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Credit markets in Baltic cities against the backdrop of the region and Western Europe (selected aspects)

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About 15% of inhabitants of the 14th-century Stade are mentioned on the credit market (Ellermeyer 1975, p. 47). In Lubeck, as early as at the turn of the 13th century, one-third of the city’s residents were active on the rent and real estate market (Haberland 1974, p. 23). In the mid-14th century in Hamburg, the share of the city’s inhabitants mentioned as creditors or debtors is estimated at about 50-60% (Wenner 1972, p. 52). The social scope of credit markets in Baltic cities of 10 to 20% ranks them among the small and medium-sized Hanseatic cities.

In all analysed cities, the secondary market was very underdeveloped. In Hamburg, the share of old rents on the market in the second half of the 14th century was 22-32% so it was ten times higher than in Greifswald (Baum 1976, p. 87). In Poland in the 14th to 15th centuries, the old rent was barely known (Lesinski 1966, p. 189).

Compared to the cities of similar size and economic potential and smaller Hanseatic cities, the level of loan interest rates in the analysed cities in the second half of the 14th and early 15th centuries shows no clear differences. A similar situation can be observed in Silesia where the prevailing rate of 10% in the 14th century went slowly down in the second half of the century only to reach 7% in Wroclaw at the beginning of the 15th century (Beyer 1901, p. 83; Golihski 2003, p. 36). At that time, lower interest rates were applied in the largest trade and craft centres of the Baltic area. In Hamburg at the turn of the 13th century, they ranged from 12.5 to 6.66%, the most commonly applied was 8.33%, and from 1303 6.66% (Richter 1971, p. 61). In Lübeck at the same time, the interest rate was 6.25%, falling to 5% in the decades that followed (Haberland 1974, pp. 202-3). In the cities of the Kingdom of Poland at the beginning of the 14th century, the most common interest rate amounted to 12.5% (Cracow). In the second half of this century, it amounted to 10% (Lviv, Poznan), and dropped to 8.33% in the middle of the 15th century (Lesinski 1966, p. 185).

In the value structure of rent transactions in the examined cities, small transactions prevailed, however, the turnover was determined by contracts for higher amounts. In Hamburg, which is best documented in this respect in 1471-1490, small rents (with a value of up to 10 marks) accounted for 70% of concluded transactions, with a share in turnover amounting to 32%, medium-sized transactions (from 10.1 to 50 marks) accounted for 28% of all concluded transactions concluded and their value amounted to 57% of total turnover, large rents (above 50 marks) accounted for only 2% of concluded transactions and the turnover of 11% (Gabrielsson 1971, p. 42). This comparison confirms the conclusions from the analysis of the social scope - in the 14th and 15th centuries credit markets in the examined cities were at an initial stage of development.

Conclusion

In the 14th-15th centuries Baltic cities in Prussia and Livonia, rents constituted a commonly used credit form. Merchants clearly dominated credit markets. However, the scale and nature of their participation was locally determined and depended on the economic situation of the city. The market share and its nature of other social groups showed clear analogies.

The period of up to the 1380s in all the examined cities was characterised by a successful economic situation. As crisis intensified on a European scale, local conditions played an increasingly important role. As early as in the 1380s the first symptoms of the crisis were traceable in Elblqg, and a decade later in Greifswald. At the beginning of the 15th century, Torun became also affected by the crisis which, until that time, had been competing with Gdansk as it had strong ties with Polish lands and Silesia. In Rewel, clear symptoms of the crisis are visible in the mid-1420s. Gdansk clearly stands out in comparison with other Prussian cities as the signs of crisis appeared there only in the 1430s.

The degree of development of credit markets in individual cities over the period of the 14th-15th centuries varied: from the relatively underdeveloped and having an insignificant social scope market in Rewel, through a more developed market in Elblqg, which was in serious crisis at the turn of the 14th century, to the large and developed market in 15th-century Gdansk. Comparing the situation on credit markets in the selected cities on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, the Reich, the Kingdom of Poland and Silesia proves the existence of a number of locally conditioned differences in the degree of their development. In the late Middle Ages, credit markets in the analysed urban centres were underdeveloped compared with the situation in Hamburg or Liibeck but showed clear analogies with the situation in Silesian cities. In the 14th-15th centuries, the capital market in Polish cities was much less developed. The degree of development and social range of the credit market in the late medieval Baltic cities represented a function of their social structure and economic location.

Funding

Text prepared as a part of the project, no. UMO-2016/21/B/HS3/03099, financed by the National Science Centre, Poland.

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Chapter 9

Rural credit and monétarisation of the peasantry in the late Middle Ages

 
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