This book explores the impact of urban competition on the institutional foundations of international trade in the Low Countries during the period 1250–1650, with particular emphasis on local and foreign merchant communities in Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. The book offers an alternative explanation for institutional change in European commerce that is not predicated upon the existence of strong territorial states or the ability of merchants to create private order solutions. Instead, it argues that the very problem of premodern Europe's political and legal fragmentation also produced its solution in the form of open access or inclusive institutions that made it easier for merchants to deal with violence and other conflicts. This introductory chapter considers the dynamics of institutional change, focusing on the link between state formation and the growth of trade, foreign traders' use of private order solutions to prevent violent assaults or the opportunistic behavior of their agents without the support of sovereign rulers, and urban competition between commercial cities in the Low Countries.
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