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Trade, Urban Hinterlands and Market Integration c.1300-1600, edited by James A. Galloway (CMH, 2000), pp. 43-57.


Pursuing the question of economic development and its spatial articulation with reference to the two most important German cities and their hinterlands during the transition from the middle ages to the early modern period is a double-edged venture. On the one hand, it is a rewarding task because both cities have received and still receive intense scholarly attention. On the other hand, due to the sheer amount of information available, it is impossible to give a full account of the economic development of both cities. Therefore we have to confine ourselves to specific examples of the economic driving-forces.

Let us begin, however, with a few methodological remarks. The basic notion of the town as a central place is the paradigm that has shaped research on urban history for the last thirty years. While past research focused almost exclusively on the town itself and its dominance over all internal and external relations, more attention has been given to the role of the countryside since the 1980s. By using the terms Umland (environs) and Hinterland the interdependence and interconnection of the urban and rural economies were emphazised. However, for German speakers these terms are ambiguous. Umland suggests a bipartite character of the relation, whereas Hinterland evokes the impression of dependence and backwardness.

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It is therefore necessary to define these terms as different spheres of influence. Pioneering work has been carried out by Hektor Ammann. Working from the notion of the town as a market, Ammann developed his concept of the economic unit (Wirtschaftseinheit) embracing town and countryside without refering to central-place theory. According to him an economic unit consists, firstly, of the immediate market area, which is based on the regular exchange of goods at the town’s weekly market for basic needs. In a second, wider market area the economic influence of the town encompasses a broader space where higher-quality goods were sold, where the extraction and processing of natural resources were controlled and from which craftsmen and merchants were attracted. Finally, the third sphere of economic influence consisted of long-distance trade. Adopting Ammann’s concept of town and countryside as economic units, which fits easily into a modified central-place theory, we mean by Umland (environs/surrounding countryside) the restricted marketing space and by Hinterland the wider marketing space. In Cologne and Nuremberg we have chosen the prime examples of economic units functioning as central places for their respective economic landscape or region (Wirtschaftslandschaft).

In the following we will explain how the two cities exercised their economic influence upon their hinterlands, and ask whether they pursued a kind of spatial policy, how their economic power structured the hinterlands, whether these hinterlands were orientated only towards the two cities, or whether they were integrated into wider regional economies and, finally, what changes in these relations occurred during the period from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.