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The credit market in Old Warsaw in the late Middle Ages


This chapter presents the results of research on the credit market of late medieval Old Warsaw. Since its establishment at the end of the 13th century, the city has experienced a systematic social and economic development: from a centre of about 4,000 inhabitants in the 15th century to one of the largest and most important cities in Central and Eastern Europe with a population of 100,000 (Bogucka & Samsonowicz 1986, p. 119; Kuklo 2009, p. 233). This modern blossoming would have been much slower (or impossible) without the solid medieval root, which was based mainly on trade in wood, grain, fur, and other forest products floated down the Vistula River to Toruh and Gdansk from where it was transported to London, Bruges, and Amsterdam (Samsonowicz 1972). Therefore, the period of the late Middle Ages seems to be an extremely valuable research topic as it offers the possibility to observe economic indicators during the development of the town. The credit market is one of the most important indicators, best represented in sources. The chapter is divided into two parts: one presents the functioning of Warsaw market on a general scale (value of loans, duration of contracts, interest rates, security methods, moment of conclusion and repayment); the other covers the social background in the form of market activities of craftsmen, merchants, and other social estates. Obtaining such a precise and diverse picture allows for referring not only to the discussion about the economic crisis of the late Middle Ages in Poland (Guzowski 2008), but also about the social and territorial scope of the credit instrument, the horizontality of the market (Schofield 2002), the level of trust between creditor and debtor observed, for instance, through changes in interest rates and the duration of contracts (Nightingale 2007; van Zanden, Zuijderduijn & de Moor 2012), or the well-known ‘de Soto problem’ (de Soto 2000).

The source of the deliberations is formed by six preserved court records from 1427-1527. It should be noted that there is no jury record from 1473-1496 and the fact that the completeness of the council records increased significantly only at the end of the 15th century. Studying Old Warsaw market,

we come across a basic problem for almost all credit analyses, that is the possibility of capturing only a fragment of the entire loan movement, due to voluntary agreement registration in city books. Importantly, despite the obvious imperfections of the material, it was possible to separate a group of 1,558 contracts involving 1,647 people with a total value of 1,337,447 groszes,1 which, given the size of the city, constitutes a convenient basis for drawing a conclusion on the economic condition of Old Warsaw. In order to better describe the long-term changes, a period of 100 years was assumed from the beginning of the oldest surviving city book in 1427.

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