Bibliographic data

Grütter, Werner; Borth, Wilhelm: Geschichtliche Grundlagen Europas, Von der griechisch-römischen Antike bis zum Zeitalter des Absolutismus. Zeiten und Menschen, Vol. 1. Paderborn: Schöningh-Verlag, 1985, S. 140.

Jacob Fugger during a Meeting with his Head Accountant in the Branch Office in Augsburg by Herfordt, Ewa (2018)

The first volume in the textbook series ‘Times and People’ was designed for use by the 11th grade and covers the period from antiquity until the French Revolution, while focusing on political, social and economic history. In addition to conveying traditional knowledge for school pupils, the team of authors treats cultural and everyday history as well as topics from applied geography. It also includes details of the achievements of historically important individuals.

Having been published at a time of political détente in Europe (1971-1985), the very history of this volume reflects a period marked by radical educational reforms. The ‘Agreement on the Restructuring of the Secondary School's Upper Level at the Secondary Level II’, which ushered in a reform of the upper level in the Federal Republic of Germany, was introduced by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in Germany in 1972. This reform was valid from the school year 1976/77. In the same year, both volumes of Werner Grütter’s textbook The Historical Way of Our World before 1776 were revised and recommended for use in Rhineland-Palatinate and Hamburg. Almost a decade later, Grütter, together with Wilhelm Borth, published a new edition of this work in three parts in the series ‘New Edition G’. After having been authorised for use in Rhineland-Palatinate and Brandenburg, this textbook was also considered for use in Baden Württemberg, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western, Pomerania, Saarland and Switzerland. The present edition from 1985 has a clearly international perspective, as indicated in the revised title, The Historical Foundations of Europe. The very first part of the book begins with a description of the ‘Cultures of the Mediterranean Area’, which pervade or are given special emphasis in all of the periods under discussion (an aspect which can rarely be found in textbooks designed for a German readership which deal with the Middle Ages, such as Lorenz’s textbook of 1926).

The miniature depicts the branch office. It shows the famous large scale manufacturer from Augsburg Jacob Fugger the Rich (1459-1525) and his accountant Matthäus Schwarz (1497-1574) in the Fugger family’s ‘Golden Office’ (Fink 1963). This illustration is placed within the paragraph dealing with ‘The Fuggers: The Biography of a Family of Social Climbers’, which is found in the chapter about ‘Municipal Government and the Citizenry’ in Part V, ‘City Planning and the Territorial State’. This illustration, which is reproduced in black and white, has been used a great deal in recent German history textbooks dealing with the Middle Ages (for example, in F. Bahr, (ed.), Horizons I. History for the Upper Level: From Greek Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, Braunschweig: Westermann 2006). The fact that this image is incorporated into the text without referring to the context in which it was created shows that the authors have taken the liberty of playing down its regional and national aspect in favour of its international significance, which once again is traced back to the Middle Ages.

The miniature was a commissioned work. It was created by the book maker Narziß Renner from Augsburg (around 1501-1536) for a book of traditional costumes commissioned by an accountant called Schwarz in 1520, and reveals the new economic ethos which characterised this period of change, in which banking, credit transactions and long distance trade were common. Trade was no longer primarily handled, as in the twelfth century, in the ports of Italy as a point of convergence between Orient and Occident, but spread throughout the entire continent. It is well known that the Fuggers from Augsburg maintained good relations with the most powerful rulers in Europe and had at their disposal a dense network of establishments. This illustration not only places the two merchants in the centre of the picture, but also prominently features the set of drawers behind them, each drawer bearing the names of the most important branches, ranging from Lisbon in the west, Cracow and Ofen (Buda) in the east, as well as Rome, Venice and Milan in central Europe.

The authors adopt a fundamentally ‘pan-European’ way of thinking in the text. The Fuggers had learned how the ‘money economy’ works in the Mediterranean area in Rome and Venice, that is, where ‘Oriental European trade’ had been flourishing since the Crusades. As a major group of companies under the control of Jacob Fugger II, they took part in the silk trade with Italy. The close association between texts and images make it clear what this textbook unit is trying to say: that long distance trade routes were slowly shifting towards northern Europe and thereby boosting the economy of the continent. Renaissance culture built upon this new development and eventually caused middle-class attitudes to arise. The significance of the miniatures presented in the textbook is that they effectively represented this new middle-class attitude, although the team of authors does not give credit to this. This image was one of the 131 coloured illustrations in Schwarz’s costume book. It is dominated by the Fuggers’ accountant working at the other end of the table. Thus the function of this image in particular and of the miniature in general is to represent the upper German’s craving for recognition (Denzel 2002).

The teaching unit about the Fuggers opens a window onto the social history of the period. As in a remarkably large number of other sections of this textbook, the main thread is based not on events, but on social developments and people who do business with each other and get involved in mutual exchange. Unlike the famous ‘historical ecology’ of the Mediterranean written by the Renaissance specialist Fernand Braudel, in which the Mediterranean is presented as a ‘historical protagonist’ (Journal Geschichte 3/1988), this textbook focuses on human agents such as traders and merchants. These people played one of the most important roles in the creation of modern Europe. Their contribution to the development of this continent in terms of geopolitical space is given due recognition by the textbook authors. In this respect, their interpretation approaches that of Braudel insofar as the Mediterranean stretches from the western to the eastern parts of the continent, including both the complex international communication networks and the markets near the Atlantic coastline. Europe, here, is no longer made up of two separate areas as in Karl Lorenz’s book of 1926, but represents a large but coherent economic area in which people, ‘in the name of God and of profit’, crossed the threshold into modernity and forged the ‘foundations of Europe’.


  • Braudel, Fernand: Das Mittelmeer und die mediterrane Welt in der Epoche Phillips II., Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp, 2001 (1st edition, Paris 1949).
  • Denzel, Markus A.: Professionalisierung und sozialer Aufstieg bei oberdeutschen Kaufleuten und Faktoren im 16. Jh., in: Schulz, Günther (ed.), Sozialer Aufstieg. Funktionseliten im Spätmittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit, München, Boldt im Oldenburg-Verl., 2002, 413-442.
  • Fink, August: Die Schwarzschen Trachtenbücher, Berlin, Dt. Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1963.
  • Raulff, U.: Das Mittelmeer als historische Hauptperson, in: Journal Geschichte 3/1988, 28-35.

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