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Trade and the Merchant Class of 16th Century
January 29, 2007 13:45

Russia of 16-17th centuries could be called a trading country, as trade of that time flourished. Despite the fact that Russia remained first of all agrarian, some changes in production occurred, manufacturers mastered new technologies.

The main occupation of working people in Russia in the 16th - the first half of 17th centuries was agriculture with cattle-breeding playing the key role. Livestock products turned to be the second after bread kind of goods going on sale to the domestic market. Apiculture, fishing and hunt were in favour among the crafts connected with agriculture. The craft requiring a considerable level of development appeared to become salt production.

Many other crafts happened to be in use in Russia of the 16th century: ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, woodworking, production of machinery, various mechanisms and vehicles, building, textile manufacture, pottery, glass-work, leather making, bone processing, and jeweller’s art. The second half of the 16th century witnessed the start of book-printing and first experiments in paper production.

Town trade of that time was conducted by natives in small shops and by guest merchants at special guest courts existent in every more or less big town. Peasants, who came from the nearest villages, traded at squares once or twice a week. Shops used to be arranged in rows.

In the 16th century there existed two most popular places for trade in Moscow: Kitay-gorod and the Kremlin. Sometimes merchants sold their goods in other parts of the city: the main Guest court (which is still located not far from the Kremlin), surrounded by a stone wall, caught the eye: variety of Asian and European goods sold there startled. In winter such products as bread, meat, firewood and hay one could buy on the Moscow River, in small shops and tents.

A circle of buyers-up stood out of the town merchant class in the 16th century, they dealt with peasants and bought agricultural goods in small parts. E.g. they bought up flax in poods (the ancient Russian measure of weight – 16.38 kg or 36.11 lbs) in order to sell it abroad. That time silver and copper money circulated in Russia: from Moscow, Tver, Pskov and Novgorod; one ruble numbered 200 silver coins. Gold money could also be found in Russia but of foreign origin: Hungarian gold coins and Roman guldens. Anybody could mint coins, as long as the government controlled their weight and fineness. The sovereign wasn’t against taking Russian money out from the country, but stood for the barter instead of usual trade involving money in the process.

Trade fairs gained ground in the 16th century. Individual towns and large monasteries held trade fairs dedicated to local holidays. At fairs it was easy to picture a usual Russian merchant: he couldn’t be called mean or quarrelsome, but was tolerant and inclined to the barter.

Merchants of the middle ages traveled along dangerous trade routs west- and eastwards, and circumstances made them protect goods and act as diplomats, warriors and trade men simultaneously.


Olga Pletneva

Tags: Russian crafts Russian business history of Russian business Russian entrepreneurs  


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