Vikings, they still remained the primary
sailors of the North, just as the Venetians
had been of the Mediterranean and Aegean. But there were new threats by the
close of the Dark Ages.
One was the Black Death that depleted
Europe’s population. Another was the
Islamic invasions and the fall of Byzantium to the caliphs. Travel was a major
endeavor. Many who set out on pilgrimages to holy places never made it. Thus
one of the main items of trade became
religious relics: if pilgrims couldn’t get to
a holy place, holy objects came to them.
The Impact of Religion
It was not only food and trade goods
that became the merchandise of the late
Middle Ages, but also religious beliefs.
Yet, even for a world without modern
transport and communication new
religious ideas and orders spread quickly.
Giovanni Bernadone (of Assisi) had
barely received permission from Pope
Innocent III (the same pope who almost
claimed England from Prince John while
his brother, King Richard, was impris-
oned and awaiting ransom, leading to
the creation of the Magna Carta and
parliamentary law) to form his Order of
Friars Minor than the Franciscans had
spread all over Europe.
When an Augustinian theology
professor in Wittenberg, Martin Luther,
posted his 95 arguments against the
Church in 1517 on the church door for
debate, he set off a war between Catholics and Protestants that tore Europe
apart, and still blazes in certain corners
of it. What the Reformation did to commerce is another story, but it certainly
had an effect on the sale of relics and indulgences used by Rome to finance Vatican construction and artistic projects.
The concepts of insurance had spread
by this time to England, and with the
discovery of the New World across the
Atlantic and new routes to Asia around
the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, mari-
time commerce was “off and running.” It
had a new triangular pattern for British,
French, Dutch and Spanish traders:
Northern ports to Senegal and other
African ports for slaves, then hauling the
slaves to South American, the Caribbean
or North America using the Easterly
Trade Winds, and returning to Europe
via the Westerlies and the Gulf Stream
with sugar, rum, coffee, cotton, tobacco
and gold. But with the Atlantic crossings
came risks, and risk-taking was what
underwriting and claims handling was
Next month, we will explore this
further, with the rise of the ocean marine
insurance business in London.
Ken Brownlee, CPCU, is a former
adjuster and risk manager based
in Atlanta, Ga. He now authors and
edits claims-adjusting textbooks.