Subtypes Guilds - Craft Guilds

Dutch: Ambachtsgilde, French: Corporations, German: Zünfte, , Italian: Corporazioni o ArtiCorporazioni d’arte e mestieri; CorporazioniArti; Fraglie, Chinese: Huiguan or Gongsuo


Craft guilds were permanent, generally local organizations of people in the same profession (craft or trade) or a combination of the same professions, which had as their main — but certainly not exclusive — purpose the defense and maintenance of monopoly rights with regard to fellow citizens and outside competitors. Guilds were always authorized by local authorities, which enabled them to regulate membership, draw up statutes and maintain a professional monopoly. Within a local community, all those practicing the guild's occupation fell under the guild regulations, which were part of the guild's monopoly (De Moor, Lucassen, and van Zanden, 2008, 6; De Munck, Lourens, and Lucassen, 2006, 32; 61-4; Lourens and Lucassen, 1997, 9; Liu, 1988, 16-7). Other functions included the maintenance of quality control, the prevention of cheating, the regulation of supply and demand in markets of limited size and the furthering of the economic interests of their members. Social and religious activities often played an important role as well.

Guilds were primarily associations of masters, but sometimes also of journeymen. Becoming member of a guild was typically a matter of completing an apprenticeship term and, subsequently, making a master piece (next to paying entrance fees and treating other members with wine and meals). This has led historians to argue that the transfer of skills and technical knowledge (Epstein, 2008) and/or the care for product quality (Gustafsson, 1987) were crucial preoccupations in the erection and organization of guilds. But apprenticeship was more than just training. It was a wider socialization in a corporative or urban social group, membership in which included the acquisition of skills – next to trustworthiness, a care for the common good etc. (Prak 2006; De Munck 2008). Protecting the economic interests of their members also meant providing for subsistence. Mutual aid insured this, be it on an informal or formal basis (see gildebussen) (Moll-Murata, 2008, 241; Bos, 2006, 180-1; 188; Bos, 1998, 33-5; 295-309).

Though in general guilds have many of the above features in common, these features differed per part of the world, per region, per town and even per occupational sector. Therefore scholars should always take three things into account: the broader context, the fact that craft guilds were established in a wide variety of sectors with specific characteristics, and the fact that many interest groups and actors — from inside and outside the guild system — influenced the workings of these institutions (Lis and Soly, 2006, 5).


More specific information on craft guilds per country can be find via the links underneath.


> Craft guilds in the Netherlands

> Craft guilds in Belgium

> Craft guilds in Greece (Ottoman / Venteian rule)

> Craft guilds in Italy

> Craft guilds in China



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