Lex Mercatoria c. 1200 Norms and Practices

Lex Mercatoria Commercial Norms and Practices

Lex Mercatoria Merchant
Lex Mercatoria Merchant

Trade expanded and commerce flourished in the thirteenth century as the Renaissance swept from southern Europe. Merchants created an informal set of rules based on their own commercial norms and practices as their firm grew. These laws, known as the lex mercatoria, or merchant law, established the standard for settling commercial disputes in merchant courts that emerged along key trade routes. Uniform rules minimized uncertainty among international merchants conducting business in the area, which was one of its main benefits.

Although lex mercatoria was found throughout Europe, it flourished swiftly in England, where trade was flourishing thanks in part to the Magna Carta. All merchants must have “safety and security in entering into England, staying and passing through England,” and “to purchase and sell without any unjust exactions,” according to the Great Charter. England, like the rest of Europe, benefited from a plethora of annual markets and fairs held across the country. Because those events brought in a lot of money for the government in the form of franchise fees, it was especially necessary to give merchants a way to resolve any business problems quickly. Rather than using common-law courts, merchants turned to Courts of Piepowders and Courts of the Staple—the former named after the dusty feet of the traders who traveled from market to market; the latter named after the Statute of the Staple, which was passed in 1353 and established regional centers (called staples after an Old French word for market) for the trade of certain goods. A merchant was also required to preside as judge in order to administer lex mercatoria.

The Uniform Commercial Code, which was first enacted in 1952, now governs all contracts for the sale of products in the United States, and defines an agreement between contracting parties as “containing… course of dealing or use of trade,” a practice that has its origins in merchant law. In current jurisprudence, scholars studying international law and the nature of commercial transactions in an increasingly globalized economy still use the term “lex mercatoria.” Indeed, it is mentioned explicitly in the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts preamble.


The Magna Carta (1215);

Congressional Regulation of Commerce (1824);

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1948).


Lex Mercatoria

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)