Foreign Merchants in Medieval Barcelona

Foreign Merchants in Medieval Barcelona


Paper given at the The European city and its representations – La ville en Europe conference (1998)

Introduction: The period between the 13th and the 15th century saw the Mediterranean expansion of the Kingdom of Catalonia-Aragon, a period the beginning of which may be dated from the death of King Peter I at the battle of Muret against the kingdom of France (1213), during the Catalan intervention in the French Crusade against the Occitan countries. This defeat marks the end of Catalan interests in Occitan politics: Peter I’s heir, James I The Conqueror, submitted to French political and military pressure and found it better to change the direction of what had been the geographic interest of expansion for more than a century.

Hence, king James began what would be the Mediterranean expansion of Catalonia with the conquest of Balearic Islands from the Moors in successive campaigns from 1228 to 1335. Besides that, king James held the project of occupying the Mediterranean basin of the Iberian Peninsula, and he conquered progressively the whole kingdom of Valencia between 1232 and 1245 (the city itself occupied in 1238). These were the beginnings of the further acquisition of positions along the Mediterranean sea routes by the Royal House of Barcelona: Sicily, Sardinia and Naples during the cycle of Italian campaigns of Alphonse the Magnanimous (1421-1442) (see below map of the Dominions of the Kingdom of Catalonia-Aragon and its major trade routes during the 15th Century).

Together with political expansion, there was the trading expansion of the Catalan merchants, among whom those coming from Barcelona had a prominent role. Up to that time, Italian merchants had dominated the Mediterranean commercial scene. From now on, Barcelona’s merchants would try to sweep them away with the support of the kings. The Mediterranean scene experienced a rising rivalry between two spheres of influence — Catalan and Northern Italian — for the control of the major commercial routes and preferential access to the major and most profitable markets, which implied even pirates, privateers and rising political tension.

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