Trade in Northern Europe

MTI12b. Staple Goods.    Louisa Willers

This is the second improved edition of staple goods.

The trade of Northern Europe, both international and inter regional is not like that of the Southern Trade it was not particularly expensive or exotic. The trade of the North was confined, generally to the everyday staple goods and raw materials such as wool and grain, both of which are also bulk goods.

Perhaps the sole luxury that can be connected to the Northern trade are the furs which come from various areas, like the 'conies' of England, the Low Countries and Switzerland, these were the sheep and goatskins. Also from the North, from Scandinavia and Russia came fox, bear, beaver, sable and ermine. Expensive but an exception.

Aside from the trade with the Byzantines, when both traders and warriors bought Byzantine goods to Northern Europe and vice versa, and some trade from the Orient and the Levant via Italian merchants sailing into ports in England and Flanders, the general traders were the Italians and the men from the north, the French, English, Flemings and Germans. All meeting at the fairs of Champagne during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This moved to Bruges in the fourteenth and early fifteenth and Geneva, Antwerp and Bergen-Op-Zoom for the remainder of the fifteenth cent. Exchanging Italian and Italian borne products, and also te more essential food stuffs and raw materials.

The more permanent of these two trades were the foodstuffs. Particularly the staple goods, grain, fish, salt, and dairy products. It is the grain that has been most extensively researched.

Grain imports, due the Germanic settlements, and Scandinavian on water logged soil, was naturally very important during the earlier part of the middle ages. This demand for grain increased during the twelfth century as the industrial population Flanders, Brabant and Holland grew. These places were supplied and indeed were dependant on the grain from the Somme and Seine Valleys in Northern France and also rom the German Rhineland ( Gelder, Gulik and Cleves). Hence the growth of the shipping industry, and the importance of the cargo ship. For example the cog was central to Germanic trade. This theory is supported by its appearance on the town seals of many towns of the Hanseatic League.

Grain was also traded within France from the Lower Seine, Santerre, Vermadois and Cambresis to Paris. These same areas exported to Flanders using the water ways of the Sheldt and the Somme, which carried the grain to Rouen and overseas, for example the Low Countries (the Netherlands). This trade was a major business all through the fifteenth century.

Another exporter of grain was England, particularly during the thirteenth century . However English grain trade was disrupted and then declined towards the end of the thirteenth century because of the introduction of Baltic grain. By the fourteenth century it had been ousted completely from the Scandinavian market. Rye was the dominant grain, for example by the end of the fifteenth century 97% of grain from Danzig was rye.

Due to more recent research the dairy trade of medieval europe has recievde some attention. It would appear that some regions specialised in dairy production, cheese, butter etc, for example Holland, Scandinavia and Southern Poland. It appears quite suddenly as a commodity during the thirteenth century, which has suggested to some historians that there was a change in diet.

Fish another important staple good was also traded in. All along the estuaries of Europe fish was being caught and traded in. Again the Baltic features as an important region. The busiest area was that of Skania off the coast of Sweden. This was mostly during the thirteenth ad fourteenth centuries. They were later joined by the Netherlands producing herrings.

England too had some fish trade, again herrings being the most important, for example the red herring of Yarmouth. Although it is insignificant when compared to that of the Baltic. Iceland too played a part in the fish trade, as it was from here that the stockfish came.

In the medieval world fish was often salted and dried to preserve it. Such was the importance in the medieval diet. Again the influence this trade had on a town can be seen by the appearance of fish on town seals and coins. For example there is a large fish under a cog on the Hedeby coins. The dries and preserved fish increased the need for salt. Thus augmenting the salt trade.

The salt trade developed from the twelfth century with the biggest supplier being the 'Bay', which moved huge amounts to Northern Europe in the late summer. The market increased, extending to include the Low countries. The Hanseatic League were also involved in the salt trade. This is perhaps to be expected as it would compliment the trade in stockfish.

The salt for long distance trade, generally came from the coastal salt pans. Within the Mediterranean trade, much salt went to Northern Italy. Genoa and Pisa, were most often supplied by the Balearic Islands, the Spanish coast and Languedoc, who also supplied Barcelona. Venice was supplied by Constantinople from the coasts of Macedonia and Thrace. In addition salt was derived from Albania and the Dalmation coasts.

Salt was also extracted from land. Springs and quarries can be noted in Southern Poland at Weiliczha. In the Netherlands peat was burned and the salt extracted by dissolving it from the ashes (Pounds. Although these land industries declined as the trade in sea salt grew .Except in areas where far from the coast. The importance of the nef, small coaster and the cog can be seen in the shipping of salt.

Other foodstuffs included vegetables, for example , onions, garlic , cabbage and onion seed from France and the Low Countries. From Holland and West Germany came hops that were used for beer. During the medieval period it can be argued that beer is a staple good rather than a luxury as wine was, since it was drunk by the poorer classes.

The staple goods of Northern Europe are therefore similar to all its trade; for example the raw materials; wool and wood. Basic, bulky but essential. It is from this necessity that the economic strength of Northern Europe appeared. As unlike the luxurious trade of the South it was concerned with commodities that may places could not do without, for example the grain in industrialized Flanders. As such the nature of the trade was far more binding than luxury goods.

The bulky goods also supported a evolution in ship design. Hulls were needed to become larger to make a journey worthwhile. There was a change, in some instances, to the cog, nef and finally the hulk. Which could hold bigger cargos and whose highsides protected the ships from pirates in faster but lower galleys.