International Conference on Food Economies in Pre-Modern Europe

Food markets development and integration
(XIth-XVIIIth centuries)

University of Lleida, 17th-18th September 2020

During the first half of the 20th century, the market was interpreted as an exogenous element to the medieval society, which was considered fundamentally autarkic. Under the influence of the market, medieval society increasingly focused its productive bases on commercialization, whose growth was the primum movens of geographical specialization. Under these premises, a good deal of the historiography of the time maintained that between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, there was a progressive and more or less linear trend of the European economy towards commercialization; feudal institutions were an obstacle for this development, and commercialization emerged from the cities and was introduced into the countryside to transform rural economy.

In the last two decades, a number of studies have reconsidered the role of market economy and commercialization among pre-modern peasant societies and have shown that between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries both had already penetrated strongly in rural areas. Another line of studies, focusing on the importance of interregional exchanges, states that the development and integration of markets did not occur in a linear fashion, and wonders whether the reasons that determined it were more linked to technological or institutional factors.

Within these new lines of research, food markets take a fundamental place. The food that has received the most attention is cereal. The importance of the commercial networks through which it circulated has been determined, as well as the importance of the cereal in determining the conditions of life in the countryside and the city or the relevance of the policies that tried to control or tax its traffic. The relationship between market and dearth or famine remains one of the most controversial issues to date. In the 18th century, the French physiocrats and the first British economists observed that cooperation failures had a lot to do with the occurrence of famines. The key to preventing famine was integration between rural regions and urban markets, as well as integration among different regional markets, a vision that is currently shared by the new institutional economic history.

Other staple products such as salt also developed extensive commercial networks of great economic and political relevance. Wine or meat generated distribution circuits, of smaller amplitude, but dense and of great importance; and, finally, luxury products such as sugar, saffron or some wines, whose traffic could be the most lucrative, also generated their own distribution networks, eminently commercial and often long distance, which in turn led to the deployment of fiscal policies and commercial techniques.

The “International Conference on Food Economies in Pre-Modern Europe. Food markets development and integration (XIth-XVIIIth centuries)” (University of Lleida, 11th-12th June 2020) invites the submission of papers describing research on development and integration of food markets in Europe in medieval and early modern times.

Themes to be addressed may include:

  • Food markets development
  • Food markets integration
  • Disrupting elements of commercial integration: jurisdictional fragmentation, wars, epidemics, etc.
  • Food prices
  • Relations between food crises (dearth and famine) and food market integration
  • Spread and circulation of economic information on food markets.
  • Technologies, means and costs of food distribution.
  • Regional and interregional foodstuffs trade
  • Food trade: actors, networks, routes.
  • Specialized food markets.

Call for papers


Instructions to participants




Phillipp Schofield
Aberystwyth University
“The development and integration of food markets in medieval and early modern England, c. 1200 to c.1750”

Bruno Figliuolo
Università degli Studi di Udine
“Strutture e spazi di mercato nell’Italia del basso Medioevo (secoli XIII-XV)”

Alexis Wilkin

Université Libre de Bruxelles
“Ouvrir ou fermer le marché? Expériences économiques, conflits et mémoire des crises alimentaires dans les Pays-Bas méridionaux”

Download preliminary program here



  • Pere Benito i Monclús (Universitat de Lleida)

Organising Team:

  • Frederic Aparisi Romero (Universitat de Lleida)
  • Maria López Carrera (Universitat de Lleida)
  • Adrià Mas Craviotto (Universitat de Lleida)
  • Joan Maltas i Montoro (Université de Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis)
  • Guillem Roca Cabau (Universitat de Lleida)