In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Markets and Fairs

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Primary Source Collections in Translation
  • Commercialization
  • The Foundation of Markets and Fairs
  • The Geography and Integration of Markets and Fairs
  • Fairs
  • Merchants and International Markets
  • The Grain Trade
  • Transportation and Storage
  • Institutions
  • Money and Credit
  • The Marketplace
  • Retail Trade
  • Shops and Shopping
  • Consumers
  • Women and the Market
  • Marginal and Informal Markets
  • Market Ethics
  • Byzantine Markets
  • Markets in the Islamic World
  • Markets in Asia

Medieval Studies Markets and Fairs
James Davis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0219


Interest in the role of markets and fairs within the medieval economy has undergone a resurgence since the 1990s. The earliest stimulus was for studies on England, the Low Countries, and Spain, but there is now research encompassing most of Europe and beyond. This means that our knowledge of market origins and networks has increased greatly. We also know a lot more about those who used markets, the commodities exchanged, how these fora were regulated, and even broader attitudes toward trade and traders. The importance of commercialization within economic history is now broadly accepted, and the expansion of markets, fairs, and trade from the 10th century onwards led to a more market-oriented society. Indeed, all sectors of society came into contact with markets and fairs and this was to have major implications for economic and cultural development. This article mostly concentrates on medieval Europe, but in the last two sections there are also some suggestions for readings on the Islamic world and Asia.

General Overviews and Textbooks

There are few general overviews or textbooks that solely cover markets and fairs, and thus Verlinden 1963 remains a useful starting point. However, commercialization has become a vibrant field of study and historians are keen to link their analysis of markets into this broader model, as seen in Johanek 1999 (see also Lopez 1971, Britnell 1993, and Eisenberg 2013, all cited under Commercialization). Similarly, some surveys of medieval economic history include a prominent theme devoted to commerce, such as those offered by Hodges 1982 and Verhulst 2002. General overviews of urban history, as in Palliser 2000, Lilley 2002, and Miller and Hatcher 1995, are another accessible way to view the history of markets and fairs in a broader context. For further overviews of the medieval economy that touch upon trade and markets, see the Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies article Economic History.

  • Hodges, Richard. Dark Age Economics: The Origins of Towns and Trade, AD 600–1000. London: Duckworth, 1982.

    Hodges uses archaeological evidence to examine the development of international trade, towns, and markets in early medieval Europe.

  • Johanek, Peter. “Merchants, Markets and Towns.” In The New Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. 3, c. 900–c. 1024. Edited by Timothy Reuter, 64–94. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Johanek charts the emergence of urbanization and a commercial revolution, all of which altered the structure and organization of trade. He particularly highlights the range of social groups that constituted the consumers for an expanding long-distance trade.

  • Lilley, Keith. Urban Life in the Middle Ages 1000–1450. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

    An introduction to urban life to which Lilley adds an extra dimension through his use of methods and questions from historical geography.

  • Miller, Edward, and John Hatcher. Medieval England: Towns, Commerce and Crafts, 1086–1348. London: Longman, 1995.

    A textbook study that employs a significant amount of primary material and has stood the test of time as a solid introduction to the medieval English urban and market economy, from the Domesday Book to the Black Death.

  • Palliser, David M., ed. The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Vol. 1, 600–1540. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    An excellent introduction to British urban history. There are both general essays that provide an outline of the main historiography and also a number of specific thematic and regional studies written by subject experts. There are references to markets and fairs throughout the volume.

  • Verhulst, Adriaan. The Carolingian Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511817083

    Verhulst argues that the western European economy grew significantly in the 8th and 9th centuries. He recognizes the problems of the documents and thus also uses archaeological evidence to support his emphasis upon smaller “peasant” producers, growing craft specialization and small rural markets where, he argues, commodities were exchanged for profit.

  • Verlinden, Charles. “Markets and Fairs.” In Cambridge Economic History of Europe. Vol. 3, Economic Organization and Policies in the Middle Ages. Edited by Michael M. Postan, E. E. Rich, and Edward Miller, 119–154. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

    This remains the classic introduction to medieval markets and fairs, with Verlinden spanning and analyzing a century of commercial developments.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.