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Cities of Commerce:
The Institutional Foundations of International Trade in the Low Countries, 1250-1650
Oscar Gelderblom

Paperback | 2015 | $27.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691168203
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2013 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691142883
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 13 line illus. 10 tables.
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Cities of Commerce develops a model of institutional change in European commerce based on urban rivalry. Cities continuously competed with each other by adapting commercial, legal, and financial institutions to the evolving needs of merchants. Oscar Gelderblom traces the successive rise of Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam to commercial primacy between 1250 and 1650, showing how dominant cities feared being displaced by challengers while lesser cities sought to keep up by cultivating policies favorable to trade. He argues that it was this competitive urban network that promoted open-access institutions in the Low Countries, and emphasizes the central role played by the urban power holders--the magistrates--in fostering these inclusive institutional arrangements. Gelderblom describes how the city fathers resisted the predatory or reckless actions of their territorial rulers, and how their nonrestrictive approach to commercial life succeeded in attracting merchants from all over Europe.

Cities of Commerce intervenes in an important debate on the growth of trade in Europe before the Industrial Revolution. Challenging influential theories that attribute this commercial expansion to the political strength of merchants, this book demonstrates how urban rivalry fostered the creation of open-access institutions in international trade.

Oscar Gelderblom is associate professor of economic history at Utrecht University. He is the editor of The Political Economy of the Dutch Republic.


"[A] rich, nuanced, and convincing account of how adaptively efficient commercial institutions emerged from interactions between merchants and city officials in early modern Europe."--Choice

"In this fine book, we get a real sense of the riskiness associated with trade . . . And of the efforts urban authorities made to cope with risk."--Paul M Hohenberg, EH.Net

"Gelderblom's Cities of Commerce, a work informed by both history and economic theory, should evoke both discussion and further work about the origins of the Western European economy."--James M. Murray, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"What the book does in an exemplary and quite fruitful fashion is to sketch the commercial history of three of Europe's most important entrepots, analyzing the changing patterns of trade and institutional drift, assuming some sort of functional relationship between the two. . . . The book will be a welcome addition to recent debates in growth and development studies."--Journal of Economic Literature

"Gelderblom's study is a thought-provoking read and a well-modulated, original voice in the debate on the economic, urban and institutional development of pre-modern Europe."--Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz, English Historical Review

"Gelderblom offers a convincing argument in this well-written book."--Donald ]. Harreld, The Historian


"This richly detailed book offers an important and critical reexamination of the commercial revolution in Northern Europe. Combining key insights from law and institutional economics with a sharp historical narrative, Gelderblom produces a striking new understanding of how formal and informal institutions propelled the European economy forward."--Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, California Institute of Technology

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Table of Contents:

Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Chapter 2 Commercial Cities 19
Chapter 3 The Organization of Exchange 42
Chapter 4 Crossing Borders 76
Chapter 5 Conflict Resolution 102
Chapter 6 The Protection of Trade 141
Chapter 7 Dealing with Losses 169
Chapter 8 Conclusion 198
Appendix A: The Incidence of Violence against Foreign Merchants in the Low Countries, 1250-1650 211
Appendix B: The Motivation, Organization, and Outcome of Collective Action by Merchants of the German Hanse in Bruges, 1250-1500 227
Abbreviations 233
Bibliography 235
Index 277


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