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The Medieval Origins of Capitalism in the Netherlands


Bas van Bavel


Large parts of the Netherlands saw an early rise in market traffic during the late Middle Ages already. Exchange via the market became the dominant form not only for goods, but also for land, labour and capital, and this during the course of the sixteenth century already. This contribution investigates why it should be that the market form of exchange arose so early here specifically; how markets were organised as institutions and how they functioned.


It will be demonstrated that the markets here had a favourable organisation, with low transaction costs, a high level of integration of the markets and a large degree of certainty for parties entering these markets. Nevertheless, the consequences of the rise of the market were not all positive. The rise of a market economy did not lead to any appreciable economic growth, while the social effects were largely negative. Social polarisation, pollution and the need to work ever harder depressed standards of living for most people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


This article is part of the special issue 'The International Relevance of Dutch History'.

How to Cite: Bavel, B. van ., 2010. The Medieval Origins of Capitalism in the Netherlands. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 125(2-3), pp.45–79. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2010.
Peer Reviewed


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