This is part of the Medieval European History Metanode.

Trade and towns had declined in Europe during the early Frankish Empire and the Carolingian Dynasty. Trade began to rebound in Italy around 900 CE. The Venetians sparked long-distance trade with the Byzantines and the Moslems; they exported salt, grain, wine, and glass, and imported silk, spices, and luxuries. Amalti, Piza, and Genoa followed suit. The Crusades were a boon to the Italian economy, because they transported soldiers and goods, and traded with the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Baghdad.

Flanders led the way in the North, beginning around 950. They manufactured cloth on the Rhine River, close to England. Flanders became a gateway for trade. England, in turn, became an important supplier of raw wool. France and Spain exported wine to the British Isles; the British Isles supplied them with grain; and Scandanavia sent furs, timber, and - you guessed it - herring to the South.

The Counts of Champagne reaped great benefits from the trade revival by holding "trade fairs" in various towns. These fairs were held in an open space with booths for the merchants; the Counts supplied moneychangers, a police force, and judges to settle disputes. The Counts received a sales tax on all goods, rent for the booths, fines from those convicted of crimes, and commission from the moneychangers. Southern and Northern trade came together at these fairs, and soon other counties held fairs as well. Italians became the dominant merchants, and eventually they invented banks so that their merchants wouldn't have to carry gold florins through Europe.

The revived trade also precipitated the invention of trade guilds. The guilds had a dual purpose: they were religious fraternities which helped pay for funerals, give support to widows, etc.; and they secured a monopoly of retail trade within a town. The guilds assured quality of merchandise and set fair prices. In the 13th century, they split into two types of guilds: merchant guilds (for merchants - duh) and craft guilds (butchers, bakers, candlestick makers). The guilds provided apprenticeships and created the offices of journeyman and Master.

Advances in Medieval technology led to a population surge between 1000 and 1300 CE. As a result, towns grew as well. There are several schools of thought among historians as to the origins of these towns; Edith Ennen's theory is most accepted. She proposes that the origin of the towns depends on their location within three zones:

South: In Spain, southern France, and Italy, there was a continuity with the old Roman towns. The nobles here were urban, so the towns survived. You can tell that these towns were originally Roman because they were laid out in a grid pattern, with streets running at right angles to each other.

Central: In northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the towns were of mixed origin. Some were Roman and some were new. The Roman towns were ecclesiastical and still had trade. The new towns centered around an "attractor" (monastery, church, or burgh). A "wik" - a settlement of merchants outside the walls - formed around the attractor.

North: East of the Rhine and in the British Isles, all of the towns were new. There never had been any Roman towns east of the Rhine, and invasions destroyed the towns on the British Isles. New towns in the North formed around the burghs.

As they grew, the towns demanded more and more liberties from the government. The seven elementary liberties of towns were:

1. Personal Freedom: If a serf fled from the manor and stayed in a town for a year and a day, he gained his freedom. Thus the saying, "Town air makes one free."
2. Locomotion: The right to come and go freely.
3. Exemption from all servile manorial obligations
4. Burghage Tenure: The right to buy and sell land and leave it to heirs without hindrance (taxes!)
5. Town Law: as opposed to manorial law
6. The right to trade freely; and
7. Minimum structure of government.

Towns could also petition for advanced liberties. Some towns even became self-governing Republics. Symbols of advanced liberties were the town seal, the town hall, a gallows, and a tower.

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