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Market, civic virtues, and civic bargaining in the medieval and early modern age: some evidence from sixteenth century Italy


  • Luca Clerici



In the last decades, historians have shown that the modern market is rooted in the institutional system created in European towns since the middle ages. This approach leads us beyond the usual opposition between market and society or between public and private market. Indeed, in the medieval and early modern age, the market was part of a wider institutional design of civil life, which had a basic conceptual frame of reference in the notion of the common good, a feature typical of such organicistic and hierarchical societies. This paper explores the process of market construction in the medieval and early modern age. I firstly analysed the role of the market in these societies and then focused on the case of foodstuff provision: a key element of the non-written, ancient pact between rulers and people, based on the assurance of subsistence. As a basis for the study, I employed sixteenth century documents regarding Vicenza, a medium-sized town in the Republic of Venice. These show very clearly that, in general, market and price regulation was not the result of arbitrary interventions by public authorities; on the contrary, it was the result of a process of negotiation, which I call civic bargaining. This process involved—to various degrees—public authorities, landowners, merchants and guilds, and the town’s people, the pursuit of the common good being, in practice, a matter of balancing various needs and interests. Present-day economic and social public policies are, in many aspects, an inheritance of the institutional system created in the medieval and early modern age: knowledge of these origins is useful in the present debate regarding economic versus social development, as discussed at the end of the paper. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Luca Clerici, 2012. "Market, civic virtues, and civic bargaining in the medieval and early modern age: some evidence from sixteenth century Italy," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 59(4), pages 459-475, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:inrvec:v:59:y:2012:i:4:p:459-475
    DOI: 10.1007/s12232-012-0148-y

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Benhabib Jess & Perli Roberto, 1994. "Uniqueness and Indeterminacy: On the Dynamics of Endogenous Growth," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 113-142, June.
    2. Johnson, Russell A., 1991. "Loss of stability and emergence of chaos in dynamical systems," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 16(1-2), pages 93-113, July.
    3. Benhabib, Jess & Miyao, Takahiro, 1981. "Some New Results on the Dynamics of the Generalized Tobin Model," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 22(3), pages 589-596, October.
    4. Amendola, Mario & Gaffard, Jean-Luc, 1998. "Out of Equilibrium," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198293804.
    5. Benhabib, Jess & Nishimura, Kazuo, 1979. "The hopf bifurcation and the existence and stability of closed orbits in multisector models of optimal economic growth," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 421-444, December.
    6. Torre, V, 1977. "Existence of Limit Cycles and Control in Complete Keynesian System by Theory of Bifurcations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(6), pages 1457-1466, September.
    7. Davide Fiaschi & Serena Sordi, 2002. "Real business cycle models, endogenous growth models and cyclical growth: A critical survey," Computing in Economics and Finance 2002 245, Society for Computational Economics.
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    More about this item


    Market; Medieval and early modern age; Economic ethics; Market and price regulation; Fair price; Civic bargaining; A13; B11; N70; N73; N90; N93; Z10; Z13;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B11 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Preclassical (Ancient, Medieval, Mercantilist, Physiocratic)
    • N70 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N90 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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