House of Fugger Made a Killing as Emperor Lost: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Conquest, Tribute and Trade: The Quest for Precious Metals and the Birth of Globalization," by Howard J. Erlichman. Source: Prometheus Books via Bloomberg

Maximilian I never had enough money for his military adventures, so he borrowed it. One family happy to lend the Holy Roman Emperor whatever he asked for was the House of Fugger.

Originally in the textile trade, the Fuggers expanded their range when Maximilian’s regular defaults gave them large holdings in the Habsburg mines he’d used as collateral.

Having learned the art of double-entry bookkeeping in Venice, brilliant young Jacob Fugger put profits to use in early versions of commodities futures contracts, currency arbitrage, bills of exchange and an information-gathering service.

Opportunities abounded as empires rose and fell during the first era of globalization. By 1500, the Fuggers could boast of wealth comparable to the combined 20th century fortunes of the Rockefellers and J.P. Morgan.

I spoke with Howard J. Erlichman, author of “Conquest, Tribute and Trade,” on the following topics:

1. Rise of Portugal and Spain

2. Christians vs. Muslims

3. Squandering the Wealth

4. Ramping Up the Slave Trade

5. Dutch Advance

To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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