Tuesday 25 September 2012

Commerce and Trade

Commercial ties between states and cities were well established by the 15th century however maintaining them often became the unending source of conflict. Near the end of the century the established stream of commerce came under threat by new developments that would have profound effect in the following century. What follows are commerce and trade highlights that may serve the development of a campaign game.  

Existing Trade Routes

Roughly speaking, when thinking about medieval trade routes through Western Europe the majority of goods moved along commercial lanes running north to south. The great rivers of the Oder, Elbe and Rhine facilitated the movement of large and heavy items destined for the Baltic with a return trip bringing product to the Mediterranean lands. The cost of transport, tolls and taxes were relatively speaking regulated throughout the empire, nonetheless, commerce could do business with the Empire’s commercial rivals such as Venice, Genoa or the Hanseatic League.

Hanseatic League

By the beginning of the 15th century the Hanseatic League dominance in the Baltic came under increased activity of Dutch shipping and increased competition diminished Hanseatic staple markets. From its inception in 1161, the Hanseatic League expanded to upward of 200 merchants and trading houses operating throughout the North Sea and Baltic Sea region. Economic issues were resolved through conventions attended by delegates of the guilds and trading houses.

Most of the Hansa cities gained some level of independence through the collective bargaining power of the league, here the Hanseatic Free Cities owed allegiance directly to the Holy Roman Emperor, without any intermediate family tie of obligation to the local nobility.

In the 13th and 14th century, the Hanseatic League could impose economic blockades against kingdoms and principalities and in some cases even waged wars, Denmark being its greatest opponent.


Of the different guild systems our primary interest falls on the merchant guilds. Their products, possibly iron, salt, wool, spices, incense, gold and silver are crammed into wagons or the holds of ships on their way to reach a final destination. Merchant guilds strove to establish a monopoly for their product while setting tolls and taxes to outsiders for theirs. Delivery of product was not without risk from bandits or war such that short distances between cities and towns may find an armed escort necessary. 

The more powerful guilds could often exert political influence to control city authorities and in time some became the wealthiest and most influential citizens in many towns and cities. As urban localities became self-governing guilds were able to pass legislation to regulate all economic activity in many towns.

Possible application to a campaign system.

The conflicts of Northern Germany were not unlike those experienced by the Italian City states a century earlier. Trade monopolies could be threatened by competing cities or commercial traffic could be disrupted by banditry, piracy or war. For the purposes of this game, the DBA Medieval German lists IV/13 'c' and ''d' have been expanded to allow for armies raised by different sources; city state, clerical, mercenary and feudal. 

Commerce between entities should be simplified and require little record keeping. The type of goods can be diverse enough that income can be generated each season, followed by taxation and he payment of loans to be conducted at the end of the year (winter season). More ideas will surface as the revision of the topics continues.


Die Hanse, https://www.hanse.org/en/

Hanseatic League (wiki) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanseatic_League

Great Bullion Famine (wiki) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bullion_Famine

Map, by Lampman, published 18 December 2018.


Wednesday 19 September 2012

Medieval Banking

In the campaign system of DBA2.2 a player’s finance requirements were kept simple. Dependent on the number of cities one occupied determined if one could field a complete army, supplying it required an unbroken chain of cities connecting the army with its supply centre. Not overly complicated, but Western European history tells us a state could not sustain a large number of battles nor execute successive campaign seasons as it was financially ruinous. Going to war meant much preparation involving taxation, negotiating loans, making concessions and building alliances all of which could take years.     

Below are a few relevant features of medieval banking one might consider to feature in a campaign. Of these, two significant features brought banking from the feudal period to the age of the Renaissance and these were international commerce and the Church’s prohibition of usury. 

International commerce

During the 13th and 14th century increased commercial activity between merchants stimulated a number of services banks could offer, such as holding and transferring large sums of money, granting of loans and investments. The latter attracted a number of Italian families to invest capital in commercial enterprises which were quickly followed by the ‘well situated’ in other countries, such as Spain and Germany. Kingdoms that could not raise sufficient taxes, were forced to take loans in order to go to war. For the lending house this did bring high risks as some bankers discovered when Edward III defaulted on his loans. Those houses that survived such ventures did so with by utilizing a large network of agents with an intimate knowledge of their respective regions.


The Church’s prohibition against charging of interest on loans or usury proved a major obstacle for the money lenders, deemed morally wrong, the 15th century financier found ways to circumvent the Church’s objection. Simply put, if an investor were to share in the profit and in the risk, then said transaction must be seen as a joint-venture. This did not pose an issue to the Church, but it opened further services which a bank could offer. Let us look at a few features of banking that set the foundation to many aspects of current financial transaction. 


Merchant Banks

There origin can be traced back to the grain and cloth merchants of Northern Italy settling trades and holding deposits or notes (cheques). As bank and merchant were mutually forming a ‘joint venture’ this overcame the Church objection to usury. By the 14th century, trade diversified to include armour, paintings, jewellery, wine, lead and religious articles. One Francesco Datini of Prato, amassed a fortune and became a merchant banking in Florence adding offices in Pisa, Genoa, Barcelona, Valencia and Majorca with contacts in Bruges and London. Datini’s accomplishments proved in order to be a merchant bank a company had to have an international presence, in essence to operate in in at least two places, preferably more.

Italian merchant banking business were dominant until the late 15th century only to be surpassed by the German and Dutch banking families. Another problem for Italian business was the rise of the Ottomans forcing many trade routes through the Middle East to shift further north.


To overcome the diversity of coinage minted by each state, merchant banks had to set exchange rates in order to accept coinage from other lands. This could mean coinage could be over or undervalued leading to severe consequences for the money lender. With respect to the Holy Roman Empire, the most common coin is the thaler, florin and mark. It would take another century before the establishment of an Imperial Minting Ordnance which would set value to diverse silver and gold coinage used within the Empire.

Economic Crisis of the 15th century

During the Middle Ages, gold and silver coins served as the basic currency which facilitated trade between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. During the 15th century, the supply of precious metals had a devastating effect on European economies. Silver and copper coinage took care of basic transactions, unfortunately the accelerated demand far outstripped the mining output. The scarcity was also due to the outflow of coins as payment for product from the East. Gold was less affected by the crisis and retained its value, but it was less suitable for small transactions. Eventually, the scarcity of silver would spread from Europe to the Middle East, and would affect the Far East, including the Ming Dynasty.”


Possible application in a campaign system

How best to fit banking in a 15th century game is still up in the air, but my first thoughts are to have each entity (duchy, county, bishopric, free city) establish commercial ties throughout Europe. Capital is gained by keeping the commercial lines open each season and gains are held in the entity’s bank.

If the commercial lines are jeopardized this might generate a conflict requiring a resolution by armed force. As the game will focus on the lands of Northern German and Scandinavia other circumstances may disrupt the flow, such as competition, piracy, revolts or bankruptcy.

In 15th Western Europe we see realms taking on their familiar form, such as France, Denmark, Norway and Sweden yet we find many duchies with holdings scattered throughout the continent. The house of Wittelsbach (Duchy of Bavaria) held sway over Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland and Friesland and the Burgundian realm stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea.

In the topic of Towns and Cities we noted the rise of the urban elite supplanting influences long held by the noble houses. This could develop into rivalry possibly weakening a state’s response to external threats. Historically, unions or marriages were done to solve such problems. For the shrewd player this would mean acquisition of territory without the use of force.


HowMedieval Towns Paved the way for capitalism, Richard M Ebeling

Late MiddleAges Trade and Commerce (Wiki)

History ofGermany-Middle Ages (Wiki)

Usury (Wiki)

MerchantBanking in the Medieval and Early Modern Economy, Meir Kohn, Feb. 1999.

GreatBullion Famine (wiki)

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Medieval Farming

This is definitely an unusual topic for a war-games campaign, but play testing the DBA 3.0 draft set, the reader will encounter several new terrain options. The BUA now offers four different possibilities; City, Fort, Hamlet and Edifice and the most common geography for this campaign, Arable now adds ploughland with improved definitions of fields or enclosures.

For the campaign, Storm within the Empire, the seasonal movement phases are now expanded to reflect the months of March to November; essentially having the player become introduced to medieval farming cycles. 

From Wikipedia, Crop Rotation three year rotation was common practice during the middle ages. Rye or Winter wheat, followed by Spring oats or barley, then for a period of time, the land would lie fallow. Crops such as peas, beans, lentils and turnips could also replace oats or barley in Springtime.  

What does this have to do with gaming?

Simple answer, colour.  

As miniature painters we do pay attention to a minutia of detail from buttons, lace, trim, correct belting, shape of quiver and colour combinations. I rather tire from the baize green field we use for a table surface and opted for a mottled earth surface sprinkled with grass, but leaving some areas exposed or thinly covered.  

Placemats (vinyl) are an ideal thickness and will take acrylic paint. After cutting to proper size, painted earth I can add electrostatic grass which comes in a variety of colour and lengths. Ring the field with a coarse turf flock and you have a variety of fields.  


Further investigation into the medieval landscape I found this tidbit on the partitioning of land. The illustration is taken from Wikipedia, Open Field Systemwhich oddly enough demonstrates most of the terrain options listed in DBA 3.0 for Arable. A Manor, Hamlet, edifices (parsonage), enclosures, ploughland, forests, open fields (common land), a stream and pond. This layout is ready for a big battle game.



Wednesday 5 September 2012

The Guilds:

It was about this time of the year many years back, I travelled through the Northern part of Italy. The harvest period was heralded with great pageantry as processions of the city guilds in medieval costume could be seen preceded by a cluster of banners and religious articles, the long columns would wind their way through the narrow streets to gather at the city’s center. Here, the city leaders, both civic and church, would deliver their speeches bringing the festivities to a close while we made haste to the nearest café to pay our own thanks.  

At that time, Late Medieval warfare was farthest from my game interest, yet everywhere I turned I found information about city guilds, shield blazons and banners of the era. All remained unfortunately on the book shelves as I exited the shops.  

However, enough is etched in memory to serve my current need of painting an Italian Condotta army.  

Many of Italy’s walled cities were a crossroad of trade and commerce and through the course of time relied less on the arms of the Feudal lords, but sought protection  by establishing their own militia and in emergencies sought the aid of mercenaries. To distribute the responsibility of defense of the city, this was divided into quarters. Each quarter was home to a number of guilds and mercantile houses, each expected to serve or support the establishment of a militia guard.  

City Militia

Ideally, a city’s armed force when paraded would therefore show some uniformity representing their quarter and particular guild; an early form of commercial advertisement no doubt. From mid-15th century paintings, clothing became multi-coloured with stripes predominating.  

The Italian Condotta, which I shall be starting this week depict the Duchy of Trento. Located in the very north of Italy bordering Tyrol, the city of Trento is nestled in the wide valleys of the Adige River. At the start of the 15th century, the region known as the Bishopric of Trento was ceded to the House of Habsburg by the Count of Tyrol.  Prior to this, the Republic of Venetia were fighting to gain control of the region.

As Trento borders the Southern Alps, 15% of the land can be cultivated. Despite this, Trento became a thoroughfare for commerce between the Holy Roman Empire and the Italian peninsula.  

Bishopric of Trento

The city’s heraldry depicts the Eagle of St. Wenceslas, black on a white background. Other depictions show small red flames about the Eagle, which could be a poor representation of a sun or an aura. Before ceding Trento to the House of Habsburg, blazons also depicted the red Eagle of Tyrol quartered with the black Eagle on similar background. The black Eagle is certainly Germanic and use of black, white and red as theme colours for the infantry will prove challenging. The mounted arm will have a variety of colour depicting the various famiglia, condottieri and feudal elmeti.  


Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Peasant

This is the first of a series of theme topics covering Medieval Life in the 15th century. A list of primary subjects to be covered are listed at the index and will be linked in future for easy reference. These short monographs are not meant to be scholarly essays, but a simple compilation of topic matter with suggested application to the DBA campaign, “Storm within the Empire”.

Peasantry – to be or not to be.

From the French word paisant, one who pays, made up the majority of the labour force in Medieval Europe. In fact, most sources claim the Church and the Nobility account for 10 % of the population, while 90% toil and labour for their daily crust. Further, the labour force was divided among freeman, serf and slaves. Simply put, a freeman could hold title to land which would be subject to taxes and as a freeman had obligatory service to the local lord. At the far end of the spectrum, slaves had absolutely nothing. To some degree, the serf while technically not a slave, did find himself under just as harsh conditions as a slave to pay off debt caused by defaulting on taxes or loans.  

Climatic events.

Those who toiled on the land, the weather was a peasants greatest enemy, as periods of excessive heat or cold would result in poor crop yield. It goes without saying, less crop yield would have an affect the wider scope of medieval economics (less tax), health (malnutrition and survival rate) if the same climatic events repeated in successive years.

Peasant Revolts.

There are a multitude of reasons why the peasantry would revolt, the most common could came from excessive taxes. A freemen could easily find himself indentured through defaulting on loans or taxes or through the oppressive nature of an overlord; from freeman to slave at a whim. Peasant revolts occurred throughout Europe, from England, Spain, France, but the most noteworthy were the German Peasant’s War of 1524. This falls outside our time frame, but certainly illustrates the size a rebellion can take.

Further reading:

Application to a DBA campaign.

How does one apply this to a DBA campaign? For our campaign bounds are no longer seasonal, but are expanded to represent the months of February to November. The Winter season is also expanded to allow extra time to devise cunning plans. 
I have considered adding simple tables for weather, harvest yield equating to possible taxes, but rather devising tables I will test a sample year before adding complicaton.

Simplicity should be the key and if a player's prestige points plummet, then that should presage all sorts of unhappy events.

Peasants on the DBA table.

Peasants, hordes or levy are varied under the DBM(M) system. Based as 5Hd or 7Hd, the former used warband factors which gave the “horde” some extra fighting power. In some ways, I found the two basing options offered a subtle distinction between the freemen (5Hd) and serf/slave (7Hd).  At the time of writing, I am using the draft version DBA 3.0 version of August. 
The proposed Medieval German Army does list 2 Hd as an option for Bd or Pk of the City Militia (DBM reference). As the majority of armies fielded in this campaign, all levy or horde are optional.

Although the loss of horde are treated as expendable and do not count as lost elements in resolving a standard DBA game perhaps they should be treated differently under campaign play. An option for a player who cannont rebuild an army during the Winter season to full compliment may find no recourse but to use peasants (Hd) to stiffen the ranks.  More later.