Fur trade in Middle Ages



Russia was the central source of furs, which were traded to western Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and Asia. While they were a luxury, furs also came to represent the social position of aristocrats and public officials. For some, furs had an almost magical quality. As an item of social status, a fur became more valuable if more pelts, or animal skins, were used.Famously full coats worn by King John of France were made from as many as 366 pelts; Marie of savoy wore a coat made from 618 sable skins. Furs were used as ransom for captured royalty, as gift between monarchs, and by state as signs of high rank.

Medieval town market

Fur trading was a complicated process. First, furs were gathered by Russian and Lapp (from Lappland in contemporary Finland) peasants whose climate made farming impossible. these peasants captured, killed, and skinned the animals. The most prized skins for furs came from ermine, sable, weasel, squirrel, bear, beaver, minx, lynx,, otter, polecat, marten and fox. If those animals were not available, furs were taken, furs were taken from hare, rabbit, lamb, or wolf. The furs were then procured, through a combination of force or exchange, by a diverse group of tax-collectors, merchants, and raiders, who transported the furs to markets in eastern Europe.

Medieval fur merchants

There the furs were bought by another group of merchants and brought to major markets in western and central Europe. A final group of merchants then had the furs made into garments to be sold in local markets throughout Europe.

The early history of the fur trade, from the 8th to the 10th century, was dominated by Scandinavian Vikings, who occupied the major sources of fur-production in Russia, the Baltic countries, and Norway. By the late 9th century, the Russian cities of Novgorod became the hub of fur trading. this trade was often dominated by German merchants.

King John of France

When Novgorod was occupied by the Russian state of Muscovy in the 15th century, the fur trade came under the control of Moscow. The popularity of furs encouraged Russian colonization into Siberia in order to exploit the large supply found in the frigid region. Furs were also brought to the Byzantine Empire, central Asia, and the Middle East through the activities of russian, Bulgarian and Muslim merchants.

 

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