Private financing and shipbuilding in the kingdom of Aragon (1200 – 1350 AD)
By Federico Foerster Laures
Tropis Symposium Proceedings, Vol. 3 (1989)
Introduction: The union of Catalonia with Aragon at the beginning of the 12th century created a power able to expand commerce and dominion over the Mediterranean Sea. The Kings of Aragon soon considered the advantage of converting the customs which since ancient times had regulated shipbuilding and maritime trade in Catalonia into laws which would be observed all over their dominions. It was Peter the Great who iniciated these proceedings in 1340. These laws, which are known as ‘customs of the sea’ (costumes de la mar), are the extension of the ‘ordinances of the coast’ (ordinaciones de la ribera) of Barcelona of 1258 and confirm ancient systems of financing private shipbuilding and regulating the relations of all who were in the maritime trade. The central person of all these laws was the shipowner, (senyor de la nau).
Here we are only interested in private financing and ship building. Therefore we shall not consider the relations of the shipownerwith the mariners, the merchants who hired the ship, or the pilgrims who went in it. We have extracted from these laws the paragraphs referring to shipbuilding and the means of financing it through the partnership of several people, who put their trust in the one designed as the shipowner (senyor de la nau) who would manage the construction of the ship and conduct the freight business going in the ship. The translation of these paragraphs follows this paper as an appendix, the original style has been modernised to avoid the tiring repetitions of the ancient writing.
These laws went into great details on the rights and obligations of the partners who formed the company to build the ship to carry freight. The shipowner was the partner who promoted the business and always travelled in the ship as the representative of the society, something similar to the roll of manager or delegate of the partners. The Laws did not consider the case of a single proprietor of a ship, as there were no relations between to regulate.