Economic Ties between Wroclaw and the Towns of Southern Germany and Switzerland (Thirteenth-Fifteenth Century)
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This article examines the history of the economic relations between Wroclaw and sixteen urban centres in south Germany and Switzerland in the thirteenth-fifteenth century. During the Middle Ages these relations were divided into three primary periods: (1) from the 1240s and the establishment of the first direct contacts between traders from Wroclaw and Ratisbon (Regensburg), and possibly also Passau, to about 1335, when Wroclaw became de facto incorporated into the Kingdom of Bohemia; (2) the period ending around 1394 when business exchanges between the merchants of Wroclaw and Ratisbon were most intense; (3) from ca. 1394, and the first influx of merchants from Nürnberg to Silesia; gradually (from 1418) the incomers won supremacy among the south German and Swiss merchants active in Wroclaw. The trade exchange consisted of natural commodities (fur, Polish cochineal, wax, tin, gold, copper, vitriol) and products of the leather and textile industry (linen, cloth), supplied by Wroclaw and through the local merchants. The merchants from south Germany and Switzerland exported numerous spices, exotic fruit, sweetmeats, medicines, dyes, sweet wine, assorted fabrics produced in the East, north Italy and south Germany, paper, pewter, devotional articles, jewellery and Nürnberg metal artifacts, all to Silesia. Credit contacts initiated in the 1380s developed throughout the fifteenth century. During the third period in the history of contacts between the Wroclaw, south German and Swiss merchants, traders from the first city ran up a debt of about 7 500 Hungarian florins (= more than 4 000 marks of Prague groschen). Their liability 'vis a vis' merchants from certain south German and Swiss towns totalled over 2 700 Hungarian florins (= about 1 521 marks), i.e. only around 36% of the value of their own debts. The origin and development of the economic contacts between Wroclaw and the towns of Southern Germany and Switzerland were caused by several circumstances: the active striving of the Silesian merchants to establish contacts with Rus', Flanders, and the towns of north Italy (Florence, Venice) and to attain an important position as mediators in trade between those regions and Central Europe. The south German and Swiss towns, whose representatives had been previously present in those countries, conducted via Bohemia and later in Silesia a commercial-financial expansion in the Sudeten-Carpathian and Baltic regions, in which Wroclaw, alongside Prague, acted as a transit point as well as the site for international financial settlements and seat for foreign firms. In the Late Middle Ages economic contacts with those regions helped Wroclaw to become one of the strong junctures between the great economic spheres of Europe: Baltic, Sudeten-Carpathian, upper German and north Italian.
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