The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Winifred B. Rothenberg
Reference work entry


‘Marketplace’ was defined by the great 18th century jurist, William Blackstone, as ‘a spot of ground set apart by custom for the sale of particular goods.’ The definition is striking in its simplicity, but the simplicity is deceptive, for each word should give us pause. If a marketplace is a ‘spot’ it is both bounded and of little consequence. Having said it was a ‘spot’, ‘of ground’ would seem to be redundant were it not that this, the market as a place located in space is the feature that over time will change the most. ‘Set apart’ underscores the irreconcilability of Commerce and Community, and, by implication, bestows upon Community the greater authenticity. ‘Sale’–legally to divest a seller – presupposes a body of legal rules protecting title and the alienability of title, at least to ‘particular goods’. And ‘particular goods’, in turn, implies the inalienability of title to other goods. Finally, there is ‘custom’. In Blackstone’s syntax, custom’s role appears limited to the setting of the spot. But when Commerce threatens to overwhelm the barriers that Community has erected against it, it will be custom that writes the regulations into law. ‘Marketplace’ is not at all ‘simple,’ and reckoning with it in one or another of the protean forms it has assumed over the millennia deserves to engage, as indeed it has, the attention of archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and economists.


Black Death Blackstone, W. Braudel, F. Domar, E. Durkheim, E. Law of one price Market institutions Marketplaces Marshall, A. Non-market economies Peasant economy Peasants Regulation of markets Repeated games Silk Road Social networks 

JEL Classifications

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Allen, J.P. 2002. The Heqanakht Papyri. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Braudel, F. 1982. The wheels of commerce: Civilization & capitalism, 15th–18th century, vol. 2. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, A.E. 1900. Faneuil Hall and the Faneuil Hall market, Or Peter Faneuil’s gift. Boston: Lee and Shepard.Google Scholar
  4. Curtin, P.D. 1975. Economic change in precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the era of the slave trade. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cushing, D. 1976. The laws and liberties of Massachusetts, 16411691, 3 vols. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources.Google Scholar
  6. Domar, E.D. 1970. The causes of slavery and serfdom: A hypothesis. Journal of Economic History 30: 18–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ellis, F. 1988. Peasant economics: Farm households and agrarian development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fafchamps, M. 2004. Market institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Firth, R., and B.S. Yamey, eds. 1964. Capital, saving and credit in peasant societies: Studies from Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean, and Middle America. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  10. Gonzales, R. 2005. The geography of the Silk Road. Accessed 21 July 2005.
  11. Grantham, G. 1997. The shards of trade: archaeology and the economic history of the super-long-run. Paper delivered at the Economic History Association Conference, August 1997, p. 18.Google Scholar
  12. Hatcher, J. 1987. English serfdom and villeinage: Towards a reassessment. In Landlords, peasants and politics in medieval England, ed. T. Aston. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hoffman, P.T. 1996. Growth in a traditional society: The French countryside, 1450–1815. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hughes, J.R.T. 1976. Social control in the colonial economy. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar
  15. Kohn, M. 2003. Organized markets in pre-industrial Europe. Working paper. Dartmouth College, July 2003.Google Scholar
  16. Marshall, A. 1890. Principles of economics, 8th edn. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  17. Mazower, M. 2004. Salonica, city of ghosts: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, 1430–1950. New York: Alfred Knopf.Google Scholar
  18. McCabe, I.B., G. Harlaftis, and I. Minoglou, eds. 2005. Diaspora entrepreneurial networks: Four centuries of history. New York: Berg.Google Scholar
  19. McNeill, W.H. 1976. Plagues and peoples. Garden City: Anchor/Doubleday.Google Scholar
  20. Offer, A. 1997. Between the gift and the market: The economy of regard. Economic History Review 50: 450–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Polanyi, K. 1944. The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our time. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  22. Pollock, F. and Maitland, F. 1895. The history of English law before the time of Edward, vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.Google Scholar
  23. Rothenberg, W.B. 1992. From market-places to a market economy: The transformation of rural Massachusetts, 1750–1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Scott, T., ed. 1998. The peasantries of Europe: From the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.Google Scholar
  25. Tax, S. 1963. Penny capitalism: A Guatemalan Indian economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Winifred B. Rothenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.