Taxes, Loans, Credit and Debts in the 15th Century Towns of Moravia: A Case Study of Olomouc and Brno
Roman Zaoral (Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic)
Economics World: Vol. 2, No. 4, 281-289, April (2014)
The paper explores urban public finance in the late medieval towns on the example of two largest cities in Moravia—Olomouc and Brno. Its purpose is to define similarities and differences between them, to express changes which have taken place in the course of the 15th century, and to distinguish financial administration and types of investments in the towns situated in the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire from those in the West. The primary sources (municipal books, charters, and Jewish registers) are analyzed using quantitative and comparative methods and the concept of the 15th century financial crisis is reconsidered. The analysis proved that each town within the Empire paid a fixed percentage of the total tax sum of central direct taxation through a system of repartition so that each tax increase caused an ever growing pressure on its finances. New taxes collected in Brno and Olomouc after 1454 were not proportional to the economic power and population of both cities and gave preferential benefit to Olomouc. At the same time the importance of urban middle classes as tax-farmers started to grow. They increasingly gained influence on the financial and fiscal regime, both through political emancipation as well as by serving as financial officials.
The Jewish registers document a general lack of money in the 1430s and 1440s which played into hands of the Jewish usurers. Accounting records from the 1480s and 1490s, to the contrary, give evidence of the growth of loans, debts and credit enterprise. The restructuring of urban elites, caused by financial crises and social conflicts, was centered round the wish for a more efficient management of urban financial resources and more intensive control rights. It was a common feature of towns in the West just as in the East of the Empire. On the other side, the tax basis in the West was rather created by indirect taxes, while direct taxes prevailed in the East. Trade activities played more important role in the West, whereas rich burghers in the East rather invested into land estates. From the research also emerged that the establishment of separate cashes is documented in the West only, the management of urban finance in the East remained limited to a single-entry accounting.