The Low Countries’ export trade in textiles with the Mediterranean basin, 1200-1600: a cost-benefit analysis of comparative advantages in overland and maritime trade routes
AbstractThis paper challenges the conventional wisdom in European economic history that long-distance maritime transport was always more cost-effective than overland trade routes. Thus the majority of historians in the past century have attributed the rapid decline of the medieval Champagne Fairs, governing the textile trades between the Low Countries, northern France, and Italy, to the establishment of an effective and ‘permanent’ direct sea-route between Italy and north-west Europe from the early 14th century (though the first, a Genoese galley, can be dated to 1277). In my paper, I contend that a spreading stain of chronic, continuous warfare throughout western Europe and the Mediterranean basin from the 1290s, leading into the Hundred Years’ War (1336-1453), with a consequent sharp rise in transport and transaction costs in international trade, was instead the major factor in the decline of the Champagne Fairs, in the concomitant decline of the overland continental trade routes associated with them, and with a forced shift to the maritime trading routes between Italy and north-west Europe. During this war-torn, plague-disrupted period of economic contraction, up to the 1450s, the costs of shipping luxury woollens by the maritime route was certainly cheaper than by overland routes; but the relative cost of the maritime route was still higher than the cost of transporting cheap textiles (says) overland in the late 13th century. Indeed, this steep rise in late-medieval transaction costs in international trade had forced the north-western European textile industries to give up the export of the very cheap, light textiles and focus instead on luxury woollens that could better ‘bear the freight’. Subsequently, however, from the 1450s, with the establishment of alternative, more easterly overland routes in areas free from warfare, principally via the Rhine, then with the restoration of relative peace after the end of the Hundred Years’ War, and with the South German silver-copper mining boom, the overland continental trade routes rapidly revived, and with them a series of newer continental-trade based fairs (Antwerp, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lyons). During the later 15th and 16th centuries, these continental trade routes and their associated fair-system were virtually the sole mechanism by which textiles from north-west Europe were exported to Italy and the Mediterranean basin, because, inter alia, the overland distance from the Antwerp Fairs to Venice was only about 20% of the distance by the often hazardous sea routes. The principal textiles involved in this overland, trans-continental trade were : luxury-quality English woollens, medium-quality kerseys, and especially the very cheap, light Flemish says from the revived sayetteries, which had become the principal textile industry of the southern Low Countries. The paper concludes by examining the various factors and forces that led to a fall in transport and transaction costs in the international textile trades, via the overland routes, including river routes, between north-west Europe and the Mediterranean basin from the later 15th to early 17th centuries (i.e. to the eve of the Thirty Years War, which again seriously disrupted the overland, continental routes).
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 10924.
Date of creation: Mar 1999
Date of revision: Jul 1999
Publication status: Published in The International Journal of Maritime History 2.11(1999): pp. 1-30
Transaction costs; comparative advantage; transportation; maritime trade; ships; warfare; textiles; woollens; says; silver mining; fairs; Italy; Mediterranean; Flanders;
Other versions of this item:
- John H. Munro, 1999. "The Low Countries' Export Trade in Textiles with the Mediterranean Basin, 1200-1600: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Comparative Advantages in Overland and Maritime Trade Routes," Working Papers munro-99-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
- L90 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - General
- L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
- F59 - International Economics - - International Relations and International Political Economy - - - Other
- F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade
- N64 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: 1913-
- F20 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - General
- N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
- F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General
- N94 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: 1913-
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
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- Munro, John H., 1998. "The symbiosis of towns and textiles: urban institutions and the changing fortunes of cloth manufacturing in the Low Countries and England, 1270 - 1570," MPRA Paper 11266, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 1998.
- Munro, John H., 2007. "Hanseatic commerce in textiles from the Low Countries and England during the Later Middle Ages: changing trends in textiles, markets, prices, and values, 1290 - 1570," MPRA Paper 11199, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jun 2008.
- Munro, John H., 2006. "South German silver, European textiles, and Venetian trade with the Levant and Ottoman Empire, c. 1370 to c. 1720: a non-Mercantilist approach to the balance of payments problem, in Relazione economic," MPRA Paper 11013, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jul 2006.
- Munro, John H., 2002. "The medieval origins of the 'Financial Revolution': usury, rentes, and negotiablity," MPRA Paper 10925, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 2002.
- Munro, John H., 2005.
"I panni di lana: Nascita, espansione e declino dell’industria tessile di lana italiana, 1100-1730
[The woollen cloth industry in Italy: The rise, expansion, and decline of the Italian cloth indus," MPRA Paper 11038, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 2006.
- Munro, John H., 2002. "Industrial energy from water-mills in the European economy, 5th to 18th Centuries: the limitations of power," MPRA Paper 11027, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jun 2002.
- Munro, John H., 2000. "The 'New Institutional Economics' and the Changing Fortunes of Fairs in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: the Textile Trades, Warfare, and Transaction Costs," MPRA Paper 11029, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Feb 2001.
- John H. Munro, 2008. "Necessities and Luxuries in Early-Modern Textile Consumption: Real Values of Worsted Says and Fine Woollens in the Sixteenth-Century Low Countries," Working Papers tecipa-323, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
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