Commercial Revolution in World History

Commercial Revolutions in the World Economy:  800 - 1750
The Commercial Revolution is a historical concept used to describe the development of an early form of capitalism that privileged those in moneylending and merchant trade.  The rise of merchants and forms of moneylending and early systems of banking allowed featured in the Tang Dynasty in China and in the Abbasid Dynasty in Baghdad by the 9th century, and various parts of Europe from around the 10th century onward.  In Europe, the Commercial Revolution is usually dated as running from the late 10th century up through the arrival of the Black Death or Plague of the 1340s.   We are now able to describe the development of commercial revolutions in various locales of the world, notably in China, in various cities of the Islamic dynasties where it began and in Europe where it may have occurred last. 

The realization of the Tang and Islamic dynasties development of commerce and the rise of the merchant class may be seen in a number of sources and studies. Among the earliest accounts of China by a Muslim traveler was Abu Zayd al-Sirāfi.  In Arabic this is known as the Riḥla al-Sirāfi or Al-Akhbār as-Șīn wa al-Hind (News of China and India). Written by a traveler from Baghdad at the height of the Abbasid Empire,  it is important because it predates Marco Polo’s text by several centuries.   For a quick reference guide to sources in this period of Chinese history go to this link.

Two prominent works that describe the European Commercial Revolution try to define and establish this period of commercial expansion.  A longer timeline is shown in Joseph and Frances Gies, Merchants and Moneymen:  The Commercial Revolution (Gies, Joseph and Gies, Frances 1972).
The Commercial Revolution transformed itself repeatedly from late medieval and throughout modern world history.  This was ably described in Bindoff’s classical essay ‘The Greatness of Antwerp’ on the merger of commerce and trade in precious metals and cloth in 16th century Western Europe (Bindoff 1958).

Carrying the notion of commercial revolutions forward into the industrial revolution of the late 18th through 19th centuryies, we find important debates and studies on the comparative development in China and Europe, as in Kenneth Pomerantz, The Great Divergence:  The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Pomeranz 2000).


Bindoff, S.T. 1958. The greatness of Antwerp. Vol. II, in The New Cambridge Modern History: The Reformation 1520-1559, edited by G.R. Elton, 50-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gies, Joseph and Gies, Frances. 1972. Merchants and Moneymen: The Commercial Revolution, 1000-1500. New York: Crowell.
Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2000. The Great Divergence: The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Mongol Empire and aftermath 1218-1747 For the history of the Central Asian steppe peoples prior to the rise of the Mongols in the 12 t...