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“A Suitable Place for Putting up a Mill.”

Water Power Landscapes and Structures in Carolingian Bavaria

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Abstract:

This paper explores the structure of watermill technology in Carolingian Bavaria (8th–9th centuries). It combines diplomatic analysis of historical documents (primarily deeds) with evidence from archaeology and hydrological topography. It identifies 92 mill sites for the period and maps them according to their appropriate water courses. It concludes that watermills were widely distributed across the Bavarian landscape and that mills were primarily sited on smaller tributary streams as suggested originally by the American historian of water power, Louis Hunter. However, archaeological evidence from two contemporary mill-sites shows that such modest locations could still employ a sophisticated vertical water-wheel technology. The paper then places these watermills within their socio-economic context and argues that they were constructed primarily by lay magnates to satisfy internal demand for high-quality milled products by lay and ecclesiastical courts and monasteries. It is further suggested that this demand rose sharply in the later 8th century after the establishment of a full ecclesiastical organization in Bavaria. This led to the full development of the extensive mill structure revealed in the sources. The paper also proposes a simple model for categorizing mill structure according to five determinants: mill technology, capital required; ownership/control; demand structure; and transportation.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 1903, Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte is the oldest German periodical of social and economic history. The international, peer-reviewed journal features original articles in German, English, French and Italian.

    Today, VSWG is edited by Günther Schulz, Jörg Baten, Markus A. Denzel, Gerhard Fouquet and Hans Pohl and deals with all aspects of social history, social developments from the Middle Ages to today, as well as history of finance and economic history.

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