The Free Market in the Middle Ages
In order to not disturb the course of business there was market peace (“Marktfrieden” or “Marktfreiung” in German) during market time. As a token of this market peace, a legal symbol was installed in the marketplace: in many markets and in the case of the market in Graz an arm holding a so called “Gerichtsschwert” (judge’s sword). This special peace guaranteed free trade and the influx of merchants. A special market court dealing with disputes or offences on site was responsible for its observance.
Wood, coloured surround
121 × 86 x 19 cm
Graz Museum / Photo: Arno Friebes
Market peace was a princely privilege and was solemnly proclaimed and made visible by a symbol placed on the market square. The most common symbol was an outstretched arm holding a sword. Princely flags or poles with attached princely gloves or hats could also serve as symbols of market peace. Parallel to the economic importance of market peace, the accompanying legal protection was above all essential, since later lower justice (jurisdiction over “minor” offences far removed from severe physical punishment, torture and death sentences) also emerged from it.