chapter  I
8 Pages

I. THE REVIVAL OF COMMERCE

This does not mean that there was not in those days any species of exchange. It was impossible for each domain to produce every imaginable necessity; it was impossible to dispense entirely with any sort of importation. In the northern countries wine had necessarily to be brought from the southern regions. Moreover, local famines were frequent, and in case of dearth the affected province did its best to obtain help from its neighbours. Again, at reasonable intervals there were small weekly markets which provided for the current needs of the surrounding population. But the importance of all these matters was purely accessory. People traded their goods as occasion required; they did not become traders by profession. There was no such thing as a class of merchants, nor was there a class of industrial workers. Industry was restricted to a few indispensable artisans-serfs working at the domainal “court” to supply the needs of the domain, wheelwrights dispersed about the villages and weavers of linen or woollen stuffs for family consumption. In certain regions, as on the coast of Flanders, the quality of the wool and the conservation of the old Roman technique gave a higher quality to the products of the peasant weavers, so that there was a demand for them in the neighbouring countries. This was a speciality, just as the production of good building-stone or timber was a speciality. There was consequently a certain amount of traffic on the rivers, and this was a convenience to travellers and pilgrims. Small seaports in northern France and the Low Countries served the needs of the few travellers going to or returning from England. But if all these things had never existed the economic order would have been essentially the same. The rudiments of commercial life in the Carolingian epoch did not respond to any permanent need, or any primordial necessity. The best evidence that this was the case is the history of the unification of weights, measures and currency established by Charlemagne. By the end of the 9th century this unity had been replaced by diversity. Each territory had its own weights and measures and currency. This regression could not have taken place if there had been any appreciable amount of trade. But while these conditions obtained in the Carolingian Empire, matters were very different in the two portions of Western Europe which still belonged to the Byzantine Empire: Venice and Southern Italy. The seaports of Campania, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily continued to

maintain regular relations with Constantinople. Even thus far afield the attractive power of the great city still made itself felt. Bari, Tarento, Amalfi-and until Sicily was conquered by the Musulman, Messina, Palermo and Syracuse-were regularly despatching to the Golden Horn their vessels laden with grain and wine, which returned to them with the products of Oriental manufactures. But the volume of their trade was soon exceeded by that of Venice. Founded in the lagoons by fugitives at the time of the Lombard invasion, the refuge of the patriarchs of Aquileia, the city was at first no more than an agglomeration of little islands, divided one from another by arms from the sea, the principal island being the Rialto. The agglomeration was given the name of Venetia, which had hitherto been applied to the coast. The arrival of the relics of St. Mark from Alexandria, in 826, gave it a national patron. Fishing and the refining of sea-salt were at first the principal resources of the inhabitants. For these, of course, the market was not Italy, lying close at hand, for Italy, congealed in the agricultural and domainal organization, had no needs; the market was the remote and voracious city of Byzantium. And nothing more clearly illustrates the contrast between the two civilizations than this orientation of Venice toward the East. The advance of Islam in the Mediterranean, by restricting the number of ports which fed the great city, was advantageous to the sailors of the lagoons. On the shores of the Bosphorus the Venetian traders were soon preeminent over all their competitors. This city without territory, entirely dependent on the sea, was in some ways reminiscent of ancient Tyre. With wealth it gained independence, and without any violent rupture it shook off the Byzantine domination, and constituted itself, under a Doge (Duke), a merchant republic, such as the world had never seen. From the 10th century onwards its policy was directed exclusively by commercial interest. We can get some idea of the wealth of Venice by considering her strength. For the sake of her navigation she was obliged to exercise dominion over the Adriatic, which was troubled by the Dalmatian pirates. In 1000 Doge Pietro II Urseolo (991-1009) conquered the coast from Venice to Ragusa, and assumed the title of Duke of Dalmatia. Venice could not allow the Normans, after the conquest of Southern Italy, to establish themselves on the Greek coast. The Venetian fleet therefore co-operated with the Emperor Alexis to drive Robert Guiscard out of Durazzo. For that matter, Venice contrived to get well paid for her collaboration. In 1082 the Venetians received the privilege of buying and selling throughout the Byzantine Empire without the payment of duties, and they obtained, for residential purposes, a special quarter of Constantinople. Purely commercial, they did not hesitate to enter into relations with their enemies. But already their vessels were encountering new competitors in the eastern Mediterranean. In the course of the 10th century the Pisans and the Genoese had begun to fight the Musulman pirates in the Tyrrhenean Sea. They ended by taking possession of Corsica and Sardinia, and the Pisans, after giving battle on the Sicilian coast, were making bold, by the middle of the 11th century, to harry the coast of Africa. While the Venetians were merchants from the very beginning, the Pisans and the Genoese remind one rather of the Christians of Spain. Like them, they made war upon the infidel with a passionate religious enthusiasm; a Holy War, but a very profitable one, for the infidel was wealthy and yielded much booty. In them religious passion and the appetite for lucre were merged in a spirit of enterprise which we find expressed in curiously vivid language in their ancient chronicles. Success attending their efforts, they grew bolder, and finally, passing the Straits of Messina, scoured the waters of the Archipelago. But the Venetians took very little interest in the conflict between the Cross and the Crescent. Their object was to reserve for

themselves the market of Constantinople and the navigation of the Levant. And their fleets did not hesitate to attack the Pisan vessels engaged in revictualling the Crusaders.