A merchant is a business person who trades in commodities produced by other people 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. 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.
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A merchant class characterized 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.
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.
Merchants have often commissioned and been the subject of art.
Portrait of the Merchant Georg Gisze by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532.
Sir Thomas Gresham byAnthonis Mor, c. 1560.
Governors of the Wine Merchant’s Guild byFerdinand Bol, c. 1680.
|Holbein’s The Merchant Georg Gisze at Smarthistory.|
Many buildings have taken their names from their former use as the home or place of business of merchants:
- Free market
- Free trade
- Merchant marine
- Merchant account
References and sources
- mer‧chant, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
- Barnish, S.J.B. (1989) “The transformation of classical cities and the Pirenne debate”, Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol. 2, p. 390.
- Medieval Merchant Culture. Decameron Web, Brown University, 1 March 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2013. Archived here.
- “Merchant Adventurers” in Encyclopædia Britannica, Online Library Edition, 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2013.