Typically, we say that trade influences areas of the world by bringing in new ideas. Trade allows people who do not live near to one another to come into contact. This allows them to trade ideas and beliefs, thus helping to change societies. This is a very typical way for trade to influence a region such as Europe. However, this is not what Bentley and Ziegler talk about in this chapter. Instead, they are looking more at the ways in which trade affected the economy of Europe. They argue that trade created a more integrated and sophisticated economy in medieval Europe.
The authors look particularly at the trade of the Italian merchants and of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic and the North Sea. They focus on the ways in which this trade created more links between areas of Europe and on the ways it led to more sophistication in the economy. They mention that the trade networks created links between cities from Russia to London. They also note that major rivers allowed this northern European zone to connect to the Mediterranean trade zone. Thus, trade created an integrated and well-connected Europe.
In addition, the trade necessitated new techniques that would make economic activity more convenient. As the authors say on p. 309 in the Brief Second Edition, the “rapidly increasing volume of trade encouraged the development of credit, banking, and new forms of business organization in Europe.” The bankers developed things like letters of credit so that merchants would not have to travel with large amounts of cash. They created things like commercial partnerships to spread risk. By doing things like this, they created a more sophisticated economy that could lead to more growth in Europe.
Thus, Bentley and Ziegler say that trade was important because it integrated Europe’s economy and made it more modern and sophisticated.