Economy of the Carolingian Empire


The economy of the Carolingian Empire developed between the 8th and 9th centuries. The model on which this system based its subsistence was marked by constant military conflicts and prioritized agriculture instead of commercial exchange.

Historically, the economy of the Carolingian Empire is considered to be the fundamental development of the economic system attributed to the Middle Ages in Europe.

Between the 8th and 9th centuries AD, the Empire, originated by the famous Charlemagne in present-day France, had great relevance in a changing socio-political environment.

The creation of large concentrations of feudal land and the dominance of social classes, such as the nobility and clergy, helped establish the social model of the Old Regime.

In that sense, the Carolingian economy was underdeveloped and subsistence-oriented. It did not have important technological or productive advances, beyond plow systems and incipient irrigation systems.

Vocation of the economy of the Carolingian Empire

The Carolingian economic system proposed an agrarian subsistence model. That is, it prioritized crops to supply its populations beyond trade intentions with other territories.

In that sense, the sociopolitical and economic map of this time proposed a differentiation between the peoples of the East more focused on industry and commerce. While, for its part, the West maintained more marked agrarian or rural positions.

Therefore, there was little or no value creation or profit making. Only what was necessary to survive was produced, having to respond, in addition, taxation to the state or ecclesiastical powers.

Although it is true that there was also an important role in the exchange of products thanks to the proximity of the naval ports of the Mediterranean Sea.

Pillars of the economy of the Carolingian Empire

The economic structure of the Carolingians was marked by the military confrontations with the towns around them.

The constant clashes with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim and Germanic threats respectively meant a more difficult access to the commercial routes.

For this reason, the Carolingian Empire was forced to resort to its agrarian self-sufficiency, with the following notable aspects:

  • Little initial relevance of trade: The main economic activity was the cultivation of cereal. However, with the consequent military victories and the expansion of the Empire, the Carolingians had greater access to Mediterranean trade routes.
  • Subsistence model: The constant warlike tensions and the shortage of agricultural production resulted in economic crises. From his hand, frequent famines and epidemics were experienced.
  • Dominant social weight: Church and State pressured companies in fiscal matters for their own interests.
  • Territorial atomization: The economic model of subsistence discouraged social concentration in cities. For this reason, decentralization was frequent and the concept of the city was less important.
  • Conversion of labor: Slavery was gradually converted into servitude. This is due to poor economic conditions.
  • Private property: The non-relevance of trade and the commitment to agrarian self-sufficiency translated into a greater value given to the lands and their possession. Only the great feudal rents had property.

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