Pedlars and Alchemists in Friuli History of itinerant sellers in an alpine reality

Medieval shops
Medieval shops
Medieval shops

Pedlars and Alchemists in Friuli History of itinerant sellers in an alpine reality

Elio Varutti

Comunicato Stampa: April 24, (2012)


I want to start with novelist Joseph Roth’s quotation, drawn from an article of his entitled “Old and new Works”, following the Great War, because it is easily understandable that the work of the itinerant seller is linked to an internal and external mutation. The clothes given by the social security of the Austrian capital are used in little country villages; this is the first mutation. In 1919, period of great inflation, barter brings the merchant an income of edible goods, which are in such a great demand in the city market to be sold at the black market and bring richness; this is the second mutation. You must be similar to alchemists in business exchanges without claiming to turn raw metal into gold. Some medieval merchants dealt with fragrances and were then “aromatari” and perfumers; they were experts in some aspects of modern chemistry, known as alchemy until the Renaissance. There is someone, though, who thinks that: “True alchemy and true alchemists have always existed, they exist today and will always exist.”

The itinerant sellers from Friuli, and especially spice and fragrance sellers of the past, were real alchemists, because they produced medications for the cure of the body, such as ointments, plasters, creams and powders. Other sellers were alchemists in a broader sense, because they were quite flexible in changing their activity according to the market’s new conditions. The seller of threads and fabrics started dealing with gloves, scarves, sacred pictures or soaps and cosmetics, if the market requested it. They were caught by an “external and internal change”, as alchemy imposed. The vendors had a precarious life, lived in conditions of constant uncertainty. Tied to market conditions, they sustained a succession of new beginnings (new products, new markets, new cities, new families, new languages), just as if they were absorbed into the “liquid life”, as described by Zygmunt Bauman, professor of sociology at the Universities of Leeds and Warsaw, who was actually describing life in the Third Millennium. The Friulians, however, were in every time a hard people.

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