Trade was the second largest sector of the economy after agriculture and was much superior to the industry. Domestic trade in scope prevailed over foreign one. The most common form of trade was urban markets and fairs that existed not only in the major centers, but also in hundreds of small towns and villages. The vast majority of what was sold in such markets was agricultural products and products of village industries and urban artisans produced in the country. In some large cities, the markets were held every day, and in small towns the markets were open one or more times per week. In England in the middle of the 17th century with a population of approximately 5 million people there were 800 cities and towns with regular markets in force.
In France, with its large population, the markets were particularly large: in the first quarter of 18th century in one district with the population of 600,000 people (3% of the total population), there were 85 daily markets.
Trade deals were characteristic of medieval society in all the centuries of its existence. Even in the period of early feudalism with full domination of subsistence farming, trade didn’t disappear, although didn’t have a regular character. The role of trade has increased with the emergence of commodity-money relations, caused by the emergence and development of medieval towns; trading activity was an essential feature of feudal society.
Medieval trade had a number of specific concepts. The leading role belonged to the external transit trade; subsistence farming existed in any feudal society due to the fact that the majority of consumer goods were made in the economy, at the market one could purchase only things not produced in the area. This could be wine, salt, cloth, bread, but more often they were Levantine Oriental goods.
Oriental products (spices) were divided into two groups. Rough spices included a variety of fabrics, alum, rare metals, etc. Spices itself were measured in ounces and were mostly represented by clove, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, dyes, incense resins, medicinal herbs. The role of oriental products in Western European was extremely high. Entire sectors of the European economy depended on overseas dyes and alum.
Outside, transit trade passed through the whole Middle Ages, changing only its scale, direction, and character.
Local trade, the exchange of commodities of crafts and agriculture products in major scale originated in the better times of the Middle Ages, as a result of urban development, and especially after the circulation of money rent. The dominance of rent led to massive involvement of the village in the commodity-money relations and the establishment of the local market.
Trade was the second largest sector of the economy after agriculture and was much superior to the industry. Domestic trade in scope prevailed over foreign one. The most common form of trade was urban markets and fairs that existed not only in the major centers, but also in hundreds of small towns and villages.