Medieval Merchants

As towns and cities grew in medieval times there was a growing demand for everyday items such as salt, metals and textiles and more products became available as the medieval era progressed. Medieval merchants sold items such food, clothing, shoes, weapons, furniture and beer which the Merchants sold to the medieval people in the towns, villages and cities.


As the medieval period progressed major trade routes developed and much trade went on in the larger towns in cities where the traveling merchants provided essential and sometimes exotic goods for the people to buy or exchange.

Medieval Tradesmen and Merchants

Definition of a Medieval Merchant

Medieval merchants indulged in trade and commerce. The word “merchant” itself has roots in the Latin language word “mercari” which means “to traffic”. Thus a medieval merchant was someone who traveled from place to place for the sake of business.


Types of Medieval Merchants

There were various types of medieval merchants. Broadly speaking, medieval merchants fell into one of the two categories of wholesale merchants and retail merchants. The former kind of medieval merchants were those who operated large businesses and often travelled to other countries as well. The latter type, on the other hand, mainly consisted of small medieval merchants or shopkeepers who sold goods in smaller quantities.

Medieval Merchants Ships

Fast Ships were used by Medieval merchants

Medieval Merchant Lives

For medieval merchants operating in the markets, the morning was the most active time of the day. It was at this time that they sold their goods in the market. Things quieted down in the afternoon so merchants who were late could be at a loss.

There were strict regulations for foreign medieval merchants and sometimes they were at a clear disadvantage compared to local merchants.

Medieval Merchant From Holland trading in Far East

Medieval Merchant Clothing

The clothing of medieval merchants changed over the centuries as their status improved during the late medieval times. Rich medieval merchant’s used expensive clothes with better materials and brighter colors, as they travelled to exotic locations where it was cheap to buy products, they were able to buy different and lavish costumes made from exotic materials such as silk fairly cheaply.

One of the most common costumes of wealthy medieval merchants toward the end of the middle ages consisted of a hose and a jacket sometimes accompanied by pleating or skirting.

A Medieval Merchants Selling Goods


Medieval Merchant Guilds

Medieval merchants formed various guilds during medieval times to safeguard their interests. Merchant guilds began to be established in England after the Norman Conquest and soon they became quite powerful.

Medieval merchant guilds came into being after the lords and owners of the land imposed high taxes on trade. Thus these guilds were formed to safeguard the interests of the medieval merchants and to regulate the tax imposed on them.

Medieval Guild Sign


Medieval Merchants Homes

Medieval merchants’ houses were in much better shape compared to the houses of the common people. Initially, medieval merchants lived in small houses made of stone and wood but with the passage of time, as their status and importance grew in society, they began to build large houses. The Two most important elements used in the construction of Merchants’ houses still remained wood and stone.

Medieval Merchants Shop


Medieval Merchants Wealth

During the early medieval times, trade opportunities were less, and thus medieval merchants did not enjoy great wealth. However, during the middle and particularly late medieval times, trade with other countries increased and thus was further impacted by the discovery of new sea routes and lands.

Thus during the late medieval ages, medieval merchants amassed huge amounts of money and many of them became wealthy individuals.


Summary Medieval Merchants

The social and economic status of the medieval merchants transformed over various centuries. Initially, they were exploited by the aristocracy and had to face heavy taxes. But medieval merchants formed guilds to safeguard their interests and regulate taxes. With the discovery of new sea routes and an increase in international trade, many medieval merchants became quite wealthy and powerful.

Merchant Ship

Merchant Ship

Medieval Merchants Fast Facts

  • The increase in population and subsequent rise in towns and cities led to increasing trade for medieval merchants
  • Medieval merchants provided essential goods such as food and furniture but also sold exotic goods as they began to travel across the world
  • The word merchant comes from the word “mercari” which means “to traffic”, so the trafficking of goods.

Medieval Merchants Ships

  • Traveling medieval merchants traveled from village to town to city selling their goods
  • Many medieval merchants had their own properties that they traded from in medieval towns and cities
  • Most medieval merchants were either retailers or wholesalers similar to today

  • Medieval merchants had to be up early in the morning or they would miss most of the day’s business
  • Strict trading rules were in place for medieval merchants who had come from other countries to sell their goods in England
  • Many Medieval merchants wore a hose and a jacket

  • Merchants became members of medieval guilds to protect their interests
  • Guilds were not established in England until after the Norman invasion which also introduced Feudalism to England
  • Most merchant houses were made of wood and stone, later merchants’ houses were large and impressive in line with their new found wealth

Medieval Merchants Shop

  • Trading with foreign countries helped medieval merchants to become very wealthy people
  • Guilds were formed to regulate the taxes paid by medieval merchants and protect their interests