December 1, 2020 at 9:39 pm #1785PhilologusParticipant
Yes agreed, the question is how representative is he vis-a-vis the middle? And how much property did a middling artisan or bottom tier ‘full citizen’ have in various regions. Certainly day laborers are indeed poorer than artisans.
In my experience so far, that is an above-average working class inventory from the later middle ages. Someone could read through a few hundred of these and form their own opinion, but that would be a book not a forum post 🙁
I know that in some towns, artisans of specific crafts were well enough off that they were expected to provide not only weapons and armor, but also horse(s) for the militia. For example in Wismar in 1483 the butchers made up the bulk of the cavalry in their militia. I also know that wealthier craft artisans often owned more than one house or building. Some of them were involved in business complexes and / or were at the top of networks of subcontractors, whereas others (often but not always younger) were effectively the employees of these types.
That is a surprise, because in the societies I study cavalry are very much a leisure-class occupation (or they get paid to maintain that horse and harness, and sell them or turn bandit when the pay goes away). Was there a lot of land near Wismar in the 15th century that was only good for pasture but not grain?
I think that goldsmiths aren’t a good example because they had so much capital and so many opportunities to take a percentage on the silver and gold passing through their shop. I have read a Babylonian version of the story of the goldsmith who took in more gold than was in the object they delivered, its older than Archimedes or Kipling’s story about the two jars of barleycorns (heavy ones to use when buying precious things, and light ones to use when selling them). Most late medieval and early modern townsfolk were things like weavers and dyers and shearers and shoemakers and tailors and bladesmiths and silkwomen, the kinds of trade that ended up in the Mendel’sche Zwolfbrüderstiftung if they had some bad luck.December 1, 2020 at 10:49 pm #1790PhilologusParticipant
I also agree that most English-speaking people’s picture of early modern Europe does not have much on the Germanies and Poland-Lithuania in the 15th and 16th century. And that a lot of modern pictures of the period are mangled to support modern ideas about nationalism or imperialism (Victor Davis Hanson’s world history skips from Cicero to the siege of Tenochitlan, and that is not an accident … neither is all the research trying to prove that Europe [they mean some Catholic parts of Europe] became richer and more innovative than everywhere else in Eurasia at earlier and earlier dates). These cities which were getting rich and connected but not trying to conquer foreigners or build a nation-state were not useful to the old nationalists or the new Rise of the West ™ / Great Divergence narrative.
But I’m trying to put readers in mind of the general amount of durable goods which most working people had, because today I see fantasy fans whose olden times have prisons with cells closed by walls of 8′ high iron bars and mattresses with steel springs, and don’t grok why one of the first things robbers took was their victim’s clothes. I am trying to give a ‘good enough for gaming purposes’ view.
December 2, 2020 at 10:45 pm #1792Hans HellingerModerator
- This reply was modified 6 months, 3 weeks ago by Philologus.
Sure, and it’s appreciated.
I agree about Victor Davis Hansen, I also see the same kind of thumb on the scale (on the flipside) by people like Jarred Diamond.
I am interested in what that median level really is as well, and you have a good point about clothing (textiles were one of the most expensive things and also one of the things everyone spent money on).
The average medieval artisan would look at the poor quality, low thread-count, mostly monochrome fabrics in my house and on my person and think I was on Alms.
But you are also right they didn’t have things like bridges made of iron, which are commonplace today (the same guy would be astonished by that!).
- This reply was modified 6 months, 3 weeks ago by Hans Hellinger.
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