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Merchants from Holland and the Middle East trading.

A merchant is a businessman who trades in commodities produced by others, in order to earn a profit. The status of the merchant has varied during different periods of history and among different societies. Merchants have often been the subject of works of art.

Types of merchant

There are two types of merchant.

  • A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between produce and retail merchant, typically dealing in large quantities of goods.[1] Some wholesale merchants only organize the movement of goods rather than move the goods themselves.
  • A retail merchant or retailer, sells merchandise to consumers (including businesses), usually in small quantities. A shop owner is a retail merchant.


A merchant making up the account by Katsushika Hokusai.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. A merchant class characterizes many pre-modern societies. Its status can range from high (the members even eventually achieving titles such as that of Merchant Prince or Nabob) to low, as in Chinese culture, owing to the presumed distastefulness of profiting from "mere" trade rather than from labor or the labor of others as in agriculture and craftsmanship.

In the Greco-Roman world merchants typically did not have high social status, though they may have enjoyed great wealth, and there were exceptions, such as in Syria and Palestine in late antiquity, where merchants did have a high social position.[2]

Medieval attitudes toward merchants in the West were strongly influenced by criticism of their activities by the Christian church, which closely associated their activities with the sin of usury.[3]

From around 1300 to the 1800s a large number of European Chartered and Merchant Companies were established to exploit international trading opportunities, for instance the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, Chartered in 1407.[4]

In art

Merchants have often commissioned and been the subject of art.

External video
video icon Holbein's The Merchant Georg Gisze at Smarthistory.

In architecture

Many buildings have taken their names from their former use as the home or place of business of merchants:

See also

References and sources

  1. mer‧chant, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  2. Barnish, S.J.B. (1989) "The transformation of classical cities and the Pirenne debate", Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol. 2, p. 390.
  3. Medieval Merchant Culture. Decameron Web, Brown University, 1 March 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2013. Archived here.
  4. "Merchant Adventurers" in Encyclopædia Britannica, Online Library Edition, 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
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External links

  • Joanna Woodall lecturing on Trading Identities, the image of the merchant at Gresham College.