a simple essay


The Differences in Early to Late Merchant Economies

The economic differences between the late fourteenth, the early fifteenth, and the seventeenth centuries were pronounced. While both systems relied on mercantilism, there was a change in focus from production to trade as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries prepared for an industrialized economy. These similarities and differences in the economies can be seen by business opportunities and ventures found in the writings of the times. The Mediterranean based, merchant economy of the fourteenth century had access to business ventures including selling their craft and transporting goods as seen in the diaries of two Florentine merchants, Pitti and Dati. Likewise, the Atlantic based economy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had many opportunities which not only included transportation of goods, but also incorporated the mass farming of base resources as seen in the novel, Robinson Crusoe.

As seen in the diaries of Pitti and Dati, there were plenty of economic opportunities in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, creating business partnerships and joining guilds to make, sell, and transport merchandise. One of the easiest occupations during this time was to be a merchant, buying and selling. Although, one could alternatively join a guild and learn the guilds art to later set up a shop. This can be seen in Dati; he joined the wool guild and was able to make and sell clothes. At one time his wares were so good that he even sold some to Pope John XXIII (140). However, some guilds and industries were easier to enter at this time than others. One has to consider the background of Pitti and Dati’s time, that is to say they lived in the shadow of the “Black Death.” With less people crowding the city, and therefore more money and resources to spread around, the cloth industry received a great push as people now had more money to spend on more frivolous things (Patrouch, Sep. 20).

Besides being able to work in the prosperous industry of clothiers, both Pitti and Dati had several experiences in being true merchants (buying merchandise in one area and selling it in another). There were several occurrences in Pitti’s diary where he would buy anything from horses to wine or wool and sell them at a higher price elsewhere (50). While most of Pitti’s merchant ventures involved small amounts of merchandise, there were times when he bought large quantities of things abroad, such as wool, to ship and sell in Florence. Even Dati had set up several partnerships with the sole purpose to move products derived from skilled labor from Florence to Valencia in Spain. Although, sometimes this proves to be a loss seeing as how he unfortunately gets robbed (110). Mediterranean merchants worked mostly with finished goods since there was a greater demand for foreign items than resources, because resources where widely available thanks in part to the “Black Death.”

Merchants in the Atlantic based economy of the early modern period still carried goods from one place to the other. However, instead of carrying small amounts of finished merchandise from around the Mediterranean to inner Europe or other areas of the Mediterranean, merchants would carry a hull full of basic resources from the new world back to Europe. Trading such as this was a big business, exchanging finished products wanted by Africans and the Colonies for the base resources found in those colonies. This was the backbone of the economic system in early modern times. It was such an important process that Defoe wrote of Robinson Crusoe’s first journey out of the British isles on one such trip that was transporting toys and trifles to the Guinea and would return with gold (17). This example also shows how easy it was at that time to start a shipping business with a minimal amount of capital. It was a lucrative, but risky business opportunity for in the next page Defoe tells of Crusoe’s capture by a Muslim ship.

However, if one wished to partake in a more difficult, yet safer venture, there was the opportunity to cross the Atlantic in hopes of starting a plantation as well. Although many people had experimented with plantations during earlier times in Europe, the strict requirements for the proper growth of large quantities of a single plant were unable to be properly met. This is where the newly opened world on the other side of the Atlantic came in as a provider of new business opportunities (Mitchell, Nov. 17). Plantations were great business opportunities because they were an integral part of the Atlantic merchant system, providing the raw resources that Europe required. Therefore, it made sense for Crusoe to set up a plantation once he reached Brazil (Defoe, 34). Also, setting up a plantation proved to be difficult because there is a difference in the resources needed for a single man, or small partnership venture and those needed for a plantation venture. While Pitti and Dati could both easily go into business by themselves making cloths and selling them, plantations require an immense amount of man power to properly maintain, and as such, Crusoe was in great need of extra hands to insure his plantation could produce a profit (Defoe, 39).

Both merchant systems had many new business opportunities, but at the same time both had a very central required business of trading. In fact, it appears as though the Mediterranean based system evolved into the more profitable Atlantic based system. While the Mediterranean based system was more handicraft and finished product based with goods moving within the European continent, the Atlantic based system relied heavily on transportation of both goods and resources in and out of all areas of the Atlantic. Because more resources existed in the Americas, more finished products could be produced back in Europe. This increase in production made it possible for Europe to expand its export business to the Colonies in the Americas, as well as Africa.

Works Cited

Brucker, Gene, ed. Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence: The Diaries of Buonaccorso Pitti & Gregorio Dati. Ed Gene Brucker. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1991

Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, etc. Ed. J. Donald Crowley. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Mitchell, Silvia. “Slavery and the Plantation System”. EUH 2021 Lecture Series. Florida International University, Miami. Ryder Business Building. November 17, 2004.

Patrouch, Joseph. EUH 2021 Lecture Series. Florida International University, Miami. Ryder Business Building. September 20, 2004.

History and Philosophy


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