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Trade in Medieval Europe - Doctrine Of Necessity

Trade in Medieval Europe

 Trade in Medieval Europe
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  1. Introduction 
  2. Farming: The Backbone of the medieval society of Europe
  3. The Miller: Meal grinder
  4. Craftsmen: A vital part of the medieval economy
  5. Weaver: Cloth Making
  6. Bakers: Bread Formers
  7. The Builders
  8. Merchants: The lifeblood of trade.      
  9. Conclusion                    


Trade in Medieval Europe played a pivotal role in shaping the economic, social, and cultural landscape of society. The medieval period in European societies is often romanticized for its knights, castles, and chivalry. However, beneath the surface of these grand narratives lies a bustling network of trades that formed the backbone of medieval economies. From skilled craftsmen to travelling merchants, trade played a vital role in shaping Europe’s social and economic landscapes during this era. In this article, we will delve into the various trades that thrived during the medieval period and explore their impact on European societies as they navigated through an ever-changing world.

The Middle Ages were a time when European people traded goods and services to get what they needed. They used bartering to trade items they had in abundance for items that they could not produce themselves. This system worked because each person knew what the other person wanted and could trade accordingly. There were also many guilds during this time, which helped people find someone who could do a job well and who would charge a fair price. Blacksmiths, millers, masons, weavers and bakers were members of guilds to protect their rights and wealth. The trades that were practised in Europe during this period are as below:

Farming: The Backbone of the medieval society of Europe

Farming was crucial to the medieval economy. It was the only source of food and drink for most people in the Middle Ages. On top of that, farming provided a valuable service by using its produce to pay taxes to the local rulers. The most important of the farms in medieval times were the manors. Manors included the land, buildings, and livestock that were owned by a lord. They were run by the lord and his family. Manors were usually built on a small scale, usually no more than a few acres in size. However, they were very important to the economy because they provided food for both the lord and his family, as well as other people who lived nearby. The lord also had a duty to look after his people and the community in which he lived. He was responsible for their welfare, as well as for keeping law and order. These lords were responsible for the trade of extra commodities. The Lord had to go to markets for the sale and purchase of certain things.

The Miller: Meal grinder

Every lord of a Castle or Manor had his own mill to serve the surrounding area. The miller was not only responsible for his lord’s grain but he was obliged to grind the grain of serfs who used to work in lands of that lord. Mills could be generated by horses, water, wind or people. The millers were essential for communities that’s why they enjoyed a high status among different societies of the medieval era. It was not considered an unpleasant job at that time and it had a steady income. In order to pay the rent of the mill, a miller had to work daily and make money. Sometimes, people suspected them of thievery of grain. There was a famous saying about Miller during the medieval era;

What is the boldest thing in the world? A miller’s shirt, for it clasps a thief by the throat daily.


Craftsmen: A vital part of the medieval economy

Throughout the European medieval period, there were many trades that were practised. These trades helped to provide people with necessary items and services. Trades such as blacksmithing, carpentry, weaving, and baking were all important in helping to maintain society during this time. Furthermore, many of these trades were closely related, meaning that one trade could easily lead to another. For example, a blacksmith might create swords or other weapons, but they might also be able to repair items or make new ones from wood. Blacksmiths were a vital part of medieval society because they made many items for use by the rest of society. For example, blacksmiths were responsible for making swords, weapons, armour, tools, and other various items. Trades, related to craftsmen allowed people to make their own tools and equipment, as well as fabricate items like leather goods and clothes.

Weaver: Cloth Making

Weaving was done on a large scale by male weavers during the middle ages. This was also a source of income for peasant women who spun thread and sold it to a weaving house. Wales and England enjoyed a high prominence in producing wool and weaving. Wool clothes took a long process to make a cloth. Wool was washed then dried and beaten then it was spun on a horizontal loom to make a rough cloth. The fabric was then brushed many times to make it fine. During the Middle Ages weaving was a profitable trade for high lords of societies.

Bakers: Bread Formers

In European societies, baking bread was also a profitable trade because bread was an important diet at that time, especially for the lower classes. Bakers were the traders who used to make money on daily bases but they were inspected for the quality of flour and weight of bread by authorities.

For this reason, they had to mark a stamp on the bread so that one could know who had baked it. Those who tried to mix the impurities found themselves in chains with bread tied around their neck.

Merchants: The lifeblood of trade                         

The medieval period was a time of great change for many countries and cultures. This time saw the rise of feudalism, trade, and transportation. These trades allowed for new goods to be brought in from faraway places and new ideas to be spread throughout the world. Merchants were the people that helped bring about these changes. Merchants were often wealthy, powerful individuals who made their money through trade and selling goods to other countries. They may have travelled across the sea in large ships or on horseback to sell goods they had produced in their home country. This led to the development of many new industries, as well as the spread of new technologies. The mid-14th century was a time of great prosperity for many people, as trade brought in a great deal of money. This allowed for the construction of many magnificent buildings, such as cathedrals and castles. Merchant trade helped to bring about a number of new innovations, including the development of money and commerce.

The Builders

Construction skills and techniques improved in Europe during the 13th century.  Societies flourished, towns grew in size and many people looked for more solid and better homes to live in. Peasants became prosperous thanks to trade and looked to improve their timber and mud houses. Whilst, lords were trying to make their manors like castles. As a result, there developed a full chain of masons, carpenters, tilers, plasterers and glassmakers. There were master builders and master masons who needed to be skilled in mathematics and geometry. Master Builder and master masons needed a large skilled team of workers under their command to build the masterpieces.


The medieval period in Europe was a time of great civilisational change. Societies were evolving, economies were expanding, and technology was advancing. Trade in Medieval Europe was important in contributing to these changes. Some of the most common trades in medieval Europe were blacksmithing, carpentry, weaving, and baking. These trades allowed people to make items for their daily lives as well as special occasions. They also created jobs for many people and helped to support society. The medieval period was a time of great change and transformation for Europe. This time period saw the rise of powerful kingdoms and empires, as well as the spread of Christianity throughout the continent. The trades that were prevalent during this time were vital in facilitating these changes and helped to contribute to the economic stability of many regions.



Blockmans, W. Introduction to Medieval Europe 300-1500. Routledge, 2017.

Gies, F. Life in a Medieval City. Harper Perennial, 2015.

Singman, J.L. The Middle Ages. Sterling, 2013.



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