The Medieval Law Merchant: The Tyranny of a Construct

40 Pages Posted: 2 May 2016 Last revised: 22 May 2016

Date Written: June 26, 2015


The story of a medieval law merchant has a strong hold on scholars interested in private ordering. Despite numerous historical works demonstrating the falsity of the myth, it continues to be discussed regularly in scholarship as if it were an accurate portrayal of the past. This article tests the law merchant story against evidence about the mechanisms of medieval trade. It suggests that medieval commerce had little space for a specialized law, and that merchants had little need for it because of both the well-developed trading infrastructure and the actions of local governments to ensure the protection of legal rights.

JEL Classification: B15

Suggested Citation

Kadens, Emily, The Medieval Law Merchant: The Tyranny of a Construct (June 26, 2015). 7 Journal of Legal Analysis 251 (2015), Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 16-06, Available at SSRN:

Emily Kadens (Contact Author)

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

600 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
United States

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