Medieval Fairs: an archaeologist’s approach
Arthur, Paul (Naples)
Archeologia w teorii i w praktyce, Warszawa (2000): 419-436
Over twenty years ago I remember having been shown a substantial quantity of late Roman coins found in the Wiltshire countryside, alongside a Roman road skirting the prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill. Even then I wondered if their loss was due to intense market activity at the site of a rural fair that had taken place by an earthwork so unique and spectacular as to have been endowed with some form of lingering sanctity. Whether this was the case or not I still do not know though, over twenty years later, with Roman Britain out of mind, the problem of fairs once again arises as a possibility in explaining various features of early medieval Italy that I am presently studying. On the one hand I am concerned with the distribution of material objects, on the other that of concepts and ideas. Furthermore, fairs may have played a role in the spread of the Church and churches throughout the country. Could the establishment of churches alternatively have acted as a catalyst for exchange? This may seem to be a chicken and egg problem, but the spread of churches with the growth of settlements will have allowed the institution not only a greater control of souls but also of their material wealth. The tight relationship between fairs and sacred places and religious days is indeed commonplace and appears to have an ancestry stretching back far before the Middle Ages. Indeed, the very word fair derives from the Latin feriae or holiday/Holy day.