Saturday, May 31, 2014

Using coins in early medieval France

Gregory de Tours tells of a poor fisherman who wants wine. When a saint miraculously sends him a large fish, he goes at once and trades it for wine.

The fact that he does not sell the fish and use the money to buy wine, but barters the fish for it, corresponds with the “Dark Ages” view of the early medieval period, in which all infrastructure collapsed and people lived in self-sufficient enclaves. As Metcalf puts it:
a later school of historians, …- have tended to see the early middle ages in north-western Europe as an age of local self-sufficiency, with only limited monetization of the economy, and in which coinage was mainly used for the purchase of luxury goods by the ruling class, and (in the extreme case) for gift-exchange and similar ritual functions. On a broad perspective this state of affairs persisted (they assert) until the beginnings of recovery from the Viking assaults upon north-western Europe.
But of course the picture is far more complex and a variety of coinage has survived from this period. Its existence in itself does not tell us how it was used; but there is also good reason to believe that it circulated and was an integral part of the economy. Whether it was the main medium of trade is another question, one too large to more than survey here.

Addressing it raises a number of questions:
  • What coins existed and when?
  • What were they intended for (trade, taxes, charity, etc.)?
  • How widely did they circulate?
  • Who used them and for what?
  • How did they obtain them?
  • How essential were they to daily trade?
  • What do they say about international trade?
  • Where did the metal come from?
If research continues on all these points, none can be answered completely or with certainty. But enough information, or sometimes informed speculation, exists to take us beyond a simple “Dark Ages” view of the period.

Early medieval coinage

The first coinage in medieval France, as in much of the Western world, was Roman. Bear in mind that even after the Franks took over Gaul (and ultimately displaced other Germanic groups there) they ruled a country which had been part of Rome and which for a long time remained Roman in many ways. This was more true in the Gallo-Roman south, but it also held true for much in the north. The Franks themselves were certainly familiar with Roman coinage; they had long been clients of Rome and had no doubt been paid in Roman currency.

Even as they began to make their mark on their new domains, they looked to Byzantium – that is, the Eastern Roman Empire – for models. Though the Byzantines were Greeks, it is important in considering their relationships with the Franks to know that, after the fall of Rome itself, they represented the continuation of the Roman Empire. One result was that even as the Franks and others began to strike their own coins, they not only imitated Byzantine coins, but, in doing so, even closely tracked the changes in emperors.

The French numismatist Lafaurie, whose work is central to these studies, writes of:
the transformation of imperial coinage, which had been the unique modern means of exchange for five centuries, into a multitude of local currencies specific to these populations which occupied the empire's land and organized, in the conquered domains, their administration. Thus are born the mintings of the Ostrogoths in Italy, those of the Burgundians, of the Franks or the Visigoths in Gaul and the Suevi in Spain. In the same period the Vandals struck coins in Africa and from the seventh century on Arabs imitated the Byzantine types and created a typologically original coinage from the start of the eighth century.
... This world of a millennial monetary tradition will in effect produce an autonomous coinage which will take almost a century to definitely separate itself from its Byzantine prototypes.
In Gaul, these “national” coinages begin to appear in the sixth century in the parts of Gaul occupied by different Germanic groups. For the first three-quarters of a century (and later in Provence and the valley of the Rhone) the names of Byzantine emperors on solidi and tremisses (a third of a solidus) are specific enough to establish a chronology, until the reign of Clothar II (reigned 613-629).

For much of the sixth century, Byzantine coins and local coins circulated together in the north; in the south (which was closer to the Eastern trade of Marseille) the former were dominant. By the seventh and eight centuries, these disappeared within Gaul, probably first because they were melted down for use in local coinage, but possibly too because of a decline in trade.

Aside from Byzantine gold, there was copper, largely minted in Carthage (in north Africa). Other non-Merovingian coins in circulation were Visigothic tremisses and Anglo-Saxon thrymsas.

At the end of the sixth century, numerous local types began to appear. Adelson estimates that minting of pseudo-imperial coinage probably began around 574, but had ended by 616. Two of the major mints, at Marseille and Arles, probably opened after 580. Metcalf: "During the 'long century', 561-674, and more particularly from the 590s onwards, tremisses were issued at an exceptionally large number of places in Gaul." He presents these as high-value coins: “A tremissis had a substantial purchasing power. Comparisons with today are rather meaningless, but one might say, very approximately, that a tremissis was worth some tens of euros, or even as much as a hundred euros.” At the same time, it represented a third of the value of the solidus, so that its increased use suggests a general devaluation which ultimately made silver the preferable option.

Though Byzantine coinage included low-value copper pieces, the dominant metal in coinage in Gaul long became gold. One reason for this, says Adelson, is that the Germanic groups had come to distrust silver coinage under the Romans. He also writes that “in the areas conquered by the barbarians it was not the solidus that was the principal coin but the triens [a tremissis], which was only one-third of the Byzantine pieces.”

All this changed in 675, when, with the denarius (denier), silver replaced gold and would, for seven centuries, remain the base of Frankish coinage. 

Coins in texts

Metcalf writes that “the documentary evidence,.. is virtually silent on the subject [of monetary trade] - a silence which has unfortunately been construed as negative evidence.” This is largely the case, making the evidence of archeology and numismatics disproportionately important in this case. Still, some references to coinage do appear in written texts.

In describing the early Germans, Tacitus writes: “There are proportionate punishments for lighter crimes, the offender being fined so many sheep or cattle upon conviction.” But by the time the Franks wrote down their laws, probably very near the start of their reign in Gaul, these payments in kind had become monetary and Salic law is largely an inventory of compensations to be paid either in solidii (Roman gold) or the equivalent in denarii (Frankish silver). Subsequent laws for other Germanic groups – the Bavarian law, the Ripuarian law, the Alamannic law, the Frisian law, etc. – also specify amounts, often in the same coins, sometimes in tremisses (alternately, triens). Since these laws were issued at different points under Frankish rule, they suggest that those who wrote them assumed people would have access to coins all through this period. It is less clear if this was the case as a matter of course or if people condemned to such payments were expected to make a special effort to obtain them. But none of these laws specify alternate payments in kind and anyone who did not regularly use coins presumably would have had to monetize – i.e., sell – whatever goods they did have to pay such compensations.

If Gregory de Tours provides at least one specific example of barter, he also mentions coinage in several passages. In one passage, “there was a poor old woman... who, having nothing else, devoutly threw two minuta in the church storeroom.” In another tale, a poor man delegated by the other “blessèd poor” to receive alms while they “dispersed” is given a triens but tells the others he got an argenteus. Both tales appear to be referring to a type of small silver coin, possibly one especially intended for the poor. Grierson and Blackburn cite a rare text, probably from the sixth or seventh century, referring to minutos argenteos (tiny silver coins) which were scattered to the poor. In yet another tale, Gregory tells of a man who had barely earned enough to have a triens, which he used to buy wine. Having watered the wine, he then sold it for argenteos, which if it means the same thing here. also suggests that he was selling it to people of limited means. Ultimately, he turned such a profit that he earned one hundred solidii (as much as Gregory disapproves, to a modern reader, this could also be taken as a rare example of creative entrepreneurship in the period).

Grierson and Blackburn are dubious however about the coinage in these tales: “Unless these are merely pious anecdotes repeated from one source another, they are events that must have occurred during Gregory's youth, for no silver coins remained in circulation in Gaul in the 570s and 580s, at the time that he was writing.” This might be arguable however; the fact that these were no longer minted does not necessarily mean they were not in circulation and the lack of archeological evidence may simply mean that such low-value, easily melted coins did not survive. As it is, one argenteus has been found at Saint-Martin-de-Fontenay imitating one of Justin I (518-527); it is not in the least unreasonable to think it, or coins like it, might have survived another fifty years.

UPDATE 6-9-2014: The French Library's Cabinet of Medals also holds a quarter of a siliqua (a small value silver coin) from the reign of Clothar I (555-561); that is, very close to Gregory's time. It is an imitation of an Ostrogoth coin.

At the least, Gregory's accounts here all seem to take for granted that his readers will be familiar with the coins involved; nothing in his language suggests these are artifacts of a former time.

Silver coinage aside, he mentions other uses of coins. In describing a famine, he says “Merchants cruelly ransomed the people, to the point that they gave at most a muid of wheat or a half-muid of wine for a triens.” The very fact that merchants could charge exorbitant rates for wheat or wine shows that these were sold for coins and that there were standard prices for these. In another case he mentions a man lending a triens to a friend, who returns it to him a few days later; again, this is a very matter of fact monetary transaction. In another, a man who is struck dumb immediately gives a waterman a triens to take to a saint's chapel; the fact that he has the coin at hand is taken for granted. (When he gets home, he sees “a gold piece like a triens” but weighing as much as a solidus.)

More important in these tales than the specific coins is the simple fact of people at different levels of society using coins as a matter of course. Gregory was Gallo-Roman and probably more familiar with those who maintained Roman customs; what he describes may have been less the case further north. But it seems clear that if a monetary economy was not universal in Gregory's experience, nor was it at all unusual.

By Charlemagne's time, the use of currency had become standard enough to inspire some of the first price controls. In his Frankfurt Capitulary of 794, he not only sets the prices for grains – “For a modius of oats, one denier, for a modius of barley, two, modius of rye three, modius of wheat four deniers” – but sets prices for bread: “"If one wants to sell it as bread, twelve loaves of wheat, each of two pounds, must be given for one denier..." Note that he does not mention bakers here, simply anyone who wanted to sell grain made into bread. Charlemagne himself had bakers on his estates, but it does not seem that public bakers had yet become as common as they had been under the Romans. This hints at a still young market economy. Overall, however, the very fact that price controls were necessary shows that a monetary market had been in existence for long enough for abuses to arise (as they already had, as noted above, in Gregory's time).

Arguably, the two centuries between Gregory and Charlemagne leave a gap where the use of coins is not documented beyond official purposes. But the surviving texts neither prove nor disprove the existence of a monetary economy in that time.

Following the coins

With such minimal documentary data, the best evidence for the use of coins comes from the ever-expanding finds of coins themselves; as analyzed, that is, by expert numismatists. Almost all modern work on the French side refers back to the numerous papers of Jean Lafaurie; one person to analyze these in English is D. M. Metcalf, who specifically focused on circulation in Gaul from 561 to 674. Metcalf's analysis is often very technical and in the language of statistics, so unfortunately it cannot be simply summarized. But his conclusions are clear enough.

He points out above that "general historians... and... archaeologists... cling to the belief that the monetary sector of the economy was negligible,” going on to say “the old idea of local self-sufficiency appears to be contradicted by, or perhaps one should say appears to be in complete conflict with, the fact that single coins are, seven or eight times out of ten, a long way from the place where they were issued.”

A range of finds in France provides a broad view of circulation in the period. “Because the empirical evidence is distributed so profusely all over France... the historical assessment can be based... on a rolling perspective and on multiple comparisons.” This includes "the coins from small mint-places in the same way as coins from the larger mints. The innumerable small mint-places, which are so difficult to understand historically, produced a good third of the stock of currency."

He divides the finds and corresponding mints into ten regions:
1. Brittany, Lower Normandy, etc. (Includes Rennes, Le Mans as the most important mints).
2. The lower Seine basin (Includes Paris, Rouen).
3. The North : Pas-de-Calais, Nord, Somme, and Aisne. (Includes Soissons.)
It would be appropriate to extend this region into modern Belgium, to include Flanders and Brabant. There is also a substantial number of finds from the Netherlands.
4. The East : Austrasian territory in the Meuse basin, the Moselle, and the middle Rhine. (Includes Metz, Verdun.) The départements of Aube, Yonne, and Nièvre are included here, rather arbitrarily. Yonne and Nièvre could equally well have been assigned to region 8, but they were included in 561 in Thierry's Austrasian kingdom.
5. The lower Loire basin, and as far south as the Vendée, Deux-Sèvres, and Vienne, i. e. the ancient Poitou. (Includes Nantes, Angers, Tours, Orléans, and Poitiers.)
6. Western Aquitaine : Atlantic coastlands, from Charente to the Landes. (Includes Bordeaux.)
7. Upland Aquitaine : the higher ground, with the Massif central (Includes Limoges, Clermont, Toulouse, and the mint-places of Banassac and Javols.)
8. Burgundy, with the Rhône and Saône corridor, as far north as the Plateau of Langres (Includes Chalon-sur-Saône.) It would be appropriate to extend this region into Switzerland.
9. Provence (Includes Marseille, Aries).
10. Septimania. Also the French Pyrénées (where Visigothic monetary influence is evident).
Metcalf examines the exchanges of coins between these regions meticulously and at length, tracing movements in different directions. Here is a sample:
Even in the southern half of region 8, that is to say south of the Rhône and of the Lake of Geneva (Léman), there are coins from a wide range of exterior mints, which demonstrate the spread of coinage in a southerly direction too. Coins from present-day Switzerland entered region 8, e.g. from the mints of Saint-Maurice-d'Agaune, Lausanne, Orbe, and Sion. ...In short, monetary circulation was predominantly by gradual diffusion locally, while the long-distance routeway was of secondary importance in determining the currency of the region.
Similar details show all manner of movement of coins between the different regions.

Metcalf's view (based on this and other analysis) is that “it seems to imply that, over all, the local economy was everywhere monetized, even at a village level.... A monetized economy was not confined to towns; over all, it reached countless villages, as is seen from the circulation patterns of tremisses minted at very small places.” Further, “There was no single political authority, and the coins minted in one kingdom certainly passed as current in other kingdoms too. Single finds and hoards alike demonstrate that in all regions of France a miscellany of coins, from many mint-places and with little or no uniformity of design were acceptable commercially.”

In other words, based on numismatic analysis, coins were not only minted in numerous places in early medieval France, they circulated between regions in a way that implies an active monetary economy.

The international view

The most striking aspect of international circulation in this period is that of Byzantine coins in Gaul. As noted above these tended to come from the south. But at end of the sixth century those found in the north seem to have come from the north or east.

Finds from along the Atlantic and north sea route are less common, but finds along these coasts exist. This is particularly important because, says Lafaurie, "on this route, the valleys of the Garonne, of the Loire and of the Seine allow penetrating into the interior; here again, the testimony of finds joins that of texts attesting for instance to the presence of "Syrian" merchants – already numerous in Provence and in the Narbonnaise – in Bordeaux or in Orleans.” Note that “Syrian” merchants were probably in fact any Christian Easterners (contrasted with the Jewish merchants who also played a major part in trade with the East). Adelson:
Merchants of western origin had declined in importance during the period of the Roman Empire, and their position had been taken by easterners – Syrians, Jews, and Greeks... The appearance of merchants of eastern origin during the Merovingian period in Gaul is certainly more marked than during the preceding Roman epoch or the following Carolingian age.
Among the Byzantine copper coins, those from Carthage are preponderant; in Lafaurie's analysis this suggests commercial usage. Its presence also suggests that of Byzantine gold, which the Franks could melt and reissue in a devalued form:
If this copper coinage, with weak purchasing power, thus penetrates into Gaul in a modest but not negligible way, it is normal to think that gold coins... also arrived there in certain quantity. The ports which received it, endowed with a mint, changed it into local, Merovingian coinage, and the profit... of 12% must have incited seeking out these foreign coins which produced so neat a profit to the monetary authority.
Byzantine gold however may have had a particularity; that used for export, says Adelson, was lighter than that used in Byzantium itself. These lighter issues appeared just as the Germanic groups were leaving their “wandering” and settling permanently in places like Gaul. Mints in Gaul struck their own copies of these lightweight coins.

The stability of the Byzantine regime restored trade in the West as well: “The rebuilt Byzantine fleet certainly controlled the entire Mediterranean in the period preceding the death of Heraclius [reigned 610-641], and, as a direct result, trade in the West became safer than it had been at any time since the Vandals reached Carthage." "The case is very clear cut for a great expansion of that trade during the sixth and seventh centuries after a period of decline during the preceding epoch.” (Adelson)

Overall, in fact:
Virtually all historians agree that the Germanic invasions did not mark a turning point in the economic history of Europe though they may well have accelerated the decline and disintegration of the Roman Empire.
Nevertheless, as soon as the first waves of these invaders had settled down in the new successor states, the Byzantine merchants revived western trade.
This trade was largely to the West's advantage:
The Byzantines had an unfavorable balance of trade with Western Europe during the very early Middle Ages....Western Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries was at a low economic and cultural level, without the taste and desire for exotic and refined luxury items and products of industry in great quantities, but with an excess of raw materials available for export.
Among these last, Adelson notes, were slaves, the sale of whom may have helped the West draw currency its way.

Moving towards the eighth century, Byzantine coins become rare in finds. As noted above, this may be in part because they were melted to produce local coinage. But, says Lafaurie, “the stoppage of all the finds of Byzantine coins, be they in gold or copper, in all the parts of Gaul, whether or not they are the sites of active mints, is then the sign of the thinning out of commercial and political exchanges between the Eastern Mediterranean and the West.”

Adelson notes various conclusions based on monetary circulation of the time: “The trade route from Italy by land to the Frisian coast...never seems to have been entirely closed.” Under Chlotar II, "the subsidiary trade route along the Rhine was probably used to a greater degree than in the reigns just preceding that of Phocas [reigned 602-610].” “The concentration of finds of Ostrogothic silver coins and those of the Exarchate of Ravenna in the middle Rhine region seems to be conclusive proof of a continuous use of that trade route during the pre-Carolingian era”.

The numismatic record then reflects a lively international trade under the early Franks, largely, but not only, with the Byzantines.

How did people get coins?

None of these writers address an issue which may at first glance seem obvious: how anyone but the elite of society got coins at all.

Consider that many people were simply slaves. Others were bound to the land, with no wages. Even when work contracts appear much later in the Middle Ages, they often define payments in kind, such as cheese and beer. If a monetary economy did exist through all levels of society, then, it is not obvious how anyone who was not, for instance, royalty or a merchant came into possession of coins.

One can certainly speculate. Slaves after all have been known to buy their freedom in different societies, showing that somehow they were able to earn a monetary income; eighteenth century French galley slaves often set up small trades when on land. Grierson and Blackburn cite later mentions of moneta pauperum, coins struck especially to be given to the poor. As mentioned above, they cite a passage describing how tiny silver coins were given to the poor (specifically, thrown by the consul while the king smiled benevolently on). It may be that similar customs continued, though otherwise unrecorded.

The most likely means would have been by sale. Even a slave might have had some excess production that he could (licitly or not) sell. The least likely means would have been through any kind of wages, a concept that does not seem to appear in early medieval texts. But all this is frankly speculative; the very existence of a monetary economy in this period has not always been acknowledged and still less have scholars sought to understand what fed it on a local level.


Nothing in the above is at all definitive. Even to the degree that these questions have been studied, it is difficult to summarize the result in a limited space. What does seem clear is that some degree of monetary economy survived from Roman times and was certainly revived by the time of Charlemagne. But whether it ever fully disappeared or how much it co-existed with a barter economy is likely to remain an open question. The most important point here, as with so many subjects, is that societies in the early Middle Ages were more structured and intricate than has often been thought, even if we are unlikely to ever make out all the details of the related systems.


Metcalf. D. M., “Monetary circulation in Merovingian Gaul, 561-674. A propos des Cahiers Ernest Babelon”, Revue numismatique , v6 2006

Tacitus, Publius Cornelius, Germany: a transl. [by C.I. Elton]. 1874

Fagniez, Gustave, Documents relatifs à l'histoire de l'industrie et du commerce en France V1 1898

CNRS video on medieval coins:
English version

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The early history of the Paris Halles

At the start of 1969, Paris undertook what has been called “the move of the century”, transferring the central food market from its long established home in the Halles to Rungis, outside Paris. This was not only significant in terms of food; the glass and iron pavilions of les Halles had long been part of the Paris landscape. Within a few years, most would be torn down, the remaining two moved elsewhere.

The Halles best known to Parisians was defined by these iconic structures and by its nickname as “the Belly of Paris”. But in fact the pavilions had only been built in 1854, whereas the market itself was many centuries older. Nor was it, at its start, a food market.

The lengthy and little-known history of the Halles is one of urbanism – the early expansion of Paris –, of shifts in royal authority, of changes in economic models and even, arguably, of yet another example of Eastern influence following the Crusades. It has now been explored by a number of writers, all writing in French. What follows here is a look at its first centuries, primarily based on the work of Anne Lombard-Jourdan and Léon Biollay.

The bishop's ditch

The story of the Halles begins with a cemetery. Later this would become the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, but well before that, the Merovingians buried their dead in part of a space that was, for a very long time, unsettled and well outside Paris. The cemetery was still in use in the ninth century, when the Normans, besieging Paris, destroyed it. About a century later, another cemetery was established there and it became an important one. It was part of a larger site, to the northwest of Paris, known as the Champeaux – the “Little Fields”. As had had happened elsewhere in France over time, an informal market grew up around this cemetery.

It was not unusual in such circumstances for ecclesiastics to claim control of the resulting commerce. As it happens, the Bishop of Paris, Étienne de Senlis, was already laying claim (using, says Lombard-Jourdan, fake documents) to most of the western part of the Right Bank. At some point before 1137, he enclosed the area of the market in a ditch, so that the site in the Champeaux was known as “the Bishop's ditch” (fossatum episcopi) or “the ditch of the Champeau” (fossatum Campelli).

Surrounding the space with a ditch was more than a material gesture; it created a definable space under the bishop's authority. In 822, for instance, Louis the Pious had granted immunity to property around the abbey of Aniane, but on condition that it be surrounded "by ditches, hedges or any other sort of enclosure." The case of the bishop's ditch around the Champeau is somewhat more complicated, since the bishop had already extended his authority over much of this and neighboring areas. Still, the cemetery and the informal market around it had been open to all comers and this was a start of limiting it as a space.

In 1137, King Louis VI (reigned 1108-1137) arranged to share this space with the bishop. The king's interest in the market has been variously explained, but one consideration seems to have been to wrest control of markets and fairs away from the Church; Lombard-Jourdan: "When the Capetians began to reside in a more consistent manner in their Palace in the Cité, the Parisian fairs and markets were all, or almost, in the hands of ecclesiastics."

This was not universally the case. The old Roman forum (both meeting place and market) had been on the Left Bank, but was no longer mentioned in later centuries. Abbo, writing in the ninth century, mentions a market in the Cité (urbs). About a century and a half later, there is mention of an "old market" (vetus forum) which Lombard-Jourdan places on the "Strand" - that is, the place de Grève, which would later be the site of the Town Hall (not to mention numerous executions). If the "old market" was not under the Church's authority, nor was it under the King's; it seems to have been regarded as community property.

So, says Lombard-Jourdan, “the agreement concluded in 1137 between Louis VI and bishop Étienne of Senlis regarding the 'ditch of the Champeaux' is the first sign of royalty taking economic activity back in hand, a first effort to substitute the king's authority for that of the Bishop." They agreed to share the taxes, rents, fines, etc., the king and his associates keeping two thirds, the bishop and his successors only one.

If the bishop accepted a lesser share, she says, it was because of the value of having the king's caution. Note that the ditch surrounded an existing, but informal market. Six months after their agreement, the king decided, on August 1, 1137 that the "new market" (novum forum) would from now on take place at the Champeaux. His son would later say that he had stabilivit the market, which might in one reading mean he had founded it, but here seems more like to mean that he had simply stabilized it; that is, made it official.

Lombard-Jourdan cites this description of the space from centuries later, suggesting that it remained roughly the same:
The territory of this direct royal domain forms a rather large space..., beginning in the rue Saint-Honoré, between that of the Prouvaires and that of the Tonnellerie, following the length of the latter and turning with it until the Saint-Eustache point, rising from there until the ancient hostelry of the Paon, which still exists today, returning by the pillars called those of the Pilory and following them until the rue Pirouette-en-Terrouenne, then regaining the pillars of the tin Potters until the charnel-houses of the Holy Innocents [cemetery], from which it returns to the rue Saint-Honoré, formerly called at this point the rue de la Charronnerie, and from the end of this street, where the old Cat square had been, returning to the corner of the rue de la Tonnellerie.
This is from 1728, but copied from the Terrier de Louis XII (reigned 1498-1515), and so likely to reflect sixteenth century data. But anyone who wants a rough idea of the original space can still find some of these streets on modern maps and easily enough identify the others. Otherwise, it is credible that these boundaries corresponded to the original space in the Champeaux.

In 1138, Louis VI's son, Louis VII, mentioned mercers and money-changers on the site. It seems probable, says Lombard-Jourdan, that these professions were already long-standing by then. This raises one question which she does not address: was the “old market” limited to similar professions or was it a more general one? Unfortunately, too little is known of the earlier Parisian markets to say. But Biollay suggests that then or soon after wheat was also traded in the new market.

Meanwhile, a market for livestock already existed just south of the ditch; it is subsequently mentioned as “the old place of Pigs”. The latter often invaded the cemetery and left their “filth” in it. Lombard-Jourdan: “Sale of livestock, sale of manufactured products: cloth, dry goods, are, originally, more the activities of a fair than a market.”

Right from the start, exceptions were made to the space's function. Before his death, Louis VI granted an abbey the right to three lodgers and an income “in the new market”. In a more curious case, Louis VII granted Adelende Gente the right to build lodgings (probably for artisans and merchants) and an oven in the heart of the market. What inspired this unique generosity?

Adelende had grown up with Louis VI and his wife; why, Lombard-Jourdan does not say. But they continued to show interest in her affairs later. She seems to have been agreeable; she was called "Gente" for her graciousness. She was married to a doctor, master Obizon, who replaced Louis' Jewish doctor from Avignon, Tsour, who died in 1122. Outwardly, this was a desirable marriage; Obizon was a person of some importance. But the two were soon separated and in 1128 officially divided their goods.

Nor is it clear why a woman who appeared to have both royal protection and means built an oven and lodgings at the heart of the market. But soon after his father's agreement with the bishop, Louis VII granted her property there immunity, meaning not only that no rights were due on it but even that royal agents were not to enter it. He also ruled that hers would be the only oven in the enclosure.

Sometime later, Adelende gave all this to the monks of the nearby St. Martin in the Fields. Over time, this would cause all manner of irritations to several kings, as the monks fought to maintain the right (having, apparently, lost the original paperwork, but "repurposed" other documents to support their claim). Among other things, they long had the exclusive right to bake bread in the Halles. The structure itself became known as "the house of the Rappée" and later hosted the most important tavern in the market.

The Champeaux may also already have been used for executions, but the first mention of these there comes from Le Breton, referring to members of a heretical sect under Philip-August: “They were arraigned before the court of king Philip, who, as a very Christian and Catholic king, having called his guards, had them all burned, outside the gate of Paris, in a place called Champeaux.”

Louis VII continued his father's interest in commerce, taking twenty pounds a year from the Saint-Lazare (or St. Ladre; Holy Leper) fair and gave his protection to the St-Germain-de-Près Fair in exchange for half its income. These fairs, held six months apart, were increasingly successful but also under ecclesiastical control. Then he renounced all rights to the Saint-Lazare fair, but reserved the right to punish thieves and protect the merchants there. He also extended the fair's duration several times. Lombard-Jourdan writes, in her study of the origins of Paris:
Whether it concerns the "Champeau ditch", the Saint-Lazare fair or that of Saint-Germain, one can thus follow the evolution of Parisian commerce, from the time of spontaneous gatherings of merchants, passing by the stage of exchanges guarded and protected by the Church, until being taken in hand by Capetian royalty. In this last domain, Louis VI and Louis VII began with energy and lucidity the action which Philip August brought to fruition.
In 1181, the latter bought the rights to the St. Lazare fair from the lepers. Among other things this fair, held near the Champeaux, had competed with the market while being held; now it was transferred to the Champeaux itself.

The first halles

In 1183, Philip August had two large buildings "commonly called halles" built in the Champeaux, as several had urged him to. Not only did these buildings protect goods – at this point largely textiles – from bad weather, the king had a wall built around them with “enough” doors which could be locked at night. These were protection against thieves. Finally, stalls were built between the walls and the buildings.
The outer wall which he built then... definitively marked, it seems, the limits of the halles from the north of the wheat market until the rue de la Ferronerie... Substantial buildings replaced, over time the shelters and stalls without going beyond the space circumscribed by the wall of 1183, with the exception of the fish market built on the neighboring square in Louis IX's times. Until the XVIth century, houses, shops climbed the two sides of the "King's wall", these "large" or "ancient" walls, so often mentioned in the texts.
(Lombard-Jourdan, Origines)
(The term "halles" referred to the covered structures and according to Diderot's Encyclopedia still did in the eighteenth century, even if some used the term to refer to the market itself. Biollay however points out that some sites within the market later referred to as “halles” were not covered.)

The year before, Philip had expelled the Jews of Paris (whom he would later be obliged to recall). A papal bulle from the start of the twelfth century is said to mention Jews in the Champeaux; some of their land, claimed by the Crown, also became part of the Halles.

Even as the market itself was enclosed, the cemetery beside it, the cemetery of the Holy Innocents, was open to anyone who wanted to cross it or use it for other purposes. With the growing market, more and more people did so. Some showed merchandise there; prostitutes plied their trade; both men and pigs left their excrement; the ground became a muddy mass of filth. In 1186, the King, hearing of this, took it seriously enough not only to have a wall, again with doors, built, but to have it made of stone and “high enough, like those made around castles and cities”. Whereas before the cemetery had been shapeless, it became a rectangle of about 6800 square meters, making it the largest cemetery in Paris. The walls remained essentially the same until 1786, when the cemetery, now crowded not only with private chapels, arcades used as charnel-houses and other structures, but over-crowded with the dead, was removed, and the bones dispersed into what today are the Catacombs.

Within a few years, Philip had new walls built around Paris and these included, within their northwestern quadrant, the Little Fields. The market was now part of Paris, not outside it.

By 1263, three halles existed. According to Biollay, St. Louis (reigned 1226-1270) built the two halles for fish. Biollay says, though without citing specifics, that sale of grains at the Champeaux had preceded the founding of the Halles, "because of the insufficience of the market of the Jewry". The fish found in St. Louis' new halle was the only other foodstuff sold; this, says Biollay, was to facilitate the King's "right of [first] taking" (droit de prise), as specified in a statute of July 7, 1307:
And let all fish unloaded at the stone where we are, either in Paris or elsewhere, and when our cooks or those who take for us, for the queen or for our children, will have taken what they wish, the others will take what is their need, except what is taken by others with a right to it.
These first foods then were exceptional in what was still above all a textiles and dry goods market.

Saint Louis also granted a charitable dispensation to the poor who dealt in linen, second-hand clothes and small shoes, allowing them to set up stalls along the walls of the cemetery. His son, Philip the Bold (reigned 1270 – 1285), had a halle built there, but, in 1278, confirmed his father's declaration. The structure, whose income does not appear in later accounts, lasted into the reign of Henry II (reigned 1547-1559). (The rue de la Lingerie references this institution.)

Philip the Bold also had a halle built for the skin dressers and shoemakers, the latter finished in 1278.

By 1320, the Halles were “finished”; that is, as they would be for several centuries after. Biollay:
The completion of the agglomeration of the Halles then was accomplished from 1263 to 1320; this was for France a relatively happy time, marked by considerable material and economic progress. A more regular regime favored the development of commerce and agriculture and attempts were made to draw foreign merchants by privileges. The extension of the great Parisian market was the necessary consequence of the progress realized.
With all the official steps, the growth of the market to this point can also be viewed as an organic extension of the city, and this is how Raoul de Presles, a fourteenth century figure, described it:
Near this cemetery a market began to be held, and it was called the Little Fields because it was all fields; and this place has still retained this name. And, because of the market, first people began to make shelters and little cabins.... And bit by bit houses were built, and made halles there to sell all sorts of goods. And so the city grew as far as the Saint Denis gate.

Changes in the business model

In 1263, Saint Louis ceded one of the halles to the mercers on the condition that they not only pay him a rent but see to all repairs and even rebuild the structure at their own cost should it be destroyed. The result was a steady revenue for the Crown, and this became the model going forward. By 1368, all the trades established there paid rent and saw to maintenance. This became obligatory for a growing number; in 1380, the second-hand clothes dealers were not only obliged to leave another location to fill an empty spot in the Halles, but to build shelters and pave the roads.

Says Biollay, “It was not with a selfless intention that the royal domain ensured itself the entire ownership of the market of the Champeaux and that it eliminated the competition that the St. Laurent fair could have offered this new establishment.” By the fourteenth century, royal acts treat as long-standing the obligation for certain products to be brought to the Halles. This obligation originally only applied once a week.
The charges and the costs which this obligation of frequenting the "King's market" imposed on Parisian merchants was not without compensation for them. The competition from itinerant merchants was limited to market days, during which the prud'hommes of the trades exercised their juridiction and their oversight on the merchandise brought by outside merchants.
Thus organized, the Halles must have resembled the bazaars of cities of the Orient, where all commercial activity is concentrated. The establishment of obligatory markets in the Champeaux was perhaps only an import due to the Crusades.
As one proof of this, Biollay points out that at this time only “several” cities in the kingdom had such obligations. Certainly the one detailed description of these early Halles, which mainly sold cloth and dry goods, might almost have come from the Thousand and One Nights. In 1323, Jean de Jandun (c. 1285–1323), a visitor from the northern town of Senlis, wrote:
This joyous stay of the most agreeable distractions offers, in very large displays full of inestimable treasures, all the most diverse types of showpieces united in the house called the Halles of the Champeaux. There, if you have the desire and the means, you can buy all the types of ornaments that the most practiced industry can provide, that the most inventive spirit hurries to imagine to fulfill all your desires.... in several places in the lower parts of this market, and so to say in heaps, piles of other merchandise, are found cloths more beautiful the one than the other, superb leathers, some made from animal skins, others from silk stuffs, others finally made of fine and foreign materials... In the upper part of the building, which forms something like a street of a stunning length, are shown all the objects which serve to adorn the different parts of the human body: for the head, crowns, braids, caps; ivory combs for the hair, mirrors for looking at oneself, belts for the hips, purses to hang at one's side, gloves for the hands, necklaces for the chest, and other things of this type, which I cannot cite, more because of the poverty of Latin words than for lack of having seen them. But, so that the innumerable splendors of these brilliant objects, whose variety and infinite number resist a complete and detailed description, can at least be suggested in a superficial ensemble, let me put it this way: In these showplaces, the regards of strollers see so many decorations for entertainments for weddings and great feasts smiling to their eyes, that after having half perused one row an impetuous desire takes them towards the other, and that after having crossed the full length an insatiable need to renew this pleasure, not once nor twice, but as if indefinitely, in returning to the start, would make them restart the tour, if they were to trust their desire.
Whatever Eastern model might have suggested regular, rent-based markets, Biollay sees a practical advantage in this development. Typically markets had charged a tonlieu, which might be variously described as a toll or even something like a sales tax. This was practical in smaller contexts, but as cities grew, trying to guarantee payment with the means of the period grew more problematic. With a market like the Halles, the authorities no longer had to concern themselves with these difficulties (at least with its regular tenants); payment was provided in the form of a rent or subscription and, for an increasing number of trades, transactions at the market were obligatory. (In fact, in later statutes, both in Paris and elsewhere, a frequent stipulation was that goods were not to be intercepted for purchase before they had reached the official market.)

In prosperous times, these requirements were accepted with good will. However, as the fourteenth century progressed and times became more uncertain and commerce declined, less merchants came and the authorities were less able to enforce their attendance. They also stopped maintaining their locales.

The royal Domain then suffered a double prejudice. The collection of rights of tonlieu was subject to fraud; the Halles fell into ruin. Reforming commissioners were named in 1368 to reestablish the observance of the ordinances. Various problems of currency, obstructive regulations, attempts at price regulation, etc. “obliged the authorities to intervene in order to ensure the provisioning of the markets. Prescriptions relative to the obligatory bringing of goods and markets became more rigorous.”

One effect was to increase the number of days on which the market was obligatory. On October 13, 1368, these were set as Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Protests led to some modification in these for selected trades. "It was by constraint that Parisian commerce was brought back to the Halles and constraint had to be used to keep it there."

Patent letters from January 28, 1454 stated;
Our Halles by lack of support have fallen into ruin and how many of these halles were rebuilt by our statute and put in good and proper state, all roads, despite the said discontinuation, the merchants tradespeople and others do not want to go there to establish nor sell their goods to the prejudice of the public good and the diminishing of our domain.
Such efforts were repeated in the year that followed. But, says Biollay,
From then on, the royal Domain gave up on bringing back to the Halles the artisans and shopkeepers who had deserted them; the destination of this market was to change and the transformation it would undergo in the XVIth century would be the result of the elimination of obligatory market days and the falling away of the regulations which ordered them.
The sixteenth century changes were profound and beyond our scope here. But already one change crept in: almost imperceptibly, the Halles began to change from a dry goods market to a food market.

Food comes to Les Halles

Jandun's vivid description above says not a word about food. Despite the exceptions of wheat and fish, the fourteenth century market was still not a food market. Its focus on dry goods and textiles is reflected in the street names, many named, then or later, for the trade or products they housed: la Ganterie (glove makers); la rue de la Lingerie (linen makers); la Frepperie (second hand clothes dealers); la place aux Toiles (cloths); la rue de la Chanvoirrie (hemp).

As late as 1523, outside merchants could sell poultry, game and other meats at the Cossonnerie and at the Paris Gate; fresh water fish at the Paris Gate, the Petit-Pont and the Baudoyer gate; eggs, cheese and butter at the Saint-Jean cemetery and on the rue Neuve-Notre-Dame. Only in 1590, after important changes at the Halles, was the latter explicitly named among these. (The status of the Cossonnerie is ambivalent, since Biollay includes some trade there as being in the Halles.)

Biollay gives one explanation for this:
Near the limits of Paris, in quarters still taking shape, the Halles could not become from the start a market for provisions. No doubt access to the Halles was not forbidden to outside vendors who wanted to bring goods there; that is proven by the taxes to which they were subject and which the trade registers mention. But the marginal location of this market, the small space available, the liberty left to itinerant merchants to frequent the markets which suited them the best, contributed to prolonging the existence of the old centers of provisions of the rue Neuve-Notre-Dame, the Paris Gate, the Petit-Pont, the Baudoyer gate and the old Saint Jean cemetery, where the sellers and the buyers were accustomed to interact.
Even the sale of livestock had ended by 1292, when the tax rolls referred to “the old place of Pigs”.

Biollay believes, credibly, that the sale of food began informally through resellers, who had no official place in the market. The fact that they had no official status, however, does not mean they were free from oversight. Under Saint Louis, the voyer (that is, the official in charge of the voies, or roads) had the right to collect charges from various retailers, including “the rights due from the cheese mongers who sold in the halles before the Rappée house; those paid by the renters of stalls 'for crapois [whale blubber]', for figs and grapes, 'from before the box of the Halles until the mercery'...”

Note that the latter defined the space later taken up by the market of the Poirées, or green-goods.

The same document declares that the voyer assigned "because of his office places in which to sell needles... and those to sell butter, eggs, cheese, garlic, onions, cabbage, leeks and other greens..." The fact that these foods were on a par with needles – that is, a minor accessory to the main dry goods trade – gives a good idea of their place in the market at this point.

Biollay points out that the profits the voyer made from these transactions may be one reason that food was slow to take its place among the official items in the market (at which point the King's Domain, not the voyer, reaped the benefit).

Boileau's thirteenth century Livre des metiers also mentions fruit and "all sort of aigrun" being brought to the Halles. Biollay interprets the latter as meaning vegetables, but in fact it was a more nuanced word referring to various “tart” foods, which could include garlic, onions, scallions, but also tart fruits, such as oranges. Boileau also mentions resellers buying these products to resell them at the Halles; this gives an idea of the low-level nature of this early food trade in the Halles.

By the early fifteenth century, the Halles was already, if still unofficially, one of the main places to buy food. The “Bourgeois of Paris” who left a journal of the troubled years from 1405 to 1449, mentions various foods at the Halles at several points. When a truce in 1416 allowed food into Paris, he wrote that “so many goods came to Paris, of bacon, of pressed [that is, hard] cheeses, that they were piled in the Halles as high as a man”. In 1426, “there were so many cherries that many times one had 9 pounds of them at the Paris Halles for 4 parisis deniers”. In 1430, a shortage of oil led people to “eat butter in that Lent, from the Halles, as in meat-eating time.”

He also mentions in that year, as he does in several others, executions in the Halles, this of a group of marauders. Ten had their heads cut off; but then:
The eleventh was a very handsome young son of about 23 years, he was stripped and his eyes ready to blindfold, when a young girl born in the Halles came boldly to ask and did so much for his good redemption that he was returned to the Châtelet, and since they were married together.
(Such stories are found elsewhere and often involved women, like prostitutes, whose prospects were otherwise poor. Whether anything is implied here by the girl being born in the Halles is unclear.)

In 1444, when produce was plentiful, he said that one could have “the most beautiful bunch of leeks from the Halles for 1 denier." In 1447, he describes piles of pears at the Halles, in piles like coal, “not only one, but 6 or 7 piles, and as many or more apples brought from the regions of Langedoc, of Normandy and several other regions.”

All this shows the Halles as a standard place to go for many foods. But note that the Bourgeois is writing from an individual's point of view; this was a retail, not a wholesale trade, as it largely was later. Nor is it clear if any official halle existed for all this trade at this point (though the market for green-goods – see below – probably grew up around this time).

One item one might have expected to see sold, along with wheat, was wine, long a staple of commerce in France. But in 1192 Philip-August ordered that itinerant wine merchants sell their products from boats. By the fourteenth century, they were allowed to take them to the Halles, probably, says Biollay, because the wines in question were local and so brought by land. The halle where they could be sold was known as the Étape (the Stage). This trade, however, was never very important and the location itself seems to have been too small for the trade, so that in 1413, noting that the wine wagons were blocking neighboring streets, patent letters had the trade transferred to the Grève.

In later centuries, the bread market at the Halles would be one of the most important in Paris. Bread was sold relatively early there, starting once a week in the twelfth century, but the trade was not significant for a long time. In 1305, its sale was briefly authorized all week, but in 1307, this was cut back to Wednesdays and Saturdays, and this would remain the case through the eighteenth century.

No separate place was set for bread sales (though perhaps the Rappée's old privilege allowed it to sell the bread from its oven directly). Biollay suggests it was probably sold at the wheat market.

Poultry too was sold in the Halles, starting once a week in the twelfth century. This still applied in 1364. Once again, there was no halle for this retail trade, but a document of 1350 refers to two places where poultry was sold: the rue Neuve-Notre-Dame and, in the Halles, the rue de la Cossonnerie. In 1590, poultry was still sold in this same street.

The first new halles for food came at the start of the fifteenth century. The halle of Beauvais was originally for textiles from that region, but was vacant by 1416. The great butchery of the Paris Gate had then been demolished and in August of the year a royal butchery with sixteen stalls was created in part of that halle. This was known as the Butchery of Beauvais and would survive past the “reform” of the sixteenth century, undergoing several changes along the way.

The transfer was not exclusive. The Bourgeois wrote:
The first week of the following September, the butchers were forbidden to any longer sell their meat on the Notre Dame bridge, and in this said week they began to sell at the halle of Beauvais, on the Petit-Pont, at the Baudays gate, and about 15 days later they began to sell in front of Saint-Lieufray at the Trou-Pugnais.
Until this point, says Biollay, butchers had paid a charge which released them from any obligation of selling at the Halles. This is strange, however, since it implies that they otherwise would have been obliged to use a facility which until this point was not specifically equipped for butchering. In the eighteenth century, butchers still often slaughtered their animals in the street, resulting in a notorious stench, not to mention blood-sleeked streets. It is unlikely that the activity was any more self-contained in these earlier years.

To complicate matters, the Bourgeois wrote in 1421 that “the Sunday before Pentecost the butchers began to sell meat at the Paris gate, and left the Saint-Jean cemetery, Petit-Pont, the Beauvais halle and other butcheries which had been made before.” Since the butchers were still found in the Beauvais halle later, this situation clearly proved to be temporary; was it a momentary protest or, perhaps, due to the troubled circumstances of the time?

It may be relevant that a revaluation of the currency had just caused a steep rise in prices, leading to frank profiteering by merchants so that
the poor people suffered so much poverty, hunger, cold and other misfortunes, that no one knows but God in Paradise, because when the dog killer had killed the dogs, the poor people followed him to the fields to have the flesh or the guts to eat.
The next major halle for food had a particular significance, according to Biollay:
The most important of the secondary markets, the most interesting even, because it became with the fish halles the heart of the current halles, that is the halle of Green Goods (Poirées), called indifferently "halle" or "market".
The Green Goods halle appears in the 1484 accounts: the account of 1447 mentions a house "before the market of 'Green Goods'” and along the Four-Saint-Martin alley. This market appears again in the account for 1450 and in that of 1472.
From its name alone, this market no doubt was for the sale of vegetables and herbs; probably, like the market of the same name centuries later, it also provided an outlet for fruit.

By the end of the fifteenth century then, dedicated halles existed for wheat, fish, meat and greens. Meanwhile, Paris itself continued to grow, so that what had been an outlying part of the city ended up, over time, at its center. The Halles was still not “the belly of Paris” and even physically it would undergo further changes. Before Baltard designed his iconic pavilions in the mid-nineteenth century, the Halles would undergo the “reform” of the sixteenth century and a series of other changes; there is far more to its story going forward. But we have seen here how a small market by a cemetery grew to a major textiles and dry goods market and then, as the Middle Ages ended, moved a good way towards its later role as one of the world's most famous food markets.


Lombard-Jourdan (Anne). Aux origines de Paris: la genèse de la Rive droite jusqu'en 1223. 1985

Bacquet, Jean, Oeuvres: Divisee En Cinq Tomes. Des Droicts De Ivstice, Havte, Moyenne, Et Basse,V3 1644

 de Lincy, Le Roux, L.M. Tisserand, Paris et ses historiens aux 14e et 15e siècles

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fairs and markets in France from the Gauls to the Halles

The French historian Anne Lombard-Jourdan wrote at length on the history of trade and fairs in general, of certain specific fairs and on the early history of Paris and, in particular, the Halles, the great central market in Paris for centuries. Her work then is an excellent introduction to the early history of trade in France and, here, specifically to that of fairs and markets. What follows is largely, though not uniquely, based on her work.

Oppida, cemeteries and cities

Probably Lombard-Jourdan's broadest look at early trade in France comes in a paper titled “On the problem of continuity: is there an urban protohistory in France?”. The title announces its main theme: an attempt to define the early pre-history and history of towns and cities in France. 

Lombard-Jourdan begins with this glimpse of the Gauls:
In independent Gaul, as in all the antique World, religious feasts on set dates accompanied fairs. These served to disperse the surplus of local production and provided the opportunity for distant goods to be introduced into the country: necessities (salt, metals) or others, considered superfluous until their use became a need, like wine. From the end of the second century before our era, Roman merchants advanced into the country.... They arrived at dates and places set by long custom to meet there valuable correspondents, potential buyers and sellers and peaceful and correct conditions of exchange.
At the time of their arrival in Gaul, the Romans knew urban markets (macella, nundinae), but not the periodicity of fairs. Their economic liberalism nonetheless saw no reason indigenous markets should not continue to be held.
She notes that after the conquest many oppida (the proto-cities of the Gauls) continued to strike a fractional coinage, demonstrating the continuity of their commerce and not incidentally allowing them to operate outside the Roman administration; though she does not say as much, one might even regard this separate Gallic trade circuit as a form of passive resistance.

Though she also does not emphasize this, it is important to know that the Romans had a standard “template” for a city, one centered around the market (forum), and which defined French cities under their rule. The Celtic fairs, then, existed apart from this carefully defined infrastructure.

These played a lively role in the Gallo-Roman economy:
If for some products it was possible for the Romans to place orders at mines or the producers', for others indigenous fairs served them as convenient centers for negotiation and provisioning. Certain Gallic specialties... were highly prized in Rome and in Italy. Preserved pork, Aubrac cheeses, fleece of Langres, seasonal agricultural produce, as well as cowls and cloaks, made by small artisans, were taken to regional markets where exporters found them already gathered. It was at these same fairs that dealers, mainly Gauls, who supplied the Roman army drew a good part of the merchandise which they undertook to carry to the great cities and to the military outposts of the limes.
With Barbarian invasions, cities declined and markets and roads with them, and water routes regained their former importance. Lombard-Jourdan does not linger on these points and in general the state of trade in the early Medieval centuries is open to conjecture. She is not the only one to point out that trade may never have declined as much as is often thought:
The fear inspired by the Germans and later the Normans further must not be exaggerated. The invaders are judged by the devastation they inflicted on cities; but, the risks, which made it more profitable, never stopped commerce. We see Nordic pirate boats pursue and seek to capture merchants' boats and their incursions often have the purpose of raiding fair grounds, warehouses of riches and easy prey.
Based on narrative sources, Lombard-Jourdan sees a continuity of exchanges from the independent Gauls through the early Medieval period, notably the slave trade and trade in wine.
In the times of closed economies, agricultural goods and products of small artisans might well have only fed a domainal or local market; salt and metals always formed – and before slaves and wine – the object of a long distance trade which had its privileged sites of stopover and exchange.
Livestock was subject to seasonal sales and to sale "upon sight". Various early authors emphasize Gauls' riches in cattle, but also their love of horses which often came from very far away. This trade would later become more sophisticated. “Starting in the eighth century, this trade intensifies, because other customs were added to the older ones, and the races of horses transformed to satisfy new needs. Starting in the ninth century, breeding produces large solid horses beside finer saddle horses."

Overall then, these exchanges resulted in long distance trade, “whether it was the buyers or the sellers who came from afar”. This in turn led to further penetration of luxury items.
We do not think that the merchants – Jews or Easterners – for the Merovingian period were content to seek out the great in their domains. The “foreign products of great price” were always present at fairs, but in variable proportions according to the place these occupied on the commercial circuits, the number and the quality of their customers.
Who attended such fairs?
The texts also distinguish the dual nature of the personnel of the fairs: on one side, local merchants, producers and breeders of neighboring regions...who, “because of the facilities for sales”...., brought their raw products or those already worked in local and domestic workshops; on the other, professional merchants (mercatores, negociatores), who brought foreign products from afar; on the one hand, the descendants of those who took the initiative of gathering; on the other, merchants who came to join them.
What about regular markets? Lombard-Jourdan does not address these, but in those of the Roman cities which survived, the old model of a central market no doubt continued, at least initially. And local markets may have existed in some form where excess goods might be traded or even (despite the uncertain coinage of the time) bought. But it is difficult to track all this in the earlier documentation.

Specific mentions of markets begin to appear under Charlemagne. His own Capitulary de Villis tells stewards to list profits from a variety of sources, including markets. A Capitulary of 809 specifies that no market is to be held on Sundays except where this has long been the custom – showing not only that markets were then standard but that some were long established. In 813, the Council of Mainz forbade holding executions or judgments in markets (which is especially notable, since marketplaces were later standard sites for executions). These and other references of the time show that markets had again become regular parts of French life, if indeed they had ever declined.

Nor does she address the role of Marseilles, which remained the entry point for goods from the East well into the Frankish period, until 739, when a series of calamities began with Charles Martel punishing it for its defiance of his wishes. Attacks by Greeks and Saracens followed and for over a century the city was in decline. This had great significance for foreign trade in France; one key result was to shift much trade north. The (probably) ninth century Brevis de Melle, for instance, lists spices to be bought at the fair of Cambrai for the Picard Abbey of Corbie, where previously the monastery's cellerar had traveled south to pick up such goods.

Otherwise, whatever the exact situation at the start of the Medieval period, she notes that fairs had a particular advantage: “The bond which joined fairs to religious practice was certainly, in these troubled times, an element of permanence.”

Where fairs are documented, were they heirs to those which preceded Caesar? Some later fairs, she says, have been shown to have a pagan, pre-Roman origin, suggesting similar origins for others.
One thing is certain in any case: At the start of the economic renewal (VIIIth-Xth centuries), almost all the fairs are in the hands of religious establishments and none can justify its tenure by anything but long use or a false act. Must we suppose that these first commercial meeting places were spontaneously born near churches, say in the VIth-VIIth centuries? If the thing was possible much later, it would no doubt be to under-estimate the attractive force of new places of worship in a time of recent Christianization. It would be to misunderstand the importance of tradition at a time when oral transmission held sway and no change in religious, economic and social habits occurred without many hitches. As for us, we prefer to believe in the immutability of places of exchange ...
It is likely in other words that later commercial sites leveraged the earlier use of the same locales.

Meanwhile, renewed development sprang from an unexpected source: cemeteries.

As natural gathering places with a sacred character, cemeteries were often the precursors to neighboring churches, which in turn were often associated with a specific saint. They were also often the sites of spontaneous markets. This reached such a point that “canonical interdictions on buying and selling at cemeteries were repeated in vain over time.” Some of these gatherings grew into fairs, which often took on the name of the local patron saint, with the result that the peace and the legitimacy of the fair were under that figure's auspices. The churches, in turn, would claim the right to profits from such fairs based on their rights to the saint's day.

This development is of interest in itself. But Lombard-Jourdan makes the further point that ”saints' days often coincided with the dates when great Celtic fairs were held", citing Gregory the Great's advice (in the seventh century) to basically co opt places and dates with pagan associations. The result of course was an unacknowledged continuity from the gathering places of the pagan Gauls to those of the Catholic church.

By the time fairs appear in records they have grown to a point which implies a long existence (as will be explored further below). All this developed in close association with the Church and the surviving records often reflect ecclesiastic efforts to document an abbey or a church's claim. This was especially necessary because local lords (and even rival clerics) often tried to usurp privileges and claim part of a fair's revenue. The result was increasingly a pragmatic partnership with lay authorities:
As for clerics, the de facto owners, feeling henceforth impotent to guarantee order in the places of exchange and to protect merchants on the roads, they are sometimes the first to solicit the support of lay authorities to ensure the "conduct" and the "safeguard" of the fairs; they readily renounced part of their privileges to peacefully enjoy the rest.
In Lombard-Jourdan's analysis, all this activity was intimately entwined with the rise of cities, often on the same sites where Gallic oppida had existed and where fairs grew up.
Then the periodic pole of a whole region slowly became “a market”. Inns are established around it for merchants, food trades, then specialized artisans set up shop. The fair ground is surrounded by shops and workshops. In a parallel evolution, the fairs move towards a quasi-permanent state. They last longer and their number multiplies. Everywhere, their dates are calculated so as to avoid competition between neighboring localities. They become... a perpetual market. The foreign merchants have a hostel to live in and a hall in which to sell during the fairs. Payments are domiciled. In a last step, merchants install their places of commerce in the cities. Thus are reduced and erased certain essential characteristics of the original fair and notably its "spaced periodicity" which formed all its importance.
...we see a direct relationship between the holding of a fair and the birth of an agglomeration of merchants. We say precisely the birth, because the decline of fairs is linked to the development of cities. The fair and the city are two distinct organisms which correspond to different systems of exchange and to different levels of material civilization.
This then is how fairs were linked to the “protohistory” of cities; rather than the carefully structured Roman model of a city, the new Medieval cities were rooted in ancient Celtic ways of gathering, in the institutions which became Medieval fairs:
Gaul rejected, in a way, the urban civilization imported by Rome to forge its own, matching its traditions, its nature and its possibilities. The Gallo-Roman cities again became the centers and the markets of the ancient peoples whose names it had taken.

The fairs of the Plain

Perhaps the most famous period document concerning fairs is a diploma granting rights to a fair to the St. Denis abbey. One nineteenth century writer went so far as to say that it recorded "the origin of fairs in France". (Gragnon-Lacoste) The document is supposedly from Dagobert I (603–639) and is dated July 31, 629. But it is generally acknowledged today to be a forgery from the first half of the eighth century which outlines existing conditions at the fair, as opposed to defining (as it claims) what was to come.

It "establishes" a fair on October ninth, for both French and foreign merchants, to be held in Paris on St. Martin's Hill, Reference is made to "those who come from beyond the sea to the port of Rouen and to the port of Vic [that is, Quantovic, once near Etaples] to buy wine, honey, and madder." Initially, no toll was to be levied for two years. The details of those to be levied after are of interest:
For each measure of honey they shall pay two solidi to the brothers of St. Denis; similarly for each measure of madder they shall pay two solidi. The Saxons and their servants and the citizens of Rouen and pagans from other lands shall pay as toll on their ships twelve denarii for each measure, and they shall pay wheel tax and passage forever, according to ancient custom.
(Cave/Coulson translation)
Further, the diploma specifies: “The fair shall last for four weeks, and the merchants of Lombardy, Spain, Provence, and other countries shall be able to go there."

No trade was allowed elsewhere around Paris during the fair. The abbey of St. Denis is to have full control of the fair and to “be able to exact at the fair from all merchandise, tolls, customs, portage, pontage, mooring tolls, wheel taxes, road tolls, tolls on travelers, laudaticum, charges on beasts of burden, gifts, each and all of them, whatever they are, from our exchequer and from the public fisc.”

All of this information is believed to accurately reflect the actual state of affairs in the eighth century, and so the diploma records the importance of the ports of Rouen and Vic (Quentovic) and of the three products listed (madder being used for dyeing). The fact that Saxons, Lombards, Spaniards and those from Provence attended the fair is also precious information.

Lombard-Jourdan examines this fair at length along with another run by the same abbey, the Lendit fair, in a paper on “The Fairs of the St. Denis Abbey”. The Abbey also possessed a third, that of St. Mathias, held within Paris itself, but it was never very important. The gist of what she says on these three fairs, contradicting some earlier conclusions, is that they arose spontaneously, in unknown ways, and so any attempt (as has been made) to demonstrate that they were founded by a particular party (sacred or secular) is futile, though the production of forgeries like that for the St. Denis fair show the importance in the time of trying to document such “origins” (typically to the profit of a monastery).

Note too that the Abbey had to defend its rights both against royal agents and the Bishop of Paris.

Claims were made that Charlemagne and Louis the Pious had been involved with the original foundation and that the Lendit fair, for instance, had been transferred over time towards Paris. All this appears to be apocryphal and is of most interest in showing how much energy was spent in trying to assign the most profitable pedigree to these fairs. The exact details of this discussion are probably only of interest to specialists. What is of more general interest is the general importance of the fairs of St. Denis and Lendit and their successors.

The fair of Lendit was held somewhere (it is unsure where) in the plain of Lendit, which was to the north of Paris, roughly between St Ouen and Aubervilliers, or just above the modern location of the Paris flea market (a street, the rue de Landy, marks its former location). Lombard-Jourdan traces the importance of this location back to the Gauls as
an important center of worship for the time of Gallic independence; in effect, the locus consecretus at the center of Gaul (Caesar, VI, 13, 10) which each year saw the great gathering of brothers in race and where the druids named their supreme leader, discussed public affairs, took important decisions and rendered justice {NOTE: Caesar says only that this took place "at the middle of Gaul" so Lombard-Jourdan's point may be arguable]. The existence of this omphalos to the immediate north of the mid-Seine, on the border which separated the Celts from the Belgians, explains many problems so far regarded as insoluble. The fair of the Lendit, in June, is the last avatar of these seasonal meetings, where merchants supplied what was necessary to the crowd of visitors while trying to see to their personal profit.
By the time the fair itself was mentioned in documents, it had probably existed for some time:
The best argument in favor of the great age of the Lendit fair resides in a series of three letters from Gregory VII... [from] 1074; these inform us that the fair then enjoyed a success which attests an already-long existence, that it attracted merchants who came from numerous countries and goods of great price were brought there.
She traces the St. Denis fair, and even the Abbey itself, to similar ancient origins.
The first basilica built by St. Genevieve on the tomb of Saint Denis... was intended to exorcise by Christian practice the dangerous paganism of the spot. From its construction at the end of the fifth century, it polarized the ancient practices and a marcadus or annual market was held nearby.
The essential point here is that (at least in Lombard-Jourdan's view) these major fairs had their distant roots in Celtic gatherings before the time of Caesar.

Lombard-Jourdan references the similarity in origin of the Lendit fair with that at Compiegne. This was another great fair which had existed for some time. In 1066 Philip I confirmed a sentence against Aubri de Coucy, a lord who had troubled merchants coming to this fair, which was considered to be under an abbey's protection. These included Flemish merchants and shippers of wine and dealers from the four "counties" of Noyon, Vermandois, Amiens and Nanterre. Again, in calling on the king's aid, the abbey which claimed rights to the fair tried to document an origin for the fair which corresponded to its own claims, but which had no historic basis.

No doubt similar issues existed around others of the great Medieval fairs.

Otherwise, the relative importance of St. Denis' three fairs shifted over time:
From the start, a fact seems established: the commercial exchanges within the city, at St. Mathias, were never very important. The true fair ground both at St. Denis, in October and at Lendit, in June, was always the plain which stretched to the north from the pas de la Chapelle, a hill which separated the heights of Montmartre from those of Belleville. Although these three last fairs took place at two very different times of the year, everything occurred as if the success of one succeeded that of the other: until the eleventh century there is only question of the Saint-Denis fair; one then begins to hear of the Lendit and the Saint-Denis fair, without being eliminated, becomes less frequented.

A cemetery in the Little Fields

At about the time that the Lendit fair was coming to the forefront, and eclipsing that of St. Denis, yet another cemetery was becoming the site of a spontaneous market. This one was much closer to Paris, in fact a short walk away from what were then its walls. The site of this graveyard was known as “the Little Fields” - the Champeaux.

Writes Lombard-Jourdan: “The fairs of Saint-Denis and of the Lendit were only competed with and finally outstripped by the Parisian commerce of the Champeaux.” Once trade had grown up at this site, “the bishop of Paris had “a small field” or champeau enclosed with a ditch, with the intention of better watching over and regulating the exchanges within this parameter.” In 1137, he shared the revenue from this "bishop's ditch" (fossatum episcopi) or "ditch of the Champeau" (fossatum Campelli), where mercers and money changers were already installed, with Louis VI. This deal had the advantage of associating the king's authority with the new market.

Note that the main product sold at this new improvised market was textiles. It was because these were easily damaged by inclement weather that in 1183, Philip August had two buildings built to protect them. Covered shops surrounded these and a wall was built, allowing the space to be closed at night.

The buildings themselves were referred to as "halles" and their construction represented the start of the Halles market, set beside a cemetery which would become, in later centuries, the Cemetery of the Innocents. Though the bishop of Paris would establish and long maintain his authority over part of the Right Bank of Paris, Philip also freed the two new structures from the bishop's authority (for, as always, a price).

Meanwhile, in 1181, Philip essentially “bought out” the lepers who owned the neighboring fair of Saint-Lazare, transferring its rights to the new market. Around 1300, the fair of St. Germain-des-Près was similarly transferred to what would soon became the main Paris market. (The old Roman market had been on the Left Bank; but a later "old market" is also mentioned and appears to have then been on the Right Bank.)

The history of the Halles from this point on is complex; it would be some time before it became largely a food market and more time still before it was considered the “Belly of Paris”. But its increasing success was to have a pronounced effect on the “fairs of the Plain” which had been so important until then, and so this improvised market which began by a cemetery exemplifies the trend mentioned by Lombard-Jourdan in which fixed markets began to displace the once-vital fairs.


As this specifically Parisian market grew, Lendit declined. By the fifteenth century only merchants from neighboring regions – Ile-de-France, Picardy, Champagne, Normandy, Burgundy, the banks of the Loire and the Center – came. Much of what it had sold could now be found in Paris. It retained importance however for trade in horses, sheep and certain raw materials.

The St. Denis fair too endured, but both fairs would be moved more than once and steadily declined in importance. Neither disappeared completely and even the St. Mathias fair, though interrupted, would be revived and last into the eighteenth century. The St. Denis and St. Mathias fair were revived after the Revolution and towards the end of the nineteenth century sheep were still being sold at the most recent location of the Lendit fair.

What did a Medieval fair look like in the nineteenth century? In 1816, the St. Denis fair included “sellers of toys, gingerbread, sweets, but also merry-go-rounds, swings, trained monkeys, theater, magic lanterns, magic mirrors...” It drew a large crowd, perhaps the largest in Paris. But these were now of spectators and consumers, no longer of merchants come from far and wide to exchange their goods. Yet even then, it could arguably be traced, no matter how distantly, back to long-forgotten gatherings of the Gauls and to the ghosts of a "dangerous paganism".


Lombard-Jourdan (Anne). Aux origines de Paris: la genèse de la Rive droite jusqu'en 1223. 1985