Located just ten miles from Florence and completely integrated into that city's economy, the small fourteenth-century Italian town of Prato lived mostly in the shadow of its larger neighbor. Its merchants and small businessmen and -women would be forgotten today but for the survival of an unusual number of documents from Prato -- detailed account books that preserve line-by-line records of business transactions. In no other Italian town -- not even Florence -- did account books survive in such quantity. Mining this unique resource, Richard K. Marshall throws new light on the everyday business life of Renaissance Italy.
Marshall begins with a look at the local marketplace in Prato, examining the way of life in this small town, explaining how business was conducted, and offering an in-depth look at the particular cases of an independent broker and a family of innkeepers. He then turns to common business practices, paying special attention to methods of bookkeeping, credit, loans, and banking in the local economy.
Marshall's attention to detail helps capture the vagaries and difficulties of trying to make a living as a small merchant during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Although focused on Prato, the story told here represents that of many other small towns that thrived in the regions surrounding the great Italian cities.
"The picture Marshall gives us of these Pratese shopkeepers and artisans is altogether different from the guild stereotype that dominates much of the traditional historiography... Marshall's book opens up yet another direction in taking a look at how the entrepreneurs among the working class confronted market forces in organizing their work. This is one of the central problems of the economic history of preindustrial Europe, and these small operators working away in provincial Prato are as unique a testimony as their more famous contemporary, Francesco Datini, to the development of capitalism in late medieval and Renaissance Florence." -- From the foreword, by Marco Spallanzani, Institute of Economic History, University of Florence
About the Author:
Richard K. Marshall is a former teacher and headmaster. From 1965 to 1967 he served as principal of the American Junior-Senior High School in Athens, Greece.
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