What Was The Commercial Revolution In Pre-Modern Europe?

New World crops and precious metals and Far East silk and spices helped spur the Commercial Revolution in Europe.
New World crops and precious metals and Far East silk and spices helped spur the Commercial Revolution in Europe.

The Commercial Revolution was a period in European history starting in the middle of the Crusade era during the late 13th Century and lasting until the early 18th Century. The lead up to this period started off with Europeans rediscovering rare commodities that had been lost since the fall of the Western Roman Empire (27-476) and coming into contact with new ideas on the cultural, economic, military and political fronts through the Crusades (1095-1291). The reason for this was that Europe came into prolonged contact with the various Muslim empires in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, as well as the Mongol Empire (1206-1368) and the Byzantine Empire (330-1453). All of these new ideas and goods got the Europeans to have increased interest in commerce that led to voyages being undertaken by the powers of Europe to try to find new trade routes to Africa and Asia. The need for new trade routes was also needed after the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923), which cut off many previous overland trade routes to greater Asia. This of course led to Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) trying to find a new route to India by sailing across the ocean, where he discovered the New World and went back to Europe to spread the news. This then set the stage for the bulk of the Commercial Revolution in terms of economics, trading, goods and political and socioeconomic changes.

The Commercial Revolution, Mercantilism, and Trade

During the Commercial Revolution, there was a higher level of trade and wealth pouring into European nations than ever before, and in response to this, many new economic ideas sprang up while certain old ones were revived. The economic theory and practice of mercantilism arose in the 15th Century in Europe and was the major economic practice until the Commercial Revolution ended that governed nations. Mercantilism was an economic system that preached that state power is increased at the expense of rival countries, that monetary reserves are amassed through a positive trade balance and that colonies existed for the benefit of the mother country. The Commercial Revolution also brought about the modern banking system, high inflation due to the massive influx of silver and gold, joint stock companies and stock exchanges to manage risk and the rise of economic theory in Europe. There were also the rise of Charted Companies, like the Dutch East India Company, which in many ways were the first large corporations. All of these economic changes and innovations came about due to the vastly increased trade Europeans where doing via their colonies in the New World and especially with India and East Asia as they came up with ways to manage and control all this new wealth.

New Goods Introduced to Europe with the Commercial Revolution

Due to the increased trade that Europeans were performing during the Commercial Revolution, they were able to rediscover exotic, rare commodities such as silk and spices that had not really been seen in the region since the rule of the Roman Empire. On top of these rediscovered Old World commodities, the discovery of the New World by Columbus in 1492 opened up their market to an array of unseen materials and food. Through the New World and their colonies in them the Europeans brought back many new food items that had previously been unknown to them like corn, cocoa, potatoes and tomatoes. They also brought back many furs, pelts and skins from the colonies, like beaver and deer. It was also during this time that the Europeans acquired a taste for tea and porcelain, among other commodities and goods from China and the rest of East Asia.

Socioeconomic and Geopolitical Shifts

The period during the Commercial Revolution following Columbus's discovery of the New World led to many geopolitical changes on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe great empires like the British Empire, Spanish Empire, Portuguese Empire and French Empire would rise while the native Indians had their land taken and got wiped out by diseases from Europe. These period also saw political changes, giving more power to monarchs, creating more efficient political bureaucracies and reducing the political power of the clergy, pope, nobility and knights. For common people the colonies gave them a change start a new life and get away from Europe. There was now increased food and wealth coming into Europe, along with people leaving for the New World, which allowed for bigger families and an increased population. There was also economic prosperity as people in Europe could get into a small middle class as traders, merchants or by focusing on a specialized skill like being a blacksmith or silversmith. This led people to have a chance for a better quality life, although most people still lived as poor, farming peasants.


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