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The Affects of Warfare Upon Trade: Growth in a War-Torn World, Northern Europe 1000-1700

The Affects of Warfare Upon Trade: Growth in a War-Torn World, Northern Europe 1000-1700

By Vincent John Kindfuller

Bachelor’s Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016

A map combining the various regional maps of Europe from the Vatican Library’s MS Urb. Gr. 83, folios 112 verso & 113 recto, a 15th-century Greek manuscript of Ptolemy’s Geography

Abstract: Theories abound to describe how and why Europe was able to become the economic hegemon of the world between the 18th and 20th centuries. One of these theories is the competition argument, which argues that competition between the fractured states of Europe created the impetus for technological and institutional innovation which pushed Europe ahead of other areas of the world. However, these theories don’t account for the negative effects that wars cause directly, which should detract from Europe’s ability to stay competitive economically.

In this thesis, I detail a theoretical model through which warfare in Europe increased trade, even though individual wars caused devastation and disruptions in trade. By requiring rulers to raise new revenue streams, warfare forced them to bargain for new resources. This bargaining granted concessions to cities and merchants, in the form of city charters and monopolies, which encouraged trade and therefore increased the economic well-being of the affected states. I focus on Northern Europe between 1000 and 1500, though I use examples from other times and places as well.

Introduction: “In respect to number of subjects, extent of territory, and amount of revenue, he surpasses every sovereign that has heretofore been or that now is in the world. Thus, the traveller Marco Polo described the Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China, after returning from his journey to China in 1295. When Marco Polo visited the lands of the Far East, he was stunned by the reams of silk, rooms full of precious stones, pearls and gold and silver, and the grand cities he saw. A little over a hundred years later, the famous Chinese admiral Zheng He led seven massive fleets, each of dozens of ships and as many as thirty-thousand sailors, all around East Asia and even as far as the Arabian peninsula between 1405 and 1433. Well before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” with three ships and ninety sailors, Chinese fleets were travelling equal distances with massive fleets, forcing local kingdoms and cities to pay tribute to the Emperor of China.

Yet four hundred years later, the tables had turned. Rather than Chinese fleets enforcing humiliating treaties on their inferiors, European fleets could enforce humiliating treaties on China.

Click here to read this article from MIT

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