Merchants from neighbouring areas and faraway lands

Work in trade involved constant mobility because merchants were perpetual wanderers. Talent was not enough to become a good merchant! You also needed extensive knowledge, skills and experience. The ability to write, keep accounts and speak foreign languages, a good sense of direction, intuition pertaining to customer psychology… No wonder that merchants were an educated social stratum which had the greatest impact on city governance.

What was it, then, that foreign merchants had to offer to Poznań’s inhabitants? First and foremost, goods which could not be bought at local markets: spices, Eastern weapons, Morocco leather (thin buckskin used for bookbinding) and Mediterranean wines. Thanks to the wealthiness of Poznań’s townspeople, merchants could be sure that they would earn a steady income and be able to sell both goods for everyday use as well as luxury items.

Most foreign merchants stayed in Poznań only for some period of time. Some of them, however, liked the city so much that they moved their businesses here for good. They were often granted citizenship and even had influence on the City Council.

 

 

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Wilda. Mikołaj Wilda

Poznań maintained particularly close business contacts with German cities such as Berlin and Nuremberg. It was these cities, as well as Silesia, that local merchants travelled to most often. Poznań also frequently welcomed merchants from these regions. The reason for this was that Poznań fairs were as important as the ones organised in Gdańsk and Wrocław.

A trader who holds a special place in Poznań’s history is a German merchant Mikołaj Wilda. He arrived in the city in the middle of the 15th century from his hometown, Nuremberg, as an agent of a trade company. He was also a banker who did business in places ranging from Vilnius to Frankfurt. After he was given Poznań citizenship, he was actively involved in the City Council. Serving 25 terms, he was a juror, a councillor and a mayor (he held this office twice). Wilda amassed considerable fortune – among other things, he owned a market stall and several tenement houses in the Old Market Square. He was also an owner of the nearby village, Wierzbice, which was later renamed ‘Wilda’. Mikołaj’s son sold his grange to the city. Up to this day, this district is named after the merchant from Nuremberg.


A 16th-century merchant from Nuremberg. Perhaps this is what Mikołaj Wilda looked like. Jost Amman, Kaufmann. Illustration from Das Ständebuch by Hans Sachs (1568), public domain

Scots – knick-knack sellers

Scotland was not one of the most peaceful countries in the 16th-century Europe. Economic problems and, in particular, religious conflicts, contributed to the fact that some 100,000 people left the country. One third of them arrived in Poland. The majority of Scots settled in ports by the Baltic Sea. The second most popular destination for Scots was the Wielkopolska Region, especially the cities of Gostyń and Poznań.

Wealthier Scots engaged in trade on a larger scale. Poorer ones were peddlers – they went door to door selling wool, thread, ribbons and combs. Some of them managed to improve their status: ‘In the past, low-status barterers, who used baskets and hay in their work, sold only needles, knives, buckles and other knick-knacks of the kind, carrying boxes and chess on their backs. Nowadays, however (…) they transport their goods by wagons and travel to city fairs’ – this was written in the 17th century by a nobleman from the Wielkopolska Region, Łukasz Opaliński.

Wealthier Scots quickly gained citizenship and influence in the city. However, the poorer ones had to overcome many obstacles. Many of them acted outside craft guilds for which they met with animosity from their competitors. In the second half of the 16th century, still only those Scots who bought property in the city and received citizens’ rights in Poznań were allowed to engage in trade. Some of them managed to do it by marrying Polish women. Others were forced to leave.


Scots, though they work at market stalls, when they sell them or pack them up, they tend to gird weapons and carry harquebuses on their shoulders. They are quite an infantry – wrote one of Stefan Batory’s commanding officers. The illustration presents Scottish soldiers dressed in tartan kilts (1631), public domain

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Merchants from neighbouring areas and faraway lands