Chapter 9: The role of the transport infrastructure in the First Logistical Revolution
In the late Middle Ages, there was an unprecedented growth in the number of towns in Europe. Economic historians have focused on the critical role of the improved transport and trading network that preceded the growth of trade and the increased division of labor between the new towns as well as between each town and its rural hinterland. Much of Europe had been made up of autarchic fiefdoms until the eleventh century. There had been exceptions such as Venice, which acted as a node for what little trade there was between the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean. The Crusades opened up new transport and trading opportunities and indirectly paved the way for the establishment of important trading houses in northern Italian cities, which pioneered various profitable banking practices. Examples include the Gran Tavola (the largest bank in Siena) and the extensive commercial and banking network of the Medici family in Florence. Henri Pirenne and later Fernand Braudel showed that the most important factor behind the increase in trading volumes, accumulated wealth and urban manufacturing was the slow but steady expansion of the European transport system, which eventually comprised a network that integrated all parts of Western Europe from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea.
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