University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Core Seminar in Economic and Social History > Cloth consumption and commercialisation in the Western Mediterranean before the Black Death

Cloth consumption and commercialisation in the Western Mediterranean before the Black Death

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During the thirteenth century a large amount of textiles made their way from the manufacturing centres of Flanders and the north of France towards the Mediterranean cities. The cloth trade has been analysed by economic historians chiefly as part of a commercial revolution led by Italian merchants. New evidence (bridal trousseaus recorded in notarial registers from thirteenth-century Catalonia) shows cloth as a key element of the commercialisation of rural society. Flanders and northern France were producing luxury textiles as well as coarse and relatively cheap woollens that were distributed through a network of local markets and retailers (drapers) specialised in selling foreign cloth along with local fabrics. Changes in the patterns of consumption related to colour and quality of fabrics triggered a social awareness on clothing as a means of social differentiation. Cloth became crucial not only as a way to single out the clergy and nobility, but also to differentiate the wealthier from the poorer peasants and artisans. Investment in garments not only explains the success of a dense marketing infrastructure across southern Europe, it also stimulated improvements in the textile production in those areas. Several small towns in the medieval Languedoc and Catalonia tried to emulate northern textile centres by welcoming foreign specialist-dyers in order to improve the quality of their products. By the beginning of the fourteenth century Mediterranean fabrics were able to compete with the woollens from northern Europe. Despite the century before the plague, being considered a period of scarcity, in some areas of southern Europe at least, peasant households purchased textiles of a variety of origins and qualities and as a consequence they made a substantial contribution to labour specialization and the development of local manufactures.

This talk is part of the Core Seminar in Economic and Social History series.

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