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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

By extending the institution of the consulados


_Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia_

[Sidenote: Economic factors in the kingdom of Aragon, especially in Catalonia.]

The economic history of this region, based on the natural differences of the three principal sections, followed much the same lines as before, but the principal note was the all-round development in Catalonia. Grain in that region was scarce, on which account large quantities were imported from Aragon and from foreign countries, but some other agricultural products, such as rice, grapes, and olives, were cultivated with success. Stock-raising was also a prominent occupation. The most important source of Catalan wealth continued to be in manufacturing, especially in Barcelona. A great variety of cloths and fabrics was made, as also pottery, barrels, rope, glass, and many other articles of practical utility. Aragon was less important in commerce, as in other respects, than the other parts of the realm. Something was done there by royal legislation to favor trade, and enough of it existed to warrant the founding of a _consulado_ in Saragossa (1391) with mercantile jurisdiction. Catalan commerce was so great in volume that it rivalled that of the Italian cities. From the Scandinavian lands in the northwest to the extremes of the Mediterranean, Catalan ships might be seen, and if there were many Italian vessels which visited the ports of Catalonia, so too the Catalans carried their trade to the cities

of Italy, where many Catalan consuls resided. Kings, lords, and towns endeavored to build up Catalan industry and commerce, by favorable legislation, by extending the institution of the _consulados_, and by making commercial treaties. Nevertheless, not a few obstacles were also raised, largely as a result of the false economic ideas of the era. Thus, prices were often fixed; a precise order, or sequence, of sale might be required,--for example, in La Bisbal the crop of the bishop had to be sold first; the technical regulation of industries was carried to excess, far beyond the rules established in this respect in the other lands of the peninsula; taxes were numerous in kind, and some were very heavy; and the policy of protection was carried to extremes in favor of some municipalities as against others. Furthermore there were dangers of piracy and the insecurity of the roads. Valencia was commercially prosperous in only less degree than Catalonia. Both regions were represented principally, in industry and commerce, by their great capital cities.

[Sidenote: The industrial and mercantile system of Barcelona.]

Barcelona was easily the greatest industrial and mercantile centre in Spain, and was also the leading exponent of the Catalan policy of protection. Foreign goods like those produced in Catalonia were either prohibited from entry or charged with excessive duties. On the other hand, the importing of goods which had no counterpart in Catalonia, such as fine cloths, or which existed in small quantity, such as grain, was encouraged. In the case of grain, premiums were granted to importers, and heavy export duties were collected, or its exportation entirely prohibited. From 1249 to 1347 the _Consell_ exercised mercantile jurisdiction through the medium of two consuls of the sea (_consules de mar_), but in the last-named year a _consulado_ was created to perform that function and to provide for the protection of commerce against pirates. Both the deputation of the _Cortes_ and the two local councils occasionally intervened, however. The local authorities appointed the consuls to represent Catalan interests in foreign countries. This was a post of high consequence, and was rewarded by a grant of a certain percentage of the purchases and sales of merchandise in the entire realm of Aragon. The consuls acted as judges, mercantile agents, and guardians and defenders of the persons and property of their compatriots. The councils of Barcelona concerned themselves with the introduction of new industries, bringing in foreigners skilled in such manufactures. Financial and technical experts were maintained at municipal expense. Not only do these facts evidence the attention paid by the people of Barcelona to mercantile life, but they also demonstrate a surprising modernity in point of view. It is no wonder that the merchants of that city were notably wealthy, proud, and given to luxury.


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