The Renaissance was a time of great change and innovation. While most studies focus on changes to art, architecture, science and technologies, an essential branch of society was equally affected by it: mercantilism.

So how did the Renaissance affect merchants?

In this article, we will review the various ways not just how the Renaissance affected merchants but how mercantilism and commerce, in turn, affected the Renaissance.

How Did The Renaissance Affect Merchants? (And The Other Way Around)

The Renaissance affected the merchants and mercantilism in general in the following 5 ways:

  1. It created a market for goods that did not exist in the Middle Ages
  2. It created enormous wealth for Merchants
  3. It gave political power to Merchants (the Medici were merchants and bankers)
  4. It opened new markets across the seas
  5. It gave Merchants a real shot at upward social mobility

Let’s now look closely at each of these ways that the Renaissance affected merchants.

#1. It created a market for goods that did not exist in the Middle Ages

A big jump from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance was the emergence of a market for goods that were not just food and basic supplies. Textiles, spices, books, weapons, and tools now became items of trade.

As demand for art shot up, so did the material needed for art. The Renaissance saw a jump in merchants selling products like linseed oil, pigments, and canvases.

It didn’t just stop there. Merchants also started trading in exotic items from around the world, such as jade, silk, and musk. This influx of goods gave merchants opportunities to generate larger profits than they ever could in the Middle Ages.

How Did The Renaissance Affect Merchants
Port Scene with the Villa Medici – by Claude Lorrain

During the Age of Discovery, Portuguese merchants would sail with weapons and guns to trade with distant lands for items of greater value in Europe like spices and silks.

Thus, the Renaissance created a market for many goods that gave merchants an advantage in terms of trading opportunities.

#2. It created enormous wealth for Merchants

With the growth in trade, merchants had the chance to make more money than ever before. As monopolies and trusts became popular, some merchants were able to corner the market on certain goods and become extremely wealthy.

Capitalism took root in Europe during the Renaissance. Innovations in banking, finance, insurance, manufacturing, accounting, and other aspects of business made it possible for merchants to take greater risks and accumulate great wealth.

#3. It gave political power to Merchants (the Medici were merchants and bankers)

With wealth came power. The best example of this is the Medici family, who rose to prominence in Florence. They were merchants and bankers who used their wealth to gain political power.

Cosimo de Medici, the founder of the House of Medici was a banker and had close ties with many of the powerful political figures in Italy. His influence extended to areas such as art, architecture, trade, and politics.

The Medici’s wealth came from the Medici Bank and from the textile trade and they used this wealth to enhance their power by supporting artists, building monuments, and promoting their political agenda.

When Cosimo de Medici first came to prominence, Florence was a Republic. This was in the first half of 1400s. But by 1532, the Medici family were granted the hereditary title of Duke of Florence and they were confirmed as rules of Florence.

The family expanded their power across Europe by producing 4 Popes and 2 queens of France – Catherine de Medici and Marie de’ Medici.

In Venice too, merchants rose to power during the Renaissance. The Great Council of state was often composed of the wealthiest merchants of Venice.

#4. It opened new markets across the seas

The Renaissance ushered in the Age of Exploration. Around the 15th century, Europeans set sail on voyages of discovery to find new lands and trade goods, which in turn opened up new markets for the merchants.

Exotic products such as silk, spices, and tea from the East became popular in Europe. European merchants flocked to the East for trading opportunities.

Companies like the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company opened trade routes to the East creating new “go to market” opportunities for European merchants.

In the Americas, trade between European merchants and native people extended to products like food, cotton cloth, and weapons. Sadly, the slave trade business also emerged during this period.

#5. It gave merchants a real shot at upward social mobility

During the Middle Ages, merchants were, relatively speaking, on the lower echelons of society. The upper echelons were occupied by the nobility and the church. But during the Renaissance, merchants had a real shot at upward social mobility.

Many wealthy merchants rose to become part of the ruling class, through marriage and alliances. As we’ve seen above the Medici family is a prime example of how merchants could gain power in society. A family that started as simple merchants ended up producing 4 Popes and 2 Queens of France.

Much like our times, during the Renaissance, another equalizer was Education’. But education was still relatively exclusive and only available to the wealthy. This benefited the merchants and many of the wealthiest merchants used education as a way of climbing up the social ladder.


So, how did the Renaissance affect merchants? The Renaissance created new opportunities for merchants through products that did not exist in previous ages. With innovations in banking, finance, and other aspects of business, merchants were able to make large investments and generate enormous wealth.

The Renaissance also opened new markets across the seas and gave merchants a real shot at upward social mobility. Finally, it gave some merchants political power and influence and in some cases, as with the Medici, made them de facto rulers.

The Renaissance changed how commerce was conducted and how people did business. It created new dynamics in how wealth was accumulated and how power was gained.


1. The Medici Archive Project