Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls on foreign trade

Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls on foreign trade

Middleton, Neil

Early Medieval Europe, Vol.13:4 (2005)


The objective of this paper is to offer a fresh perspective on the nature and organization of international trade in early medieval ports from the evidence of documentary sources on tolls and customs, trading practices and controls on foreign merchants. In particular, the paper considers the evidence for continuities and borrowings from the Roman and Byzantine worlds and the extent to which they influenced trading practices in the west and especially in Anglo-Saxon England.

Knowledge about early medieval ports and trade comes mainly from the pioneering work of archaeologists and numismatists. From the late sixth and seventh century onwards, large-scale trading settlements, sometimes occupying areas in excess of forty hectares, were beginning to develop along the coasts of southern and eastern England and of northern Europe and Scandinavia. These ports, now commonly called wics (or emporia), were markets and centres for international exchange on the frontiers of kingdoms (Fig. 1). Written sources, some later, indicate that wics were located at places under the influence or control of kings and other rulers. Wics were actively involved in international trade and clearly on a scale implying much more than the provision of small luxuries for elites.

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