There were a number of economists in early modern Germany who, as their works indicate, faced regular criticism and personal attacks. Again and again, they had to defend and legitimize their work. Such apologetic formulas appear for the first time in the work of the Saxon councilor and writer Melchior von Osse (1506–57). This was no coincidence. Starting from the large and dynamic mining districts of the region, a new variant of economic thinking emerged at the end of the fifteenth century, characterized in particular by the fact that it extended the princely household over the entire territory. Ideas of this kind violated centuries-old scholarly traditions. This concerned both the question of occupations suitable for people of high status as well as the scope of what could legitimately be called a household or economy. The reason for this break with convention was the increasingly capitalist organization of mining, which fostered new forms of spatial imagination and governmental practice. However, irrespective of how important the idea of a territorial economy would become, it also placed a burden on economic scholars who were involved in its early dissemination. The legacy of disrupting the medieval politico-economic order will accompany them for centuries to come.
GOD has transformed through nature even the deepest and most uninhabited abyss to an inexhaustible treasury for the ungrateful mortals. . . . Let . . . no one be afraid of the horrible depths of this underworld; for we ask all learned enthusiasts to descend with us into the immense maw of the earth / but everyone will be able to stay where he is / and will be allowed to bring up with him the greatest metallic treasures from the darkest caves in his thoughts.—Paul Jacob Marperger, Das neu-eröffnete Berg-Werck (1707)
1. A Splendid Miseria
Melchior von Osse (1506–57), longtime servant and council to the Saxon princes, was expecting that his major economic treatise, the Testament gegen Hertzog Augusto (1556), would attract much resistance from its audience. There would be “evil men,” he predicted in his dedication to August, Elector of Saxony (1526–86), who would try and deliberately discredit some of his ideas in front of the Wettin ruler. Although only “GOD and the truth” served as his guidance and ultimate goal in compiling this volume, the majority of people affected by his advice, he argued pessimistically, would most likely reject it as “unnecessary, futile and useless” (von Osse  1717: 9–13).1
There were a number of possible reasons for such a defensive rhetoric. Life as a Saxon councilor, especially one who dared to engage in literary activity, was marked by many challenges. Existence as a “courtier” was considered by contemporaries to be a “Splendida Miseria, a dangerous and arduous life” (Löhneysen  1729: bk. 2, chap. 1, para. 1, p. 1), a life afflicted with fierce competition, envy, and resentment.
In the fall of his career, von Osse began to lose ground in this arena. With the changes in Saxon-Albertine rule from Duke George (1471–1539) to Elector Moritz (1521–53) and eventually his brother August (1526–86), the power structures of the court changed. The number and influence of bourgeois officials grew, the religious confession changed, ambitious young people pushed into the front row. For the adamant Catholic and aristocrat von Osse, these shifts were unfavorable. His Testament represented one last attempt of the ailing author to turn the tide of events in his favor and to win back the favor of the Albertines for himself and his family.
However, it would fall short to attribute these introductory apologetic formulas solely to von Osse's personal situation or to the general conditions of scholarly activity in the court environment (for the latter, see Smith 1994 and Bauer 1997). In a large number of letters to counts, dukes, and electors, von Osse proved that he could act with a large degree of self-confidence and fearlessness even in his dealings with high political figures. At the same time, we know from comparison with other contemporary guidebooks for the high nobility—for example, those by Reinhard Lorich (1510–64) and Wolfgang Seidel (1491–1562)—that it was by no means a necessity or convention to anticipate possible critics in the preface. If one looks at the 1556 Regentbuch of the Mansfeld chancellor Georg Lauterbeck, probably the most successful prince's mirror of Saxony at the time (Lauterbeck 1556; Singer 1981: 111–12; Philipp 1996), one will find no literary hint of expected backtalk or hostility.
In fact, the reason for von Osse's choice of words was of a different kind. According to the first thesis of this article, the Testament belonged to a small group of writings that broke with traditions that had shaped economic thought in the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. Notably, they brought the material and economic dimension of household management back to the center of economic reflection. Second, and it is this aspect in particular that will concern us here, they extended the frame of reference of house and household beyond the usual sphere of noble estates to the entire territory of the sovereign.
It had always been important for the medieval nobility to keep a visible distance from economic dependencies, this realm of “low and little respected things” (Coler 1593: 1). Material needs were to be kept in the private sphere and satisfied primarily through one's own domain and estate, the household in the classical sense. Beyond this was the countryside (Landschaft), the sphere of politics. An extension of the regent's household, his economy, into these spheres was considered problematic, a potential encroachment on the sources of income and wealth of other estates and members of society.
Authors such as von Osse broke with this medieval convention. In their writings, the heads and fathers of the economy not only made obvious efforts to improve their incomes; they also operated within a conception of the household that encompassed the entire country. In doing so, they disrupted a centuries-old politico-economic spatial order. If we look for reasons for this ideological change, the first thing that stands out is a geographical peculiarity. The first generation of German authors who used the concept of a territorial household-economy, Melchior von Osse, Georg Engelhard von Löhneysen (1552–1622), Jakob Bornitz (1560–1625), and Georg Obrecht (1547–1612), lived in major mining regions of the time. Especially Electoral Saxony, at that time the most important German-speaking silver mining region, home of the first three, stands out in this context.
Following this geographic lead reveals some interesting insights. Not only were von Osse and Löhneysen active as mining investors and mining officials, respectively. Saxon mining discourses exhibited as early as the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, long before these ideas entered theory, several concepts that would later become influential within German economic thought. These included, besides concepts of population, trade, and monetary policy, which are not further explored here, early concepts of a territorial economy, of a princely household, extending from the residences in Dresden, Torgau, and Wittenberg to the depths of the mining districts.
In search of the underlying reasons for this shift in the history of ideas, this article will first outline the montane transformation processes of the period. Silver mining underwent major changes in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. As I will argue, deep economic spaces emerged in these areas, a “new world” (neuwe wält) that provided income and living space for thousands of people (secs. 2 and 3). This development, however, led to problems of social organization and government. It became necessary to revise and massively expand mining regulations as well as administrative structures, leading to a phenomenon that might be described as deep government (sec. 4). In combination, these two processes created spaces of knowledge and potential economic gain that were exceptional in comparison to even the most advanced agrarian areas in the country (sec. 5). However, this did not mean that economic thought had to change simultaneously. Resistance against extending the princely economy into traditionally political terrain was strong (sec. 6). Nevertheless, corresponding changes in economic semantics occurred at the end of the fifteenth century in the environment of the Erzgebirge mining industry. The earliest documented extension of the princely household was the legend of the court below ground, in which the pits and miners at the Schneeberg, a major silver district at the time, were symbolically integrated into the economy of the Saxon duke Albrecht (sec. 7). This ideological revolution was based on fundamental economic and societal changes in Saxony. Early capitalist mining did not only disrupt the traditionally significant conjunction of rule and nature (qua agriculture, hunting, etc.); it also inspired early concepts of economic growth that decisively undermined the normative framework of late medieval society as well as scholastic economic thought (sec. 8). It was only on this ground that the territorial expansion of household semantics could take place. The consequences for German economic thought were considerable. This breach of convention not only brought forth a new economic episteme, new modes of economic observation, but the status of many economic scholars changed, too. They inherited the disputes and allegations that came along with breaking the medieval politico-economic framework—a legacy that would bring them frequent ridicule and hostility for centuries to come (sec. 9).
2. Saxon Silver Rush
When Melchior von Osse was born in Ossa (Geithain) in 1506, 40 percent of the income of the treasury (Rentkammer) of Electoral Saxony came from mining and metallurgy. Although this share would fall to about 10 percent by 1600, the importance of the mining industry for the prince and Saxony remained outstanding. More than 50,000 florins per annum, not counting the additional profits from princely Kux (mine-shares) possessions of approximately 8,000 to 11,000 florins, were still flowing into Dresden's coffers during the two decades after 1582 (Schirmer 2001: 129–30).
These economic dimensions, however, were a relatively recent phenomenon at the time. Apart from a few exceptions such as Freiberg in the twelfth century, the medieval mines of Saxony were run mostly by self-employed miners (so-called Eigenlehner) or by mining cooperatives, that is, by small-scale and capital-weak forms of organizations that were equipped merely for near-surface operations (Dietrich 1991: 9; Bogsch 1933: 93). Simple tools and devices were deployed to dig into the ground until intruding masses of groundwater would eventually render the continuation of work too expensive. Often people would subsequently start a new mine just a few meters away from the old one. Because of that, the degree of professionalization was correspondingly low until the thirteenth century. In many regions, the primary occupation was still farming, with mining only as a secondary occupation (Stöger 2006: 170).
Already by the second half of the fourteenth century, the majority of easily accessible ores had been exploited in most regions. Combined with repeated plague outbreaks, rising labor costs, and difficult climatic conditions, this eventually led to a prolonged phase of crisis in central European silver mining (Bartels and Klappauf 2012: 239–42). The financial resources of self-employed miners and cooperatives were simply too small to meet the costs of draining and extraction in greater depths under such circumstances. Even important mining districts such as Freiberg suffered acutely from the lack of financial resources. Freiberg miners complained for example in 1447 that they had no external financial support and cited that as the reason why “we poor pitmen have to continue . . . to mine all alone, only helped by some impoverished craftsmen” by our side (quoted in Wilsdorf 1975: 161n12).
A few years before this complaint, however, significant innovations in the mining industry had already begun to emerge. The financial requirements of the mines and the growing interest of princes, towns, and the bourgeoisie in a prosperous mining industry had led to experiments with new types of business organization. A decisive innovation in this context was the emergence of the so-called Kux. Hitherto noncommodified cooperative mine shares were converted into freely negotiable and transferable share certificates (Dietrich 1991: 36). Soon these Kux were traded on the markets of mining cities as well as at trade fairs held in cities such as Leipzig, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, and Antwerp (Bogsch 1933: 100; Asmussen 2016b: 161). This innovation and the following emergence of the “capitalist mining cooperative” (Laube 1974: 83) opened up the mining industry for investments from the ranks of the nobility, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie.
The effects of this development, starting in the Falkenstein silver district of Tyrol around 1440 (Suhling 1983: 107), were resounding. The massive inflow of funds soon allowed existing mines to be drained and new mines to be established. Around 1470, when “finally a mighty ore was found” (quoted in Kratzsch 1972: 13), the Saxon Erzgebirge became the center of a veritable “mountain fever” (Kahleyß 2013: 158). More and more new deposits were discovered, eventually resulting in great numbers of pits all over the district. Rumors and news of fantastic silver findings soon circulated through the Holy Roman Empire and attracted thousands of soldiers of fortune, miners, day laborers, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants to the remote and sparsely populated regions of the Erzgebirge. According to Petrus Albinus (1543–98), they streamed into the newly founded settlements “as if on a pilgrimage” (quoted in Karant-Nunn 1989: 309–10). New cities like Annaberg (1492–99) and Buchholz (1501) were founded. Similarly, deserted villages such as Glashütte (1506) and lost hamlets such as Schlieten, later called Marienberg (1521), turned into prosperous and vibrant centers (Dietrich 1991: 23). As early as the middle of the sixteenth century, the once almost deserted Erzgebirge contained between 50,000 and 70,000 inhabitants (Schirmer 1997: 130; Straube 1997).
Along with these demographic effects, fundamental changes within the daily mining business were introduced. The influx of large amounts of capital allowed the pits to advance into previously unattained depths. While in the fourteenth century the lack of financial means had still hampered the development and installation of techniques and procedures for water elevation (so-called Wasserkünste), this changed in the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Technical innovations like the Bulgenkunst, the Heinzenkunst, and finally the so-called Ehrenfriedersdorfer Kunstgezeugs would emerge and eventually allow water to be pumped up to thirty meters and more (Kraschewski 2012: 288; Blaschke 1967: 163).
One consequence of these processes was that the mining industry, as von Osse and contemporaries would experience it, became not only exceptionally “capital-committing and cost-intensive” (Kaufhold 2000: 70–71) but also extremely complex. In order to reach mining depths of over 270 meters as in Schneeberg, a highly differentiated and effective network of various forms of knowledge and professions was required on site (Hoppe 1908: 93; Kraschewski 2012: 251–52) Thirty different occupational groups can be identified in the process of silver mining already by the beginning of the sixteenth century (Westermann 2012: 427). The necessary knowledge for many of these occupations required years of vocational training and practical experience (Sieber 1954: 87).
3. Deep Economy
It is evident that the mining boom at the end of the fifteenth century did not only imply a geographical concentration of people, techniques, and financial resources. A “mine” (Pergwerck), wrote the Basel merchant, author, and mining investor Andreas Ryff (1550–1603) in his Münz und Mineralbüchlein, provides “considerable benefit” for the society, especially since all the “new mines . . . , tunnels and shafts” emerge in “desolate wastelands and deserted lands,” where previously “nothing but wild animals, snakes, toads and other unworthy creatures . . . lived.” Wherever the mining industry appears, “the countryside will be cleared, leveled, cultivated, planted and filled with people and livestock,” turning these “sites into beautiful pleasure gardens, replacing wild fauna by a new world” (Ryff 1594: l v.; Asmussen and Long 2020: 8–9).
The notion of the “new world” is crucial here. The enormous upsurge of the mining industry did not simply cause an expansion of the old conditions, a mere advancement of replicas of the old society into hitherto unpopulated regions. Rather, the various material, physical, and natural metamorphoses were embedded in a novel and dynamic order of knowledge—a growing system of ever finer social, political, and economic distinctions that opened up beyond and underneath the traditional order of things and surfaces.
It is precisely to this that the metaphorical notion of a deep economy refers. A historical mining illustration helps to shed some light on this concept. Figure 1, the centerpiece of the Annaberger Bergaltar, created by the panel and glass painter Hans Hesse (b. before 1497; d. after 1539) and consecrated in 1521, represents one of the most famous depictions of the Erzgebirge mining landscape in the early sixteenth century. The forests have been cleared to the horizon. Excavated heaps are piling up. New silver veins are mined, and material from the existing pits is extracted. A man stamps rocks; another one pushes a wheelbarrow or leads a horse carriage. At the same time, however, it is clear that what is visible to the viewer's eye represents only the surface of far more complex realities. In order to illustrate this problem, an exemplary pictorial element within figure 1 shall be selected.
The conical building in the background, marked by a white frame, is a horse capstan (called a roß kunst). In it, several horses, often in continuous operation, walked in a circle around a driveshaft, pumping goods and mine water into and out of the mine (Wilsdorf 1975: 116; Schirmer 2013: 50). This technique had become necessary because of the increasing mining depths and probably appeared in the Saxon Erzgebirge for the first time around 1500 (Feldhaus 1914). If one is to believe the mining scholar Georg Agricola, the appearance of these large facilities must have been impressive. “My God! What a giant machine,” Doctor Johannes Naevius, one of the three protagonists in Agricola's first work, Bermannus (1530), exclaims in astonishment (Agricola  1955: 86).
About twenty years later, in his famous De Re Metallica (1556), Agricola will add some highly detailed descriptions and woodcuts of such horse capstans (see fig. 2). What at first (see fig. 1) may have looked like a large hut covered with wooden shingles now reveals itself as an interwoven complex of materials, mechanics, and practices. The building on the surface resembles the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It represents and incorporates decades of condensed knowledge about elements, artifacts, and processes like the guidance and deflection of the axles, the choice of suitable types of wood, the production of ropes and bearings, and the manufacture of lubricants.
What might have looked to the untrained eye merely like a bustling landscape was in fact a deep sphere of several layers of interlocking professions, techniques, practices, and types of knowledge. Even if only the workers below ground are counted, that is, all the supplying and ancillary trades are left out, around three thousand people worked in a district like Annaberg at the beginning of the sixteenth century (Laube 1974: 115). The large number of fortune seekers, the pursuit of wealth, and the effort to increase montane yields did not simply dig cavities into the mountains but rather created increasingly voluminous and differentiated economic spaces. It was only the latter that ensured that such a large number of people could make a living there. New societal and linguistic distinctions, new names and designations, new inventions, and new beings and things emerged in great numbers in this environment. This growth, this emergence of “new worlds” (neuwe wälten), in turn constantly created additional junctions, additional spaces that could be managed, cultivated, and exploited. In places where a layman would perceive only humans, rocks, and buildings, the expert saw variations, types, and forms, with regard to their functional characteristics and their origins (Dym 2011: 5; Lingg 2021b).
Elements and things that had remained unnoticed in the past or were designated with only few or simple terms, such as “stone” or “wood,” disintegrated into myriads of designations under the pressure of the capitalist mining economy. The activity of mining created more and more “instruments and things / and therefore more names and vocabulary / which only the knowledgeable miners are aware of and familiar with” (Agricola 1557: glossary). The taste of the mine water, for example, whether it tasted “sweet, sour, bitter, tart, salty [or] constricting” (Agricola [1546–48] 1956: 50), was considered an important clue for the experienced miner. According to the Annaberg-born mint master, guardian, and author Lazarus Ercker (1528/1530–94), there was “no one” who knew “all [the] things which might be useful and good” that could be found in mines. There was, for example, “a matter / that the workers call Bergktalg [mountain-talc] / but it is not talc . . . and no one knows what it could be useful for” (Ercker 1565: n.p.). Incessantly, things were questioned, disassembled, melted down, taken apart, named, and categorized. This concerned both the world of nature and the social and economic structures that had set out to exploit it. According to a dialogue between two Erzgebirge miners from 1556, there was a constant need for “new things” and “new arts” in order to “improve” mining operations. Everyone was on the lookout, ready to “recreate and [use]” whatever promised gain and future prospects (quoted in Wilsdorf 1988: 178–81; see also Creutz 1985).
Few things reflect the profound unfolding of a deep economy as impressively as the growth of the mining lexis. The steady emergence of new designations and linguistic distinctions, which accompanied the emergence of a deep economy, manifested itself in ever-larger glossaries, compiled by humanist writers (Piirainen 1994; Long 1991). While in the appendix of the Mining Booklet (Bergbüchlein) by Ulrich Rülein von Calw (1518) there were still only a few technical terms, the list of Plateanus, written in 1530 and later added to the Bermannus, already included 76 of them. Agricola would extend this list to 125 terms in 1546 for a new edition of this volume. In the so-called Meurerbrief about 500 designations were defined (Koch 1963: 32). The most important chronicler of the Saxon Erzgebirge, Petrus Albinus, complained only four decades later that miners have so “many special ways to talk” that it was impossible to learn all of them. In the mining districts “are always some [people] / who improve on what was invented before / or create new things” which led to such complexity that any scholarly ambition to describe in detail the conditions on site had become an almost “useless enterprise” (Albinus 1590: 3).
4. Deep Government
It was, however, not only the economy that gained depth. The expansion and consolidation of this sphere also created a growing need for extended legal and administrative structures. In general, bureaucracy began to grow in the German Empire from the fifteenth century onward (Jeserich, Unruh, and Pohl 1983). The rise of the cities, of trade, of crafts and commerce at the time led to increasingly dynamic social conditions that could no longer be controlled by traditional, small-scale administrative institutions (Simon 1997: 1209). Important mining districts, however, fulfilled these prerequisites for the emergence of early modern civil service structures par excellence, as they formed extremely vibrant and translocally integrated regions. Important voices within the German mining discourse, such as Adolf Laube and Uwe Schirmer, hence argued that the economic conditions of the Saxon Erzgebirge led to the establishment of an administrative structure that was extraordinarily dense and differentiated according to the standards of the time (Schirmer 2009; Laube 1974: 8–9; Neumann 2021).
Already after the first large silver finds in Freiberg in the twelfth century, it soon became clear that neutral authorities were needed to maintain order, settle conflicts within the mining community, distribute mining rights, collect fees and tithes, prevent overworking, and initiate and administer the construction of drainage adits (Groß 1990: 34). Initially, these tasks were in the hands of the Freiberg city council under the supervision of a margravial commissioner (Bartels and Fessner 2012: 478). At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the so-called Freiberger Bergrecht A, a first fragmentary compilation of customary montane rights, would already list a few supplementary offices. In addition to the bergmeister (surveyor of the mines) and a lyer (assistant to the latter), a bergrichtere (judge for mining affairs), as well as gesworne luthe (mountain jurors) and the czendenere (collector of the tithe), is mentioned (Ermisch 1887). The position of the Bergmeister integrated large parts of the administrative tasks within one post. He was responsible for the overall supervision of the entire mining operation, and he visited new quarries and pits, granted and measured fiefdoms, and withdrew and confirmed mining rights. In May 1328 Margrave Friedrich of Meißen (1310–49) issued a comprehensive set of mining regulations that laid down in detail the rights and duties of the Bergmeister and his subordinates for all mining districts within the Wettin territory (Bartels and Fessner 2012: 478).
The years that followed were marked by ongoing debates concerning the legal framework, indicated in particular by the issuance of the newly revised Freiberger Bergrecht B (Asrih 2017: 95–96), but only few major legislative and administrative innovations. This changed fundamentally at the end of the fifteenth century when capitalism entered the Saxon mining industry. The inflowing masses of workers and capital, the spatial expansion and intensification of economic relations, and the growing desire of the sovereign to increase his wealth now almost “inevitably” (Groß 1990: 35) led to a growth spurt of the mining administration. In 1466, the Wettin dukes Ernst and Albrecht established a second mining office (Bergamt), for all the mines outside Freiberg, Geyer, and Ehrenfriedersdorf. Only a few years later it was clear that these additional offices did not suffice to deal with the task of regulating the mining activities in the Erzgebirge. In 1477 a third mining office was therefore established in Schneeberg, in 1500 a fourth one, in Annaberg, and eventually a fifth, in 1521 in Marienberg.
The staffing of these offices was significantly increased as well. Already the Freiberger Bergrecht B had added a Messer (surveyor) and an Oberbergmeister (head of surveyors of the mines) to the existing yet small list of officials. Now Oberbergmeister and Bergmeister (surveyor of the mines) were supported by a supplementary Unterbergmeister (adjunct surveyor of the mines), a mining clerk, and additional assistants. The Annaberger Bergordnung of 1509, “which will for centuries, directly or indirectly and far beyond Saxony's borders, remain a foundation of mining legislation to come” (Ermisch 1887: VII), went even further: a new position was introduced, the Berghauptmann, head of the Bergamt (mining office) and regional representative of the sovereign. He was assigned a Bergmeister (surveyor of the mines), eight mountain jurors, twelve collectors of tithe, two Hüttenreiter (administering smelting works), a so-called Ausleiher (lender), a Gegenschreiber (clerk for mine shares), and a Bergschreiber (mountain clerk) (Groß 1990: 35). In addition to this, there were Markscheider (surveyors), a Bergwardein (sampler), and supplementary clerks.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, additional institutions became necessary to oversee the growing number of local administrative processes. This led in August 1547 to the establishment of the Oberbergamt (chief mining office) in Freiberg, which was from now on responsible for all matters concerning mining and metallurgy in the Erzgebirge district. The Oberhauptmann, who headed this institution, had the large task of supervising mining regulations, uncovering and remedying grievances within districts, staffing offices, visiting pits, and checking bookkeeping practices on site. Eventually, in March 1556, Elector August created on top of the levels of Bergamt and Oberbergamt a third administrative layer by establishing the position of a chamber council and chamber secretary. The first incumbent, Hans von Ponickau, was assigned the task of tending to the princely economy, which included among others the management of forests and domains as well as “the handling of mining affairs” (Haug 1897: 163). This process marked the beginning of a supreme administrative level for mining matters, based on the now tripartite system of local mining offices and the superior Freiberger Oberbergamt (chief mining office) as central authority. What used to be a loose net of offices and servants had turned within only a few decades into a complex multilayered and strongly formalized deep government.
As in the previous section, the depth of government can best be illustrated by using iconic material from the particular period and region (see fig. 3). When the well-known Czech illuminator Valentin Noh from Jindřichův Hradec finished the title page of the Kutná Hora Antiphonal around 1471, Kutná Hora was just about to experience major changes within its mining administration. Analogous to the Saxon Erzgebirge, this mining district had entered a phase of capitalist-entrepreneurial dynamics, soon followed by strong legal-administrative reforms from the late fifteenth century onward. In particular the 1486 ordinances of King Vladislaus II (1456–1516), repeated in 1494, would eventually herald a phase in the course of which the local mining industry gradually came under the control of an increasingly comprehensive sovereign bureaucratic apparatus (Matejková 2011: 208, 219).
The pictorial layout of the Antiphonal, which was created just before these transformations, is strongly informed by medieval mining realities. It is characterized by a hierarchical structure in which the magistracy at the top (see the black frame) finds itself distinguished from the lower realm of economic activity and daily life. A banner next to the nobly dressed patricians, including Lord Nicholas, the mine master (from 1470 to 1488) of those days, informs the viewer that “these are the supervisors of the miners” (tot’ gsu Starssii nad hawerzi) (Graham 2000: 322). They populate only a narrow space, which seems to float above all “lower” temporal things. This pictorial arrangement, in particular the separation of the higher echelons of society on the one hand and the world of commerce and industry on the other hand, is rather typical for medieval art. There is some evidence, however, that this illustration not only mirrors aesthetic conventions of an era but might also be connected to the local context: a small detail in which the symbolic order finds itself disturbed by realistic elements from the Kutná Hora region. From the upper right-hand side, miners are pushing into the picture in order to receive orders and instructions. This transgression subverts the symbolic separation of the political and economic space. While only twenty years later the famous illuminator Matthew (Mathaeus) would create illustrations (e.g., the famous Kutná Hora Kanzional) in which the realm of the authorities and the mining industry were thoroughly and inseparably blended (Matejková 2011; Fritzsch 1960; Frimmel 1887), Valentin Noh left it to the miners' community to bridge the divide between government and economy.
This constellation would change radically in the years after the completion of the Antiphonal. As was shown by the development of the Erzgebirge mining and administrative system from around 1470 onward, the government followed the economic processes into their increasingly deep space of complexity. Additional levels of administration and new offices and functions were created, and large numbers of personnel were hired. From the sixteenth century onward, the distance between the upper echelons of the country and the subterranean treasures would be incrementally interspersed with more and more mining officials. Woodcuts in the works of the aforementioned Georg Agricola show state representatives and members of the administration as integral parts of the mining scenery. The miners no longer had to cover the symbolic distance between workplace and the magistracy. The prince or his deputies were now already on site; they were part of the economy—whether above ground during the inspection of new repositories (fig. 4, left) or underground, inspecting for example the technical substructure of a horse capstan.
5. Shallow Lands
The economic and administrative volumes created in this way were exceptional for the Holy Roman Empire of the time. The contrast is particularly evident in comparison with agricultural regions such as the ones of late medieval Saxony. In the sixteenth century, Abraham von Thumbshirn (1535–93), longtime administrator for the Saxon elector, wrote a manuscript, later titled Oeconomia, probably the most progressive German-language agricultural treatise of its time (Schröder-Lembke 1965: 5). A “diligent landlord . . . must consider thoroughly each location's characteristics in order to be able to improve” his economy. Every situation demanded special measures; each situation required different forms of labor and cultivation. It was necessary to know when and where to use “pigeon droppings,” mud from fishponds, ashes, or “peas” as fertilizer. In contrast to the agricultural calendars widely used at the time, von Thumbshirn's did not offer simple chronological sequences of actions but complex chains of successive agricultural decisions. One step conditioned the next. At the beginning of summer, for example, one should “harrow and roll” one's fields of barely, but only when the latter had “risen and grown for half a finger or finger,” and only after “a little rain had come” (von Thumbshirn 1616: 69, 72–76, 92).
It is the rationalist ambition of this work that highlights the limited extent of agricultural knowledge of the time. Von Thumbshirn's compilation, being one of the most elaborate treatises on the subject, amounts to nothing but a small booklet. This in turn meant in practice that the chances of increasing yields through the application of knowledge were limited. Gains could be expected primarily in other areas, above all else in the purchase and sale of land. Both the Oeconomia and the actual management of Elector August's (1526–86) estates reflected this reality (Falke 1868: 57–110; Wiemann 1940; Ermisch and Wuttke 1910). This type of disillusionment will be also be characteristic for coming generations of literature on the household. Authors such as Wolf Helmhardt von Hohberg (1612–88) did not dwell on false promises. Even a well-informed housefather, he wrote in his Georgica Curiosa (1682), eventually had to admit that he “could not / or could do very little” to improve his husbandry, but “had to be content / and accept it / as it is” (von Hohberg 1682: 8).
The spatial structure of this (non)knowledge was entirely different from that in the mining case. In this setting, the proliferation of societal distinctions and forms of differentiation was fraught with danger. “Disorderly being and living” (Coler 1593: 14), people in wrong places, in wrong occupations, with aberrant thinking and unforeseen actions were regarded as likely sources of expenditure and loss. Since Xenophon, the art of managing a household was considered analogous to the art of managing a ship. “Everything was in a room not bigger than a moderately large room for ten people; . . . individuals [things and persons] were neatly organized . . . so that they did not stand in each other's way, but also no one had to search for them first, they were neither unassembled nor difficult to take apart, so that it would have taken time if it was necessary to use something quickly” (Xenophon 1975: 40). Agriculture, due to its low degree of differentiation, offered room for only a few anyway. There was no need for elaborate arts or supply structures; there was no need for mass labor, large numbers of administrative personnel, or complex taxonomies or accounting systems. This spatial logic was, as shown above, additionally amplified by the fact that owners and custodians of larger estates were told to keep the space of the economy compact (see the quotation above). Every fold, every overlap, every loose connection, every niche could offer unnecessary space, space that was not wanted, that fed mouths that did not belong and raised hopes that could not be realized. In keeping with the spatial imagery used in this article, such areas could be described as shallow economies—offering only a small space for a limited number of individuals.
6. Limiting the Household
Observations of newly emerging economic and governmental depths and spaces appear in Saxony as early as the late fifteenth century. For the first time in the German-speaking world, for example, arguments that would later become known as part of the “peopling discourse” appeared in this context (Nipperdey 2012). In Wittenberg, the Saxon reformer Martin Luther wrote that “a city should and must have people” (Luther 1524 [WA 15]: 35, 15). In the same spirit, a delighted Duke Georg (1471–1539) exclaimed in 1509 that Annaberg, his newly established mining town, was already inhabited by a “remarkable number of people” (Laube 1974: 34). Both were closely connected to the mining industry, the latter as the electorate of Saxony, the former as the son of a mining entrepreneur, with lifelong ties to the family mining business (Schilling 2012: 22; Knape 2000). The early modern praise of large populations is part of the canon of the history of ideas. However, one must not forget that accumulations of people were in principle problematic in a society characterized by scarcity. The politico-economic longing, as Saxon discourses point out, was rather directed at the enabling structure of such masses, that is to say, economically and administratively strongly differentiated (“deep”) spaces.
The everyday circulation of such observations and arguments, however, does not imply that they were relevant to economic scholars as well. For all the fuss, legends, and promises surrounding the processes of silver mining, it was ultimately not an obvious subject for economic theory and reasoning. Throughout the Middle Ages this scholarly discipline had been in the hands of theologians, practiced at universities, far away from sweat, working hands, mines, hammer mills, and smelting works. It was a situation of geographical, cultural, and thematic distance—a distance whose situational collapse was bound to have tragic consequences such as disgrace, impoverishment, family discord, and social conflict (see, e.g., the oldest surviving account of German mining, the Myth of the Miner, the Märe vom Feldbauer, fourteenth century, in which a nobleman comes to close to the business of mining). The initial problem of economics, preserved over the centuries, was neither economic phenomena (in the modern sense) nor the achievement of surpluses or profits, but the attainment and stabilization of a good social order via the (self-)management of ruling households (Lingg 2021a).
Since its beginnings in Hesiod, economic theory reflected this issue within three dimensions: the limitation of the economic sphere (the sphere of the household) to the narrow realm of estates and landholdings, the fixation of rulership on nature-bound forms of income and supply (hunting, farming, forestry, etc.), and the education of household members, especially the head of the household. On the one hand, the rulers had to have enough means to fulfill their office and to satisfy basic family needs. They needed a private foundation to be able to make public, impartial decisions, live a life befitting their status, and bear the costs of their office (e.g., warfare). On the other hand, the satisfaction of these necessities and duties was not allowed to violate the order of society by changing positions and proportions within the social fabric (Aristotle, NE 1131b 25–28; Rancière 2018: 18–19). Income that did not correspond to one's status, disproportionate gains, and even the enlargement of one's material base at the expense of others were just as dangerous in this respect as frivolous spending and ruin (Agamben 2016; Priddat 2022).
For all its scholastic idiosyncrasies, medieval economics had retained this basic constitution. The “realm of the house” (domesticarum rerum) remained confined to the buildings and lands of the ruling families bounded by markers, gates, and “walls” (mures) (Bellovacencis [ca. 1247] 1965: 500, 481). The area thus demarcated formed the material basis for “the preservation and sufficiency of life” (conservatio et sufficientia vitae). Committing the nobility to nature (“non vult contra natura agree”) as the main source of income meant abstinence from the human world of unrestrained desires (“nam finis appetitur in infinitum”) and submission to the logic of the ordo, its distribution of positions and goods (Gottwald 1988: 217–18).
The highly dynamic silver mining of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries did not fit this normative and theoretic frame. The nobility had benefited greatly from the mining boom from the twelfth century onward (Asrih 2017: 15; Hägermann 1984: 14; Lück 2008: 528). However, their involvement with the mining industry was subject to specific rules. For centuries, the mining industry staged itself as a source of income befitting their status, either by placing the discovery of silver in the vicinity of miracles and godly gifts, or by placing the search for and extraction of precious metals in analogy to hunting and farming (ores would emerge in the womb of mother earth from the connection of “male seed,” which was thought to be “sulfur” [Schwebel], and female matter, “mercury” [Mercurius]) (Soleas 1600: 18). Like a tree, according to Vanoccio Biringuccio (ca. 1480–1537), ores would grow and stretch toward the surface of the earth, their branches constantly swaying, withdrawing, bearing ephemeral flowers and fruits of silver (Biringuccio  1925: 9). These assessments and beliefs, however, did not change the fact that capitalist silver mining, its ownership and financing structure, its intimate relationship to investment, passion, and risk, did not fit the economist's picture. The mines and collieries were outside the economic sphere, the sphere of the household—especially since all addressees of status, according to medieval Scholastics, were advised to keep their distance to physical labor and the material sphere of necessity and “organa inanimate” (money, household goods, buildings). Hints about the possibility of increasing aristocratic income through mining therefore appeared rarely, if at all, in economic writings. A few sentences, a brief recommendation, as in Aegidius Romanus, that it was worthwhile for a wise prince to acquire and use monopolies and privileges in mining, had to suffice. The “noblemen” (nobiles) should leave anything else to their “servants and officials” (servi et ministri) (Gottwald 1988: 158, 120, 40–41)—such matters did befit neither noble attention nor the representative space of economic theory.
7. Economic Inflation
Melchior von Osse's fear that “evil men” would criticize his Testament (sec. 1) owes much to this background in the history of ideas. The integration of the deep economy of mining and the public handling of such profane matters was not only inappropriate to a man of high standing but also potentially harmful to the proportions of society and hence to “peace and justice” (pax et iustitia), two guiding concepts of medieval political thought (Simon 2004a: 22). Silver mining, a business governed by fortuna (Asmussen 2016a), was known to be a source of income marked by disproportionate individual gains and losses, decoupled from the regulative structure of natural gift and agriculture. “There are many people of the opinion / that they consider the trade of mining / a bad / unremarkable und unseemly thing” (Agricola 1557: 1). In addition, there were concerns that the integration of traditionally noneconomic forms of income into the aristocratic households would create preconditions for encroaching on the subjects' wealth (Wakefield 2009: 5; Keller 2017: 26). Authorities publicly engaged in private-sector activities represented a challenging matter from a political and legal point of view, if only because such activities endangered their legitimacy, their (representation of) nobility and impartiality, by disrupting the carefully balanced order between ruling class and subjects.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, any literary attempt to extend the economic sphere therefore had to reckon with resistance. Scholars in all disciplines (including many economists) did not grow tired of emphasizing that household and country, father of the house and father of the country, were not identical (Schmidt-Voges 2011: 161; Simon 2004a: 128). While Catholic critics saw in it, among other things, a danger to the order of the estates, Protestant theorists were especially skeptical of the idea of a single superior household and father (see secs. 8 and 9). Neither could economics contribute anything to the right ordering of the polity, nor, conversely, could politics give advice for the domestic life. According to authors such as Johann Heinrich Alstedt or Henning Arnisäus (De republica, seu relectionis politicae libri duo, 1615) economics and politics were shaped by fundamentally different objects and objectives. The object of economics, following Johannes Althusius (Politica Methodice Digesta, 1603), is the “res familia,” the things that belong to the domestic sphere, dedicated to the task “of providing for the basic needs of a household” (food, clothing, etc.). Politics, on the other hand, should be devoted to the realm beyond mere necessity and private households addressing the question of how to “ensure the union and cooperation” and hence a “pious and just society” (quoted in Simon 2004b: S.7).
Reflection on economic phenomena beyond the confined space of estates and manors and thus the consideration of something like a “territorial” economy was no (appropriate) issue for medieval economics. In the case of Saxony, too, it was to be expected that such ideas would not find their way into economic theory. Against all odds, however, scholars seem to have broken with the ancient economic tradition in the environment of the capitalist mining districts in the late fifteenth century. Two documents are particularly important in this context. One is the already mentioned title page of the Kutná Hora Kanzional, a richly decorated collection of chorales that, in a revolutionary way, depicted Kutná Hora and, more generally, the Bohemian mining industry as part of the household of Vladislaus II (1456–1516). The second is the so-called legend of the court below ground, dated to the late 1470s. Its plot is set in the context of the enormous silver discoveries in St. George, a mine at the Schneeberg in the Saxon Erzgebirge. Georg Agricola was told, as he wrote in the late 1520s,
that . . . such a huge quantity of pure silver ore was found that Duke Albrecht of Saxony . . . entered the mine himself. . . . The duke is said to have given the order to bring him food and beverages into the pit. It was also handed down to us that he used a massive silver vein as a table for himself and his own and thereby exclaimed: “Emperor Frederick is indeed a powerful and rich emperor, but he does not have a table of pure silver today.” (Agricola  1955: 123–24)
This story, taken up by mining scholars and writers such as Vannoccio Biringuccio, Johannes Mathesius, and Christian Meltzer (see fig. 5), represented a radical break with the old politico-economic order. The prince holds court underground. Considering the typical structure of manorial households at that time, this was a revolutionary act—at least in economic terms. Although the family remained important as a guiding principle, it became clear to many in the High and Late Middle Ages that kinship was not an appropriate means to organize (continuously growing) households that comprised dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people. Economic authors in Germany such as Conradus de Montepuellarum (1309–74) therefore defined the household as “a community of personal communication” (Krüger 1973: 24). Since neither blood nor the psychology of familial ties could produce the unity needed, it was above all the structure of everyday life, the assignment of positions in spatial proximity to the head of the household, as well as the common meal, that became a central organizing medium for domestic affiliations (Drossbach 1997: 19). By ordering food and beverages into the mine (see fig. 5, scene in white frame), Duke Albert symbolically made the mining community “commensals” and “condomestici,” “table companions” and “housemates,” thus officially declaring the mines to be part of his economy, his household.
Only a few years after Georg Agricola included this legend in his Bermannus (1530), the idea of a territorial economy appeared for the first time within economic writings in the narrower sense. Without exception, the authors of these works lived and worked in the close environment of the mining industry. Particularly noteworthy in this context were Melchior von Osse and Georg Engelhard von Löhneysen. Both traveled repeatedly through the Erzgebirge and accompanied the princes on visits; one (Löhneysen) later made a career as a mining official; the other (von Osse) was active as a mining investor, regularly visiting the most important mining towns such as “Schnebergk,” “Bucholtz,” “Marienberg,” “Freiberg,” and “Wo[l]ckenstein” (von Osse 1922: 84).
Their economic writings remained conventional in many respects. Statements such as “the household is the paragon of all forms of government,” or that society should be a “society of brothers,” led by a single ruler, a reasonable and strong father of the whole (Löhneysen 1622: 89–92), were quite common at the time. In particular theological discourses used, in the tradition of Paul of Tarsus, similar metaphors and statements to address the unity of church and Christianity (with the important difference, however, that the ecclesial use of the metaphor referred only to the mental and spiritual sides of family and household, i.e., it excluded the material dimension) (Krüger 1964: 539; Drossbach 1997; Oexle 1992).
The clear break with convention occurred most notably in the chapters on mining. A revolutionary type of economy suddenly appears in these passages, a princely household, which extends from the residence to the bottom of the pit. In these parts, the public presence and appearance of the ruler was no longer reduced to traditional aristocratic activities (such as the politics of marriage, keeping the peace, and fighting wars) but extended by an additional dimension as cultivator of lands. Instead of keeping noble distance from economic affairs, the prince was now told to become an active and integral part of material life. He should visit the mining districts, talk to the workers, enter the mines; he is even encouraged to take care of mining supplies. He should “see to it . . . that lead, tallow, hemp, and other things which are necessary for mining operations stay affordable and don't fall short in supply” and even see to the “nourishment of the bodies [of the miners and other inhabitants of the mining districts], plenty of it and stable prices on the markets of the mining towns. . . . Else they might become discontent and even consider leaving” (von Osse  1717: 92–93).
8. Public Interest and the Creation of Space
It remains to be elucidated which reasons finally led to the emergence of this extended economic theory despite all resistance. In the case of Germany, historical sources clearly indicate that capitalist mining districts functioned as a breeding ground for such ideas. These concepts were not an expression of individual insight or genius, but rather of specific circumstances that lured household semantics out of its ancient confines into the open. Von Osse and Löhneysen expected not only criticism but also praise and recognition; and they could hope so, because they knew from experience in Saxon mining and administration that it had become a custom in many and high places to speak about former political or juridical matters in economic terms.
It is likely that also issues of confession played a role in the emergence of a territorial economy in Saxony at the very beginning (see sec. 9). However, the question of denomination seemed to have been of minor importance. While von Osse, for example, remained a convinced Catholic until the end of his life, the young Löhneysen fought in the army of Frederick of the Palatinate on the side of the Huguenots. Hence, another explanation is necessary. The economic or household expansion, as will be shown, was closely linked to the unfolding of both deep economy and deep government in Saxony (see secs. 3 and 4). These processes undermined the normative and regulative foundations of what had once been an agrarian society—and opened new ways for politico-economic thought.
It is worth looking first at the governmental dimension of this transformation. At the time, the emergence of deep economies led to serious administrative problems. Complaints of self-interest (eygen nutz) and abusive behavior circulated in large numbers in the silver regions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The list of incidents could be extended at will: miners hid ores in order to drive (other) shareholders out of mines, foremen pocketed extra pay or charged for nonexistent workers or unnecessary materials, accountants manipulated books, merchants sold forged or overpriced Kux (mine shares) at fairs and markets, and so forth (Neumann 2021: 169–85).
These abuses were fatal for capitalist mining regions, as they were particularly dependent on the belief of both stakeholders and mining-interested individuals that participating in this economy meant equal and plenty opportunity for income and wealth. “Nothing damages mines more than taking away the miners' desire to mine,” notes an Annaberg poem from 1520. Mining enthusiasm (Berglust) was considered a decisive factor. Already the establishment of mining freedom (Bergfreiheit) around 1300—in the famous words of paragraph 9 of the Freiberg Mining Law A, “Where a man wants to search for ore, he may do so lawfully”—was closely linked to this. The same applied later for the introduction of the Kux (see sec. 2). Both institutions were designed to stir economic momentum via hopes and desires. People's material imagination and ambitions had to be stimulated by favorable conditions and good order—for if they dried up, “first the common man,” then the “foreign man,” will desert the district, the cities, the valleys and mines, and leave once-flourishing regions impoverished and abandoned (quoted in Kirnbauer 1962: 22, 14).
It was all the worse that public officials in particular were repeatedly the focus of accusations and scandals. Along with the growth of bureaucratic structures came an increased danger of abuse and corruption. The chains of official procedures grew longer (see sec. 4; Elias 1997: 234, 69), thereby creating plenty of opportunity for fraud and deception. In addition, the traditional economic couple of rule and agriculture, a connection of major normative and societal importance (see above), became increasingly weak in these settings. The deep space of the mining industry broke with the structuring and moral forces of agriculture, that is, God's creation and the rhythms and gifts of nature, replacing them with a large volume of what was then called Gelegenheiten, that is, “economic opportunities.” Chances for private enrichment and eygen nutz (self-interest) were omnipresent for most mining officials. The dangers of temptation were well known. In 1466, Duke Albrecht and Elector Ernst “earnestly recommend[ed]” that all “officials” should neither “ignore nor corrupt . . . [their princely] mining regulations” under any circumstances. If they were not willing to fully “accept our guidelines and statutes for our benefit, for the benefit of our lands and for their own benefit, and to do everything in accordance with them,” they would face severe punishment (quoted in Ermisch 1887: 76–77).
The appearance and dissemination of the legend of court underground echoes this problem of discipline and good. The latter case demonstrates impressively how these pressing administrative issues created opportunities for the unorthodox use of household semantics. The old economic world proved itself to be dysfunctional. Officials from the lower estates without households in the classic sense or lower and middle nobility deprived of power and seized by the mining fever were not part of its calculus. Extending the princely house, his economy, did not only allow for the mobilization of governmental, that is, traditional, domestic resources of power and order; it also sent a strong message to all the merchants, investors, and workers inside and outside of Saxony that the prince himself will, like a real paterfamilias, observe and control everything that takes place within the mining districts.
The second dimension in which domestic extensions could articulate themselves was, as mentioned above, the deep economy. In many parts of Germany in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the conviction seems to have prevailed that precious metal mining had the ability to create additional space for food and income, or, in the words of the mining investor Andreas Ryff (1550–1603), “new world[s].” Already in the Middle Ages there were hints and inklings of this peculiar capability. Since its beginnings in Freiberg in the twelfth century, Saxon mining was advertised with the promise that it could turn vastitate loci, wild and desolate areas, into rich gardens, offering additions and extensions to the status quo for the benefit of all. “It is a kind of earth,” Georg Agricola wrote in his magnum opus, “if you sow it / it bears no fruit / but if you work it with shovels[,] [hammer, and pick] / it can sustain many people.” Mining does not take away anyone's soil and ground; “farmers can keep their fertile fields. The miners have enough of the dark valleys and barren mountains, from which they get precious stones and ores” (Agricola 1557: 3–6).
In the twelfth century, such promises were still strongly related to the German settlement in the East, the horizontal conquest and exploitation of space (Bartlett 1993). With the introduction of capitalist forms of mining, however, vertical forms of expansion also entered the collective imagination and thinking. In the mining environment, people could observe the emergence of deep economies that, quite unlike the usual shallow landscapes, could accommodate thousands of people (see secs. 3 and 5). A Saxon pamphlet from around 1530 notes that the mines that had been “founded, built and maintained” in the duchy and the electorate of Saxony had not only led to an “enlargement of the population” but to an increased productivity and a higher income for all members of society:
When there are many people / there is also a great circulation of commodities / . . . the nobility can sell its cattle / its fish . . . wheat . . . barley, oat. . . . The citizen can sell his beer, his cloth, his coat . . . his horseshoes, his lock, his ribbon, his spur, his sword, his knife, his belt, his pouch, his bag, and get good money for it. The baker and the butcher and all the others can profit from their craft even more, and the farmer can cultivate his field with increased benefit. (Gemeine Stymmen  1548: 3)
With the creation or emergence of such voluminous, strongly differentiated economic spheres, the foundations of the old political-economic thought vanished. In “labor and capital rich, land-poor Europe” (Pomeranz 2000: 271), the “land constraint” did not represent a geographical and natural constant. Already John Stuart Mill observed at the beginning of the nineteenth century that the economic history of the past centuries was marked by a process along which an ever “larger population . . . could be maintained on an equal space of ground” (Mill 1848: 23). As seen, even the advanced agrarian regions remained shallow, that is, hardly differentiated economic spaces offering limited space for income and livelihood (see sec. 5). Many discourses of the time, about sustenance (Nahrung) and public interest (Gemeiner Nutzen), as well as the condemnation of prodigality or defensive attitudes toward individual gains or innovations, were an integral part and driven by these circumstances (van Dülmen 1992: 16–49; Abel 1986; von Friedeburg 2003; Plumpe 2007: 326; Blickle 2000; Reith 2004; Sczesny 2004).
Traditional economics connected to these conditions of scarcity. This concerned both its limited conception of the household and the commitment of the manorial economy to self-sufficiency and gifts of nature (see sec. 6). Capitalist mining broke with the agrarian regime of scarcity and, on this basis, offered the possibility of a new social contract and a new way of thinking about government. Under these circumstances, the expansion of the princely or royal household over the entire country was no longer necessarily associated with the risk of welfare losses on the part of the subjects. Saxon or Bohemian rulers might still enrich themselves by integrating former household-external parts of the territory into their economy; hope prevailed, however, that the positive societal consequences of their symbolic and practical governmental presence would outweigh any negative effects. An author like Agricola not only spoke of the benefit of the mines for the Saxon electors and dukes but also openly encouraged his lords to participate personally in mining activity. By mentioning the newly emerged and “respected cities” in the Saxon mining districts, including “Freiberg, Annaberg, Marienberg, Geyer [or] Altenberg,” (Agricola  1928: XXVIII), however, he immediately neutralized this statement with the promise of the common good of deep economy and deep government.
The idea of an “aula subterranea domina dominantium subdita subditorium,” that is, an “Underground Court” (Ercker  1684) or subterranean economy, was acceptable to the public as long as the ordering presence of the father allowed mining regions to thrive and to house (to repeat the words of Duke Georg) “a remarkable number of people” (quoted in Laube 1974: 34). Promises of the common good, prominent in the environment of the mining districts, legitimized and promoted the emergence of a territorial economy from the fifteenth century onward. “Mining serves,” in the words of a pit shareholder from Schneeberg in 1488, “the public good [gemeyner nutz] of the country, because it enriches both prince and people. . . . The foreign man brings his money into the country to invest, which in turn benefits the common man and serves the country. In this way, the country becomes richer and stronger” (34).
9. New Worlds, New Economy
The promise of spatial gains qua economic policy lies at the bottom of all four major extensions (from house to territory) of early modern European economic thought. At their core, the new territorial economies of this era were space-consuming and space-generating theorems. This applies to the debate about English trade regulation, associated with authors such as Thomas Mun (1571–1641), Gerard Malynes (1585–1627), and Edward Misselden (1608–54), the demand for the targeted promotion of crafts and arts by scholars such as Giovanni Botero (1544–1617), and the recommendation of an active colonization policy as represented by Jean Bodin (ca. 1529–96). It was this promise of spatial gain and common good—in combination with the systematic disregard of damages and suffering caused by this expansionist behavior—that made the idea of a territorial economy (household) acceptable and eventually successful in Europe.
This article was dedicated to a variant of the fourth extension, in a sense the central European variant. It emerged as described in the environment of capitalist mining (for global cultural impacts of silver mining, see Ma 2016). In addition to Saxony, it appeared, for example, in Tyrol, Bohemia, and Strasbourg, the last a key location for silver mining in the Vosges. As with the artisanal strand (Giovanni Botero), spatial gains in this literary tradition were thought of rather vertically (qua internal differentiation) than horizontally. The idea of “neuwe[n] wält[en]” (see sec. 3), of “new worlds,” within and underneath the existing order and landscape fascinated and occupied its authors far more than the promises of new worlds beyond the seas. Until the eighteenth century, German-language economic discourses were characterized by this attitude. Beginning with Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini's treatise Germania, completed in 1458, in which he enthused about the “inexhaustible veins of silver” (inexhaustas ostenderunt argenti mineras) in the axis of Rammelsberg (Ramsbergii), Freiberg (Fribergii), and Kutná Hora (montes Cuthni) (Lohrmann and Kühn 1997: 388), mining became a fetish and key trade in the Holy Roman Empire's economic self-image (Wakefield 2017; Springer 2010). Other princes and countries, an opinion often expressed, would have more ports, more trade, more manufactories. The only chance in the political struggle, therefore, was mining, since God had particularly blessed the German lands with ores and subterranean riches (e.g., von Schröder  1752: 109). Even Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi (1720–71) still agreed with this assessment. The “only probable way” to prosperity and wealth, he wrote, was mining in this country, that is, not the horizontal expanses but the deep treasures from the bosom of the earth (von Justi 1755: 209–10).
Nevertheless, works that imagined and propagated a territorial economy remained scarce at the beginning. Skepticism and resistance was strong (see secs. 6–8). Such ideas and issues, according to widespread opinion, were not allowed to fall into “reckless exercise,” but were to be discussed in secret, to the exclusion of “common men / and . . . peasants,” only by “the authorities and councils of standing” (Die Müntz Belangende Antwort1530: n.p.). Ideological countermovements appeared, not surprisingly in the German case, most of them in sixteenth-century Saxony. These writings presented counterproposals to such unbounded household concepts. Instead of applying economic comparisons and semantics to the whole country and its people, they set out to strengthen decentralized concepts of government. While others discussed the fairly new idea of a singular territorial household, these texts appeared with the opposite intention, propagating the idea that social order is best served by a multitude of pious and wealthy households within a country. Instead of a massive building (house), an order of “unshakable pillars” was advocated here, to quote the French state theorist Jean Bodin (Bodin 1986: 203).
The most important variants of this decentering strand of economics in the German-speaking world were, besides newly rationalist agricultural guides (see sec. 5) as for example von Thumbshirn's Oeconomia, household writings as well as the newly emerging household literature (Hausväterliteratur). Written at the beginning by mostly Protestant authors, they focused on smaller, aristocratic as well as nonaristocratic households as the object of economics and as guarantors of societal stability and harmony. Famous examples were the Oeconomia Oder Haußbuch (1593), by Johannes Coler (1566–1639), which pioneered the genre of the Hausväterliteratur; Justus Menius's Oeconomia Christiana (1556); and Johannes Mathesius's Oeconomia Oder Bericht Vom Christlichen Hauswesen (1564). Not the expansion, not the large framework of the princely household, but the many pious, intact, and well-run houses stood at the center of their attention. “Bonam oeconomiam,” good and well-managed households, in the words of the Saxon reformer and miner's son Martin Luther (1483–1546), are a necessary foundation for both “politics” and “church,” “politia” and “ecclesia” (Luther 1530–31 [WA 31 II]: 590, 1–4). “Si domus in pace sunt, est et tota respublica in pace et totum regnum” (Luther 1524–27 [WA 16]: 543, 20–21): there can be no peace in country and kingdom without peace of the houses, whether noble or peasant. (Luther 1535–45 [WA 42]: 158, 16–23; Kibe 1996; Schmidt-Voges 2011; Schorn-Schütte 2014).
The emergence of a cross-territorial economics was undoubtedly an important step in the history of economic ideas. It was an important prerequisite for new modes of economic observation and reasoning, incorporated into different strands of thought dealing with the production, enlargement, conquest, and exploitation of (economic and governmental) space. Among other things, “territorial economics” formed a new kind of episteme, which allowed the observation and analysis of the “chaos confusum” of “masses of people and different trades” (von Schröder  1752: 49, 56; Keller 2016) and would later be addressed as “[die] Wirthschafft,” “the economy,” in the modern sense (von Rohr 1716: 46; Burkhardt 1990). However, this contribution to the history of ideas did not change the fact that also in mining-obsessed Germany cross-territorial household doctrines remained controversial. Many disputes arose over the conceptual dimensions and composition of the household. They concerned questions of confession, the representation of rule, the authority of the princes, the power relationship between the estates, the connection between nobility and material interest, and the separation of bourgeois and aristocratic forms of income. Against this background, not only do the concerns of Melchior von Osse outlined in the introduction become more understandable, but so too does the mass of pejorative comments directed at this strand of economic scholarship (later most of their work would be subsumed under the term cameralism; cf. Dittrich 1974; Tribe 1988; Wakefield 2009; Isenmann 2014; Seppel 2017). As in all of Europe, the stigma of the break with the old political-economic spatial order clung to them (Catholics as well as Protestants) for a long time in the Holy Roman Empire. As late as the eighteenth century, authors of “territorial economics” such as Christoph Heinrich Amthor complained that the “oeconomical sciences” were still mainly met with “contempt and ingratitude” (Amthor 1717: dedication)—a problem that started when for the first time in German history Saxon mining officials, economists, and statesmen decided to represent the whole of society and territory as one household.
Previous versions of this article were presented at the THETS Conference in London in 2019 and the Annual Conference of the German Society for Philosophy in Nuremberg in 2021. I am grateful to Birger P. Priddat, Keith Tribe, Marten Seppel, Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay, Kevin D. Hoover, Paul Dudenhefer, and the anonymous referees for their feedback as well as Veronika Rákocy and Štěpán Kafka for their support with the Kutná Hora antiphonal. The slashes that appear in the quotations and titles of works were an important feature of German at the time. They were used as a kind of comma or dash or to indicate a new paragraph.
In the following, all German and Latin citations have been translated into English by the author.