The growth of trade led to the rise of the first large trading centers in the Middle Ages. They were located on the important sea routes that connected Western Europe with the Mediterranean Sea, Russia and Scandinavia. Two of the earliest and most important trading centers were Venice and Flanders. 

Late Medieval Market Scene

Venice was an island in the Adriatic Sea close to the coast of Italy. Since the land was not very fertile, Venetians depended on sea for a living. They exchanged products on  Italy mainland as well as they traded wheat, wine, and slaves to the Byzantines.

Shepherds in the Milan-Turin Hours by Van Eyck, Fol 38v. By the courtesy of, © KIK-IRPA, Brussels

Flanders ,which today is part of Belgium, was an area of small towns along the Atlantic coast. The Flemish rose sheep and used the wool to develop a weaving industry. The cloth they produced became very famous for its quality, therefore soon it was in heavy demand.


Flanders became the first Atantic trading center. With navigable rivers around and being half way in the trade route that conected Southern Europe with Scandinavia, Flanders was an important link between Meditearrean Europe and the North of Europe. It also linked Constantinople and the North Sea. 

By 1300, the most important partner trading centre of Flanders was England. Flemish relied on English shepherds to supply then with the wool to be made into cloth.   

Muslim Presence in Early Medieval India: Merchant Communities – Rezavi &  ASHA's History & Archaeology Blog

There were two main routes in long distance trade:

  • The Mediterranean route joined Venice, Genoa, Marseilles and Barcelona with the Near East and the Byzantine Empire. Luxury product such as silk and spices were imported  where as fabrics, weapons and tools were exported.
  • Atlantic and Baltic routes linked the ports of the Iberian Peninsula with Northern Europe.  Wool, wine, leather, wood and wheat were transported through the Dutch ports.

Medieval trade routes | Medieval, Ypres, Fish sea


As trade grew, so did overland trade. Italian towns began sending products across the Alps to the North. Soon, an overland route conected Flanders with Italy. Merchants, then, played an important role in the late Middle Ages economy. The first merchants were mostly adventurers who traveled from place to place. As protection against robbers, they traveled in armed groups. Products were carried in open wagons pulled by horses.

Christian and Muslim merchants - Blue NetworksHanseatic League | Definition, History, & Facts | Britannica


Merchants traveling along the chief route through Eastern France stopped to trade with each other at special gatherings called fairs. The fairs were sponsored by nobles who collected taxes on sales.  Fairs were held once a year for a few weeks at selected places.


At the fairs, merchants could buy and sell goods or settle debts. Before long, merchants began to pay for goods with precious metals instead of bartering. Italian money changers tested and weighted coins from different lands to determine their value. From the word banc or bench at which money changers sat comes the English word bank.

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Map of Commercial Revolution Trade Routes




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