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Technological innovations in mining and metallurgy and textile manufacturing industries in medieval Europe Essay


Throughout history, trade stands out as the single most consistent pillar of global economic development. For many countries across the world, the extent of their development is defined by the level of involvement in trade at both local and international level. Wahl argues that it is widely acknowledged that medieval trade played a significance role in the development of regions and cities across Europe (1).

This assertion indicates that as early as the medieval times, the economic significance of various trading activities across Europe was well known.

Arguably, the regional development patterns witnessed in Europe to date are partly attributable to medieval economic activities as regions or cities that engaged in more economic activities back then tend to be more advanced in terms of development in comparison to those that hosted less economic activities.

However, the various industries that thrived in the late medieval Europe all played a significant role in defining the path taken by Europe’s economic development albeit at varying magnitudes.

This essay seeks to compare and contrast the economic significance of the textile industry and the mining and metallurgy industry of medieval Europe insofar as their contribution to Europe’s economic development is concerned.

Similarities between the textile and mining/ metallurgy industries of medieval Europe

The first most outstanding similarity in the economic significance of the textile and the mining industries of medieval Europe is that both industries provided massive employment opportunities for Europe’s populace. The textile industry was directly linked to agriculture, viz. its raw materials came largely from sheep, flax, and cotton (Postan and Miller 264).

In addition, at the time, agriculture was widespread across the European continent. The people who were employed to tend to sheep, flax, and cotton farms were thus indirectly employed in the textile industry. The fact that the tools and equipment used to carry out sheep husbandry and tend to cotton were rudimentary implies that large numbers of people needed to be employed to manage the sheep and cotton plantations.

Similarly, the processing of wool from the time it was shaved from the sheep to the time it became some form of clothing also called for the input of many individuals in order to meet the clothing demands of the time. Therefore, the textile industry was very important in late medieval Europe because after agriculture, there was no other economic activity that was as widely practiced as textile production (Hunt and Murray 121).

Mining and metallurgy also take a central place in the economy of medieval Europe because this industry produced all the tools and equipments that were used in agriculture and textile production (Blanchard 3). Mining has a lengthy history; in fact, it is almost as old as humankind is (Boissonnade 178) and over the years, it has been getting better as technology improves.

In the late medieval Europe, mining played a key economic role as like textile production, it employed large numbers of people. This assertion stems from the view that towards the end of the 13th century, there emerged a flurry of mining activity in the mountain region of Bohemia (Blanchard 1). People travelled from everywhere across the European continent to participate in the mining of silver that had been stuck in the region.

Reportedly, up to 60,000 people worked on the Bohemia mines day and night (Blanchard 1). Considering the contemporary population of Europe, such a figure is large. Therefore, the mining and metallurgy industry, like the textile industry, was among the leading industries insofar as employment is concerned.

Besides employing large numbers of Europeans, both industries exhibited a shift from the traditional non-concentrated practice to a centralized and more concentrated practice where people move in from different places to be part of the industry.

Long argues that when the clothing demands of Europe exceeded the ability of the decentralized production system, production of textile products became centralized in cities and urban settings (79). Merchants established textile industries in the cities thereby attracting people to the cities to take up employment in the industries (Pedersen and Nosch 34).

This aspect encouraged movement of people from rural settings to the cities where due to higher price indexes generated by the dynamics of the back and forth movement of people who sought better remuneration, real wages in the cities turned out to be higher than those in rural settings (Munro 1). This disparity gave people a worthwhile reason for which to migrate to the cities that hosted the textile industries.

Like the textile industry, mining and metallurgy also exhibited this magnetic effect on the European people. When silver lodes were discovered at Kutna Hora, it is reported that people came from Upper Hungary, Poland, Meissen, and Pomerania to be part of the mining expedition (Blanchard 1).

This move is touted as one of the reasons why the small mountain village of Kutna Hora did not develop into an urban community (Blanchard 1). Most of its inhabitants at the time hailed from elsewhere and thus they did not have an interest in developing the small village into an urban community.

The pattern of people moving from their homes and seeking employment in mining localities was rampant in Europe when mining became a paying economic activity like the textile industry.

Apart from the attraction of populations from their native settlements to places where the economic activities were concentrated, the textile industry and the mining industry both laid the foundation for the industrial revolution witnessed across Europe between the late middle ages and the early modern ages due to rapid expansion among other factors.

When textile production shifted from production for personal use (in the villages) to commercial production in urban-based industries, merchants concentrated on enhancing textile production by setting up rudimentary industries (Botticini 97).

This move was prompted by a rise in the demand for textile products, within Europe and beyond, due to the flourishing trade, which was taking root across Europe (Hunt and Murray 111). Therefore, albeit arguable, the need for more textile products prompted the establishment of textile industries across Europe, but with more concentration in regions such as England.

Similarly, the increasingly lucrative nature of trade in minerals inspired the establishment of mineral related industries across Europe. An example of these industries is the Fugger-Thurzo Company, which was the brainchild of Johann Thurzo (Mitterauer and Chapple 281).

The company came to be referred to as the “best organized industrial enterprise of its time” (Mitterauer and Chapple 281). This aspect implies that it was the most illustrious among the companies that were established at the time.

Therefore, from these developments, it is clear that the mining and metallurgy industry as well as the textile industry at that early time in Europe’s history, started setting precedence for the proliferation of industries across Europe in what came to be known as the industrial revolution.

Additionally, in both cases, there is a clear systematic departure from traditional production technologies to better and more efficient production mechanisms, which led to an increase in the levels of production. In the mining industry, such developments included the invention of the water mill, which provided various mechanisms that were employed at various stages of mining to make it more efficient.

The water mill made it possible to power the bellows in the smelter, made it easier to mine nonferrous and precious metals, and enabled only two workers (normally it would take 600 workers) to drain water from deep adits some of which were 200 meters deep (Mitterauer and Chapple 278).

New technologies such as the water mill heightened the production and improved the quality of the minerals that were mined as smelting and purification could be done at more advanced levels (Postan and Miller 157). This upward trend in the production and trade of minerals was compounded by a shift in international trade that was witnessed in late medieval Europe.

In the textile industry, a similar dynamism was witnessed with the quality of textile produced improving for the better over time. Initially, Italy was the center of attention in the international textile trade across Europe (Postan and Miller 231). At the time, the Italian industries produced fine and beautiful clothes. In the years that followed, with the advancement in technology, draperies took preeminence in the textile industry.

The proliferation of draperies across Europe led to a significant change in the economic fortunes of Europe reviving some towns that were almost dead in the Netherlands (Boissonnade 296).

Not many years later, England built its first great industry, which literally took over the textile industry by producing fine cloths among them, worsteds (Long 45). The building of the great industry in England marked the beginning of a major shift in textile production and trade to the patterns witnessed in early modern Europe.

Considering the various examples of similarities that existed in the textile industry and the mining and metallurgy industry, it becomes evident that though the two industries were completely different, the dynamics that mark the patterns of trade were similar for both industries.

There is a clear-cut gradual, but steady movement from rudimentary production technologies towards more efficient and better production technologies. The key point to be noted for both industries is that in the process of their gradual improvement, they employed more people and paid better wages thus contributing to the economic well being of medieval Europe.

Differences between the textile and mining/ metallurgy industries of late medieval Europe

Several similarities that existed between medieval European textile and mining and metallurgy industries have been outlined; however, this aspect does not to mean that there were no disparities between the two industries. To begin with, the relationship between the upcoming industry and the two industries was different.

The mining and metallurgy industry required heavy capital investment as the equipment that was necessary to improve it (Postan and Miller 213). As technology advanced, it became very expensive for merchants who invested in mining activities, which compelled them to have a closely-knit relationship with banking institutions.

For instance, the Fugger-Thurzo Company came into being courtesy of Johann Thurzo’s initiative, but it was only capable of carrying out its mining activities successfully after he enlisted the assistance of the merchant banking house of the Fuggers (Mitterauer and Chapple 281). The relationship in this example took the form of a partnership to enable the mining company expand its activities across many regions.

In the textile industry, the advent of the banking industry, though important due to the financial services, did not hold a central position in the success of the industry. The development of textile industries called for considerable capital investment, but it could not equal the capital investment that was required to set up a mining organization.

This assertion implies that the merchants obtained only normal banking services and modest credit services as opposed to the mining industry, which required heavy involvement of the banking industry due to the heavy capital investment involved.

Another example of differences in the two industries is the effect that the fluctuations in energy supply and discovery of new frontiers in the generation of energy had on both (Blanchard 5).

The sharp decline in forest resources witnessed in late medieval Europe prompted the mining and metallurgy industry to shift from its heavy dependence on charcoal to the use of coal as the purification and smelting of mineral ores into usable forms with varying degrees of economic importance required very heavy input of energy.

Initially, when charcoal was the most commonly used source of energy, it was quite difficult to purify and mineral ores to certain levels (Postan and Miller 210). The shift towards the use of coal ensured that higher temperatures could be achieved in the furnaces.

This move did not only improve the quality of the minerals that were supplied to the market, but also improved the quantity. In this sense, the decline in forest resources that occasioned the shift towards the use of coal as an energy source was a blessing in disguise for the mining and metallurgy industry.

For the textile industry, the case was different, as the decline in forest resources did not have so much of an effect on the development of its production. While it was important to develop better furnaces to produce better metallurgical products and invent highly mechanized technologies such as water mill to take mining a notch higher, such elements did not affect the textile industry significantly.

This aspect means that the development of coal as a source of energy did not have any notable effect on the textile industry, as the high temperatures associated with coal were not of importance to the industry. For the textile industry, only better spinning and weaving technologies mattered for they were a prerequisite for better textile products.

Finally, while technological advancement saw to it that mining and metallurgy work became more mechanized as characterized by heavy machinery that required a lot of energy input, the textile industry only changed to become more sophisticated. Its sophistication ensured that the expanding nature of textile demands could be met sufficiently.

Clearly, although both industries improved in production levels, there is a clear distinction between what the development process brought to each of them. The mining industry remained somewhat masculine in nature because the activities involved were only manageable to men.

This scenario was different from the textile industry, which although initially dominated by women, changed to incorporate the services of men but remained accommodative to women. The impression created by the view that women could fit within the industry is that it bore some element of femininity.


This essay sought to establish similarities and differences in the economic significance of the developments that took place in the textile industry and the mining and metallurgical industry in the late medieval Europe.

It emerges that there were indeed several developments especially in terms of technological innovations, which ensured that both industries slowly, but steadily departed from the traditional systems of production to more sophisticated production mechanisms that occasioned the improvement in the quality and quantity of products released to the market.

The economic significance of both industries cannot be overstated because they contributed immensely to the economic development of the European continent. Apart from agriculture, the textile and mining industry were major income earners for medieval European economies.

Though there were some slight differences in the manner in which the two industries developed as years went by, it remains clear that the similarities in the development of the two industries were dominant. This aspect means that even these two industries were completely different, but the paths they took on their developmental journey were quite similar.

In addition, the dynamics that were witnessed in trade at the time ensured that each of the two industries played a significant role in the economic development of the European continent as a whole because different regions specialized in producing what they could produce best thus leading to their economic prosperity.

Works Cited

Blanchard, Ian 2009, Medieval Crafts, Guilds and Industrial Development: A Central-Western European Comparison. PDF file. Web.

Boissonnade, Pisoper. Life and work in medieval Europe: the evolution of medieval economy from the fifth to the fifteenth century, New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Print.

Botticini, Maristella. “Freedom and Growth: The Rise of States and Markets in Europe, 1300–1750.” The Journal of Economic History 62.02 (2002): 1-3. Print.

Hunt, Edwin, and James Murray. A History of Business in Medieval Europe, 1200-1550, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Long, Pamela. Technology, society, and culture in late Medieval and Renaissance Europe, 1300-1600, Washington, DC: Society for the History of Technology and the American Historical Association, 2000. Print.

Mitterauer, Michael, and Gerald Chapple. Why Europe? the medieval origins of its special path, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Print.

Munro, John 2009. Three Centuries of Luxury Textile Consumption in the Low Countries and England, 1330–1570: Trends and Comparisons of Real Values of Woollen Broadcloth (Then and Now). PDF file. 03 Dec. 2013. <>

Pedersen, Kathrine and Marie Nosch. The medieval broadcloth: changing trends in fashions, manufacturing and consumption, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009. Print.

Postan, Cynthia, and Edward Miller. Cambridge Economic History of Europe Vol. 2: Trade and Industry in the Middle Ages, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.

Wahl, Fabian 2013, Does Medieval Trade Still Matter? Historical Trade Centers, Agglomeration and Contemporary Economic Development. PDF File. 3 Dec. 2013. <>

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1. IvyPanda. "Technological innovations in mining and metallurgy and textile manufacturing industries in medieval Europe." June 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technological-innovations-in-mining-and-metallurgy-and-textile-manufacturing-industries-in-medieval-europe-essay/.


IvyPanda. "Technological innovations in mining and metallurgy and textile manufacturing industries in medieval Europe." June 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technological-innovations-in-mining-and-metallurgy-and-textile-manufacturing-industries-in-medieval-europe-essay/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Technological innovations in mining and metallurgy and textile manufacturing industries in medieval Europe." June 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/technological-innovations-in-mining-and-metallurgy-and-textile-manufacturing-industries-in-medieval-europe-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Technological innovations in mining and metallurgy and textile manufacturing industries in medieval Europe'. 11 June.

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