22artisans producing armor for the knights, silver chalices for the clergy, bread or saddles for the travelers. Service providers such as laundresses, bath-house keepers, or blacksmiths also set up shop in the growing towns. Most medieval towns were quite small at the beginning of the urban revival—London in the 11thcentury was smaller than Cahokia—and many remained small throughout the Middle Ages. However, by the 14thcentury a few European cities had populations approaching 100,000 people.Larger towns and cities might shelter many practitioners of the same craft, who then tended to organize themselves into groups for religious, social and defensive purposes. For example, all the bakers in a particular town would belong to the same guild—a multi-faceted organization devoted to organizing proper funerals for its members, holding regular feasts (usually characterized by heavy drinking), and protecting their physical, legal and economic well-being. Perhaps the most important function of the guild was to set standards for the craft, thereby limiting competition, and preventing members from under-cutting one another. Theguild regulated prices and production standards, determined how young apprentices were to be trained in the craft, and how adults could become full “masters” or “mistresses” in the guild, with the right to set up their own workshops.The cities also became headquarters for the growing number of professional merchants22—men (and a few women) who made their living by buying goods cheaply in one place, transporting them elsewhere, and then selling them at a profit. Informal trade between neighbors had begun to increase as soon as the agricultural revival took hold. Weekly markets 22 Merchants and trade annual fairs and gatherings, entertainment became commonplace
23brought together peasants from several villages; annual fairs—often sponsored by nobles or churches—attracted still larger gatherings, and usually offered entertainment as well as the chance to make purchases. Some merchants, such as Goderic of Finchale (whom we know about because he was later revered as a saint), began their careers as peddlers, traveling from one market or fair to another, with packs full of easily transported goods on their backs. The lucky ones might earn enough to buy a share in a ship, as Goderic did. This allowed them to move a larger volume of goods over a longer distance—with the possibility of making greater profits.Italy, endowed with many natural seaports, took an early lead in commerce.23Already in the tenth century, Italian merchants were sailing across the Mediterranean to Byzantine and sometimes Muslim ports, picking up luxury items such as spices from India or silks that originated as far away as China, and carrying them back to their home ports. From Italy, these goods were then distributed northwards, either by ship through the Straits of Gibraltar and up the Atlantic coast, or by mule-train over the Alps.