America, with her extraordinary treasure, there had been considerable additions to the supply of silver in Europe; it is easy to see that the Augsburg merchants were able to secure the means of hoarding, and of thus amassing wealth which they were eager to use as capital in any direction offering a profit.
Though Augsburg and its neighbourhood had afforded excellent facilities for the formation of capital, it gradually ceased to be the best centre for making profitable investments. The changed political conditions of Europe and the new discoveries had to some extent interfered with the traffic on the great route from the Adriatic by the Brenner and the Inn; the commerce of Venice was declining, relatively even to that of some other Italian cities. The Genoese secured a practical monopoly in the wool trade between the North and Italy by the valley of the Rhone; and after the fall of the Greek Empire at Constantinople they had been permitted by the Turks to establish a factory there. Florence, by her victory over Pisa, and her agreement with Genoa as to Leghorn, was becoming a considerable naval Power; and the trade with Morocco offered the opportunity for the rise of a new Florentine commercial aristocracy. Venice had lost much of her old importance as a trading centre; and a large proportion of the traffic which was maintained between the Adriatic and the Low Countries was now conducted by sea. Augsburg, formerly situate on one of the great routes of the world's trade, found that the stream of commerce had been diverted; its merchants recognised the trend of affairs, and began to establish themselves in the Low Countries. They could gather the threads of old connexions there; the Genoese were in the habit of frequenting Bruges; but the Venetians despatched some of their galleys to its rising competitor Antwerp, and in this city an Augsburg capitalist, Ludwig Menting, established a business in 1474. The other leading houses subsequently followed this example, and Antwerp came to be the chief centre for the financial operations of the great German capitalists. Their fortunes were not inseparably linked with the prosperity of the town of their origin; capital is fluid, and can be easily transferred from one city or one employment to another. The Fuggers and Welsers and other Augsburg capitalists were ready to adapt themselves to the changed conditions of business; the centre of the world's commerce was shifting, but they would not submit to be kept back from having a share in the new developments of trade and finance.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century Antwerp afforded unexampled opportunities to enterprising men of any nationality who had wealth at their command and were anxious to engage in commerce. The Portuguese had opened direct trading intercourse with the East; but they were too busily engaged in securing their footing in the Indies, and in prosecuting the distant trades, to have energy to spare