Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/542

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Success in commerce had apparently been the chief avenue to wealth in the earlier part of the fifteenth century; when we pass to the latter half, there is less difficulty in tracing the means by which fortunes could be amassed. The matter is particularly clepr in the case of the group of Augsburg capitalists, who were destined to exercise such a potent influence on the political and economic condition of Europe. They could draw from three sources of wealth; for they had access to many frequented trading centres, they were connected with an important textile industry, and they had the opportunity of engaging in profitable mining speculation. The fresh supplies of silver which they obtained from the mines enabled them to accumulate and store wealth for profitable investment as opportunities arose. The man of frugal habits, with a prosperous self-sufficing household, can lay up supplies against a bad season; but his wealth is not in a form which enables him to avail himself of chances for turning over his capital. Only those who are in the habit of using money or of handling the precious metals are likely to make rapid gains and so to amass a great fortune.

The Fugger family of Augsburg eventually became pre-eminent among European financiers; they were originally interested in the weaving of cloth; but, early in the fifteenth century, they began to take part in the spice and silk trades, and established connexions with Venice; Jacob Fugger, who settled the style and constitution of the firm, received his business training at the German factory in that city. Even before his time, the family had made some profitable speculations in mining; they were engaged in working for silver in Tyrol in 1487, and ten years later they took up copper mining in Hungary; they contrived to combine with other Augsburg merchants and form a ring which controlled the copper market at Venice. The career of the Fuggers was not exceptional; the Welsers attained to great financial eminence by similar methods; they too had laid the foundations of their fortune by trading with Venice, and subsequently engaged in silver mining in Tyrol and in Saxony.

Altogether, there was about this time in different parts of Germany a great development of mining, both for the precious and the useful metals. The working of silver at Schwatz dates from 1448, at Salzburg from 1460, and in Saxony from 1471; while the Bohemian mines, which had been practically closed for eighty years in consequence of the Hussite Wars, were reopened in 1492. Early in the sixteenth century some Nürnberg capitalists established iron forges in Thuringia and they were also actively engaged in copper mining. Apparently, in all these cases, commerce gave these enterprising undertakers their first start; the mineral resources of Germany, though not unknown, had been neglected; but money made in commerce was available in the fifteenth century to work the mines, and large fortunes were gained in connexion with these operations. Even before the discovery of