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The Beginnings of Capitalism in Central Europe

Edited By Cyril Levitt

This book focuses on the beginnings of capitalism in Central Europe with emphasis on the German-speaking areas from the 14th to the 17th century. It also reviews and assesses the writings on the topic by the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. At the center of the presentation are the developments in mining, metallurgy, smelting, book publishing, clock making, ship building and advances in trade, commerce and finance. This book will be of interest to students of medieval and early modern European history, the so-called transition debate of feudalism to capitalism, social scientists and historians who are interested in the various transitions in human history, and philosophers who follow developments in the changing issues regarding freedom and bondage over the course of human development. Anthropologists who are familiar with Krader’s writings on the development of the Asiatic mode of production will be interested to see how Krader treats this transition from feudalism to capitalism by way of comparison and contrast.

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Chapter Five Mining and Metallurgy

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Mining and Metallurgy

The primary sources for the knowledge of mining and metallurgy, of the art of assaying and of the art of glass making in Central Europe in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century are the writings of Agricola, Ercker and Kunckel. The work of Biringuccio in this context is indispensable. To these the writings of Rühlein von Calw, C. Schreittmann, Z. Lochner and C. C. Schindler, Modestin Fachs, Becher and Glauber are to be added as well. The illustrations and drawings of the best-known artists, which accompany the writings of Agricola, and the drawings of unknown artists, reproduced in the writings of Ercker and Kunckel, are an important addition to this knowledge. Dürer is the guide of the art to the wood cut and copper point. Jost Amman played a meaningful role as his successor in the art of the woodcut in relation to the guilds and estates. For the knowledge of mining and metallurgy are likewise to be added in wider circles the writings on arithmetic and medicine of Euclid and Galen, Apianus, Regiomontan, Köbel, Ries and Stifel, von Fibonacci and Pacioli, then the writings on perspective and measurement by Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci and Dürer and the writings of Luther, Calvin, Machiavelli, Botero and Bodin.

The changes of consciousness and their expression over the course of the 15th and 16th century can be followed by means of these sources. The artistic, technical, religious and scientific processes in the writings and images did not cause the social and economic events, but rather gave them expression, profile, understanding and made them visible and through their internalization transformed them.

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We can retrace the origin or historical development of books on mining and metallurgy and the art of assaying. An early work, if not the earliest in this area, was Ulrich Rühlein von Calws (Kalbus) Ein Nützlich Bergbüchlein [A Useful Mining Pamphlet] without year or location, probably written around 1500. The author was professor of medicine in Leipzig. In the Bergbüchlein the young Knappius is instructed by the experienced miner Daniel on the system of mining. Further editions appeared in the 16th century in Worms, Nuremberg, Erfurt, Frankfurt am Main and Augsburg. A later edition was completed with attention to the art of assaying.

Georg Agricola (Bauer) was born in 1494 in Glochau (Saxony), attended the University in Leipzig and subsequently was active as a schoolteacher in Zwickau. He returned to Leipzig and studied medicine, the classical languages and other sciences there. In 1524 he emigrated to Italy in order to continue his medical studies. He was engaged for two years in the Manutius-Publishing House in Venice as a scholarly collaborator on the edition of Galen’s works. Agricola also attended the universities of Bologna and Padua. In 1527 he returned to Germany and received a position in Joachimsthal as a town physician and pharmacist, which had been created shortly before (1516). He broadened his knowledge of languages, particularly of Greek and Latin, above all in the field of mining, in addition to continuing his medical practice, and in 1530 he published a small work in Latin, Bermannus sive de re metallica (On the Essence of Metals).1 His great work, De Re Metallica, was written in 1550 and published in 1556 in Basel. He moved to Chemnitz 1530/1533 and remained there until his death in 1555. He published further books in the scientific field: De natura fossilium, 1546, De mensuris et ponderibus, 1533, De ortu et causis subterraneum, 1546, De peste, 1554, among others, which were all instructive in relation to medicine, mining and minerology. In 1540 the work De la pirotechnia by Vannoccio Biringuccio appeared in Venice, and in 1574 the Beschreibung: Allerfürnemsten Mineralischen Erzt—unnd Berckwercksarten by Lazarus Ercker appeared in Prague. The main works of Agricola, Biringuccio and Ercker complement one another, but the most extensive of all is De Re Metallica by Agricola. To this can be added the work of Johannes Kunckel on the manufacture of glass.

De Re Metallica by Agricola is subdivided into 12 books:2

1. On the vocation of the miner and metallurgist

2. The search for the ore vein

3. Concerning veins, chasms and strata of rock

4. The measurement of campsites. The offices of mining personnel

5. The opening of camp sites. The art of one who draws boundary lines [Markscheide]

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6. The tools, implements and machines in mining

7. Assaying ore

8. Preparing ore

9. Smelting ore

10. The separation of pure metal

11. The separation of silver from copper. From iron.

12. Concerning salt, soda, alum, vitriol, sulphur, bitumen. Concerning glass. (see images)

The work contains woodcuts by Basilius Weffringer from Joachimsthal and by two illustrators from Basel, Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch and Zacharias Specklin. The art of assaying is treated in the seventh book by Agricola, in greater detail in Lazarus Erckers’ Beschreibung: Allerfürnemsten Mineralischen Erz/ und Berckwercksarten. The art of glassmaking is briefly treated by Agricola in his twelfth book, adequately in Johannes Kunckel’s Ars Vitraria. All three volumes are masterpieces.

The works of Agricola and Kunckel in particular point to the close relationships between Italy and Germany in economics, in the labour process, in technics and science. These relationships are to be noted in the example of Dürer in the fine arts, Regiomontan in mathematics, Copernicus in astronomy and Jakob Fugger in the world of merchants. The relationship of German to Italian arithmetic was mentioned above. The lines of connection led not only from Italy to Germany. Book publishing began in Mainz, Frankfurt am Main and Strasbourg and thereafter was propagated in northern Italy and in the Netherlands. Vannoccio Biringuccio took over and treated more fully some matters from Rülein von Calws Bergbüchlein, other matters from Agricola’s early work Bermannus, whereas, conversely Agricola treated some things better than all the others in De Re Metallica. Rülein von Calws and Agricola had both studied medicine and earned their keep as physicians.

Vannoccio Biringuccio, born 1480 in Sienna, was active in Rome, Naples, Sicily, Florence and elsewhere as an architect and foreman, and died in Rome in 1539. Shortly following his death his work De la Pirotechnica (the ten books on the art of fire), appeared in Venice, which was organized as follows:3

1. The metals (gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, iron and steel, brass)

2. The semi-minerals [Halbmineralien] (mercury, sulphur, gravel, vitriol, alum, arsenic, orpiment, yellow arsenic, salt, cink spar or Smithsonite [Galmei], saphera, pyrolucite, magnetite, ocher, glazed stone, quartz, glass)

3. Assaying and preparation for smelting

4. The separation of gold from silver

5. Metal alloys

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6. Concerning the art of molten pouring

7. The process of smelting of metals

8. Small foundries

9. The technic of working with fire

10. Artificial fuels and the production of fireworks in war and ceremonial occasions (see images)

Lazarus Ercker, born in Annaberg in 1528, died in Prague in 1594. He was named asseyor of precious metals and later mint master at Goslar. Subsequently he was a cross-check assayer in Kuttenberg and bookkeeper in the chancellery in Prague; then he became the chief mining master in the Kingdom of Bohemia and mint master in Prague. He published a small Probierbuch 1556, a small Münzbuch 1563, and in 1574 his Beschreibung: Allerfürnemsten Mineralischen Erzt/ unnd Berckwercksarten. The work is known as Das Große Probierbuch.4

The works of Agricola, Biringuccio and Ercker complement one another in such a way that, taken together, they render a complete picture of the systems of mining, metallurgy, assaying and smelting in the 16th century. The works of Agricola and Biringuccio overlap. The main difference between the two lies in the fact that in the first 6 books by Agricola, the vocations, the labour processes, technics and administration of the mines are treated exhaustively and systematically, while they are only presented briefly and in passing in Biringuccio. The tenth book by Biringuccio promises the treatment of pyrotechnics, a theme which does not appear in Agricola. In addition, iron and steel and in particular the refinement of raw steel is represented more completely by Biringuccio than by Agricola. However, these are briefly dealt with by both of them. Only later was the industrial significance of steel recognized. When those in the know and the experts talk about coal, what was mainly meant was charcoal; bituminous coal had limited significance under existing conditions at that time.

The main topic of Ercker’s central work is the art of assaying, which was not presented so comprehensively either by Argicola or by Biringuccio. More extensively than the other metals the works of Agricola and Biringuccio treat the precious metals, and in this they expand on one another. The description of the reverberatory furnace for the smelting of ore is found in Biringuccio’s work, not in that of Agricola.

Biringuccio believes that gold originates from sulphur transformed by the effect of heaven, time or nature. Otherwise Biringuccio takes a position against the transformability of metals and thus against alchemy. The opinions of Agricola and L. Ercker in relation to the transformability of the metals are also negative. More comprehensive in comparison to Biringuccio is the occupation with extractive metallurgy from gravel in the 7th and 8th book by Agricola, from the digging out ←196 | 197→of the ore, and the roasting and washing of the ore. The lighting for the workers underground was mentioned by Agricola and described especially in the images of his book.

Biringuccio took a stand against usury, against securities, that is, against bank certificates and the financial side of the mining industry. Agricola had much to say in the first six books of his work De Re Metallica about the organization of mining, the structuring of labour pertaining to mining, the technics of measurement of pits and the art of surveying mines, about the tools, instruments, arts and machines in mining. No work from the 16th century or later—down to the 18th century—contains so many details regarding this field as the main work by Agricola. With regard to the participation of the shareholders of the pit he had the following to say in book 4: “Earlier the owners or the shareholders [Gewerkschaft] possessed those ores that the hewers, standing on the floor of the tunnels, with shovels, whose grip was usually maintained for a long time, were able to move.” In Agricola’s time, on the contrary, a determinate height and width was awarded to the inheritor of the tunnel [Erbstöllner], who was responsible for water removal from the tunnels of the mines, so that the owner of the mine did not have to endure losses, if the shovel handle should be longer than normal. The effect of new tools was taken in stride in the labour of mining. Every pit rich in ore which had water removed from a tunnel and which was supplied with air in the mine, thus to each of the owners of the tunnels [Stöllner] the ninth of the ore taken from the floor of the tunnel was given; what was taken from under the floor of the tunnel belonged to the owner of the next deeper tunnel. The master miner is responsible for demarcating the tunnels from the mining pits. The shareholders mark with boundary stones in the presence of jurors the contiguous mine fields. The participation of citizens of the town as witnesses in modern times replaced this custom in distinguishing the fields bounding one another. Further, says Agricola, the shareholders, the owners of the tunnels or of the mine field pay attention to the dispositions of the mine master and of the mining rules.

Table 10: Number of Mine Shares by Category of Holders in Joachimsthal


Mine Share Certificate Amounts









Poorest of the Poor




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The shareholders receive the profit or suffer the losses from the enterprise. In order to drive the work of mining, the shareholders distribute mine share certificates. In the silver pits of Schneeberg the mining share certificates amounted to 128, in Joachimsthal to 129 (see Table 10).

Only the shareholders paid a Zubuße [payment in times of need by the owners of a mine to support mining operations—translator, Langenscheidt German-English Dictionary]; the lord of the manor did not pay but rather made available a large amount of wood from his forests in the construction of the pits, for the machines, buildings, smelters, for the furnaces and charcoal. Agricola adds: his countrymen called a pit colliery Zeche [after a local communal drink], and the money that the shareholders paid, was called a Zubuße. The iron pits remained undivided or had two to four partners, seldom more.

The investment of capital and the profit accruing to it appear to have been significantly higher in the precious metal pits than in the iron pits in the 16th century. The difference in the possibilities of profit in the period of high capitalism is worthy of note. Wood, as Agricola says, is a necessary matter for mining. If the forest is lacking, then the pit is built in the vicinity of a river in order to float the logs down to it. The locations containing many minerals normally do not have field crops, for the trees are also damaged.

The miners are either shareholders themselves or wage labourers. What they require for their living needs has to be imported. A longer or more problematic route increases the costs in mining that negatively affect not only the pit workers but the load carriers and the drivers as well. Agricola remarks that their pay and the increase in costs in this connection is less a burden for the workers than it is for the partners. If the wage labourers are unhappy with their wage on account of the increasing costs and demand higher wages from the owners of the pits, this action can have unfavourable economic consequences for the shareholders. The wage labourers have the right to remove themselves from the pits; the partners or joint owners [Teilhaber] cannot stop them (Agricola, De Re Metallica, 5th book).

The art of the glassmaker, as has already been stated, is treated, but not exhaustively by Agricola and Biringuccio. It is mentioned by Ercker. In 1612 L’arte vetraria distinta in Libri sette appeared in Florence. In 1662 it was translated into English by Christopher Merrett and supplemented. Johann Kunckel translated it again and augmented it further: Ars vitraria experimentalis or Vollkommene Glasmacherkunst / Lehrende … Commentario über die … sieben Bücher P. Anthonii Neri, von Florenz—und den darüber getanen Anmerkungen Christopheri Merretti, M.D … Das reinste Crystall-Glas … Maler-Farben, die Salze dazu, drei Bücher …, 200 Experimente von Glasmalen, Vergülden und Brennen, die Öfen dazu, Amsterdam and Danzig 1679.

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The work by Agricola contains 292 woodcuts, that by Biringuccio, 57, that by Ercker, 41, and 24 copper points are found in Kunckel’s work; all are artistic, beautiful and valuable from the scientific standpoint. We are particularly interested in the work by Agricola, because he exhaustively describes the offices, professions and the tasks of manual labourers as well as those of administrators in mining. But Biringuccio too provides some clear indications concerning those activities in the first half of the 16th century in Central Europe.

At the beginning of the 16th century Biringuccio had visited the Archdukedom of Austria and saw a large valley between Innsbruck and Hall, which was surrounded by many mountains which he described in the following way: “A well-watered river flowed through the valley. In almost every mountain surrounding it ore was obtained, to wit mostly copper or lead, that almost always contained silver. A number of people from the area had already begun to build; they had determined the locations to be worked through the indicators which came to light. They had begun at the foot of the mountain, since beginning at the lower elevation is more advantageous for the draining of water, for driving in and out, for the transport of the miners, to lighten their hauling, and for facilitating the ore and wall rock or country rock or waste rock [taube Steine]; this way and means of mining also avoids or minimizes the danger of collapse and increases the comfort and security of the process. Moreover, it is less costly. If one begins to build at the foot of the mountain, every 50 ells takes one a half an ell higher with the tunnel.5 They drove a tunnel almost two miles long before they came to the ore. Water constituted the greatest difficulty as a rule, also the greatest danger for the miners, because there, where much ore was found, there was also a lot of water present. Yet the water did not present the greatest problem for these people, but rather the rock. When the miners had arrived with the tunnel in line with their indicators, they came up against a hard limestone stratum. With much labour they succeeded in punching through the more than 1 and ½ rods thick stone and only then encountered a rich vein of copper. Between two walls of limestone they bored out a massive cavity, where more than 200 miners were at work. They worked day and night in shifts, without daylight, only by the light of their lamps. Out of the mouth of the tunnel a large amount of in part select—in part crude—ore was removed. The ore was copper ore that contained so much silver that it was called silver ore. To their profit they still had the copper which was mixed with the silver. This mining was administered by the mine owners, who were responsible for the large number of unskilled laborers who were necessary for the maintenance of the water, for the construction of wheels, pumps, pipes and linkages as well as other water maintenance devices. Through the middle of the pit there ran a trench which collected water, which ran off from various cracks. With the runoff and intake, one was soaked.”6 Thus far we ←199 | 200→can follow the description by Biringuccio. We return to the remarks by Agricola in this regard.

5.1 Mining Freedom

In the Middle Ages as well as in the early period of the modern era miners were free. In the states of Central Europe this freedom meant free mobility, tax preferences, freedom from military duties and self-jurisdiction. In the early Middle Ages compulsory collective mining labour was performed for the lords of the manor, but in the late Middle Ages (12th century) mining was propelled by the shareholders through their capital investment and by the wage labourers. The freedom of mining was in this regard linked with the freedom of capital investments, with the declaration of freedom of the locations of resources of certain minerals and fossils like ore and bitumen, and with the establishment of free organizations of shareholders or communal associations (Genossenschaften) of free shareholders. In the communities of Upper Germany every resident [Bürger] had the right, with the discovery of a deposit of ore, to demand the surveying by the authorities of the specified land for mining. The custom of the principles of mining law [Bergregal] spread across the Steiermark, Upper Palatinate, the Harz Mountains and beyond. The Bergregal arose from the declared constitution of mining freedom in the 12th century; this contained the proper privilege of the residents of the borough who exploited the ore and fossils. An open statement regarding the extraction of salt was excluded from it. The feudal lords offered resistance to the freedom of mining and received some counter privileges in return.7

In the 15th century and later the system of mine share certificates [Kuxsystem] was dominant, in which the elements or shares of a given mine were distributed in theory among 128 participants. These shares were simultaneously linked with additional payments [Zubußen] of the participants. Each share owner was thus required to lay out a sum of money for the enterprise, for the operation and administration of the mine. We can speak of 129, 130, 132, 134 owners of mine certificates. One who inherits a certificate [Erbkux] which belongs to the property owner of the mine, was freed from the cost of enterprise or of the additional payments. Free certificates [Freikuxe] were also those of the Church and hospitals. One share was issued to the state, one to the poor. The landowner did not pay additionally for his portion, but rather supplied the mine owners the required amount of wood from his forests, as we have seen, without compensation, for the expansion of the pits, for the machines, for the structures and the smelting furnaces.8

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The miners or pitmen [Knappen] were paid a daily or piece wage. The miners’ association was the entire company of mine workers. The shareholders were partners in the mine and in part also miners. The totality of all those participating in the pits constituted the communal association [Genossenschaft] of shareholders. The owners and partners were separated from the pit workers, the shareholders worked for themselves, and the miners [Knappen] were designated as those who worked for others in the mining industry.

The communal associations [Genossenschaften] of the mining trade of both kinds—of the shareholders and the miners or pitmen [Knappen], according to Gierke—belonged to the bourgeois class [Bürgerstand]. In the Middle Ages they shared some characteristics with the core communal associations [Markgenossenschaften], for example, their specific location, others with the town guilds. In the mining community in the Harz region, whose main settlement was located in Goslar, the association of miners and metallurgy workers (miners and foresters, montani and silvani) constituted a civil corporation. They stood between the merchants and the guilds (minters, shop keepers and manual labourers), participated in the town regiment, sent deputies to the signing of statutes and were asked by the town council for their agreement with every change in the law. The forestry works in the Harz forest constituted ipso facto a Markgemeinde, which in addition to mining and the smelting of metal also utilized timber. For the mining and smelting of the Harz region, the totality of all miners and foresters formed an independent, autonomous communal association [Genossenschaft] subject to the jurisdiction originally of an imperial governor, later to that of the town council of Goslar. The shareholders themselves maintained the administration under the mining judge or mining master; their general assembly met at Goslar under the influence of the council, according to the rules of mining, the peace of the mines and mining rights. In the court of the master miners they dispensed justice as aldermen in matters of taxation law, in serious cases of criminal law, on appeals before the mining court, and they appointed most of the mining officials, like bailiffs [Fronbote], court marshals [Fronknecht], court scribes [Schreiber], sworn jurors of the court [Feuerhüter] and so on.

In the large communal association [Genossenschaft] of all those involved in the enterprise of mining [Gewerke] the owners of the smelters and the owners of the mine were separated from one another. The masters constituted a particular brotherhood and confronted the dependent labourers, hence the unskilled workers [Knechte] and the miners [Knappen]. In the craft guilds property and labour were not yet divided, for the mine owners [Bergherren], feudatories [Lehenträger], and renting-owners [Mietsinhaber] as a rule still built their pits as masters themselves with their master workers and miners and pitmen [Knappen]. The miners in Goslar ←201 | 202→and elsewhere were autonomous and privileged communities [Gemeinheiten] with a communal associative [genossenschaftlicher] constitution. Only later, with the development of mining, its rules and mining regulation, did the territorial princes take the leadership of the mining system into their own hands.

The communal association of mining [Berggenossenschaft] was put together by the membership of the shareholders. The guild-like corporation of mine workers, according to which the proportional share of the total wealth of the mine led to the sole foundation of membership, appeared only from the 15th century. A common mining property, to be sure, already existed in the 14th century, when the pits were in fact shared among the single cultivators according to fields or shares; thus the construction of a pit was customarily done at communal expense according to specific quotas of the totality of owners who possess it.

As was the case with the guilds, the association of communal members [Genossen] was at first founded on the relationships of the miner as an individual person, whether he was a master, foreman or servant. The history of the mining right of Rammelsberg in the edition of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz points to this origin of the constitution of the association. The individual character of the enterprise was later changed and adopted the system of a community [Gemeinschaft]. From a community of wealth there grew a communal association [Genossenschaft], and the communal association [Genossenschaft] in turn trailed off again to a community of wealth. Out of this origin the special purpose organization [Zweckverein] and the joint-stock company arose.9 Gierke poses the question on the basis of material collected by Leibniz about the nature of the mining man, whether he was a master, a foreman or a simple miner [Knappe]. We will not investigate further the personal side of this question, since it has nothing to do with the period in question. The main point of the formulation of the problem is the nature of the communal association [Genossenschaft] as the transitional form to the joint-stock company in the 14th and 15th century.

The miner, whether master, foreman or simple miner [Knappe], was excused from military, war and defence service, as a freely mobile individual; in addition, he was freed in that period from taxation under certain circumstances. His freedom was not absolute and not universal; taken in a strict sense there can be no talk of servitude of the miners [Bergknappen]. Doubtless some of them were servants, but servitude signified an unfree condition, which did not correspond to the situation of the wage peasants [Lohnbauer] in the 15th and 16th century. Gierke contributed something inexact in this connection. The association of people involved in mining in Goslar consisted of masters, foremen and miners [Knappen], who were not servants but were formally free. The unskilled labourer in mining was not a serf, but rather a wage labourer, paid in part a wage per piece work, in part through weekly ←202 | 203→wages, in part in money form, in part in produce. The mining guild [Gilde] was a Genossenschaft with a common interest, a closed membership, a specific leadership and a permanent constitution. One can ask the question whether the people involved in the mining industry established a guild [Gilde] or a Genossenschaft in this sense in the 15th and 16th century. The interests of the foremen, of the hewer and of other unskilled labourers were the same in relation to the maintenance of the freedoms of mining; in relation to wages and conditions of labour, on the contrary, they were not. Earlier we spoke of the romanticizing and idealizing of the conditions of labour in the late Middle Ages. In one sense the people involved in mining were organized like a guild [gildemäßig], as Gierke says, in another sense they were not. The structuring and division of labour in mining was set up differently than in the guild system [Zunftwesen]. In the period from the 14th to 16th century and even the 17th century the organization, structuring and division of labour in Central European mining was relatively highly developed. Many labourers—200 at a time, as Biringuccio says—came together in one shift in a tunnel, to dig out ore. These data are not a poetic tale like those about Jack of Newbury’s factory. The structuration of labour in the English and German textile industry was strictly controlled and supervised by the guilds [Zünfte], the merchants and the authorities in the 16th century. By contrast the fate of mining was different. Not weaving but rather mining and metallurgy had shown themselves to be a model for the further development of industry in Europe during the late 17th and over the course of the 18th century.

Freedom was related to the miner’s right to an unhindered and tax-exempt change of position from one enterprise to another and from one location or spot to another; this freedom was in force for the various labours of those associated with mining. They also received salt and flour without additional charge while others were required to pay tax on them. Although the miners were exempted from military service, they had, for example, participated during the siege of fortresses in undermining the siege, receiving a wage in recompense.

The historical processes and periodization can be considered from several standpoints. The movement of peasant liberation, the social struggles of the labourers in the town enterprises, and the labour of mining and system of smelting lie at the centre of our treatment of these matters. The printing industry, seafaring, fine arts and science can also be seen as the determining processes and characteristics of the new epoch in the history of Central Europe. Mining in the Holy Roman Empire took its large upswing in the 15th century. The form of undertaking of the capitalist enterprise was already formed and had been developed into the predominant form of economics in this field. The transformation of the medieval organization of guilds to the modern bourgeois and capitalist form was ←203 | 204→established in mining and smelting earlier than in the other branches of Central European production. The printing industry in the middle of the 15th century was worked by private persons. The arsenals in Central Europe were not enlarged by capital investment of this sort. They were administered as public enterprises by the state from the 15th to the 18th century. Both are closely linked with mining and smelting. That which was asserted about the arsenal and war industry, was also said about coinage. The mining and smelting industry showed the same accompanying phenomena and the same social difficulties as those which the working youth [Kläuberbuben] had separated and cleaned the rubble from the Zagel [a stage of iron refinement in the smelting process—trans.] or the impure ore in the period of high capitalism. If they were strong enough, they entered into the service as Truhenläufer [men pushing mining carts in the tunnels—trans.] and Huntezieher [men who pull mining carts in the tunnels—trans.]. In the smelter system, many youths began as charcoal burners [Kohlenbrenner] and wood cutters [Holzknechte]. The career trajectory was hard in the blast house or smelting works. It was no different in the knife industry which was linked to the smelting works. 150 journeymen worked for 300 master knife makers in Styr as did ten times as many maids.

A miner’s strike in Schneeberg in the year 1496 was beaten down and suppressed by threats or otherwise by strikebreakers. Additional strikes of miners are known in Joachimsthal and Mansfeld. Already at the beginning of the 16th century the entrepreneurs established so-called anti-strike associations. If the miners protested it was not only a matter of wages and subsistence goods, like grain, fat or cloth, which the labourers received, but also about labour time. The entrepreneurs or managers of the mines had tried to decrease the wages for labour time by not attributing to the hewers the time it took them to enter into the deep tunnels. For the attribution of the time to enter the tunnels had been the normal practice in the pits (see Agricola in the following section). Furthermore, it came to a question of Sunday rest. Ludwig the Wealthy had permitted work to continue in the salt mines of Reichenhall (Upper Bavaria) on Sunday. A treaty with the Archduke of Saxony in the year 1520 was supposed to prevent the emigration of miners from one mining precinct to another, and to this extent it influenced mining freedom. An agitator, who instigated “among the miners, indignation, revolt and agitation”, that is, a call to strike, should be deported and banned from finding work in another mine of the opposing party.10 His name was registered in a book. Not only the accumulation of capital, the mechanization of the enterprise and the rationalization of the labour process, but also the black book, the strikebreaking activities of the entrepreneurs and, on the other side, strikes and unemployment were characteristics of mining and metallurgy in the 15th and 16th century. Labour relations and ←204 | 205→conditions of the 19th and 20th century, were not only present in a seminal state or in nuce, but rather in full bloom in the earlier periods.

The beginnings of the capitalist epoch present no simple problem. The latest researches assume that capitalism begins in the 16th century or even later and that the Middle Ages continued into the end of the 15th century. This way of thinking should be relativized, for the posing of the problem should vary according to the industry which has been chosen for consideration. If one begins with the miners’ guilds [Gilden] and guild associations [Zunftverbände] of other branches of production, the medieval conditions in Central Europe thus continue, and it is no different in the areas of non-industrialized trades in home construction. We concern ourselves with the mining of metal because in our work we don’t pose the problem of the continuation of the medieval process but rather give emphasis to the beginnings of the capitalist system. A second question in this context asks whether the appearance of capitalistic processes in mining and metallurgy in the 15th and 16th century is systematic or sporadic. Strieder pointed out the gritty and filthy as well as the progressive side of the process. Relations between the two sides are taken into account in the 15th and in the 20th century. Mining does not stand alone there in the earlier period, but rather has a close connection to coinage, to the metal works in the town, to credit institutes and the banks, to the circulation of money, to printing, to transport, to the war industry and foreign trade. Mining is, in this sense, a systematic and not a sporadic appearance in the 15th an 16th century.

It was to be sure in the interest of the authorities to advance progress in the circulation of money and to operate mining capitalistically. However, the princes, the clerics, as well as the secular members of the ruling class and the representatives of the authorities had demanded precious and non-ferrous metals for their enterprises. Gold, silver and copper were found, dug out and refined. The entrepreneurs, shareholders and merchants, the mine workers, hewers, smelters, smiths, drivers, assayers and coiners created and distributed ore, metals, and finally money for wages and profits. This process began in the Middle Ages sporadically and interruptedly, then in the capitalist period it was developed quickly, permanently, uninterruptedly and systematically. Another scene comes to the fore if town and house construction or weaving are taken into account; in comparison to these, however, shipbuilding, seafaring and shipping companies appear rather closer to that of mining in relation to the increase in productivity and profit in the epoch of the early-modern period.

←205 | 206→

5.2 Structuring of Labour in Mining During the 14th and 15th Centuries

The structuration of labour in mining is treated by Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 4, in three main sections about manual labourers, pit foremen and district administration. First, he names as the main kinds of manual labourers in mining those designated in Table 11 (see page 306 and images).

Table 11: German and Latin Names of Manual Labourers in Mining









Miners or Diggers




Häspler (Haspler)


Lever Worker (Windlass Men)




Seifner (Wäscher)


Washers, Buddlers, Sifters, etc.

Other manual labourers mentioned are: mountain climber [der Bergläufer], trench cleaner [der Grabensäuberer], helpers [der Handpreu (Heimpreu)], trolley pushers and pullers [der Karrenläufer (Huntestößer)]11, carters [der Fuhrknecht (Fuhrmann, Karrenführer)] the brineman or salt maker [der Salzsieder], the smith [der Schmied], the shaft sinker [der Sinker], the lumberjack [der Holzhauer], the bottom sweeper [der Dregger (Drecker)], the carrier or porter [der Lastträger], transporters, delivery men [die Förderleute], the carpenter, (der Zimmermann); the pit boys [die Bergbuben (Grubenjungen, Treckejungen)], youth responsible for heating [der Wärmbub], the water carrier [der Wasserknecht (Wasserheber)], youth workers in a Göppelhaus [der Geipel (Göppelbube) a Göppel is a machine powered by muscle, wind, water and other means, often by horses; Göppelbube is the youth who drives the machine, and the Göppelhaus is the building in which the machine is housed], bargain man [der Lehn—und Gedingehauer], the carter or wagoner [der Wagenknecht], the pipe fitter [der Rohrschmied], the hammer smith [der Hammerschmied] (he also had a hammer journeyman and a Handpreu or helper), the salt expert [der Salzkünstler], the gold washer [der Goldwäscher], the glazier, [der Glaser], the tin smith, pewterer [der Zinngießer]. There were many kinds of smiths. The hewers were variously divided according to wage and labour conditions. The pieceworker [Gedinghauer] did stonework for a piecework wage according to time and by the Lachter (app. 1.8 meters of measure). A rate was concluded with the pit master in ←206 | 207→the presence of a jury. Manual labourers were paid a weekly or daily money wage as well as by piece rate (see above). Wages were paid out in cash according to the rules of mining and the hammer mill. Salt miners [Salinenarbeiter] and hammer mill workers on the contrary were paid in salt or iron as well. In addition, this applied as well to Bergmannsbauer, small peasants, who were mainly miners. Apprentices in mining were not paid—rather, on the contrary—they had to pay the master for their training. Other craftsmen and manual labourers had different designations and tasks in the various mines of Central Europe. The smelter appeared to have been a highly rated miner.

The second division was constituted by the administration of the pits, tunnels and strata (see Table 12, p. 209).

Table 12: German and Latin Names of Administrators in Mining



Steiger (mine supervisor)

Praefectus fodinae (Pit)

Praefectus cuniculi (Tunnel)

Shift Master

Praeses fodinae

Praeses cuniculi

Other designations of these offices are: Hutmann [supervising position], watchmen, supervisors. For the mining machines there were also the stamp mill (ore crusher) [Pochensteiger], the mining sink-hole supervisor [Pingensteiger], (Bingensteiger), the Kunststeiger and their assistants, further: Kunstmeister, Kunstknechte, Kunstschmied, Kunstjung.12

The masters are: the wood master, the master builder, the master smith in a hammer mill [Hammermeister], also the master in the weather and in the Göpel—[see above] and Wasserkunst.

The third division of the offices in the system of mining in Agricola’s time was the representatives of the authorities as well as of the district administration. They are as follows in Table 13.

The offices of the chief mayor, of the Berghauptmann [head supervisor of the mine] and of the Oberhauptmann [a supervising head] were named by Agricola as well. The smelting works had the following administration: the director of smelting, [Hüttenkampfer], the smelting master [Hüttenmeister], the smelting labourers [Hüttenschaffer] and the recording secretary of the smelter [Hüttenschreiber].

From these data we can obtain an informal and general impression as to how labour in mining was structured and divided during the 15th and 16th century. ←207 | 208→We shall later take up the details of concrete enterprises in the metal branch in Agricola’s time. Agricola was able to ascertain in De Re Metallica, Book 1, that silver and gold extraction was already being practised in the middle of the 8th century, as the oldest privileges of the inhabitants of these towns reveal to us. The oldest documents from Goslar give hints of the lead works in the 10th century and the documents from Freiberg of the silver works in the 12th century. In a way similar to Lucretius in De Rerum Natura, Agricola presents in detail his overview here of the utility of the metals for people. From this we can derive the importance of the same for life in his time. At the top of his list Agricola refers to the profit for the mining people, who devote so much effort in digging up the earth. The labour was not only hard and dismal, but also dangerous to health and life, for the mining hewers quickly died from the toxic pit fumes which they inhaled, soon faded away emaciated by inhaling dust which caused their lungs to fester and, soon enough, from accidents, crushed by mountain cave-ins, and in passage through the mine, from falling down the shafts and thereby breaking legs, arms and necks. One ought to add the danger from water, which Agricola and Biringuccio mention. Agricola treats the danger to health ex professo, because he himself was a physician in Joachimsthal.

Table 13: German and Latin Names of District Administrators in Mining








Praefectus Metallorum

Mining Prefect


Magister Metallicorum (or Metallorum)

Mining Master


Scriba Magister Metallicorum

Mining Master’s Clerk


Scriba fodinarum

Mining Clerk


Scriba partium (Kuxe, Teile)

Share Clerk (Counter-Clerk)

Gemeiner Siegler

Publicus Signator


Geschworene (Jurors)



Zehnter (Zehender)


Title Gatherer

Agricola (De Re Metallica, Book 6) describes in greater detail the accident cases and diseases of mining folk as well as the means used to protect them from them. Water, which in some shafts rose in large amounts and was extremely cold, could damage the lower legs, especially the muscles. The mining people were thus to wear high boots, which might protect their legs from the coldness of the water. ←208 | 209→The dry pits brought even greater affliction, for the dust, which the pit labour raised up, reached into the lungs and caused breathing difficulties, asthma, lung festering and vertigo in the body. In Altenberg in the district of Meissen there was black smelter smoke which caused [ausgenagte] wounds and ulcers gnawed out down to the bone. A kind of cadmium ate up hands and feet. Poor weather also caused breathing difficulties in the shaft. To combat this, weather machines were engaged. Some pits produced their own vapours and expelled instead of exhales poisoned air. In addition, through the setting of fires in the entrances a thin vapour was blown out. When the vapours increased, the workers who travelled out of the shafts into the shoots of their passages, fell down on account of the effect of swollen hands and feet. Now and then workers fell out of the carriers and broke arms, legs and necks, or they drowned in the slime. The liability was that of the foreman whose negligence was responsible for the lack of reliability of the ride. Moreover, the pits caved in. Rammelsberg near Goslar collapsed, and as a result 400 men lost their lives. In Altenberg in 1546 a part of the mine collapsed and crushed 6 workers. The collapse dragged a house with mother and child into the depths. In order to avoid this, the mining people had to frequently erect or extend arches. Apart from the shafts running out of ore, Agricola adduces 5 reasons why the shafts were no longer worked: 1. The strong flow of water. When lifting out the water cost more than the process of earnings acquired, then the shafts would be given up. 2. Bad weather. When this could not be improved by artifice or expenditure, operations in the shaft or in the entire tunnel were shortened. 3. The appearance of vapours. When it was impossible to eliminate or thin them out, the shaft was put out of operation. 4. The awful and pernicious mining ghost. Each miner fled from it, when it could not be exorcised. 5. The unsafe mine construction from cave-ins. Subsequently the mine collapse would habitually follow. Warlike unrest provides a further reason for giving up mining in an area. Water not only brings difficulties for profitability but also for the health and life of the mining people.

Agricola then shows the utility of the metals in the creation of consumer goods in daily life, in the cultivation of fields, in cattle raising, in the blunderbuss or bombards in war, which can knock down a fortress. He also referred to their utility for usurers, merchants and finally for the mining people themselves.

Agricola was in his character, illuminated in his writings and by the remarks of those who knew him as well, a well-intentioned and generous man. He had a scientific training and wanted to have nothing to do with magic or superstition. In this way he spoke out against the use of divining rods in the choice of prospective locations. He was sceptical in relation to magical wands and incantations, and the application of forked branches from the common hazel he compared to the sale of bad shares. The true mining man, who is a pious and serious man, does not employ ←209 | 210→the magic wand. Agricola himself wants the mining man to become knowledgeable and understanding of the nature of things and that he only observes the natural attributes of entrances to the pits. He was just as sceptical concerning astrology. He went further in his opposition to the alchemists. Out of courtesy he held his tongue in his relationships to the magicians, but the alchemists, even though he had recognized their achievements for chemistry or metallurgy in earlier times, he could only curse. He returned time and again to the disingenuity of the alchemists. One alchemist is worse than the next; they are swindlers, they are hated in the highest degree; they are punished by death. Lazarus Ercker’s opinion in this matter was no different.13

The metals with which Agricola, Biringuccio, Ercker and other authors were concerned in the area of mining and the art of assaying in the 16th century, are mainly: lead, gold, copper, silver and tin, that is the non-ferrous and the precious metals. The other metals and minerals which were treated are iron, pyrites, mercury, saltpeter, sulphur, bismuth, alum, and antimony. In the ore-laden mountains of Saxony, the famous discovery was made in the middle of the 15th century, perhaps the most important of them all in 1445 on the Altenberg, 1460 at Schneeberg and at Annaberg in 1470. Silver ore as well as copper, lead, tin, zinc, bismuth and cobalt ore were discovered there.14

Thanks to the factors of profit and of the costs of production it was worthwhile to excavate deep into the ground for precious and non-ferrous metals when they were mixed in with them. In 1480 pits the size of 100 Lachtern were constructed on Schneeberg in Saxony; in 1482 after the principal tunnel to remove water was dug, an additional depth of 100 Lachtern was achieved. Customarily the pits were operated with six to eight men, a large pit at Marienberg on the other hand was operated by 58 men; 2 pits were worked with 14 and 3 with 12 men. In 1515 in Tirol in the mining district around Schwaz and Kitzbühel 10,000 mine workers worked in 274 pits, averaging 37 workers per pit.15 A large enterprise of mining for precious metals only rarely had reached a work force of 200 men.16

Through the reports of Agricola and Biringuccio we have a concrete idea of Central European, in particular, of Austrian and Bohemian, Middle and Upper German mining in the 16th century and of the refinement of precious as well as non-ferrous metals there. The technique of mining was developed in the Middle Ages and the foundational sciences of geography, metallurgy and chemistry were further developed, sometimes, to be sure, in a form which was not entirely free of superstition. However, in the 15th century the entrepreneurs and the technicians had newly organized the necessary activities for these sciences. The qualified labourers, the entrepreneurs, the technics and the sciences were articulated, and they made possible developments of mining in the Harz region, in the Upper ←210 | 211→Palatinate, in Mansfeld, in Tirol and in Hungary. The waterworks, the separation of metals and das Saigern (the art by which with the help of lead, silver could be extracted from copper ore which contained silver—see page 198+ Vol. 16 Grimm), had been expanded in the second half of the 15th century, offering technical progress in mining of great significance. The rag and chain pump and chain of dippers, which could lift leather sacks with an iron cable 35 or 90 Lachter (or almost 200 meters), were introduced at this time.

The separation of copper from the ore [Das Kupfersaigern] gained currency in the 60s and 70s of the 15th century. Capitalists in Nuremberg, Augsburg and Leipzig founded liquifying smelters [Saigerhütten] and liquifying trade companies [Saigerhandelsgesellschaften] with a great capital outlay. The company Schwarza and Mansfeld established in the year 1472 had an original capital of 6,000 Florins.

The operation of a Saiger smelter [Saigerhütte], which produced 7,000 zentners (=385 US tons app—trans.) of copper, consisted of 8 smelting furnaces, 10 Saiger furnaces, 3 gas stoves and 2 Dörröven [a specially designed oven in which the fuel materials (wood, peat) are heated, dried and kilned to a high degree. › stream full text of “Idioticon der österreichischen Berg und Hütten …”—trans.].17 It united the qualified labourers, the operational articulation of their labours, the technics of the production of copper, the required entrepreneurs and their capital to do it, the supply and demand in the copper trade. The training of qualified labourers in mining and metallurgy took place in the enterprise itself.

In the Falkenstein Tiefbau (see below, p. 327) 500–600 water pumpers worked daily; the number was conditional upon season.

In this section we have viewed for the most part the work of the men in mining, however, the sources also reproduce a picture of the labour of women. Women did not work underground. Women did not appear as hewers, nor did they have anything to with the mined iron and the trough, the symbol of mining. Neither were they smelters or smiths. They performed unskilled labour for less remuneration. Agricola depicted somethings about the labour of women in a pictorial way in relation to the theme of the preparation of ore for smelting.18 The main task of the women was to work at the sorting table [Klaubentafel]; several women were kept busy with the sorting of ore. Further, they worked with the sieve made of iron filament weavings and with woven baskets in the placement of the ore. Women were also involved in washing the ore from the washing pits [Schlämmgraben] with tarps [Planen] and pre-washing gold ore on stoves with traverse strips. Above ground, men and women worked together without inhibitions. The tools of the women were mostly the sieve, the basket and the tarp [Plane]. At sorting the ore, they worked by hand and without tools.

←211 | 212→

The labour in mining was performed in part in the form of wage labour, paid either by the day or by the piece, in part by the shareholders, who themselves had invested their capital in the enterprise. The structuration of labour in 15th and 16th century mining was not fundamentally different from what was the case in the 18th, 19th and 20th century. This was streamlined in opposition to the structuration of labour in the guilds, which means that it was related to the increase in productivity. It showed the readiness of the labourers and the entrepreneurs to introduce new methods of labour and new machinery. It was not a retrospective industry which remained static. The further development of mining leads in the direction of large-scale industry in Central Europe. The shareholders in mining originally had some characteristics in common with the medieval Genossenschaften, guilds and mining guilds [Zünften und Gilden], and to this extent Gierke was right. But the shareholders in the 15th and 16th century exhibited still further productive characteristics and types of treatment, which were characterized by industrialists in the same class relations, class oppositions and class struggles as in the period of high capitalism. The shareholders are in part owners of share certificates, who later founded capitalist joint-stock companies, in part they are members of the working class, which established the trade unions of today. Gierke’s conception offers less of an explanation than that of Strieder, Johannsen and others, who investigated the developments in the area of the entrepreneurs and of class struggle in mining.19

5.3 Labour and Processing in Mining

Mining in the Middle Ages was bound up with sovereignty over the mountain, which was expressed through wording concerning territorial sovereignty; the wording was related to that “which lies and stands” “in plano et in monte”, which means: related to the sovereignty over soil and ridge. Through such legal and folk formulas, the appropriation and exploitation of mountains, valleys and patches of land were regulated. It was formulaically expressed as follows: “min acker, min matte, holz und velt, getwing und ban und grund und grete, und alles min got.”20 [“My farmland, my meadow, wood and field, mastered and corrupted and ground and level, and all of that belongs to me.” This quote in Middle High German may not be rendered accurately in contemporary English. See Grimm, Wörterbuch and Matthias Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsches Lexikon, both are online—trans.] The separation between the ownership of land and of the wood, the ownership of mines and water rights followed into modern times. The Genossenschaften and companies, which had managed collieries and mining, made a valid agreement with the authorities regarding the privileges of taking over the ore pits. The wood share [Holzkux]21—or the free share [Freikux] was granted to the owner of the forest. ←212 | 213→He became a participant in the enterprise, without being burdened with additional penalties. The landlord provided the wood for the pits, not the wood for the smelters; he had no rights in relation to the granting of mining rights themselves. In the Middle Ages the granting of mining rights still rested with the landlords. The territorial princes for the most part then assumed the granting of these rights in the modern period, and these rights in mining were granted to the mining entrepreneurs through the representatives of the territorial authorities. The transition to sovereignty of the modern national state is bound up with the new customs in the granting of mining rights. The new political practices in this area are related to the new granting usages. Family operations which in the Middle Ages had often or customarily constituted the communal form in mining, were driven back and replaced, little by little, by the capitalist forms of organization.

We will now introduce some data and offer some remarks concerning the organization of mining operations and the organization, structuration and division of labour in this area. The 15th and 16th century was a period of greater transformations in the setting up and composition of the operations in the credit and banking system, in trade and the process of production in Central Europe. To the extent that the arrangements of business operations increased in this period, so too did the structuration of labour increase. The structuration of the enterprises was indicated by the size of an operation and in the rise of its sales, in relation to the expansion, extent and its internal organization. Labour had an inner connection with this development, because the structuration of the enterprise and that of the labour process were dependent on one another. Their further development was closely bound up with one another.

The fusion of pits in Upper Germany developed in the 15th century. (The fusions of pits in the Middle Ages were, on the contrary, emergency associations compelled by operational-technical concerns.) Such fusions occurred particularly in the production camps of the ore-laden mountains; they were introduced in the 15th and 16th century in the interest of the shareholders, their profit and on account of the accumulation of capital. In this sense they were expanded in the capitalist mode and unfolded according to capitalist rules. Production was separated from trade; the mining operations were production and not distribution corporations. The shareholders were in part co-workers in the system of mining and at the same time, its owners. The fusion of pits according to the new, not to the medieval kind, is attested in 1462.22

The work of mining in Freiberg was accomplished with hammer and pick from the 14th to the 19th century. In the Middle Ages in this mining district the hand winch was the main tunnel driving machine. In the 15th century the horse capstan [Pferdegöpel] was introduced and in the following century the reversible water wheel or Wassergöpel. A tunnel depth of up to 250 meters could be reached ←213 | 214→with the horse capstan, with the reversible water wheel one could get to a depth of 550 meters. The great discovery of silver in the Erzgebirge, the founding of the mining towns of Schneeberg, Annaberg, Marienberg, Joachimsthal and the exploitation of the coal field near Rammelsberg occurred in the middle of the 15th century. The pits around Freiberg were taken into operation in the 15th and 16th century. Unrest and strikes by the miners in Freiberg had begun in the middle of the 15th century.23

Figures like Fugger, among others, played a double role in the leadership in production and distribution, and, in this way, they formed a model for the further development of the capitalist system and the spirit which belongs to it. The mergers were related to non-ferrous and precious metal mining, not to iron mining; the main interest of the Fugger concern was concentrated in the area of copper and silver. The aggregation, accumulation and concentration of profit and of capital were actualized in the iron industry only in the following epoch. The large capitalists had unified the production and distribution of non-ferrous and precious metals in their hands. Nonetheless, the internal organization of the centres of production were kept separate from the commercial operations, which were also led by the Fuggers, the Welsers, among others. The credit institutes were distanced from both the centres of production and the commercial operations and driven by particular undertakings. In the Middle Ages and in the guilds of modern times the enterprises such as, for example, the weavers’ guild, were simultaneously points of production and of commerce; there were some exceptions among them, mentioned above, enterprises which were temporarily repressed in the 16th century.

Table 14: Number and Types of Mining Workers in the 16th Century

Number of Workers

Type of Worker


Day labourers: reel pullers mountain climber, pit cleaners, lumberjacks




Carpenters in the construction of water wheels and trenches


Carpenters concerning wells






Saltmaker, Brineman


Mining foreman




Wood master


Master builder


Total workforce

←214 | 215→

The founding of large enterprises in the non-ferrous and precious metal mines came early in the modern period through relatively large capital investments as well as the possibilities for turnover and profit. The establishment of large enterprises in the non-ferrous and precious metal mines also occurred in the other metal branches. In 1567 in Auleben (Upper Germany) a large saline concern reached the numbers reported in Table 14 (see above).

This investment was not itself under private management, but rather in the hands of the territorial sovereign. In precious metal mining only rarely was there a complement greater than 200 labourers. The greatest number for the complement in mining was found in the extraction of iron.

Agricola mentioned the main categories of mining people. We are able to add to it something about the wages in an impressionistic way, because a total overview is not available. Table 15 shows that in 1527 in regular service the weekly wage of mining people in Schemnitz and Hoderitzsch amounted to:

Table 15: Weekly Wages (in Pennies) of Mining People in Schemnitz and Hoderitzsch in 1527

Type of Worker

Wage Earned (in Pfg.—pennies)





Mill workers


Smelter workers

100 (extra wage could be 124–150)

Oberreiter (see below)


Mine supervisors

90 or 100

Wagoners helper


Miner’s boys

24, 28, 30, or 32

In the Klingspute 7 hewers were paid a 100 Pfg weekly wage each, 5 with 70 Pfg each in regular service; a trolley pusher received 40 Pfg.24

A systematic presentation of the professions, offices and wages are missing, for the data were not provided for all mines [Zechen]. The designation of the professions varied from one place to another. The difference between a wage of the hewer, smelter, carter, of the smelter mill worker [Mühlschaffer], smelters [Hüttenschaffer], as well as of the persons ordered by the Bishop to work in the mines [Oberreiter] and of the supervisor Steiger or Hutmann [supervisors] on the one hand and the remuneration of the mining apprentices on the other, is very great. Experienced mining people earned three or four times as much weekly as the mining apprentices or the trolley pushers. The wages were trebly categorized: the smallest ←215 | 216→remuneration amounted to 24–40 Pfg, the middle category 62–70 Pfg, the highest level 100 Pfg per week and more.

It is possible that the smelters, carters, Mühlschaffer, Hüttenschaffer and Oberreiter, that is the qualified labourers, received a higher remuneration than the Steiger.

We add to these occupations those related to the mining of precious metals. They include: the distiller of silver [Silberbrenner] (Purgator argenti), the master coiner (Magister monetarium), the coiner (Monetrarius).25 Agricola mostly treats the situation of the non-ferrous and precious metal districts.26

Agricola had little to say about the deposits of iron or hard coal, which might pique the interest of the 20th century reader. On the other hand, Agricola accurately appreciated the significance of those metals in relation to copper, silver, gold, lead and tin in economic life. He emphasized the smelting of iron in the 9th book of De Re Metallica, not however, the labour of mining, because this labour had not played a large role in Joachimsthal in his time. The system of smelting was of central significance for the non-ferrous and precious metal industry. The iron industry found itself in transition from the immediate treatment of the ore in the production of industrial iron and steel, to the mediate treatment of the same in the production process. We have seen that the in-between move in the production of steel constitutes the creation of raw iron; this had been instituted in Agricola’s time. The oven in his time was also in a phase of development from the bloomery hearth to the blast furnace, and the bloomery hearth [Rennen] was developed for refining. Some of Agricola’s remarks in this context are to be explained through the fact that the transition was not completed in the 16th century. The duration of the smelting process with charcoal is different than with hard coal, for the temperatures are different. Thus, Agricola reports, that the bloomery master [Rennmeister] first throws the charcoal into the crucible and on top of it sprinkles the ore mixed with lime. Then a layer of coal follows, which is sprinkled with new ore, and in this way the bloomery master repeats the process, until a weakly increasing mound is formed. This gradually melts together after the coals are lit and a powerful fire is fanned by the wind from the bellows. The work of smelting can be finished in eight hours, but on occasion it took ten or twelve hours. The workers, including Agricola himself, guarded the labour process. They knew, that the ore and the wood were of varying quality. Agricola remarked on this that iron ore of specific quality was smelted in one furnace.

Agricola had very precisely observed how labour time in the mines was regulated.27 The 24 hours of day and night, so he reported, are divided into three shifts; each shift of 7-hour duration. The remaining three hours between the shifts are the in-between hours, when the miners came into the pits or departed from them. ←216 | 217→The first shift, called the early shift, begins at 4 o’clock in the morning and lasts until 11 a.m.; the second begins at noon and is called the mid-day shift which ends at 7 p.m.; these two are the day shifts. The third is the night shift; it begins at 8 p.m. and ends at 3 a.m. The night shift is authorized by the officials only when it is necessary. Grounds for such an authorization include the bailing of water from the shafts and the opening up of a passageway. Then the labourers remain the whole night through, working by the light of their pit lamps. In order not to fall asleep they seek to lighten the difficult and long labour through song which sounds refined and pleasant. In some regions the miners were forbidden to ride out two consecutive shifts; elsewhere it was permitted, because it was not possible to live from the wages of only one shift, especially when rising prices pressed heavily on the workers. When the labourers go on a shift and when they depart is signaled by the ringing of a large bell, which Italian commentators called compana. When the shift master hears it, he bangs on the woodwork of the shaft and in this way gives the miners the sign to depart.28

The description of the shift work in the pits enlightens not only the organization of labour, but the consciousness of time which predominated in the 16th century as well. This stands in close connection with the consciousness of time as it appears in the process of smelting, and in connection with the development and prevalence of the mechanical clock tower, wall clock, cathedral clock and pocket watch, which were mentioned above; Luther had discussed the reckoning of labour time. The clock mechanism was perfected in the 14th and 15th century; its use in measuring time in the labour process was introduced in the 16th century, according to reports. Time in its various treatments formed the inner connection of procedures, and it generates the consciousness of both time and procedure. In mining, this process is related to the work of the hewers, the strikers [Anschläger], transport and delivery personnel, heavy weight carriers [Schlepper], ore hewer [Erzpocher] and smelter, and to that of the shift—and mine master. Finally, Agricola links the labour process to the hiring and firing of the workers and to the wage, for the workers, whether by the week or by the piece, were all wage labourers.

What is more, we have seen that Petrarch, Dürer and other genial men were conscious of their period as a world epoch. They expressed themselves with regard to time in history in relation to antiquity and apprehended the arrangements and practices of antiquity literally from the reports of Plinius, among others. Agricola had ascertained the differences and commonalities between the antique and modern practice of mining. Yet his consciousness of history was different from that of Dürer. The latter had laid out a clear practical and theoretical classification of historical periods in their chronological succession. The main historical division and the formal categories of the historical periods, as we consider them today, have ←217 | 218→been determined together with our formal historical consciousness fundamentally by Dürer and two or three others of his contemporaries. Dürer subdivided and analytically treated the immediate and the mediate past. Agricola, on the contrary, had grappled with his contemporary processes of labour in mining. He hardly treated the Middle Ages as a piece of the past. Without having described it in so many words, the Middle Ages for Dürer was present as a historical period. The works and days29 of antiquity were on the contrary presented and treated in part as embellishment, as was the fashion in the period of the Italian Rinascimento. In part, however, it was treated fantastically, and in part, practically, and relevant to his time.

Agricola wrote in a practical way about the structuration of the labour process, how the master miner apportioned the labour on weekdays and how the workers in the pits dealt with it. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the master miner rode out to the pits and specified what was to be done or had a look at the boundaries of the mines which were contested. On Wednesday he met together with the jurors and on Saturday with the mining scribe [Bergschreiber]. The jurors were decem viri, members of a ten-man council, with a good reputation who are aware of and observe the pits, the veins of ore and the wages. These jurors visit all pits in a period of 14 days at least once and are advisers to the master miner. The mining scribe records details regarding the pits, the vein of ore, the condition and the location of the same. The scribe also makes entries regarding the owners. When someone searches for the right to the pit, he inscribes the name, the day and hour of the application. The counter-writer [Gegenschreiber] records the names of the shareholders of each pit, further of the sellers and buyers of the shares, and reports on it four times a year. Aside from the owners of the free shares, the shareowners are required to pay the additional amount [Zubuße]. If the shareholders don’t pay within the month, they are struck from the list of shareholders. The mine administrator pays the wages for the Steiger and the labourers from the additional amount and buys the goods necessary for the mining. He buys as cheaply as he can at the time: iron tools, nails, as well as wood, boards, containers, transportation ropes [Förderseile] and tallow [Unschlitt].30 The financial officer of the region [Zehntner] gives the mine administrator enough money per week to pay the wages for the hewers and to get hold of the necessary objects for the operation of the pits. We have to a large extent reported what Agricola had to say about time in general and about labour time in particular, and through that which was just presented the reader can obtain an impression about the procedures and consciousness of time in the labour process during the 16th century.

For the appraisal of the labour process in mining, the images in De Re Metallica are no less significant than the text itself. Agricola appears to have worked closely ←218 | 219→together with the illustrators. In the 9th book the tin shaft furnace [Zinnschachtofen] and the pouring of the tin rolled into bales [Ballenzinn] were presented. Four smelter workers are shown one of whom was employed as tin smith or pewterer, the second with an iron hook, the third had a broom with which he stirred a trough, the fourth got the rolled tin into a basket on his head. Two additional men were portrayed of whom one wrote notes in a book, the other, his assistant; ostensibly this scene is current and represents the way Agricola himself worked.31 This image provides us with an idea of the collaborative work in an enterprise—13 tools are drawn in and labelled with letters. In the same book 46 parts of a bellows are laid out, together with a man who is busy with its assembly. This image describes the tool and its parts, how it is created, and how large it is in relation to the human body. The following drawing renders the frame of the bellows as well as human figures and that of a dog. On the next picture a bellows is portrayed set into operation; an additional human figure is shown. From these images we get the impression of how people worked, to what purpose, and the size of the things with which they worked. In this way one obtained immediate entrance into the world of the miners. Deficiencies in the first edition of Agricola’s work were corrected in the second edition. Three images are rich in fantasy: the one portrays the washing of gold by the Argonauts on the mystical Vlies, the second depicts the extraction of soda at the Nile, the third shows the air ventilation [Wetterversorgung] by waving a large cloth, this according to Plinius, Historia Naturalis. The other 289 images are palpable, objective and precise representations of the processes of labour and technics in the mining and smelting of his time. The main focus of our research concerning Agricola until now has been the technical assessment of his work. We are pointing to the wealth of material concerning labour which the work contains.

We do not begin with technics or technology. The tool and the manner in which it was employed, are the result of previous labour. The tool is a visible, palpable product of an abstract and concrete human process. If emphasis is given to the technical side of the creation process, the result of the process is achieved. The technic is also a means for other processes, but not alone, not in and for itself, only in connection with human activity, labour, exertion and agitation with the human hand and the human head. The tool, abstracted from labour, does nothing, it is only rusted by oxygen or moved by the wind. Labour can do nothing without tools, instruments of labour, means of production and distribution. However, labour has its internal structure and planning. It has the relation to the past and present labours of others. Technique in the employment of the tool is a result of labour in the process of production and learning.

Agricola and Biringuccio recognized the works of antiquity, but that does not mean that they had mastered the historical events as a process. Neither saw a ←219 | 220→process, but rather only a juxtaposition of two sides—antiquity there, the present here. The ancients, to follow Biringuccio, were invested at the top, where the ore is unearthed, and followed this through the shafts into the depths, wherever it was found. Agricola asserted the same: the ancient miners dug a shaft from the ground level to the bottom of the shaft and thereafter drove a tunnel forward. Neither author evaluated medieval usages; these they left out, and without further ado depicted the practices of the 16th century. Biringuccio says that the miners in his day treated the matter better. For reasons of comfort and security in relation to the entrances and exits to overcome the danger of cave-ins and the difficulty in draining water, and in order to lighten the work of extracting ore and the waste rock [taube Steine], miners in modern times positioned themselves at the foot of the mountain, and not as previously, at its summit or behind it. Since Agricola and Biringuccio left the Middle Ages out of their works, later researchers tried to fill this void.32

In the 12th, 13th, and 14th century in Trient, in the Harz, in Saxony, Silesia, Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary mining was in general still relatively superficially operated, and miners pursued strips of the veins of ore less deeply into the shafts. The extraction of the ore from pits of this kind required neither an expanded structuration of labour, nor higher and more progressive technical qualification. In the Black Forest down to the 14th century no compulsory mine labour [Fronberg] greater than seven fathoms [Klafter] square was in operation. In the 15th and 16th century the structuration of labour in mining had been intensively and extensively developed. The difficulties of water and problems with weather were being mastered. In 1480 the Schneeberg in Saxony was worked to a depth of 100 fathoms [Klafter], and in 1482 was worked a further 100 fathoms [Klafter] deeper, after the water drainage tunnel was completed (one fathom [Klafter] corresponds to the size of a man’s body). Some pits even reached a depth of 270 meters. In 1500 the St. George Pit, about which we have already spoken, was about 300 meters deep. The extraction of silver ore from the Schneeberg had already reached a stage of development in the seventies of the 15th century, that appeared to set the standard for the future.33

Water was extracted from the pits with the rag and chain pump. The windlass men [Häspeler] used an iron chain outfitted with leather bags in their labour. The art of the bellows [Bulgenkunst] which constituted a further development here, was a contrivance for lifting out water by employing leather sacks made of large skins as a conveying vessel [Fördergefäß]. Through the rag and chain pumps water could be retrieved from depths up to 35 Lachtern, through the arts of raising water [Bulgenkunst] from up to 90 and even to 100 Lachtern (more than 200 meters). In Bohemian tin mining during the period from 1500 to 1550 the shafts were ←220 | 221→driven to a depth of 200 meters. The rag and chain pump was developed in the late Middle Ages. It was developed further still in the 16th century and outfitted with a chain basket, from which the leather pipes hung down. The iron chain allowed the leather pipes to fall into the pit, in order to lift water from the depths. Two workers were required to empty the leather pipes.34 The weather machines [Wettermaschinen] were operated with equally extensive and large and complicated measures.

In Agricola’s time the name machinery was given those installations, like for example, pumps, water wheels, devices related to weather, pyrotechnics, pumping stations, and machines to extract ore and water. Each machine by means of which a load is lifted from a depth, is of such an art, as the machine to drive miners into the shaft or to exit from the shaft is a driving skill. The winch is also an artifice for mines and water is extracted by horses.35 In Book 6 of De Re Metallica the simple and complicated tools, the devices and machines in mining were depicted. In this book Agricola begins with the simple mining iron or pick iron [Bergeisen], then the mining pick with a handle, exhibiting the size of the tool and depicts it. The miner’s wedge is mostly 3 hands and 2 fingers long and 6 fingers wide; on top it is one hand and 6 fingers wide and extends gradually to form an edge. Simple tools are those which the hewers use in the tunnels to extract the ore and rocks; they are made of iron and outfitted with a wooden handle. They are not called crafts [Künste] but rather tools. Complicated tools were the weather machines [Wettermaschinen], the mill wheels, the water wheels, the furnaces, the bellows, the windlass or winch-driven hauling engine, the rag and chain and other pumps. In these crafts [Künste] and machines metal played a subordinate role; wood for the wheels, the teeth of the applied arts, the pipes, the scaffolding, the drums, the waves, the gears, the levers were fabricated of wood. The chains of the hauling engines, of the taps of the craftsmanship of can making [Kannenkunst] or of the bucket conveyers and nails were made of iron. The barrel was wooden, the baskets in mining were made of wood or leather as were the parts of the bellows [Bläsebelge]; the containers used in smelting and in assaying were made of ceramic or glass. The simple wedge was not a practical art [Kunst], but it was certainly a tool. The wooden water wheel was a practical art [Kunst] or a complicated tool. A tool, whose main part was made of iron, was not an artifice [Kunst]. The machine in this context was first employed in the 17th century. The stoves and ovens were made of wood, bricks or tiles.36 Air was delivered to the depths of the mine through bellows, water wheels, pumps and windmills. The bellows and wheels were driven by horse or with human labour power.37

The developments of technics in the 15th and 16th century, were related to other areas of mining as well as to smelting, to the printing industry and to the ←221 | 222→seafaring arts. The calculation of costs and of the profitability of the new arts and mechanisms, exercised diverse effects on developments in mining. The complicated mechanical installations for the water and weather systems of the locations of the ore sites were costly, and only in the cases of adequate profit was it worthwhile introducing such innovations. The silver mines in Tirol (and in a few other camp sites) were sufficiently profitable, to justify the costs of the new technical installation. In 1515 the mining district of Falkenstein in Tirol inaugurated a shaft which finally reached a depth of 240 meters. The power of 600 labourers was necessary to remove the water from the shafts. In 1538, 240 labourers who worked 8 large handpumps in three shifts, were employed in the removal of water. In 1554, a water apparatus was installed which lifted out the water from a depth of 218 meters. Two men worked on it. The qualification of the miners who created the new water installation, and of the labourers working with the water apparatus, who operated the machine, was higher than those who pumped out the water at the beginning of the century. The organization, structuration and division of labour continued apace. The services rendered by more than the 600 unskilled labourers, were replaced by two men. The main point of our investigation concerns the connection between the work force, the labour time and technics. Here we refer to the time necessary for the workers to learn how to master the new crafts [Künste], further with the labour time for the construction of new machines and the labour time necessary to operate the water installations, to keep them running, to carry out necessary repairs and to install new parts. Only after the corresponding prerequisites were created, could the 600 men be replaced by two.38 Yet, they failed to reach the original depth of 240 meters. The excavation of the ore in the deeper shafts and the profit from the metal was relinquished, in order to concentrate on the more intensive exploitation of the higher shafts. The costs were less, the productivity per hour of labour was higher in the later periods than in the earlier ones. The process of production was in this way rationalized and the profitability of the enterprise was heightened.

The increased qualification of the labourer had been developed in close connection with the progressive structuration and division of labour. To this is added the new means of production, like the chain of dippers, the practical arts in relation to weather and the reversible water-driven water wheels for the extraction of ore, and so on. We reckon to this the time for the training of the labourers as well. This necessary social task was already mentioned by Rülein von Calw; Agricola agrees with this.39 Ore and metal were sold and treated as commodities. In this connection, the costs of the operation, the labour costs, the expenditures for means of production and of possible profit or loss were calculated. Profit was calculated along with the market prices for silver, lead, tin, iron and other metals, ←222 | 223→as well as the costs of transportation and storage, the payment of taxes, interest and other charges. It can be said that the mining of Upper Germany in the 15th and 16th century was practiced according to the capitalist mode. The enterprises had expanded in this period—they sought after increased turnover and profit—workers were better qualified and received higher wages, technics were developed according to prospects of the possibility of profit. The miners as wage labourers had tried to increase their wages and to improve their working conditions. These social and economic relations between the entrepreneurs and the labourers were in the immediately preceding centuries of the late Middle Ages (in the 15th and 16th century in Tirol, in Upper Germany, in the Harz, and so on) at times sporadically, at times systematically developed and set forth in the following centuries.

Technics were considered as the driving force in this matter, but such a consideration would be only a simplification of the historical process. Technics, the applied arts [die Künste] and sciences are in one sense parts of the labour process. Technics and the practical arts are in a second sense parts of the means of labour in general and of the means of production, distribution and means of advancement in particular. Technics as part of the labour process is developed or retarded according to the social and economic relations, prospects, interests and oppositions. In the cloth producing industry some inventions and processes of production were suggested in the 15th and 16th century, but then repressed, prevented or discontinued. The textile branch in the period of early capitalism in Central Europe showed itself as a realm which appeared to be dominated by medieval usages. The guilds [Zünfte] in the production of cloth were not oriented to profit in the capitalist sense, but rather to production to cover social wants and to maintain the social position of the guilds. Family life in the given form was to be continued and technical innovations were only then employed when they did not threaten existing social conditions.

The textile industry of Central Europe from the 15th to the 17th century can only be thought of as capitalist in a transitional and preparatory sense. A similar consideration concerns agriculture in this historical epoch. It is not relevant for the printing industry, for mining and smelting, for commerce, for the system of banking and credit and for shipbuilding. For these industries and branch industries were already conducted capitalistically in a systematic sense during the 15th and 16th century. We have observed this process in mining. Others have described it in other branches regarding the residual and exploitative side as well as the positive, progressive and productive side.

Technics can be continued with speed, but only under certain conditions. The question remains namely whether the company, the workers, the entrepreneurs and authorities are prepared to develop, to take on and to employ the technics. In ←223 | 224→Central Europe during the early period of modern bourgeois society few showed themselves ready to assume the innovations in the production of cloth.

F. M. Feldhaus, who researched much in the history of technics and who had shown his social conscience in the critique of the famous Fugger alms and donations, treated technics in another sense, which was limited to the practices of the mechanical arts and handicraft. He said “The miners formed a closed estate, which kept its knowledge secret and only passed it on from mouth to mouth in a way similar to that of the mason’s guild [Bauhütten]. The first published booklet only appeared in the year 1505. The small images in the several editions of this well-known piece of writing didn’t bring out much in terms of technology.”40 1505 is dated too late. The matter of the keeping secret of knowledge in mining, in smelting and in the art of assaying had been changed in the time between Ulrich Rülein von Calw (1465–1523) to Agricola (1494–1555), Vannoccio Biringuccio (1480–1537), Lazarus Ercker (1530–1594), Ciriacus Schreittmann (n.d.), Georg Engelbert Löhneyss (1552–1622), Modestin Fachs (n.d.), Antonio Neri (1576–1614), Merritt (n.d.) and Kunkel (n.d.).

Technics includes not only the use of hammer and pick, of the handpump of the chain of dippers and of the hauling engine in mining. It is used concretely in education, in trade, by merchants, in bookkeeping, in the credit system, in architecture, in projects and dealings with formulas and with planning in the process of labour. Technics in this sense is practical and theoretical, concrete and abstract.

The material and visible side of technics concentrates attention on the tool that can be handled and seen. The other processes of technics can be easily overlooked. Labour as a concept is left out of this technical conception of history—in part, because till now no comprehensive theoretical mode of consideration has been worked out related to labour; in part, because some aspects of labour are not visible like its structuration and division. Children are able to point to strange and palpable appearances and to observe them. Yet the theorists of the past and present emphasized other matters which apparently are not as evident. The sort of treatment of the historical process is related to the colourful, the conspicuous, palpable human creation as well as to boring theory. Actually, we begin with the great men, with their great discoveries and inventions, thus with politics, war or new formations in religion. Yet in the broader scientific development other processes emerge which determine the activities of men and their undertakings, actions and inventions. Our main question remains: how the process of labour was established, transformed, structured, combined and divided? In this the entrepreneurs and the workers play their roles.

Technics and the transformation of technics constitute a part of the labour process and its transformation. We have earlier steered the reader’s attention to the class of entrepreneurs, its commercial habits and its spirit according to the reports ←224 | 225→by Schumpeter, Sombart and Strieder, Weber and Troeltsch. They discovered the driving force of the transition to capitalism in the activities and in the spirit of the class of entrepreneurs, just as Feldhaus had discovered this driving force in the history of technics. The class of entrepreneurs is a part of society, technics a part of the labour process. Society in its various parts is changed, the labour process stands in reciprocal interaction with social transformations. The class of entrepreneurs and technics are parts of an extensive and deep-reaching process of economic and social transformation, which determined the transition to modernity.

5.4 The Iron Industry in Central Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries

It is well-known that the hard coal and iron industry forms the foundation of high capitalist production in the 19th and 20th century. In the beginnings of the capitalist age, the production of hard coal was limited, the iron industry, on the other hand, was important. In this relation the role of Central Europe in production and trade was fundamental. The following table shows the production of iron in various parts of Europe in the 16th century:

Table 16: Amounts of Iron in Europe in the 16th Century (in Tons). O. Johannsen for 1500, F. Braudel and J. V. Nef for later estimates. These numbers are rough and only relatively admissible.


          Around 1500

              Around 1525





6,000 (1536–1539)









8,000 to 9,000 (1569)

Nassau Provinces


Other Countries of Europe


Other Districts of Germany


Ostalpenländer (Steiermark)


8,000 to 9,000



Upper Palatinate (Oberpfalz)


Iron mining arose early in the Middle Ages in the Black Forest, in Steiermark, in Kärnten, Haardt and in the Odenwald, in the Upper Palatinate and in the Erzgebirge.

←225 | 226→

Around 1500 Germany stood first in the production of iron in all of Europe and kept this position over the course of the following quarter or third century. The production of iron in the Central European countries increased; it also increased in Germany. The numbers are not available for all of Central Europe, but German iron production in the period from 1500 to 1525 increased from 18,000 to 30,000 tons (167%). In England, the countries of the Alps and in France, the production of iron at this time remained more or less static; in Liège, on the contrary, it quadrupled. Germany together with Styria produced 45% or 50% of the entire quantity of iron in all of Europe. Yet, in the second half of the 16th century, England had taken over the leading position in the production of iron in Europe and maintained it during the subsequent industrial revolution till the 19th century.

Iron, which was produced in the 15th and 16th century, was of different kinds. Crude iron, soft iron [Deucheleisen (Deicheleisen) see the entry for Deucheleisen (Metallurgie) at–trans.], cast iron, wrought iron, pig iron, horseshoe, steel iron, sheet iron, iron wire were still called various names according to the raw product, the user or function. The quality of the iron was determined by its provenance, that is by the natural characteristics of the iron ore and the refinement of the metal. Osemund-iron came out of Sweden through the Hansa cities, which had played an important role in the fabrication of wire, thus in the production of nails, staples and needles. The production of wrought iron in various parts of Europe had roughly the same relations and the same distribution as iron production as a whole.

Table 17: Europe: Wrought Iron Production in 1500. Rudolf Sprandel, Das Eisengewerbe im Mittelalter, Stuttgart 1968.







Erzberg (Inner Austria)









Hüttenberg (Inner Austria)



Iberian Peninsula (incl. Biskaya)



Italy (Elba, Tuscany, Upper Italy)



Loraine, Wallonia, Eifel









Upper Palatinate






←226 | 227→

In 1500 Central Europe had produced more wrought iron than the rest of Europe, as Table 17 shows. The Upper Palatinate, Erzgebirge, Rhein-Elbe region, Erzberg and Hüttenberg together covered 66% of European wrought iron production.

The extraction of iron in the 13th and 14th century in Central Europe was in part operated agriculturally, in part by guilds, in part capitalistically and in part by monks in monasteries. The capitalist features had increased in the 15th century, but the organization of iron production was still carried out by various systems. Previously, the owner of the smelter was the master operator, but in the later period he kept himself away from the operation. In Siegerland the ore and cooperatively managed wood lots belonged to the smelters in the early period, in the 15th century the smelters and hammer mills separated from one another. The development of specialization in the production of iron goods in Upper Germany occurred at the same time and in the same way. In the Middle Ages there had been relatively little specialization in the refinement of metal. The most important iron towns in Upper Germany and Austria were Amberg, Steyr and Wetzlar. In the 15th and the 16th century, metal refinement including the iron industry in Nuremberg, Regensburg and Augsburg strongly increased, especially in connection with the increasing extraction of iron in the Upper Palatinate.41

Quantitative processes in the production of iron were closely tied to the qualitative. Specialization in the production of iron commodities belong to the qualitative processes. Styr became a centre for the production of steel, the Upper Palatinate for the production of sheet metal and Osemund in Sweden for the fabrication of iron wire. The historical development can be followed in the iron works of Inner Austria. In the 13th century, iron in the Styrian Erzberg was produced in part in monasteries. In the course of the 13th century the smelting furnaces of the iron works increased two and a half fold, and the products had accordingly increased two and a half fold. In the 14th and 15th century the number of hammer mills was increased independently of the monasteries as did the number of their products. The hammer works were expanded in connection with an increase in the production of iron ore in the 15th century from Erzberg to Waidhofen, Semmering and Murau, thereupon from Kärnten and Krain, Salzburg and Bamberg to the Save. The export of iron commodities was operated together with the increasing import of raw iron and iron ore, for the Styrian ore proved to contain less iron than the ore from the island of Elba. Hapsburg iron production was in this respect becoming more active and had taken up closer relations with the Mediterranean region.

The iron trade, the importing of ore and the exporting of products, had steadily increased in this development. Through it the merchants became wealthier; credit and commercial capital, as well as capital in the process of production ←227 | 228→could be increased through increasing profit. This period in history was commonly called that of commercial capital. But such a characterization is a simplification of the economic process. The great enterprisers of this epoch were the merchants and bankers, but the hammer mills [Hämmerwesen] and metallurgy and smelting (Hüttenwesen) and the metal industry in general and the production of iron in particular had strongly increased.

The iron industry was operated in modern times less by monastic monks and more by the laity. Blow moulding plants [Blaswerke] were separated from the hammer mills [Hammerwerke]. The size of hammers greatly increased. In the 15th and 16th century, Nuremberg had achieved an increasing significance for the production of gold, silver and copper coins and for the production of iron commodities as well. The number of hammers at Pegnitz increased within the town itself and outside; the industrial hinterland expanded to 50 kilometres beyond the city gates. A close tie between the Nuremberg iron enterprises and the rise of sheet metal production in the Upper Palatinate was apparent.

The expansion of the factories did not lead to an increased number of workers, but led, nevertheless, to the broadening and intensification of production, and to the rationalization of the manufacturing process. Rationalization succeeded through the changes in the organization of labour and in technics through the increasing size of the smelting furnaces, the import of new products and the development of the means of labour. The import of iron from Elba constituted an advance in this relationship, and the assumption of the leading role by the laity in the production of iron was a further step of this kind.

The monks were not wage labourers like the lumberjacks, colliers, miners, founders and smiths in the 15th century. The wages for these professions were partly paid in money, in part in kind. From 1387 onwards, the smiths in the Upper Palatinate received permission for a small garden [Liebung] for cabbage und beets from the pertinence [Pertinenz] of the iron smelters. The permission was granted beside a money wage.42

Mining freedom emerged in Braunschweig, Hanover, Brandenburg, Bohemia, Bavaria, Franken, Saxony, Thuringia and Austria. Freedom to prospect freely on foreign soil and to look for iron was generally recognized in Central Europe.43 In the 15th century, the privilege of prospecting, of cultivating the forest, and of a writ of escort was widespread in Upper Germany. In 1464, a boom occurred in the Upper Palatinate iron industry, which was closed down after the great catastrophe of 1620. This development can be read off the following Table 18:

←228 | 229→

Table 18: Number of Seasonal Workers in Mining (Average). H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen, 1971.









The numbers of seasonal workers are related to the major mines in the historical development of the Sulzbach district. In the third period, for example, in 1595/96, in a mine of this kind of 11 shaft installations, 6 had 57, and 5 had 41 hours per weekly labour time. In the two years mentioned, the mine had excavated 121,000 tons of ore.

In the 15th and 16th century, the number of operations had increased, while the extent of the enterprises had grown. The circulation of money had proliferated, and the demand and supply of metal products increased with the increasing economic activities in Central Europe. These developments took place in different ways. While in Augsburg and Nuremberg the undertakings lay increasingly in the hands of the large enterprises like Fugger and Thurzo, the hammer mills [Hämmer] and smelters in Salzburg and in Siegerland were rather operated cooperatively [genossenschaftlich]. Each participant in these cooperatives had excavated his own ore from the earth and dulled it [verblies es] with his own coal; each master had a small number of miners, smiths and journeymen in his operation.44

As we have seen, the transition away from the organization of labour based on the single manual labourer in the putting-out system—the cottage industry—became ever-increasingly widespread.

In the Schwabach needle industry, the expansion of the turnover of products brought with it the transition to the cottage industry. In the Middle Ages, the craftsman had produced sewing needles and stick pins locally and sold them locally. At the beginning of the modern era, the Verleger [domestic entrepreneur] arose, who gave over the iron wire to the labourers and took over the semi-finished iron commodity. He paid the cottage workers for their product and made it ready for the market. The one who finished the product had to deal with the final process of hardening, of filling up and bleeding, of polishing and sorting the needles and thereafter with the sale of the commodity. They themselves were manual labourers and had organized the labour process and assumed the task of finishing the product. It was forbidden for non-manual workers to undertake a putting-out business. In the ensuing development of the system, the masters had become simple cottagers, the Verleger, pure entrepreneurs. Those who received the barbed wire refined ←229 | 230→it further for a wage. In the fabrication of knives in Solingen those who finished the product were transformed into Verleger. In the 16th century, different kinds of knives proliferated, and their production became more complicated. Previously, the same manual labourer was simultaneously a smith, Reider [one who brings together knives and blades] and finisher [Fertigmacher]. Only the sharpening of the knife was done by a wage labourer. In later epochs, the Verleger, who himself was a finisher, bought the iron which the knife smith, the hook and eye maker and the ribbon weaver worked on for a wage in his putting-out institute. Credit, wages and the prices of commodities were regulated by the Verleger according to market relations; the independent handicraft masters at that time from then on were re-formed into a part of the working class.45

The iron wire [Drahteisen] was used to finish nails and needles. The nails were of two kinds, black nails and white nails, and the smiths were accordingly called black and white smiths. The white nails were produced from iron mixed with tin. The wire arose from the twisting or spinning of the iron threads, the threads made of the forged metal. The wire was used to produce musical instruments, like the lyre, as well as for nails, needles and ringed armour. The tin-plated rolled wire was marinated with warmed-up acid, commonly vinegar, and shaken around in a jug. The marinated nails were continuously shaken and heated in an iron pot with tallow and tin. Conrad Celtis had described the wire mill during his stay in Nuremberg from 1487 to 1492. Albrecht Dürer had represented it pictorially in 1497. The wire smiths now no longer worked by hand but rather by milling and cutting with the wire mill. In the work of milling and cutting, the iron leaves were prepared, cut and thinned out. The pliers dart forward and move back, taking hold of the raw iron and smoothing it out to a round wire, which is then wound. The wire pullers in Nuremberg and Augsburg process iron from the Upper Palatinate.46 In Westphalian Sauerland (Süderland) the towns of Iserlohn (Eisenwald) and Lüdenscheid arose; wire pullers settled there. In the 14th and 15th century the employment of waterpower by means of waterwheels and watermills was developed. The pulled iron was put through holes and thereby made into rolled wire. The steep slopes of the region were unsuitable for fields and meadows but were suitable for the production of wire by means of waterpower. The tax for using the waterpower was paid in the form of a levy on wax. Around 1600 the levy on wax brought the authorities 36 pounds of wax annually. Meanwhile, the predominance of a class of capitalist entrepreneurs in the production of wire occurred. Remuneration in kind receded in proportion to money wages, and the wire pullers’ workshop developed from cottaging to the Zoggam-pulling room. Further development of iron wire into rolls required greater sums of money, which only capitalist entrepreneurs could acquire and lay out.

←230 | 231→

The cooperative [genossenschaftliche] organization of wire production was transformed into a capitalist one. In the Märkisch wire industry, the Reidemeister became entrepreneurs who were simultaneously finishers. Reider and ship owners have this same etymology. Johannsen mentions the stately position of the Reider in society following the saying: “En Reidemeister singet mit in de Kerke, he hölt sick dotan sine Lüe” (Leute) [“A shipowner sings (with other congregants) in the church, and in this way he gets his people.” The English is rendered from the Low German—trans.]. The steel wire served above all in the production of sewing needles and had been developed in Nuremberg in the 14th century, as needles with eyes [Öhren] as well. In the 16th century, that is 200 years later, the wire pullers in Aachen made their needles out of steel wire. The most important tool of the wire pullers was the drawing die, which was the creation of the tinsmith. Tin-smithery was developed in the Upper Palatinate; white tin from Nuremberg was sold in the Netherlands for the production of needles and defensive armaments. The armor industry in Augsburg was developed for shields; in Augsburg and Nuremberg the thimble industry was expanded for mass production. A further specialization appeared: blade and knife fabrication were located in Solingen, cannons and artillery pieces were manufactured in Siegerland and Frankfurt am Main.

Peasants in Dalarna (Sweden) had processed Osmund iron, which was prepared from scrap iron, primarily from scrap iron hoofs and hoof nails. This was created for the production of steel in refining, whereby soft iron was an in-between and byproduct of the process. In Siegerland in the 13th to the 15th century steel production arose by the pouring of steel from the fine iron [Edeleisen] of Müsener Grundes. The equipment and smelting of ore were first put into operation by means of bloomery hearths and wolf furnaces; in the 15th and 16th century by the blast furnace. Malleable iron at that time was produced directly from ore; then, after the advent of the blast furnace it was a more refined product. Malleable iron was of two kinds, welding iron and welding steel. The power source was the muscle power of animals and humans, as well as water, fire, gravity and the wind. Iron was employed in general for tools, utensils and weapons; Iron was not used for construction material, which were those of wood, earth, bakestones, bricks, stone, loam, clay, straw and leaves.

The late medieval cooperatives [Genossenschaften] of the smelters in Siegerland in the area of Salzburg had on average 12 smelters and smiths. The entire crew of a smelter in the 16th century on average amounted to 100 men; the number would later rise to 300. Looking over the entire iron industry in the Upper Palatinate we obtain the following picture in the following table:

←231 | 232→

Table 19: The Number of Workers, Iron Industry of the Upper Palatinate, 1475

Type of Worker

Number of Workers








Manual labourers



Mining people



Smelters and hammer smiths



Unskilled workers in hammer works



Wood cutters and colliers






This iron industry nourished a quarter of the total population of the Upper Palatinate in the 15th century. The peasants left their fields lie fallow in order to travel to the hammer mills [Hämmer].47

The same picture is valid for the Harz region and Inner Austria. These statistics will refute the conception of the purely sporadic appearance of the capitalist system prior to the 16th century.

A general history of mining in the 15th and 16th century will include the non-ferrous and precious metals as well as the iron mines. It would have to take in the employment of miners and peasants as well as the activities of the entrepreneurs. The question regarding the extraction of salt and glass manufacture also have a tie to the metal industry (see Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 12).

In the 15th century, the Upper Palatinate had a special position in the iron industry; it had been developed here early. There were favourable natural conditions; and moreover, a qualified working class arose in Nuremberg and in other parts of Upper Germany. Necessary technics were developed, and the class of entrepreneurs was in the hands of the laity. Commerce between the Upper Palatinate and Pegnitz was operated by the carters and the shippers in the 16th century; this amounted to 27.5% of the entire working population of the Upper Palatinate. Many Upper Palatinate manual labourers worked for the Nuremberg operation. The hammer and smelting works [Hammer—und Hüttenwerke] grew, as we have seen, in proportion to the number of products and productivity. A special relationship evolved between the Nuremberg iron trades and sheet metal production in the Upper Palatinate in the 15th century. For the production of sheet metal, Deucheleisen is essential, which was in the Middle Ages a byproduct of the hammer mills. Tin and steel are both products of the iron industry, and both protect metal from rust. Yet the tin (bright, shiny metal) is malleable, unlike steel. Early in the modern period there arose two kinds of sheet metal, black plate and tinplate, ←232 | 233→and only tinplate had a coating of tin, which protected the iron from rusting. The discovery of the utility of Deucheleisen in this connection can be traced back to the 14th century; its further industrial development occurred in the 15th century. Tin in the Fichtel mountains was under the control of Nuremberg. At this time, the number of sheet metal hammer mills [Blechhämmer] in the Upper Palatinate amounted to 100 enterprises.

The small trade towns were tightly bound to a strongly imprinted guild organization of iron production. In opposition to this, the Hessian district Waldschmiedbezirk was organized agriculturally. In Upper Germany the separation of smelting from mining began at the same time as the participation of the entrepreneurs from the town in the latter. The townspeople from Kolmar and Strasbourg appeared in Vogesen and the East Alps as lay entrepreneurs, and were engaged on behalf of the excavation of iron ore necessary for their own enterprises.48 We will consider some examples regarding the size of operations and the structuration of labour in the iron industry of Upper Germany. The hammer and smelting mills were small. In a hammer mill producing for drawbar smiths [Deuchelschmiedehammer] in the Upper Palatinate there were employed 1 Zerrennmeister [master of the clay hearth], 1 master smith, 1 hewer (coal extractor), 1 Handpreu [helper/assistant] and 1 coal assessor [Kohlenmesser].

In 1432, the citizens of the entire region of Sulzbach (Upper Palatinate) received the monopoly on the exploitation of the iron ore. In 1454, the same authorities added further privileges. The townsfolk had already received the privilege of prospecting, then the privilege of freedom of assembly was granted to the hammer masters and smiths, and in 1464 they were granted further advantages, which came to the owners of the hammer works [Hammerherren], to the labourers as well as to the Handpreu and Hauerbuben [(child) helpers]. These privileges were continued until the Thirty Years’ War. The iron mining operations and smelting industries found themselves in an economic boom from the middle of the 15th century until 1620. In the 15th century, Sulzbach had temporarily excluded Nuremberg from its great hammer works consortium [Hammerwerksvereinigung] and achieved superiority over Amberg. In the 15th century, the Sulzbachers had reached a depth of 35 Klaftern (74.5 meters) in the 16th century, 50 Klaftern (106.5 meters) in the iron mines. The winch was replaced by the Pferdegöpfel. In the year 1610 the transition to waterpower in the extractive activity [Förderungsarbeiten] and the work of mine drainage was accomplished.

In the 15th and 16th century, a massive increase in the production of iron occurred. The cause of this development was the expansion of the Blähhäuser [medieval furnace for the extraction of pig iron] and the limiting of the portion of profit share in the cost of wages in the process of production. The first reason ←233 | 234→for this increase refers to the development of the capital investment in the iron industry of Central Europe during the 15th century and later. The second reason points to the rationalization of these enterprises. The workforce in the branches of the iron industry was paid according to their qualification in production. However, the iron workers declined in social position in this period. The lowest stratum in the areas of production was formed by the smelter workers, the miners and the non-independent operation managers. The middle layer was constituted by the entrepreneurs, who were simultaneously engaged in manual labour and as capitalists, the upper stratum the landowners [Grundherren] and iron traders.

At the end of the 16th century, seasonal workers emerged in Sulzbach iron mining.49 Here is the breakdown in numbers for types of seasonal workers in Table 20:

Table 20: Number and Types of Seasonal Mining Workers at the End of the 16th Century in Sulzbach.

Type of Worker

Number of Workers

Cart runners [Karrenläufer]


Manual labourers [Handwerker] (a)


Miners for digging and water drainage (b)


Miners hewing ore [für das Erzhauen]


Supervising managers (c)




(a) Forge smiths [Gezähschmiede], master carpenters [Zimmermeister] und cartwrights to the different crafts [Stellmacher zu den Künsten], leather workers [Lederarbeiter], saddle makers [Sattler], and so on.

(b) Of these 100 horse boys [Rossbuben] at the Göpelwerken [machines in which the muscular strength of donkeys, horses or dogs but also of people was used to drive various works] c) Clerks and accountants [Schrift und Rechnungsbeamte]

(c) Secrataries and accountants [Schrift- und Rechnungsbeamte]

In 1489, the workforce in a hammer mill amounted to: 1 furnace master [Ofenmeister], 9 smith servants [Schmiedeknechte], 9 furnace servants [Ofenknechte]; together 19 men.

Struggles over wage increases played out between the wage workers and the hammer masters in the 15th century. The first conflict was in 1384, when the landowners supported the hammer masters. There were further struggles over wages in the Thüringen forest and in the Erzgebirge. In 1483, during a conflict over wages in Gießhübel in the Erzgebirge, several hundred men “burnt out the mountain and destroyed some windlasses [Haspeln], caissons [Kasten] and stamping machines [Stempelin].” The wages were structured in three grades: The highest wage was paid in Friesach at 30 pfennigs a day, the second grade at 22.5 pfennigs, the third at 15 pfennigs. By way of comparison, in Munich in 1450, a carpenter’s apprentice ←234 | 235→earned 20 pfennigs a day, working 240 workdays, 22 florins per year. Thus, the mid-grade hammer mill workers stood somewhat better than the carpenter’s journeyman on average.50 The iron industry of the Upper Palatinate was operated in small smelters in the 16th century. The work force of a hammer works in Friesach in 1500/05 amounted to 8 men not including transportation workers, colliers and mining personnel. In the Styrian Erzberg the work force of the hammer works amounted to 3 to 5 men on average including the hammer master.

In one operation with two clay hearths [Rennherden], 7 men were employed: 1 master smithy and 1 hauling master with 1 assistant; in addition, 1 hewer, 1 helper and 1 master collier. With two clay hearths 84 tons of iron per day could be forged, with one, 64 tons.51 Productivity (production of wrought iron according to labour power) was higher in enterprises with one clay hearth than in operations with two of them, to wit in a relation 106:100. If the support staff in the operation received a lower wage, then the operation with two clay hearths was more profitable. These relations continued into the 17th and 18th century.

In 1581, the work force of a smelter in Steinfels amounted to 1 hut watchman [Hüttenkapfer], 1 master smith [Schmiedemeister], 1 smitty servant [Schmiedeknecht], 1 helper, 1 melting master, 1 hewer, and 1 coal assessor [Kohlenmesser]. 7 skilled tradesmen were employed in the operation, alongside of three or four unqualified workers, who were seasonally employed. These amounted to 2 or 4 unskilled labourers and one or two child workers in the hammer mill [Hammerbuben]. The structuration of labour is approximately the same as in the above-mentioned case. The number of unschooled workers increased.52

Comparison of the numbers of wage labourers in the hammer mills of the Upper Palatinate in the 14th and 15th century points to a certain dynamic. In 1387, the number of wage workers in these operations amounted to 4 or 5, in 1406 it rose to 5 or 6; in the successive periods it increased further. According to Table 21 for one pit in the year 1595/96 the wages for different types of workers amounted to:

Table 21: Number, Type of Mine Worker, and Weekly Wages for One Pit 1595/1596

Type of Worker

Number of Workers

Weekly Wage in Gulden (approx.)

Piecework miner [Gedinghäuer]



Mountain surveyor [Markscheider/Bodenscheider]



Mountaineer [Obersteiger]



Downstream climber [Untersteiger]



Counter [Zähler]






←235 | 236→

In addition to these there were 20–22 shift hewers [Schichthäuer] during the day, and 12–15 shift hewers on the night shift. The weekly wage of the single shift hewer amounted to 28 pfennigs. For the shift hewers, all told six guldens were expended. Agricola remarks that the night shifts received a smaller remuneration. The Gedinghäuer [hewers contracted for measurable work not paid wages for time but for actual work accomplished] had engaged in rock work [Gesteinarbeit] for a piece rate according to time and measure [Lachtern].53

The iron works did not get bigger on average and the cooperatives [Genossenschaften] became less important. The owners of the hammer mills were entrepreneurs, who kept themselves apart from the operations. The number of wage workers rose, while the number in the labour force remained about the same. The production of iron also became more rational and economical, so that iron production as a whole rose in the 15th and 16th century in Central Europe. However, this rise was not as quick or steep as it would be in the ensuing period of high capitalism.

The entrepreneurs transformed themselves and became capitalists in the iron industry. The putting-out system expanded, the Hammermeister sunk in the class structure of society and became wage labourers. Medieval production of iron in the cloisters disappeared. In Styr in the 16th century, the manual labourers wrested domination from the iron entrepreneurs in the putting-out system [Eisenverleger] and established their own iron trading companies, to which any townsman could belong. However, those who established a company, represented the wealthy stratum in society because they could acquire their own deposits.

The developments of iron casting and of the blast furnace operation had a reciprocal influence on one another, which consisted in the transition from direct clay hearth processing to the immediate preparation of iron, in connection with the production of unrefined iron and beyond that with the process of refining. To this belonged the processes of iron casting as well in the production of unrefined iron together with the increasing use of waterpower for the iron hammer mills and the bellows in the iron works. Increasingly more complicated labour processes were tied to the rise of the blast furnace. Waterpower began to be used through the water mill to set in motion the bellows for the smelting furnaces. The benefits of the water mills and the strength of the wind from the bellows, which dominated the movement of the water wheels, could not be efficiently controlled. Experience was lacking in controlling the wind blowing into the blast furnaces. Sometimes the wind was so strong that the temperature rose and the formation of raw iron set in; the result of the uncontrolled process was not the iron bloom, but rather molten iron, which, like the slag, drained off. At first the smelter had considered the product as something spoiled, as pig iron. Thereupon it was learned that with this ←236 | 237→iron, which was melted down with an easily controlled furnace temperature from the wind, a better and more even product was produced. The consistent quality of the iron and steel was demonstrated in the improved quality of the hammer mill and smelting products. Thus, the molten iron was thereafter produced according to plan, the cast iron was transformed in a second process by melting down the unrefined iron from the wind in a hearth into malleable iron. The stronger the water wheels moved, the more force was generated by the water mill, the stronger the bellows operated, the more forcefully the fire burned and the higher the temperature of the furnace rose. From the wolf furnace and dome light or distillation fire [Luppenfeuer] of the previous epoch, the new blast furnace arose.54

The [Luppenfeuer] or wolf furnace was the means to refine the clumps of metal called wolf, or in Latin, lupus. The new furnaces, the heavy hammers, the water mills for the operation of the hammer mills and the buildings for smelting required greater capital investments than had previously been the case. The newer smelting system originated at the end of the 15th century, but the investment processes were limited, and the old clay hearths [Rennfeuer] and the wolf furnace were kept alongside the new furnace down to the 17th century.55

Other related techniques were developed. In the 15th century the breaking up of the ore into pieces with the hand mill was replaced by the wet crushing mill [Naßpochwerk]. The old hand mills had caused great losses in the tin smelting works by vaporizing the product. The Naßpochwerk reduced this metal loss and enabled a further crushing of the product of smelting. The production processes in the hammer and smelting mills became increasingly complicated, the mechanization of productivity, the quality and the quantity in the hammer and smelting system rose. The single crushing mill had three or four stamping machines, which were driven by water wheels. The crushing mills were repeatedly coupled and with three water wheels three crushing mills could be operated at the same time. The productivity of the wet crushing mill rose. A crushing mill with three stamping machines could crush 450 to 750 tons, with four stamping machines 650 to 1000 tons of ore in the same time period. Increasing productivity is connected with the expansion of the work force in the operation. In the smaller and medium sized operations 2 to 11 men were employed, in the larger 12 to 29. In the districts of Schlackenwald and Schönfeld (Bohemia) 30 larger preparation plants were in operation in the 16th century.56

The expansion of the preparation plants for tin, the expansion of the work force in the operation and the widening of capital investments are tied together in an economic and social process in the 15th and 16th century.

Developments in the iron and tin operations in the period of early capitalism provide information concerning an increased dynamic in the production of ←237 | 238→commodities and in productivity. The exploitation of the workers became more intense. The increase in capital investment, the increasing structuration of labour, the introduction of new machinery and technics in production combined to rationalize the production process of iron ore. New methods of labour meant that more and more unskilled and unqualified workers who were paid less than the earlier masters could be hired. Productivity in the operation increased, the costs of production and of labour decreased.

Agricultural and cooperative [genossenschaftliche] enterprises as well as the undertakings of the monks in the production of iron disappeared, the master craftsmen were transformed into wage labourers.

The working class was formed primarily into a class of wage labourers, only the wage was not entirely in the form of money wages. The subdivisions of the wage as weekly or daily and piece wages had already been introduced. The entrepreneurs are in part Verleger, in part Cux or shareholders, partners, participants. The separation between capitalists and labourers was accomplished.

The industrialists were not the large capitalists, but rather traders, merchants and bankers. Now let us turn our attention to the workers as well as to the entrepreneurs in the development of the capitalist system in modern times.

Already in antiquity, iron in its various forms such as raw iron, soft German iron [Deucheleisen], pick or ground iron [Masseleisen], horse shoe [Hufeisen], cast iron [Gußeisen], wrought iron [Schmiedeeisen], sheet iron [Blecheisen] and steel—was the most important means for the production of tools, utensils and weapons. Iron is encountered in all parts of Europe and on all continents. Thus, the period of the last +/—3000 years is the iron age in Europe. In the stone age, iron was processed from meteorites; in the iron age, on the contrary, it was produced from iron ore. Until the industrial revolution iron was smelted and processed primarily by wood and charcoal. The fuel was the same in antiquity, in the Middle Ages and in the first centuries of modern times. In the 14th, 15th, and 16th century, hard coal as fuel was known, but the use of this material for fuel was rare. Agricola and Biringuccio thoroughly investigated metals, mining, the system of smelting, and pyrotechnics in the 16th century and had little to say about hard coal. Where they did speak of the coals, as a rule they meant charcoal. Hard coal was excavated already from the 12th to 14th century in Limburg and Lüttich, afterwards in Aachen, in the Saarland and in the Ruhr region, that is in the same regions as in the period of high capitalism.57

The commercial use of hard coal by smiths, limeburners [Kalkbrenner], vitriol boilers [Vitriolsieder], dyers—less by beer brewers in the vicinity of the hard coal pits—occurred in the 15th century. The difficulty, that the hard coal pits like those of brown coal in Bohemia were shown only here and there to be sufficiently coal ←238 | 239→bearing, and this limited its use as fuel. Operations near locations with hard coal like Wettin, or Rothenburg an der Saale, among others had used hard coal, but in establishments with open hearths only charcoal was taken. In the 16th century it came to an increasing application of bituminous coal for salt mining, lime kilns, vitriol boilers [Vitriolsiedereien] and alum boiler works [Alaunsiedehütten].

Hard coal was already used as fuel in forging in the Middle Ages, however, the main fuels were wood and charcoal, and this remained so until the 18th century. At first, wood was fetched from the immediate surroundings of the mine, of the hammer mills and smelting works; subsequently, it was transported over long distances for the metal industry and production in the town in general. Wood as means of construction as well as fuel was indispensable. The forests surrounding the towns and the mines were felled; wood disappeared or became uneconomical on account of the costs of transportation. Hard coal was used as industrial fuel in England earlier than in Central Europe. Forests were devastated in the transition to the operation of the blast furnace. This devastation occurred more quickly in England than in Central Europe.58

The wolf furnace [Stücköfen] and the bloomery hearth [Rennfeuer] were the main apparatuses for smelting ore in antiquity and in the Middle Ages; they were replaced by the blast furnace [Hochöfen] in modern times. Malleable iron was produced immediately from the raw ore in the Middle Ages, in modern times from raw iron. At the same time freshening [das Frischen] was introduced, that is, the removal of carbon by the introduction of fresh air into the process of the creation of iron. Freshening was complicated and varied according to location and according to the tradition of refining and of its particular origin. Iron smelters had the open hearth, the non-ferrous and precious metal workers had the shaft furnace [Schachtofen]. Agricola describes the kinds of freshening with bellows and the kinds of furnaces. Freshening is closely bound up with the origin of the blast furnace.59

The fact that iron ore was first transformed into raw iron in modern times and thereupon made into malleable iron, points to a change in the labour process and in the relation of man to the material world. Material nature, raw iron was treated in antiquity and the Middle Ages immediately, in modern times mediately. Several intermediate stages were inserted in the process of production of malleable iron and metal working in general. In antiquity and in the Middle Ages the process of metal working was relatively simpler than the process of metal working in modern times. Labour and the instruments of labour constitute a mediation between man and nature.60

Social and economic movements reciprocally affect one another in the process of change. In the past, one searched for the actuality behind the appearance. We ←239 | 240→shall not partake in this search. There is no secret cause which is hidden behind the world of appearance; the world and its parts are as they are and what they are; the appearance is the form and substance of the world; and conversely: the world is not different from that which appears, in its form and substance.

The processes of movement and transformation are not unitary; some proceed formally or substantially, others follow behind. According to our observations of the history of capitalism the substantial processes are those of the liberation movement of the peasants, of the circulation of money, of the growth of the merchant class, mining, the system of smelting, shipbuilding and the printing industry. These substantial processes preceded the political and juridical form of capitalist predominance in modern bourgeois society in the transition to the capitalist system of Central Europe. The process of progression and succession is contradictory. The peasants fought for their formal and substantial freedom yet attained only formal freedom.

The struggles of the wage workers were related to the substantial conditions of the remuneration and of their conditions of labour. The peasants tried to reach the level of the wage labourer; some, but not all peasants participated in it. There are factors in history, which, like the deeds of the class of entrepreneurs, are noticeable and noteworthy. In many cases the entrepreneurs are wealthy, like Jacob Fugger; the decline of his house is thus an equally noteworthy event. However, no less noticeable is the technics of waterworks; this machinery is splendid, labour saving and expensive. We treat the various factors, the noteworthy and the inconspicuous, the physical and the mental in their reciprocal effects on one another.

The forms of labour, of the entrepreneurs and of money are complicated and move unevenly. The substantial processes of economy and society are transformed with varying rates of speed. Schumpeter saw this and presented it. Marx had correctly conceptualized the historical process in this regard; he emphasized the system only in Central Europe. He considered everything that happened in Italy, as a dawning and, moreover, as a sporadic appearance. For him, as for the others of Central European provenance, the system, the spirit or the occurrence was only actual on Central European soil; in Italy, on the contrary, it was an advance notice, a drumbeat, a harbinger of the future. Thanks to the mediation of these great thinkers, we see the world differently. The labourers, peasants, entrepreneurs, owners and masters had constructed an early capitalist system of wage labour, the circulation of money and of the credit system. Some of what they had taken up did not pan out, other elements continued forward as a foundation of high capitalism.

In Central Europe, the guild system, the system of putting-out, the Hansa society are transient events in capitalist development, which have been lost. Other processes were integrated into those of high capitalism. The money economy, the ←240 | 241→system of banking and credit, wage labour and the formal freedoms of capital, of the workers and of burgesses [Bürger], were expanded and spread across the capitalist-bourgeois world from the 15th to the 20th century.

In the 15th and 16th century one was already conscious that great changes had come to society. We have mentioned in relation to this question the opinions of the peasants, of Dürer, Biringuccio, Agricola and Vasari. Regiomontan, in the 15th, Adam Ries and Simon Stevin in the 16th century, adopted the system of arithmetic from the region of the Mediterranean; they developed it and further disseminated it. The historical consciousness in the transitional period from the Middle Ages to modern bourgeois society was not unitary. Dürer took up the historical events in an exact, factual and objective way. He knew that a discontinuity between antiquity and his own age had arrived and that the Italians played a leading role in the mediation between the antique and modern. He studied Euclid just as Regiomontan studied Archimedes in the 15th century. Regiomontan had also known of the role of the Byzantine philologist in the tradition.

The rise of the structuration of labour in mining and in smelting can be seen in the development of deep mining [Tiefbau] and the enlargement of the shafts and tunnels as well as in the increasing productivity and volume of the ore mines and in the production of metal in the 16th and 17th century. In different parts of Europe, in the Harz region, in Upper Germany, in Western Germany, in Austria and Hungary the production of silver, gold, copper, lead, tin and iron was expanded in terms of sales and value. The credit institutes, domestic and foreign trade as well as market and money relations of the states in Germany, in the Netherlands, Italy, France, England and Spain are closely linked with these developments. The rise in the structuration of labour is demonstrated in the increase of the categories and types of tasks in the process of labour as well as in the introduction and mastery of new approaches and skills of the labourer. The deepening of the mines and shafts and the expansion of the underground tunnels and passageways posed great problems in the process of production and distribution, which were solved in part. The introduction of new practical arts of facilitation of water and ventilation required the increasing qualification of the working class. Inventions were developed in connection with this advancement and set into operation. The collaboration of the carpenters, leather and metal workers had led, as a consequence, to the hewers in the mine producing more ore. In the 16th century fewer labourers were involved in the facilitation of weather and waterpower [Förder—Wetter—und Wasserarbeitskräfte] than in the 15th century. The costs of production in the realm of wages of labour did not rise in relation to revenue and productivity; in fact, wages decreased in this relation.

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The classifications of the categories of qualification, such as of those of untrained and experienced miners, in addition those of the masters in the system of mining and smelting, in the smelting labour force, the forging labour force and in the skilled labour force, finally as those of the pit foreman [Steiger], the supervisors and controllers [Hutmänner]. [Der wichtigste Mann einer Grube war der Hutmann (mhd. huot-man = Wächter, Aufseher), der die Bergleute einstellte, die Arbeit zuwies und überwachte und den Lohn abrechnete.—trans.], and scribes [Schreiber], are reflected in the scale of wages. Remuneration was composed variously of daily and weekly wages, piece wages, money and wages in kind. The development of literature, of literacy, of the art of printing, of arithmetic and of image making, the expansion of the school system, of the systems of education and instruction by teachers, books, the universities, are parts of an internationalized system of training. We recall that Copernicus, Dürer, Regiomontan, Agricola among others, emigrated to Italy and returned home with the newly acquired scientific, technical and artistic training. Conversely, the Italians studied and employed the new methods of mining, of smelting, of assaying and processing metals in Central Europe. Instruction in the sciences, technics and arts in the mining industry and in the related branches of smelting and forging were further utilized and developed. The aristocrats and capitalists became rich by these means but were bankrupted when dynasties rose and fell; the working class conducted their struggles for higher wages, better working conditions and protection of life; the peasants, their struggles for liberation according to the model of the wage workers. The peasants, the hewers, forgers, carpenters, windlass or winch operators [Häspeler], schoolteachers, artists, physicians and mathematicians were all pulled into an exceedingly multifaceted structured labour process. The process was rich in its internal organization and in its inner and external production. The organization, that is, the structuration and division of social labour, was unitary and integrated the miners and their young, unskilled helpers [Bergknappen und—buben], the pit foremen [die Steiger] up to Dürer and Jost Amman into a common process. We can comprehend, how the structuration of the parts—like those in the wood cuts sketches of Dürer—had an impact on practical labour. He intended his Unterweisung der Messung with the circle and straight edge to be useful for the painter, goldsmith, architect, stonemason, joiner and the appropriate labourer. Arithmetic had exerted a comparable impact on the merchant class, which constituted a part of the labour process as well.

We have already seen how the development of training and of the qualification of labour in mining was brought to expression very early on. The small work of Rühlein von Calw appeared in the form of a dialogue between the experienced ←242 | 243→miner and his young pitman. Dürer and Rühlein von Calw had made efforts on behalf of training in common. Agricola and Adam Ries were schoolmasters as well.

The differences in wages between the simple workers and the skilled workers at the top were great, and these differences continued uninterruptedly forward down to the present day. The difference between the labour practices in the first centuries of the capitalist system and its contemporary situation lie in the collapse of the then system of guilds, of putting-out and manufacture.

1. The organization of labour and society is a process which cannot be disentangled. In Central Europe from the 15th to the 17th century, society was structured into estates and classes, from the poor agricultural and town labourers to the middle stratum to the patricians in the towns to the aristocrats and the royal court. The structuration of society and social organization were reflected in the guild system, so that the guilds and the miners’ guilds behaved inflexibly and intransigently. Fugger could break through these walls, and in mining, rifts were added to the social organization. The miners were free in the Middle Ages. In modern times there were more miners [Bergknappen], yet not more freedom in mining. In some cases, the miners could become wealthy, for a portion of the miners were also shareholders. The shareholders of the mines, the copartners, the companies and certificate holders were interested in expanding the production of ore and metal in the spirit and meaning of capitalism. In opposition to this, the weavers’ guild was interested in covering the immediate need of cloth for the social surroundings, not to raise profits. The city council in the different parts of Europe was in agreement with this and had favoured, protected and followed up on this goal. The council and the guilds came into opposition to the system of mining, insofar as they tried to maintain the estates and status quo. The attempt was temporarily crowned with success but was struck down in the period of high capitalism. The weavers’ guild in Central Europe, England and elsewhere was able to prevent the introduction and employment of new labour arrangements and technics into the 18th century. Manufacture and the industrial factory destroyed in part the old putting-out system and the guilds. This conclusion can be exaggerated for domestic labour and piece wages are still known today.

2. A break with the prohibitive system of the guilds and of the council appeared. The class of wage workers and formal equality and freedom were expanded. The miners’ freedom of movement hung together with the increasing social transformations of the estates. The demarcation between the estates had been loosened. The relocation of the miners and the turnover ←243 | 244→of commodities, the circulation of money, of wage labour and the rise of market relations were tied up with one another. Furthermore, capital was not limited to a national market; from Upper Germany outward it was invested in Spain, the Netherlands and in the New World. The miners emigrated and were hired; their movement was—as was that of capital—international. Many German miners worked for the Fugger-Works in Spain.

3. The system of mining as the model for the further development of capitalist industrialization thereafter continued to advance and extended itself into the other branches of industry. We have seen how the cloth company in Iglau had been formed according to the model of the mining company.

4. The system of mining in Upper Germany, in Tirol and in the Harz was not organized into guilds. Work in the mines was constantly being transformed and restructured. New methods of labour and technics were introduced in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century. The entrepreneurs and copartners tried to acquire money, to increase profits and thereby to accumulate capital. Fugger was not alone in his orientation in this relation. The copper kings tried to acquire as much money as possible; the mine and smelter workers tried to raise their wages. The gain in the guild system of the 15th, 16th and 17th century was not primarily related to the accumulation of capital; rather it was bound up with the continuity of the guild and of the family life of the guild members. The weavers’ guilds in Augsburg, Danzig, Frankfurt am Main and Cologne were not oriented to acquiring as much money as possible, as, for example, were the copper syndicates and companies, but rather wanted to maintain their families through the production of cloth and the sale of commodities and to clothe people. The guild and putting-out system had exploited the poor labourer. The social struggles of the weavers as those of the miners were multiple and passionately portrayed. The guild system and the putting-out system were efficiently conducted; however, the purpose of labour and its efficiency were different than the purpose of the mining capitalists who were rather allied with the system of high capitalism.

The miners, like their mining colleagues in the 19th and 20th century, had set themselves in opposition to the big capitalists of the 15th and 16th century. The big capitalists of the later epoch, on the contrary, continued the orientation of the earlier mine administrators and owners. The class struggles of the peasants and town guilds had shown themselves among the weavers, the cutlers, and the construction journeymen. The guilds and the workshop system were capitalist concerns, but quantitatively small and qualitatively different from the corporations and firms of the capitalist period. The mines in the 15th, 16th and 17th century were quantitatively ←244 | 245→smaller than the later ones; they had the same goal of maximization of profit, but brown coal played a smaller role in their operation and the steam engine not at all. The rationalization of the labour process in the modern sense was introduced early in the mining system and thereafter transferred to other branches of industry. This cannot be absolutely confirmed, but in general this assertion is valid.

In a similar way these relations and developments occurred in shipbuilding. The state showed an early interest in the system of mining, in the war industry and in shipbuilding, but only later in the cloth and construction guilds, and those of the gardeners, fishers, and so on. The state as capitalist appears systematically in the systems of mining and smelting, in the cannon factories, the saltpeter and gunpowder works, early as well in shipbuilding; and then it retreated in the face of the rise of big capital of the later period. Its main role in this relation was shown in the epoch of the absolute state in the 18th century.

5. The old guild and the putting-out system did not disappear, but rather formed a part of the capitalist system in the 15th century. These old forms of the entrepreneurial class still showed themselves in the 19th century, although in a weakened form. Like other human institutions, capitalism is only in part rational and rationalizable. It contains members, who do not belong together in all cases. The attempts, in early capitalism, to acquire money and to accumulate capital, were in some cases successful. We are not speaking of singular persons, but rather about the institutes and forms of organization. Still the capitalist system in Central Europe in the 15th century arose as a system perhaps a century earlier than in Italy.

6. Through the development of the acquisition of precious and non-ferrous metals and of the iron industry in Upper Germany, in the Harz, in Bohemia and Hungary, of the metal processing industry in Nuremberg, of the credit institutes in Augsburg, of the printing industry in Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, Strasbourg and elsewhere, finally of the art of shipbuilding and of the shipping companies on the coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic did capitalist industry contain contradictory elements.

7. Commerce between the branches of industry of Central Europe was systematically developed in the 15th and 16th century. Non-ferrous metal like bismuth, lead, tin, zinc and copper as well as iron from the Upper Palatinate and the Harz district was employed in the casting of type in the printing industry in Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Augsburg and elsewhere. Commerce was in this relation systematically developed, expanded and intensified between the different branches of industry. The ←245 | 246→same can be asserted about the armaments industry and the system of coinage. These characteristics of durability, of expansion, of differentiation and the linkage between the parts, point to the systematic appearance of capitalism in Central Europe in the 15th century. The majority of the population remained on the land, yet parts of the peasantry integrated themselves into the industrial enterprises. In the Harz and in the Upper Palatinate the peasants worked in support and transport service as wage labourers or as private entrepreneurs for the mines.

8. Wage labour as well as the circulation of money was extended. The peasants demanded the general right to work for wages. The spirit of parsimony and of inner-worldly asceticism of the 16th century accommodated itself to this system. It is not the cause of it, but rather an expression of an entrepreneurial aspect of it.

The capitalist system was introduced by different historical moments. The primary matter in its establishment and development is the expansion of the wage system, of the money economy, of the market and trade, the liberation of the peasants, the accumulation of capital and the origin of opposed classes of the town proletariat and of the bourgeois entrepreneurs. The various historical moments were emphasized by different authors. Marx mentioned the moments of long distance and foreign trade, of oversea voyages, of technology and of the mobility of the peasants. B. Schoenlank and O. Johannsen observed the class struggle in early capitalism.

8.1. The peasants formed an active and not a passive moment in the history of capitalism from the beginning. They moved in the direction of formal freedom and equality of the capitalist system of wages and of the liberation from serfdom and corvée.

9. The problem of the liberation of the peasants in the 19th century was raised by Zimmermann, Kriegk and Engels. We have dedicated a particular chapter in this work to their role in the formation of the capitalist system. We mention the class of entrepreneurs as well; it has been treated extensively by Ehrenberg, Strieder, Sombart, Brentano, von Below, Weber, Troeltsch, Kulischer and Schumpeter.

The capitalist system alludes to several changes of form in its history. Commercial capitalism is replaced by mercantilism, and the latter by the industrial revolution and high capitalism. It is common to divide the period into four main epochs: commercial capital, mercantilism, the industrial revolution, and high capitalism. The system of wage labour and of capital arches over the relations between town and countryside as well as between the metropolis and the colonies. The development of capitalism depends ←246 | 247→on the elaboration of the relations and processes within the peasant estate, within the estate of wage labour, among the entrepreneurs and of the state. It also depends on the relations of the classes, estates and social organs among themselves.

10. Capitalism reveals itself as a variation of the human process of reproduction of modern times and is treated as a system with different moments. It is a town event, which appears originally in the 14th and 15th century in the Ligurian, Tuscan, Adriatic and Lombard-Emilian commercial towns, and which grappled with the reciprocal relationships and contradictions between town and countryside, between peasants, proletarians and merchants as well as between the Italian entrepreneurs and their trading partners in the Near East. Capitalism expanded thereafter across the Alps into Central and Western Europe, into the Netherlands and England in the 15th and 16th century. The origin of capitalism is systematic, if considered internally, or sporadic, if looked upon from the standpoint of high and late capitalism which followed. The capitalist system in the form in which it appears early, was developed as all human matters, unevenly, unequally and haltingly. Yet it is a system with parts, regularities, differences and connections of the parts, with inner and outer relationships, oppositions, limits and centres. As a social system capitalism moves by the forms of freedom and equality and by the striving after them. In substance, capitalist relationships are not determined by justice but rather by profit, exploitation and property. The stages of the historical development of capitalism in Europe from the 15th to the 20th century was grappled with in § 9.

That which sporadically appeared earlier, was systematically developed later. From the standpoint of high capitalism, the earlier epoch of commercial capitalism appears as a sporadic attempt by merchants to acquire money, as an attempt by the proletarians to raise their wages and as an attempt by the peasants to transform themselves into wage labourers or petits-bourgeois. In this sense, however, capitalism appears as a systematic phenomenon only in the 19th and 20th century. If, however, the capitalist system is considered as a sheaf of activities, whose main theme is constituted by the relations of wage labour and capital, then the whole of modern bourgeois society is capitalist.

The historical epochs of the capitalist system are not to be understood as a step ladder or as an advance into paradise. They do not appear everywhere at the same time and in their persistence, they overlap. The appearance of capitalism in northern Italy in the 14th and 15th century and in Central Europe in the 15th and 16th century propagated itself. In this epoch some attempts at manufacture began, ←247 | 248→sometimes with success, sometimes, as with the weavers, they were repressed. Mercantilism was introduced in the 16th, 17th and 18th century, the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century, at first in England, thereafter in Germany, America, and so on in the transition to high capitalism. The countries and the states of capitalism in Europe are not to be considered uniform but rather variegated. Germany was not homogeneous; east of the Elbe capitalism was introduced and developed more slowly and later than in the western parts of the country; in northern Italy earlier than in the south, and so on.

These epochs are thus not mechanically to be separated from one another; customs last into the epochs of high capitalism. In the earlier epochs of the capitalist system capitalists were not as powerful as they later were, while large sectors of the economy in the countryside were not operated in the capitalist mode. Yet, in considerable parts of agriculture, in the town and in the mines the economy operated capitalistically and not in the feudal mode. Capitalism arose as a systematic phenomenon in the 15th century in Central Europe in several important industries and branches of industry.

Sporadic appearances are singular, they quickly disappear. The interweaving and linkages of the parts in several directions are lacking in the sporadic phenomena, and various conditions are missing. We will concretize these observations.

In the Middle Ages the cooperatives [Genossenschaften] and companies were occupied with distant trade. They went from Central Europe to the east, north, and south, and they returned with profit when they succeeded. It could also have been a single trader who made such an attempt. Thus, the merchant Marco Polo started his world-renowned journey to Asia in the 13th century. This great undertaking was singular, solitary, linked to no other commercial journey. The unparalleled commercial activity of Marco Polo can be compared with the unique mathematical activity of Fibonacci. Both were men of the 13th century, both Northern Italians—the one from Venice, the other from Pisa. Only 100 years later were their spheres of activity further developed and systematically worked by others. Then the investigation and discovery of the earth began in all directions systematically from Europe outward.61 Constantinople was an important trading partner of the Italian cities in the first half of the 15th century, Genoa became wealthy from Byzantine trade. Conversely, in their arts, Venice and Ravenna display the influence of the Byzantine style.

Some researchers trace the systematic development of the capitalist system back to the 16th century. This century links two elements: immediacy in relation to the Reformation, to Protestantism and confessional disputes, and mediacy in relation to the beginning of the capitalist system. We have seen that different aspects of the economic life in Central Europe were driven capitalistically: mining, the ←248 | 249→printing industry, the credit institutes. Mining was closely tied to the system of credit, of coinage and of the circulation of money. The circulation of money was tightly bound up with payment for wage labour, the hewers in mining were wage labourers; the metals, as the product of mine work, were indispensable for the expansion of money wages, of market trade, the circulation of money, the system of coinage and for printing. Thus, we can see how the different branches of industry were interwoven. This occurred in the 15th century, to wit in a systematic process. It didn’t happen once and for all; the system expanded rather slowly and was not introduced simultaneously in all branches of the economy. Distance trade was operated capitalistically, the weaver offered resistance, construction did not have the same rhythm of development as mining, and so on.

Forms appear and disappear; the substance of wage labour and of capital remains, as long as the capitalist system exists. The German Hansa disappeared in the old form; the great trading houses in Upper Germany were replaced by other institutes in Central Europe, these by new, freer forms of undertaking of the industrial revolution. The newer forms were freed to some extent from state intervention.

Trade was systematically linked to production. The putting-out system had loosened the ties between production and distribution in the 15th and 16th century and in part dissolved them. This loosening and dissolution was introduced into the system of mining and into the printing industry in the 15th and 16th century. At this time, the guild system had preserved the close relationship between product and the sale of the commodities produced. The hook and eye makers were, as Jost Amman recorded it, the sellers of commodities. But in other branches of industry through the development of the capitalist market, the stock exchange, wage labour and the circulation of money, the joint-stock company and in part by the putting-out system, the separation of producers from sellers, hence the separation of production from distribution was introduced if not generally accomplished.

We have taken up the question concerning the sporadic and systematic appearance of capitalist processes in Central Europe rather qualitatively and treated the quantitative side only by means of examples. But the point however is to take it up quantitatively in a systematic way.

The structuration of labour did not remain static. The economic moments of wants/needs [Bedürfnisse. German does not distinguish wants from needs with the single word Bedürfnis—trans.] and their satisfaction through the production of goods, commodities, comestible goods, cloth and habitation, tools and pathways, through means of transportation, heating and lighting, were carried forward. The increase in population by means of natural growth and the decrease of population through plagues and war are also to be included in the economic moments. The ←249 | 250→economic conditions in Central Europe improved from the 15th to the 17th century, in spite of plague, war, exploitation and oppression. The peasants had liberated themselves, the working class in the town had grown. At the end of the 17th century life became more stable and assured. Exploitation in the industrial factories presents a further problem, which was taken up only in the 19th and 20th century by the class-conscious workers’ movement in a humane fashion, even though a solution could not be found. The foundation of civil rights, of the national state and of the modern political constitution in Central Europe is traced back to the second half of the 17th century.

These formal-legal and political institutions are founded on the system of wage labour and capital and constitute the substance of modern bourgeois society. These substantial arrangements are formed as a system in Central Europe in the 15th century and earlier in Italy. The organization of labour was carried on in mining and smelting, in the printing industry, in shipbuilding, in the systems of money, credit and trade as well as in other branches of industry capitalistically in the 15th century. These industries and branches of industry were in an abiding, complicated, differentiated, dynamic and interwoven intercourse with one another. The circulation of money and the credit system expanded. The peasants increasingly were transformed into wage labourers, and this transformation led to the revolution of the domestic market in Central Europe. Towns grew through the immigration of peasants and foreigners. The increase of the town population was determined primarily through the growth of the town proletariat. Poverty increased thereby, for most of these immigrants were skilful peasants in the countryside, but they were unskilled labour in the town. From their numbers the new industrial reserve army was formed. The structuration of labour in the system of mining and smelting became increasingly rational through the increase of qualified labour in the metal industry. The rise of technology in this period was based on the increasing skill of the labourers and the increasing inventive activity in the sciences, which we today call chemistry, metallurgy and geology. The developments in mathematics and physics in the 17th century should be added to this.62 Research into the origins of the capitalist system have been ascribed by some scholars to the merchant activities of the entrepreneurs.63 Another group of researchers linked the most curious inventions to the context of the beginning of the capitalist period.64 Marx introduced another consideration, which was not related to technology, but rather to the accumulation of capital, sea trade and the passive physical movement of the peasants as well. These perspectives are valuable and impact our thesis. The periodization question is solved through the economic data. Modern bourgeois society arose in modern times and defines this period of world history. The primary moments in the determination of the modern period, are the liberation of ←250 | 251→the peasants, the emergence of wage labour and capital and the expansion of both, further, the predominance of capital in modern society and the formation of the working class as the class of wage labour, the oppositions between the two interests, the interest of capital and that of wage labour, and the founding of modern bourgeois society as the society of the two opposed spheres, the private and the public. The period of modernity follows the era of medieval feudalism in the history of Europe. This periodization is not related to Africa, the Islamic world, India, China, Mesoamerica or the kingdom of the Incas; there, it is a matter of other historical categories.

The history of capitalism is not the history of the entrepreneurs and of technology, but rather the relations between the labourers and the entrepreneurs, of the reciprocal relations between the two and the history of economic and social changes in these relations. Technics is a part, perhaps the most curious part, but not the whole in the process of labour. We distinguish the scientific investigation of the processes from the inspection of attractions in the landscape. We will mention some fields of research which often still appear to be open, both qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Systematic investigation of the development of the working class in Germany during the 15th to the 17th century according to the numbers in the various towns, provinces and branches of industry as well as in general is the most important problem for the future. Quantitative investigation of the founding of firms and enterprises in the towns, provinces and branches of industry and of their size and endurance constitutes the second important problem in this area. The history of the putting-out system can be treated quantitatively and qualitatively. The putting-out system was an important event of the late Middle Ages and of the first centuries of modern times. Its historians and theoreticians will teach us more about its historical importance.

We have searched out and put into context some data, which highlight the structuration and magnitude of the mining operations and those of the smelters in the 15th and 16th century. The dynamic of the structuration and magnitude of this labour process is implicitly found in the data itself. Further research into this dynamic will be given emphasis in the investigation of those operations in the following periods. Parallel to this the structuration of labour and the size of operations in the printing industry, in shipbuilding, in weaving among others should be investigated. Not just the introduction of newer technics, but also the structuration and division of labour, the training of the workers, the relations between the labourers, their education, finally the relationship of these factors to writing, arithmetic, technics, science, to the merchant class and capital are the starting points of the investigations. Only then can the effect of the new steam machinery, ←251 | 252→the iron scaffolding in construction, the iron ship and the railways, electricity and electronics can be investigated and understood.

The history of social labour is that of the structuration of labour, of training, of increasing qualification, of communication and of the redirection and transmission of the same, then that of labour practices as well as the technics of labour and their social organization. The division of labour constitutes a part of the structuration of labour, the combination, composition by communication and transmission is another aspect, and the social organization of the same is yet a further part of this historical process.

The rationalization of labour of the enterprises was developed pari passu with these antecedents and under these circumstances.

The capitalist system and modern bourgeois society taken together determine the form and substance of modernity. Their antecedents appear sporadically in the late Middle Ages, systematically in the modern period. We have tried to present some of the most important characteristics qualitatively. It will be the task of another, to present them quantitatively, with numbers and tables.

The confrontation of the qualitative and quantitative kinds of treatment is only a moment in the development of the system. It is equally about a process of elaboration. The operations at their start-up have a small workforce, the structuration of labour is simple in comparison to that in the high capitalist enterprise. We see how the era of early capitalism was dominated by the German Hansa, the guilds, the town council, the system of putting-out, the credit institutes of Augsburg and Antwerp. They, however, were attempts, which in the 15th to the 17th century, had set the tone for economic life, which were replaced by other forms of organization of capitalism in the mercantile and industrial period. The concept of organizational form is fitting. Only there is no direct, linear history of these forms. Some of the preceding ones disappear, newer ones come to the fore, some of the older ones surviving into the 20th century.

The enterprises of high capitalism are great, powerful and complicated, but not as durable, as the heavenly bodies. The shareholders of a pit are transformed into trade unions, the companies into joint-stock companies—the political parties of capital and of the working class are continually changing. Europe is no longer the centre of the capitalist world, neither is North America.

The periodization in history is not formally determined. In antiquity and in the Middle Ages the majority of the population consisted of labourers in the countryside and in the town; the majority of workers were unfree, either as slaves bound to the person of their masters, or serfs glebae adscripti, ascribed to the earth and soil. In modern times, the majority of the population belong to the working class, but these workers are free only pro forma. They enjoy the freedom of concluding a ←252 | 253→contract and of seeking employment elsewhere. Substantial freedom does not exist in actuality, only in utopia. These people are forced to work for others; only in rare cases is one free of this pressure. The theory of the form and substance is presented here in relation to the theory of freedom and of the periodization of history.

Changes of the forms in the labour process and in the formal relation of the working class to the system of state and law determine the sequence and the boundaries of the periods in the history of the antique, medieval and modern bourgeois society.

We have frequently emphasized the concept of system. A society like the German or some other is a system, because it is made up of links which are human members. The links are different and linked together in the system. The social system is abiding, and it is also ephemeral because the parts do not have a unitary but rather a divergent and contrary historical course. The human social system is equally non-uniform and contradictory, within a society as well as generally in human history. However, the society is a system by means of the connections of the oppositional and antagonistic parts. The journeymen fought immediately against the council, the peasants against their landlords, not against the distant emperor and the state. The state set itself immediately against the peasants, and state officials tried to dominate the journeymen organizations through the guilds and the council.

The big capitalists of the 15th and 16th century strove for profits and the increase of profits of money and of capital. The striving for capital and the wish to accumulate it, they had in common with the representatives of high capitalism in the 19th and 20th century. They tried to acquire money at the same time through production in the system of mining and so on, as well as in distance trade, in the credit system and in domestic trade. They exploited the workers like the high and late capitalists. Their means were limited, the turnover was originally small, profit limited in comparison to the later epochs. The labourers worked for money wages, but the industrialization of the operations, the structuration of the labour process and the qualification of the labourers were small in relation to contemporary processes. Yet the differences between the 15th and 20th century were rather quantitative than qualitative. The workers’ organizations are in part old, in part new; the joint-stock company as well as the banks and the remaining credit institutes go back to earlier epochs. The class struggle of the earlier journeymen’s organizations and of the newer trade unions extends across the history of the entire capitalist system. Only the forms of the journeymen’s organizations were changed; the substance, that is the wage and the increase of wages, the shortening of the working day and of labour time over the entire year, the improvement of the conditions of labour, of heat and of light and the struggle for them continues to the present day.

←253 | 254→

The industrialization of high capitalism expanded, yet the difference in the system of mining and in the printing industry is not to be assessed qualitatively and substantially in comparison to them today, but rather quantitatively and formally. In other branches of industry, like in the production of cloth and in transportation, the difference is to be assessed quantitatively and qualitatively. The same relations of capital and of wage labour determine the entire capitalist epoch from the 15th to the 20th century. The formal liberation of the peasants, of wage labour and of capital, determine the aspirations of our epoch.

Developments in the history of entrepreneurship like Calvinist asceticism and frugality of the 16th century, of mercantilism of the 17th century and of cameralism of the same period, are interesting and important subdivisions in the history of capitalism. They are epoch making, yet in their impact they are limited. They disappear shortly after their florescence. The protestant spirit appears early in the history of capitalism, but it is not the cause of the new phenomenon, rather more likely the spirit reacted to the new development of the market. This history of spirit is myopic, because it is only related to the entrepreneur. The spirit of the peasantry which strove for liberation, stirred itself much earlier, and is more important. Freedom and wage labour are the moments of the early capitalist spirit of the peasants.

We have mentioned the history of the relationship between the state and the merchants. First the state discovered that the merchants could serve its interests. Later the capitalists became powerful, had their own interests and made the state officials into their servants. Now it appears that a balance has been struck between the public sphere of the state and the private sphere of the capitalists.

The transformation of part of the peasants into wage labourers, the increasing training and qualification of the working class, the rise of class consciousness and of the organizational forms of the working class and of capital are the deeply rooted moments in the history of the capitalist epoch.65

The development of the printing industry is bound up with the system of mining and smelting, of capital, of the training of the working class and its rising qualification, with writing, with arithmetic and with the education of the entire population. The introduction of steam machinery and of the electric industry is based on the skilled working class. Just as important as these moments in the history of European capitalism are colonialism and colonization.


1.Bermannus [Lorenz Bermann]was his friend and colleague, the bookkeeper [Hüttenschreiber]in a smelting plant —trans.

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2.G. Agricola, De Re Metallica, Basel 1556, Zwölf Bücher vom Berg– und Hüttenwesen. C. Schiffner et al. (eds.), 5th edition, Düsseldorf 1978. De Re Metallica (mining and metallurgy), G. Fraustadt and H. Rescher (eds.) Berlin 1974. De Re Metallica, H. C. Hoover and L. H. Hoover (eds.), New York 1950. H. Wilsdorf and W. Quellmalz, Bergwerke und Hüttenwesen der Agricola-Zeit, Berlin 1971. The edition by Schiffner, Zwölf Bücher vom Berg – und Hüttenwesen, is complemented by Agricola’s Buch von den Lebewesen unter Tage in the edition of E. Darmstaedter.

3.The main edition in the 20th century is by Aldo Mieli. Vannoccio Biringuccio, 1480–1539, De la Pirotechnia, Bari 1914ff. (Introduction, biography, text). O. Johannsen, translator: Die zehn Bücher von der Feuerwerkskunst, Braunschweig 1925.

4.The title of the work describes the content better than the table of contents.The complete title of the work by Lazarus Ercker reads: Beschreibung: Allerfürnemsten Mineralischen Erzt/ unnd Berckwercksarten/ wie dieselbigen/ unnd eine jede in sonderheit/ irer natur und eigenschaft nach/ auff alle Metaln Probirt/ und im kleinen fewer sollen versucht werden/ mit erklerung etlicher fürnemen nützlichen Schmeltzwerken im grossen fewer/ auch Schaidung, Goldt/ Silber unnd andere Metalln/ Sampt einem bericht des Kupfer saigerns/ Messing brennens/ und Salpeter siedens, auch aller saltzigen Minerischen proben/ und was denen allen anhengig in fünff Bücher verfast/ Dergleichen zuvorn niemals in Druck kommen. Allen liebhabern der Fewer künste/ jungen Probirern/ unnd Berckleuten zu nutz/ mit schönen Figuren unnd abriß der instrument/ trewlich unnd fleissig an Tag geben. Durch/ Lazarus Erckern, Prag 1574. 2nd edition Frankfurt am Main 1580, in the publishing house of Sigmund Feyerabends. P. R. Beierlein (ed.). Berlin 1960. A. G. Siscon, C. S. Smith (translator), Chicago 1951 (see images).

5.Thus, the rise into the mountain is 1%. The Tuscan ell = 0.5836 metres.

6.Biringuccio, De la pirotechnica.

7.A. Arendt. Bergbau, Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften, 3rd edition, 1909. Fr. Rütten, Bergarbeiter. Staatslexikon, 2nd edition, 1926. H. Wiegmann, R. Specht, Bergarbeiter, Staatslexikon, 6th edition, 1903. H. Wilsdorf. Bergwerke (see above).

8.Agricola, De Re Metallica, 4th book, the distribution of ownership rights among the shareholders was variable, carried out according to the kind of ore and local customs. In the 16th century the iron ore pits remained either undistributed, or they were divided into two or four parts; in very rare cases did it come to further divisions. The pits containing lead, copper, bismuth, tin, and mercury on the contrary were divided into eight, sixteen or twenty-three parts, seldom more. The division of the Schneeberger silver pit went further, for the pits and even the singular tunnels were divided into 128 parts according to the memory of the fathers; of those, 126 parts of the pit or the tunnels belonged to the shareholders, one portion belonged to the state and one to the church. In Joachimsthal on the contrary, 122 shares belonged to the shareholders, one share to the state, one to the church and four to the landowners. In Agricola’s time a further share was added for the poorest of the people. Only the shareholders paid an additional amount. In Joachimsthal the landowners paid nothing further, but rather supplied for their four share certificates as much wood as was necessary from their forests for the expansion of the mines, for machines, for buildings and structures and as fuel for the smelters. Thus, the number of shareholders came to 129 or more. The pit was called Zeche as well or symposium. The additional payments which the shareholders paid for the operation of the pit, were called symbolum. The extraction could be very high. The participants in the St. George mine in Schneeberg received for each of the 128 shares Silberkuchen quarterly which amounted to 1100 Rhenish gold guldens. Apian remarks in this regard: “Notice, that the entire repository is first divided into 10 shares. The shareholders received 9 of them, the tenth belongs to the authorities. The 9 are divided into ←255 | 256→some fractions, as ½ of one ninth and ¼ of one ninth and a half quarter, a sixth. The six tenths are called by some Kukis.” Cf. C. Rudolff, Exempel vom Bergwerk, in: J. Tropfke, Geschichte der Elementarmathematik, 4th edition, Vol. 1; K. Vogel et al. (eds.), Berlin 1980. The merger of the mines is bound up with the expansion of capital investment. The share certificates were variously distributed by the mergers.

The Rappolt-Great Company of 1515 had 138 shareholders:


Number of Shareholders

Number of Share Certificates

Augsburg (merchant)



Central Germany


3 ¾







Jülich (mint master)



Leipzig (merchants, manual labourers among others)


11 ¼

Leipzig (merchants, county princes, officials)






Nuremberg (merchants among others)


41 ½



7 ¾



22 ½

Provincial and court nobles



Schneeberg (resource seekers, foremen, shift masters)





4 ¼



129 ½

T. G. Werner, ‘Die große Fusion der Zechen um den Rappolt von 1514.’ Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Nürenberg, Vol. 57, 1970. Werner reckons 129 3–4 shares. With the assembly of the collieries [Zechen] Agricola wrote about the division of the shares.

9.O. Gierke, Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht (1868), Vol. 1, Graz 1954, §§ 42 and 43. Leuthold, ‘Knappschaft,’ Ersch and Gruber, Enzyklopädie, Leipzig 1885. They base themselves on G. W. Leibniz [Script. Rer. Brunsv, 1711] among others. We will concern ourselves in the following section with mining in Upper Germany.

10.J. Strieder, Studien zur Geschichte kapitalistischer Organisationsformen, 2nd edition, Munich 1925, Book 1, 3rd chapter.

11.According to folk etymology of the Huntestößer or Karrenläufer the carts made noises like dogs, underground.

12.For a short discussion of the word Kunst, please see the Translator’s Foreword above.

13.Lazarus Ercker (Beschreibung: Allerfürnemsten Erzt …, Book II) behaved sceptically, when the philosophers or alchemists said they could transform copper into silver and silver into gold, for he, Ercker, “invoked in his books only natural and proven methods upon which everyone might ←256 | 257→rely, and would not awaken any vain hopes.” Yet he admitted in the first book that assaying is an ancient art, which, like all other Feuerarbeiten [pyrotechnical works] was established by the alchemists. Vannoccio Biringuccio (De la Pirotechnia) campaigned against alchemy, as his publisher Mieli demonstrates. Lippmann and Johannsen call attention to the fact that already in the 14th century alchimia was put on a level with forgery. Agricola went a step further with his practical orientation in relation to sorcery of the diving rod and believed that the serious mining man ought to avoid all these supernatural arts. Agricola returns repeatedly to the mine spirits (De animantibus subtaneneis, Concerning the living beings underground). He believes that there are benevolent and malevolent spirits of the mine and cites theologians and philosophers like Psellus, in order to show that these spirits have specific characteristics and properties. This orientation contradicts the pragmatic views of Agricola. Yet Agricola, Biringuccio and Ercker were all in agreement already in the 16th century that the sciences of chemistry and metallurgy were chasing after rainbows, when they believed in the transformability of metals, like the alchemists did.

14.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Books 3 and 6. The miner of Hans Sachs worked on Sanct Annaberg.

15.Kellenbenz, in: C. M. Cipolla, K. Borchardt (eds.), Europäische Wirtschaftsgeschichte. 16th and 17th Century, Stuttgart 1979.

16.H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke. In Goslar at Rammelsberg, as we have seen, 400 men worked together, who lost their lives. Whether or not they had worked in one operation, was not said.

17.J. Strieder, Studien zur Geschichte kapitalistischer Organisationsformen, 2nd edition, Munich 1925. Book 1, Chapter 3. H. Kellenbenz, in: Europäische Wirtschaftsgeschichte. C. M. Cipolla, K. Borchardt (eds.), Stuttgart 1979, Chapter 3. Regarding smelting furnaces in the 16th century see Agricola, De Re Metallica, (Saigern, Saigerofen, Garherd, Darrherd), Book 11. By these means, silver, copper and lead were acquired. The foundational process is the removal of silver from the black copper, through the remelting of the lead and the crushing of the black copper. Small amounts of silver were also acquired from iron ore.

18.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 8. The unskilled male labourers climbed down into the mines; the women did not do so.

19.The philological, economic-historical, scientific-historical and technical-historical works by Hoover, Schiffner, Darmststädter, Fraustadt, Prescher, Wilsdorf, Smith and Beierlein, Mieli and Johannsen have created the grounds for further research. With regard to the romanticization of the past, in particular with regard to the conception that the class struggles are only related to the capitalist period, we have already spoken. The capital relations, wage labour and class struggles were already present in the Middle Ages and in classical antiquity. Only in the pre-capitalist period did they arise sporadically, in the capitalist period systematically.

20.Grimm, Wörterbuch. Cf.

21.A share made over to the owner in return for his providing the mines with wood from his forest.

22.H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen, 1971. The number of people in mining in this region in 1527 amounted to 610. The Huntestößer as a precursor to the Hauer was a Fördermann in mining.

23.Der Freiberger Bergbau. O. Wagenbreth, E. Wachtler (eds.), Leipzig 1985.

24.H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen, 1971. The number of mining people in this region amounted to 610 in 1527. The Huntestößer as a preperatory stage to hewer was a transport or delivery worker [Fördermann] in mining.

25.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 6, Hoover (ed.).

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26.It is assumed that it was Agricola’s intention to compose a work concerning iron mining, yet we do not have that book.

27.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 4.

28.Agricola’s 9th book, translated by C. Schiffner; 4th book, translated by E. Wandhoff.

29.Werke und Tage (Ἔργα καὶ ἡμέραι [Érga kaì hêmérai]) title of a poem by Hesiod—trans.

30.The lamps are supposed to be procured by the miner himself.

31.It is assumed that Agricola is himself also pictured here.

32.Biringuccio, De la Pirotechnia, O. Johannsen (ed.). Agricola, De Re Metallica. For later research see H. Hoover, L. Beck, O. Johannsen, H. Wilsdorf, R. Sprandel.

33.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 6, Hoover (ed.) K. T. Inama-Sternegg, Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte (see above).

34.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 9, H. Kellenbenz in: Europäische Wirtschaftsgeschichte.Cipolla, Borchardt (eds.) op. cit.

35.Grimm, Wörterbuch. Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 7, Künste als Instrumente im Probierwesen.

36.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Books 9–12. Grimm, Wörterbuch.

37.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Books 6, 8, 9. With regard to the dangers of bad weather in the pits he had previously commented. The danger was increased by the depths which were reached in the 16th century.

38.H. Kellenbenz, in: Cipolla and Borchardt. Ibid. Über die Geschichte der Technik.

39.Rülein von Calw, Ein Nützlich Bergbüchlein,in 1500, 1527, an so on. Agricola, De Re Metallica, Books 1 and 6 and passim.

40.L. Brentano, (Die Anfänge des modernen Kapitalismus, Munich 1916) signalled the philanthropic activity of the Fuggers; M. Weber (Die Protestantische Ethik 1929, Tübingen 1969) agreed with him. F. M. Feldhaus (Die Maschine, 1954, p. 274) pointed to the reverse side of this activity. An earlier edition of the Bergbüchleins is known. (see above).

41.Johannasen, Geschichte des Eisens.

42.R. Sprandel, Eisengewerbe. The list of wage labourers originates from the poem Ferraria by Nicolas Bourbon, 1518.

43.Johannsen, Sprandel, Kulischer, Kellenbenz, op. cit.

44.O. Johannsen, Geschichte des Eisens, 3rd edition, Düsseldorf, 1953.

45.J. Kulischer, Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Vol. II, 1958, Section 3, chapter 9.

46.O. Johannsen, Geschichte des Eisens, 3rd edition, Düsseldorf 1953, p. 170ff.

47.Johannsen, ibid., p. 90. For the history of extraction and smelting of gold, silver and copper at this time cf. P. Arnold and W. Quellmelz, Sächsische Thüringische Bergbaugepräge, Leipzig 1978. They stood in favor of this for they developed the capitalist trade union prior to 1300 in the Saxon silver mines. This assertion was related to the sporadic appearance of capitalist relations in the 13th or 14th century.

48.R. Sprandel, Das Eisengewerbe in Mittelalter, Stuttgart 1968.

49.H. Wilsdorf and W. Quellmalz, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen der Agricola-Zeit, Berlin 1971, p. 484.

50.R. Sprandel, loc. cit.

51.O. Johannsen, Die Geschichte des Eisens, 3rd edition, Düsseldorf 1954.

52.H. Wilsdorf and Quellenmalz, op. cit.

53.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 6. H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen, 1971. In addition, there were Pferdeknecht, Wasserheber, Bergschmiede and possibly also Karrenläufer; altogether 70–100 workers in the work force of a pit. [A Lachter was a unit of measure of length which ←258 | 259→often expressed depth of mine shafts and tunnels. It was the equivalent to distance between a man’s outstretched arms on both sides of the body—roughly 5–6 feet—trans.]

54.L. Beck, Geschichte des Eisens, Braunschweig 1884–1903., vol. II.

55.J. Kulischer, Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Vol. II.

56.H. Kellenbenz, in: C. M. Cipolla, K. Borchardt (eds.), Europäische Wirtschaftsgeschichte. 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 1979.

57.F. M. Feldhaus, Die Machine, Basel 1954.

58.J.Kulischer, Allgemeine Wirtschaftsgechichte, Vol. II, chapter 1.2.

59.Agricola, De Re Metallica, Book 9. Zu Frischfeuer, Frischstücken, Saigerherd, Book 11. O. Johannsen, Geschichte des Eisens, 1953. H. Wilsdorf, Bergwerke und Hüttenanlagen, 1971.

60.G. W. F. Hegel had already seen this. This has to do not only with tools, but also with intellectual labour, concrete labour, the abstract instruments of labour and the concrete tools. The mediation in this process is displayed in the relation between man and external nature, namely in three ways: through the organization of labour, through the treatment of the instruments of labour and through the processing of ore. At first labour is simple through the processing of the ore and thus further organized, thereupon more complicated, through the dealings with ore, then with raw iron and finally with malleable iron. The process of mediation is not static but rather dynamic. Das Rennen in the production of malleable iron was predominant in the Middle Ages, refining in the early historical period of capitalism, puddling during the industrial revolution and the Bessemer process in the period of high capitalism. The art of forging by means of wrought iron [Schweißeisens] and of wrought steel [Schweißstahls] was transformed after the industrial revolution in the forging of soft iron and soft steel (Johannsen). The organization of labour became more complicated; the labourer, the mining men, transporters, the coal measurer, the puddler, the smelter, the oxidizing smelter [Zerrenner], the wood cutter, shipper, hammer forger, agricultural labourer, welder were structured and integrated; increasingly more intermediate stages were inserted in the production of iron and steel: beside one another and after one another and in reaction and feedback to one another. The view of Strieder who from the standpoint of the forms of organization of capitalist enterprise imputes the beginning of the capitalist period to the 15th century, finds himself in agreement with the schema from O. Johannsen. Accordingly, the new period begins in 1450, modern times in 1800, that is, with the industrial revolution and high capitalism. F. M. Feldhaus has suggested the same conception on grounds of the history of technics. These views, which are based on the history of trade of the merchant class, of investions and discoveries, are interesting and even important; they are to be taken seriously, but not as definitive. Only when they are posited in relation to the peasant movements and the process of labour and when the oppositions between the moments are analysed, can a picture of the revolution of the Middle Ages and of feudalism be introduced. The views and activities of Regiomontan, Nicolas of Cuso, Dürer, Luther, Calvin, Agricola and Copernicus caused nothing, but they belong to the picture that the objective historical moments showcase.

61.Henry Yule, Henri Cordier and Paul Pelliot conducted research in this area. Leonardo Olschki, Marco Polos Asia, California 1960.

62.Edgar Zilsel investigated the relationship between occupational skill and science.

63.From this point of view we have already mentioned the works of Ehrenberg, Strieder, Sombart and Kulischer, v. Below and Brentano, Weber and Schumpeter.

64.The primary researches in the area of technology in relation to early capitalism were undertaken by F. M. Feldhaus, L. Beck, O. Johannsen, R. Sprandel, H. Kellenbenz and H. Wilsdorf.

65.It would be important to investigate the connection between the merchant class and arithmetic.

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