From feudal to market economy: Grain exchange in post-Plague Geneva (1350-1450).
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The Black Death reduced European populations drastically when it hit the continent in the 1350s. Historians believe that the pandemic triggered the transition from a feudal to a market economy. The laborer shortage that it caused has emancipated peasants from serfdom as farmers started to market their products independently from lords. Alongside this ‘Commercial Revolution’ the Late Middle-Ages are also the period of another emancipation process, the ‘Communal Movement’. Prosperous urban communities aspired to govern themselves through legal charters, granting them political freedom vis-à-vis large realms. But how have these newly born city-states coped with the socio-economic shift set off by the plague? Scholars have emphasized measures that these towns have introduced to deal with these changes. Indeed, since 'free' markets meant less control and more uncertainty, this would be problematic for the supply of vital commodities such as grains. This thesis looks at the city of Geneva during the 1350-1450 time period and studies the 1387 franchises, a compilation of rights promulgated by the bishop Adhémar Fabri which has asserted the town as an autonomous commune. It hence looks at how this legal document have affected the Genevan exchange of that most important staple. Overall, are discussed plans to introduce standards of exchange such as official measures and currencies, but also attempts at regulating the city’s supply in grain, and finally the actual prices of that commodity up until the 1450s. The main takeaway of this thesis is that the legislators of the franchises have indeed attempted to control that market, for the ‘common good’ as well as for their own, but the analysis of grain prices would suggest that they were not able to do so since the prices became extremely volatile soon after the introduction of those measures.