or sing and dance. To quote Franz Wessel
from Stralsund, by the age of 22, a young man was expected : "to
drink much, smash glasses, devour great quantities, leap from one barrel
to another etc. and be seen at banquets and carousals."
Not all merchants elected to remain home while agents carried on their
foreign business. Many must have felt the call to adventure and the desire
for the active trading life. Even when they were old, most merchants went
on a long journey from time to time. Before starting on such a journey,
they would put their affairs in order. Quite often this was the time for
making wills and it was not uncommon for large sums to be left to the
Church, in an attempt to purchase salvation.
Merchants doing business in foreign lands usually were protected by charters
issued by the ruling sovereign. In times of war or civil strife, these
charters failed to provide much protection. Merchants, particularly the
Hansa merchants, faced arrest and seizure of their goods. The Kontor (fortified
trading center) at Novgorod is an excellent example. In 1424 all the German
merchants there were imprisoned and at least thirty six died. Seventy
years later Ivan III deported forty nine merchants of the Peterhof to
Moscow. Three years later they were released and on the way home they
all died at sea.
Abroad, in towns where the guilds had their own houses, the merchants
lived fairly well isolated from the local townspeople. This isolation
was encouraged by the guilds mostly for protection against attack and
robbery. When they lived in rented quarters amongst the local population,
they were able to move about more freely.
I would be remiss if I did not include an account of the "famous
Bergen games". Each spring at the Kontore (plural of Kontor) they
were held shortly after the arrival of the Hanseatic fleets. Here the
young journeymen were tortured before they could become full members of
the groups. There were three ordeals. First the journeyman was raised
and suspended over a smoking chimney, while the members questioned him.
When he was nearly asphyxiated, he was let down. Next he was tossed into
the harbor three times, and each time as he was climbing back into the
boat, members in other boats thrashed him. Last and by far the worst ordeal
was by whipping. Naked, blindfolded and drunk, he was whipped till he
bled. The noise of cymbals and drums covered his screams. After all this
he had to sing a funny song for the members. The Church protested these
games but not until the death of the Hansa did they stop. This cruel torture
had one advantage. If a member survived, and he usually did, he became
a full member with all its attendant privileges, and he became a member
of a family which would stick by him in good or bad times. The Bergen
Games are reminiscent of some modern day fraternity initiations.
Catriona Macperson (AKA Milly McCloskey)
For more on Medieval traders check at:
Maria Adriana Giusti conversations, documentation and literature on the
Renaissance Wall System: maintenance and restoration problems.
Laura Hoesch: critical comments and review.
Alfonso Messina conversations on the Roman heritage in Europe: the language,
the road network, the organisation of land ownership
Wendy Charnell for the editing of the English text.