Medieval Crafts, Guilds and Industrial Development: Central-Western European Comparison

Medieval Crafts, Guilds and Industrial Development: Central-Western European Comparison

By Ian Blachard

Lecture given at the Medieval Economic History of Hungary as reflected by archaeology and material culture
(Institute of Archaeology, Budapest, 2005)

Introduction: For a brief moment at the end of the thirteenth century the Central European population’s interest suddenly focussed on a remote mountain region of Bohemia as news percolated throughout the region of a fabulous silver find. Nor were the expectant rumours unfounded for a small band of miners working on the lands of the Abbey of Sedlitz had struck a lode, which was to sustain an output a production unrivalled in contemporary Europe. The whole area, upon the slopes of the Bohemian silver mountain was soon littered with prospectors as the sbeh ke Kutné – the rush to Kutná began. At this time Kutná Hora or Kuttenberg was said to have “attracted crowds of foreign people drawn by avarice to this abyss of sin”. The story of the mine’s wealth spread throughout Europe and the further it spread the more it became exaggerated. At the end of the fourteenth century it was reported in Styria that some 10,000 had been attracted to the Kutná workings from Poland, Pomerania, Meissen and Upper Hungary. On the Rhine it was related that there were 60,000 miners working day and night at the Bohemian mine. The stories, according to contemporary chroniclers, evoked amongst many the desire to control this “gem of the kingdom” but such were the conflicting interests involved that whilst the small mountain village grew in importance it never became an urban community. Many of the producers, because they formed part of the patrician elements of other places, opposed such a move. Nor did the neighbouring towns of Kolin and aslave, which enjoyed a functional relationship with Kutná Hora, show any interest in its securing urban status. The small mountain village accordingly remained subject to the jurisdiction of Jihlava, which had dominated mining activity in the 1270s but was now in high decline, but still remained the supreme arbiter of mining activity within the kingdom. Activity at the Kutná Hora workings, however, was intense and all the main ore deposits there were known and worked in the early fourteenth century. These workings fell into two groups – copper pyrites and silver bearing galena – the most significant silver zone being the Oselský vein. Initially on the basis of these deposits from 1298-1306 the new mine produced the prodigious quantity of some 6.5 tonnes of silver per year. Output, however, soon declined to about 1.5 tonnes in 1311-1318, thereby reducing the average annual output of the overall period 1298-1350 to two tonnes. Supplemented, however, from 1311 with silver from the newly opened Bohemian mine at Píbram the pace of silver production decline was slow during the fourteenth century and was in part counterbalanced by an increase in gold output.

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