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How much for the bread, my good man?

The marketplace is one of the most vital buildings in many Stronghold scenarios. Whether it be frantic trading in order to meet a gold requirement, buying enough weapons to form an army able to withstand an invasion, or stocking sufficient stone to build your castle, the ability to buy and sell goods, weapons and foodstuffs usually plays a central role. But was trade in medieval times anything like it is in the game? In fact, how did traders buy and sell their goods? Did the marketplace exist at all?

To many nineteenth century historians, and in fact to some extent even today, the concept of trade is characteristic of towns and cities that are at the advanced stages of development, rather than a small town or village society during early medieval times. This isn’t entirely true. Medieval England, for example, obtained certain commodities that simply weren’t produced in certain regions, such as spices or salt. Wool was produced in western and midland regions of England and in early medieval times, at a basic level, it was exchanged for food items from other counties or regions. Throughout many medieval villages there were always a number of households that produced disposable surpluses of food crops. This ‘internal’ trade existed, though documentary evidence isn’t as easy to come by as external trade. Although little is known about trade in early Norman times, there is no reason to believe that the same materials and grown produce that previous civilisations had taken from various countries across their empire weren’t exported. In addition to this, there was nothing distinctively Norman about the development of local trade. England was at least as commercially developed as Normandy at the time of the Norman Conquest, and the monetary system under the Anglo-Saxon kings was as sophisticated as any in Europe.

The majority of medieval trade in the United Kingdom and Europe was largely confined to commercial towns. Yet before this urban concentration, trade was scattered across the country and formed as important a role as farming the land, the other main occupation of a peasant or serf. Anyone wishing to buy or sell surplus stock or foodstuffs could do so at localised village markets, but it was their concealed nature, sporadic location and small scale that limit us in knowing exactly how they worked. It is believed that these small markets were held on a regular basis throughout the year, and that a peasant would not have to travel more than five or six miles before they found people willing to trade. When a village or town received a special right to hold and regulate periodic markets, observing and learning about them becomes much easier.

It wasn’t just local peasants that frequented these markets, though. Travelling merchants, or peddlers, came to gather rural produce with an aim to sell it in urban areas. Sometimes these merchants, or ‘chapmen’ (from where the surname ‘Chapman’ originates) would employ other people to gather tradable items, such as wool. A chapman could also belong to a larger trader, or wholesaler, in a city, where stock was brought from far and wide.

Small village markets weren’t the only places where peddlers, chapmen and peasants met to trade. At certain large towns and cities across England and Europe, trade flourished through great fairs, usually on an annual basis, but sometimes semi-annual or even four times per year. These fairs were very attractive to all manner of people and very popular, from small scale bartering for a few sacks of grain, to much larger quantities of produce or materials bought for specific people in other countries, or even specific towns.

Eventually, the bulk of the trading moved away from the scattered villages and hamlets to wholesale merchants. The growth of the towns and cities is a key stage in this development, although localised trading still existed. One theory of this shift is a result of the need for protection by a feudal lord. People in general sought shelter in the burgh (borough: a fortified place or town), but there are more complicated reasons for why trade centred on a town or city. Some trade centres were near places of pilgrimage (a cathedral, for example), a natural crossroads, or a fording point at a river.

The function of the marketplace in Stronghold has some strong links to historical fact, but as expected there are some aspects that don’t figure in what we know of the subject and are primarily features to enhance the game. Certainly as the feudal system developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a market within the walls of a fortified town would be commonplace. Whilst a market or fair would not necessarily exchange stone, iron or weapons, perishable goods such as food, crafted items made from wood, woven cloth and linen were sought after items. For large scale building projects, stone was initially brought across from such places such as Caen in Normandy, when William the Conqueror set about his castle building and laying down the early beginnings of feudalism in England. Later, quarries regarded as producing the finest limestone, for example Barnack in Northamptonshire, were used. The buying and selling of surplus food is definitely relevant to the game we know too, and indeed such ‘market days’ still occur today across many countries in Europe and within the UK, some of them even on the sites of the old medieval fairs and, particularly in rural areas, people still come to buy fresh produce and crafted goods.

Written and researched by Sulis*

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