The development of industry kept pace with the expansion of commerce; wider markets stimulated production, and mounting production nourished trade.
Transport progressed least. Most medieval highways were avenues of dirt and dust or mud; no crown or culverts carried water from the road; holes and pools abounded; fords were many, bridges few. Burdens were carried on pack mules or horses rather than in carts, which could not so well avoid the holes. Carriages were large and clumsy, rode on iron tires, and had no springs;15 they were so uncomfortable, however ornate, that most men and women preferred to travel on horseback—both sexes astride. Until the twelfth century the maintenance of roads depended upon the owner of the adjoining property, who wondered why he should spend to mend what chiefly transients used. In the thirteenth century Frederick II, inspired by Moslem and Byzantine examples, ordered the repair of roads in Sicily and southern Italy; and about the same time the first “royal highways” were built in France—by laying stone cubes in a loose bed of earth or sand. In the same century the cities began to pave their central streets. Florence, Paris, London, and the Flemish towns built excellent bridges. In the twelfth century the Church organized religious fraternities for the repair or construction of bridges, and offered indulgences to those who shared in the work; such frères pontifs built the bridge at Avignon, which still preserves four arches from their hands. Some monastic orders, pre-eminently the Cistercians, toiled to keep roads and bridges functioning. From 1176 to 1209 king, clergy, and citizens contributed funds or labor to raising London Bridge; houses and a chapel rose over it, and twenty stone arches carried it across the Thames. Early in the thirteenth century the first known suspension bridge was thrown over a gorge in the St. Gotthard Pass of the Alps.
Roads being painful, waterways were popular, and played the leading role in the transport of goods. One boat could carry as much as 500 animals, and far more cheaply. From the Tagus to the Volga the rivers of Europe were its main highways, and their direction and outlets determined the spread of population, the growth of towns, and often national military policy. Canals were innumerable, though locks were unknown.
Whether by boat or by land, travel was arduous and slow. A bishop took twenty-nine days to go from Canterbury to Rome. Couriers with fresh relays of horses could make a hundred miles a day; but private couriers were costly, and the post (re-established in Italy in the twelfth century) was normally confined to government affairs. Here and there—as between London and Oxford or Winchester—a regular stagecoach service was available. News, like men, traveled slowly; intelligence of Barbarossa’s death in Cilicia took four months to reach Germany.16 Medieval man could eat his breakfast without being disturbed by the industriously collected calamities of the world; or those that came to his ken were fortunately too old for remedy.
Some advances were made in the harnessing of natural power. The Domesday Book recorded 5000 water mills in England in 1086; and a drawing of 1169 pictures a water wheel whose leisurely revolutions were multiplied to high speed by a succession of diminishing gears.17 With such acceleration the water wheel became a basic instrument of industry; a water-driven sawmill appears in Germany in 1245;18 one water mill at Douai (1313) was used in making edged tools. The windmill, first reported in western Europe in 1105, spread rapidly after Christian notice of its wide use in Islam;19 Ypres alone had 120 in the thirteenth century.
Improved tools and expanding needs encouraged an outburst of mining. The commercial demand for a reliable gold coinage, and the increasing ability of people to satisfy the passion for jewelry, led to renewed washing of gold grains from rivers, and the mining of gold in Italy, France, England, Hungary, and above all in Germany. Toward 1175 rich veins of copper, silver, and gold were found in the Erz Gebirge (i.e., ore mountains); Freiberg, Goslar, and Annaberg became the centers of a medieval “gold rush”; and from the little town of Joachimsthal came the word joachimsthaler—meaning coins mined there—and, by inevitable shortening, the German and English words thaler and dollar.20 Germany became the chief provider of precious metal for Europe, and its mines formed the foundation—its commerce the framework—of its political power. Iron was mined in the Harz Mountains and in Westphalia, in the Lowlands, England, France, Spain, and Sicily, and once more in ancient Elba. Derbyshire mined lead, Devon, Cornwall, and Bohemia tin, Spain mercury and silver, Italy sulphur and alum, and Salzburg took its name from its great deposits of salt. Coal, used in Roman England but apparently neglected in the Saxon period, was mined again in the twelfth century. In 1237 Queen Eleanor abandoned Nottingham Castle because of fumes from the coal burned in the town below; and in 1301 London forbade the use of coal because smoke was poisoning the city—medieval instances of a supposedly modern woe.21 Nevertheless by the end of the thirteenth century coal was actively mined at Newcastle and Durham, and elsewhere in England, Belgium, and France.
The ownership of mineral deposits became a confusion of laws. When feudal tenure was strong the lord claimed all mineral rights in his land, and mined the deposits with his serfs. Ecclesiastical properties made similar claims, and used serfs or hired miners to exhume valuable deposits from their land. Frederick Barbarossa decreed that the sovereign was sole proprietor of all minerals in the soil, and that these could be worked only by firms under state control.22 This reassumption of the “regalian right” usual under the Roman emperors became the law of medieval Germany. In England the crown claimed all silver and gold deposits; baser metals could be mined by the landowner on payment of a “royalty” to the king.23
Smelting was by charcoal, and used up much wood in still primitive furnaces. Even so the coppersmiths of Dinant produced fine brass wares; the ironworkers of Liége, Nuremberg, Milan, Barcelona, and Toledo made excellent arms and tools; and Seville was renowned for its steel. Toward the end of the thirteenth century cast iron (fused at 15 3 5 degrees C.) began to replace wrought iron (softened by 800 degrees C.); nearly all previous ironworking had been by hammering—the smiting from which the smith derived his Saxon name. Bell founding was an important industry, for cathedrals and town belfries rivaled one another in the weight, sonority, and timbre of their bells. Coppersmiths made curfews (couvre-feus) to cover hearth fires when curfew rang. Saxony was famous for its bronze founders, England for its pewter —a mixture of copper, bismuth, antimony, and tin. Wrought iron made elegant window gratings, majestic grilles for cathedral choirs, and mighty hinges that spread in varied forms over doors for strength and ornament. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were numerous, for gold or silver plate served not only to display or disguise one’s worth, but also to hedge a man against deflated currencies, and to give him, in emergency, a form of wealth convertible into food or goods.
In the thirteenth century the textile industry in Flanders and Italy assumed a large-scale, semicapitalist structure, in which thousands of workers produced goods for the general market, and earned profits for investors whom they seldom saw. In Florence the Arte della Lana, or Wool Guild, had great factories (fondachi) where washers, fullers, sorters, spinners, weavers, inspectors, and clerks worked under one roof, with materials, tools, and looms over which they had no ownership or control.24 Wholesale cloth merchants organized factories, provided equipment, secured labor and capital, fixed wages and prices, arranged distribution and sale, took the risks of enterprise, bore the losses of failure, and reaped the profits of success.25 Other employers preferred to farm out the raw material to individual workers or families who, with their own equipment, would turn it into finished products at home, and would deliver these to the merchant for a wage or price; in this manner thousands of men and women in Italy, Flanders, and France were brought into industrial occupations.26 Amiens, Beauvais, Lille, Laon, St. Quentin, Provins, Reims, Troyes, Cambrai, Tournai, Liége, Louvain—above all, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, and Douai—became whirlpools of such commission industry, famous for their artistry and their revolts. Laon gave its name to lawn (a linen), Cambrai to cambric, and the diaper pattern took its name from d’Ypres.27 At Ghent 2 300 weavers worked at looms; Provins had 3 200 in the thirteenth century.28 A dozen Italian cities had their own textile industries. At Florence in the twelfth century the Arte della Lana specialized in the production of dyed woolen goods; early in the thirteenth century the Arte di Calimala, or Cloth Guild, organized an extensive business in the import of wool and the export of finished fabrics. By 1306 Florence had 300 textile factories, and by 1336, 30,000 textile workers.29 Genoa made fine velvets and gold-threaded silks. Toward the end of the thirteenth century Vienna imported Flemish weavers, and soon had a flourishing textile industry of her own. England had almost a monopoly in northern Europe’s production of wool; it sent most of its products to Flanders, and thereby bound that country to it in policy and war. The town of Worstead, in Norfolk, gave its name to a variety of woolen cloth. Spain also turned out fine wool; her merino sheep were a main source of her national income.
The Arabs had brought the culture and manufacture of silk to Spain in the eighth century, and to Sicily in the ninth; and Valencia, Cartagena, Seville, Lisbon, and Palermo continued the arts after becoming Christian. Roger II imported Greek and Jewish silk weavers from Corinth and Thebes into Palermo in 1147, and housed them in a palace; through these men and their children sericulture spread through Italy. Lucca organized the manufacture of silk on a capitalistic scale, rivaled by Florence, Milan, Genoa, Modena, Bologna, and Venice. The art crossed the Alps, and developed skilled practitioners in Zurich, Paris, and Cologne.
A hundred other crafts rounded out the scope of medieval industry. Potters glazed earthenware vessels by powdering their moistened surface with lead and baking them in a gentle heat, adding copper or bronze to the lead if they wished a green instead of a yellow glaze. As buildings and fires became more costly in the growing cities of the thirteenth century, tiles replaced thatched roofs; London made the change mandatory in 1212. The building trades must have been competent, for some of the sturdiest structures existing in Europe date from this period. Industrial glass was made for mirrors, windows, and vessels, but on a relatively small scale. Cathedrals had the finest glass ever produced, but many houses had none. Glass blowing was practiced in western Europe from at least the eleventh century; probably the art had never ceased in Italy from its heyday under the Roman Empire. Paper, till the twelfth century, was imported from the Moslem East or Spain; but in 1190 a paper mill was opened at Ravensburg in Germany, and in the thirteenth century Europe began to make paper from linen. Hides were among the leading articles of international commerce, and tanning was universal; glovers, saddlers, purse makers, shoemakers, and cobblers were jealously distinct. Furs were brought in from north and east, and were dressed for royalty, nobility, and bourgeoisie. Wine and beer served instead of central heating, and many towns profited by a municipal monopoly of brewing. The Germans already led the world in this ancient art; and Hamburg, with 500 breweries in the fourteenth century, owed most of its prosperity to its ale.
Aside from textiles, industry remained in the handicraft stage. Workers serving a local market—bakers, cobblers, blacksmiths, carpenters, etc.—controlled their own equipment and product, and remained individually free. Most industry was still carried on in the homes of the workers, or in shops attached to their homes; and most families performed for themselves many of the tasks now delegated to shops or factories—baked their bread, wove their clothing, mended their shoes. In this domestic industry progress was slow; tools were simple, machines few; motives of competition and profit did not stimulate men to invention, or the replacement of human skill with mechanical power. And yet this may have been the most wholesome form of industrial organization in history. Its productivity was low, its degree of contentment was probably and relatively high. The worker remained near his family; he determined the hours and (in some measure) the price of his work; his pride in his skill gave him character and confidence; he was an artist as well as an artisan; and he had the artist’s satisfaction of seeing an integral product taking form under his hands.