Imperial Cities and Money
Mühlhausen/Thuringia, 27th February – 1st March 2017
Fifth academic conference of the Research Working Group “History of the Free Imperial Cities”, in cooperation with the city of Mühlhausen and the Historical Society of Mühlhausen.
Market and monetary economy belong to the founding narratives of urban history, in particular of the history of Imperial Cities. Even though large Imperial Cities remained independent of their surrounding region, markets – as centres of exchange – were contested zones of influence. The successive extension of monetary economy offered new avenues for storage and profit maximisation, faster and more convenient payment methods, and last but not least a new value system based on monetary value.
The origin of this development was an unstable currency. At first a royal prerogative, the right to mint coins was passed successively, through pledge and purchase, to the Imperial Cities. Although imperial immediacy made Imperial Cities more independent in financial matters, they remained vulnerable to the kingdom’s meddling in currency issues. Imperial Cities had a particularly ambivalent relationship towards taxes.
From the perspective of the cities, in the ideal case revenues exceeded expenses. Forms of pragmatic calculation and textuality offered categories of order for long-term calculation, which were also used to plan the cities’ budgets. However, bookkeeping alone was not enough to compensate for structural deficits. Not every Imperial City was wealthy; several were under threat to lose their imperial immediacy for being permanently indebted. Moreover, who was actually covering debts and granting credits in a society that claimed to uphold the Christian prohibition of “usury”? Which social groups within the Imperial Cities profited of the expanding monetary economy? How did the relation shift between common good and self-interest, between loan and property? These and other questions will be addressed, diachronically as usual, at the fifth academic conference of the Mühlhausen-based Research Working Group on the History of the Free Imperial Cities.