A merchant is a person who trades in commodities produced by other people. Historically, a merchant is anyone who is involved in business or trade. Merchants have operated for as long as industry, commerce, and trade have existed. During the 16th-century, in Europe, two different terms for merchants emerged: One term, meerseniers, described local traders such as bakers, grocers, etc.; while a new term, koopman (Dutch: koopman, described merchants who operated on a global stage, importing and exporting goods over vast distances, and offering added-value services such as credit and finance.

The status of the merchant has varied during different periods of history and among different societies. In ancient Rome and Greece merchants could become wealthy, but lacked high social status. In contrast, in the Middle East, where markets were an integral part of the city, merchants enjoyed high status. In modern times, the term occasionally has been used to refer to a businessperson or someone undertaking activities (commercial or industrial) for the purpose of generating profit, cash flow, sales, and revenue utilizing a combination of human, financial, intellectual and physical capital with a view to fuelling economic development and growth.

A scale or balance is often used to symbolise a merchant

Merchants have been known for as long as humans have engaged in trade and commerce. Merchants and merchant networks operated in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Persia, Phoenicia and Rome. During the European medieval period, a rapid expansion in trade and commerce led to the rise of a wealthy and powerful merchant class. The European age of discovery opened up new trading routes and gave European consumers access to a much broader range of goods. From the 1600s, goods began to travel much further distances as they found their way into geographically dispersed market-places. Following the opening of Asia to European trade and the discovery of the New World, merchants imported goods over very long distances: calico cloth from India, porcelain, silk and tea from China, spices from India and South-East Asia and tobacco, sugar, rum and coffee from the New World. By the eighteenth century, a new type of manufacturer-merchant had started to emerge and modern business practices were becoming evident.

Merchants from Holland and the Middle East trading.
Merchants from Holland and the Middle East trading.

Etymology and usage

16th century costumes of merchants from Brabant and Antwerp
Costumes of merchants from Brabant and Antwerp, engraving by Abraham de Bruyn, 1577

The English term, "merchant" comes from the Middle English, marchant, which itself originated from the Vulgar Latin mercatant or mercatans, formed from present participle of mercatare meaning to trade, to traffic or to deal in.[1] The term is used to refer to any type of reseller, but can also be used with a specific qualifier to suggest a person who deals in a given characteristic such as "speed merchant" to refer to someone who enjoys fast driving; a "noise merchant", used to refer to a group of musical performers.[2] Other known uses of the term include: "dream merchant" used to describe someone who peddles idealistic visionary scenarios and "merchant of war" to describe proponents of war.

Elizabeth Honig has argued that concepts relating to the role of a merchant began to change in the mid-16th century. The Dutch term, koopman (meaning merchant), became rather more fluid during the 16th century when Antwerp was the most global market town in Europe. Two different terms, for a merchant, began to be used, meerseniers referred to local merchants including bakers, grocers, sellers of dairy products and stall-holders, while the alternate term, koopman, was used to describe those who traded in goods or credit on a large scale. This distinction was necessary to separate the daily trade that the general population understood from the rising ranks of traders who took up their places on a world stage and were seen as quite distant from everyday experience.[3]

Types of merchant

Broadly, merchants can be classified into two categories:

  • A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between the producer and retail merchant, typically dealing in large quantities of goods.[4] In other words, a wholesaler does not sell directly to end-users. Some wholesale merchants only organize the movement of goods rather than move the goods themselves.
  • A retail merchant or retailer sells merchandise to end-users or consumers (including businesses), usually in small quantities. A shop-keeper is a retail merchant.

However, the term 'merchant' is often used in a variety of specialised contexts such as in merchant banker, merchant navy or merchant services.


Merchants in antiquity

PhoenicianTrade EN
Phoenician trade route map

Merchants have existed as long as business, trade and commerce have been conducted.[5] A merchant class characterized many pre-modern societies. Open air, public markets, where merchants and traders congregated, were known in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Persia, Phoenicia and Rome. These markets typically occupied a place in the town's centre. Surrounding the market, skilled artisans, such as metal-workers and leather workers, occupied premises in alley ways that led to the open market-place. These artisans may have sold wares directly from their premises, but also prepared goods for sale on market days.[6] In ancient Greece markets operated within the agora (open space), and in ancient Rome the forum. Rome had two forums; the Forum Romanum and Trajan's Forum. The latter was a vast expanse, comprising multiple buildings with shops on four levels. The Roman forum was arguably the earliest example of a permanent retail shop-front.[7]

In antiquity, exchange involved direct selling through permanent or semi-permanent retail premises such as stall-holders at market places or shop-keepers selling from their own premises or through door-to-door direct sales via merchants or peddlers. The nature of direct selling centred around transactional exchange, where the goods were on open display, allowing buyers to evaluate quality directly through visual inspection. Relationships between merchant and consumer were minimal[8] often playing into public concerns about the quality of produce.[9]

Phoenician Merchants and Traders
Phoenician merchants traded across the entire Mediterranean region

The Phoenicians were well known amongst contemporaries as "traders in purple" – a reference to their monopoly over the purple dye extracted from the murex shell.[10] The Phoenicians plied their ships across the Mediterranean, becoming a major trading power by the 9th century BCE. Phoenician merchant traders imported and exported wood, textiles, glass and produce such as wine, oil, dried fruit and nuts. Their trading skills necessitated a network of colonies along the Mediterranean coast, stretching from modern day Crete through to Tangiers and onto Sardinia.[11] The Phoenicians not only traded in tangible goods, but were also instrumental in transporting the trappings of culture. The Phoenician's extensive trade networks necessitated considerable book-keeping and correspondence. In around 1500 BCE, the Phoenicians developed a phonetic alphabet which was much easier to learn that the pictographic scripts used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Phoenician traders and merchants were largely responsible for spreading their alphabet around the region.[12] Phoenician inscriptions have been found in archaeological sites at a number of former Phoenician cities and colonies around the Mediterranean, such as Byblos (in present-day Lebanon) and Carthage in North Africa.[13]

Fresco from the House of Julia Felix, Pompeii depicting scenes from the Forum market
Wall painting from Pompeii depicting every day activities at a market-place
Garum Mosaik Pompeji
Mosaic showing garum container, from the house of Umbricius Scaurus of Pompeii. The inscription which reads "G(ari) F(los) SCO(mbri) SCAURI EX OFFI(CI)NA SCAURI" has been translated as "The flower of garum, made of the mackerel, a product of Scaurus, from the shop of Scaurus"

The social status of the merchant class varied across cultures; ranging from high status (the members even eventually achieving titles such as that of Merchant Prince or Nabob) to low status, as in China, Greece and Roman cultures, owing to the presumed distastefulness of profiting from "mere" trade rather than from labor or the labor of others as in agriculture and craftsmanship.[14] The Romans defined merchants or traders in a very narrow sense. Merchants were those who bought and sold goods while landowners who sold their own produce were not considered to be merchants. Being a landowner was a 'respectable' occupation. On the other hand, the trade of merchant was not considered 'respectable'.[15] In the ancient cities of the Middle East, where the bazaar was the city's focal point and heartbeat, merchants who worked in bazaar were considered to be among the high-ranking members of the society.[16] Medieval attitudes toward merchants in the West were strongly influenced by criticism of their activities by the Christian church, which closely associated their activities with the sin of usury.[17]

In Greco-Roman society, merchants typically did not have high social status, though they may have enjoyed great wealth.[18] Umbricius Scauras, for example, was a manufacturer and trader of fish sauce (also known as garum) in Pompeii, circa 35 C.E. His villa, situated in one of the wealthier districts of Pompeii, was very large and ornately decorated in a show of substantial personal wealth. Mosaic patterns in the floor of his atrium were decorated with images of amphora bearing his personal brand and bearing quality claims. One of the inscriptions on the mosaic amphora reads "G(ari) F(los) SCO[m]/ SCAURI/ EX OFFI[ci]/NA SCAU/RI" which translates as "The flower of garum, made of the mackerel, a product of Scaurus, from the shop of Scaurus." The reputation of Scauras' fish sauce was known to be of very high quality across the Mediterranean and its reputation travelled as far away as modern southern France.[19] Other notable Roman merchants include: Marcus Julius Alexander, Sergius Orata and Annius Plocamus.

In the Roman world, local merchants served the needs of the wealthier landowners. While the local peasantry, who were generally poor, relied on open air market places to buy and sell produce and wares, major producers such as the great estates were sufficiently attractive for merchants to call directly at their farm-gates. The very wealthy landowners managed their own distribution, which may have involved exporting.[20] Markets were also important centres of social life and merchants helped to spread news and gossip.[21]

The nature of export markets in antiquity is well documented in ancient sources and archaeological case studies. Both Greek and Roman merchants engaged in long-distance trade. A Chinese text records that a Roman merchant named Lun reached southern China in 226 CE. Roman objects, dating from the period 27 BCE to 37 CE, have been excavated in sites as far afield as the Kushan and Indus ports. The Romans sold purple and yellow dyes, brass and iron and acquired incense, balsalm, expensive liquid myrrh and spices from the Near East and India, fine silk from China[22] and fine white marble destined for the Roman wholesale market from Arabia. For Roman consumers, the purchase of goods from the East was a symbol of social prestige.[23]

Merchants in the medieval period

Caravane Marco Polo
Marco Polo was among the earliest European merchants to travel to the Orient, helping to open it up to trade in the 13th century

Medieval England and Europe witnessed a rapid expansion in trade and the rise of a wealthy and powerful merchant class. Blintiff has investigated the early Medieval networks of market towns and suggests that by the 12th century there was an upsurge in the number of market towns and the emergence of merchant circuits as traders bulked up surpluses from smaller regional, different day markets and resold them at the larger centralised market towns. Peddlers or itinerant merchants filled any gaps in the distribution system.[24] From the 11th century, the Crusades helped to open up new trade routes in the Near East, while the adventurer and merchant, Marco Polo stimulated interest in the far East in the 12th and 13th centuries. Medieval merchants began to trade in exotic goods imported from distant shores including spices, wine, food, furs, fine cloth (notably silk), glass, jewellery and many other luxury goods. Market towns began to spread across the landscape during the medieval period.

Merchant guilds began to form during the Medieval period. A fraternity formed by the merchants of Tiel in Gelderland (in present-day Netherlands) in 1020 is believed to be the first example of a guild. The term, "guild" was first used for gilda mercatoria to describe a body of merchants operating out of St. Omer, France in the 11th century and London's Hanse was formed in the 12th century.[25] These guilds controlled the way that trade was to be conducted and codified rules governing the conditions of trade. Rules established by merchant guilds were often incorporated into the charters granted to market towns. In the early 12th century, a confederation of merchant guilds, formed out the German cities of Lubeck and Hamburg, known as "The Hanseatic League" came to dominate trade around the Baltic Sea. By the 13th and 14th centuries, merchant guilds had sufficient resources to have erected guild halls in many major market towns.[26]

Adriaen van der Kabel 1682 Mediterraneon port with Turkish merchants
Mediterranean port with Turkish merchants by Adriaen van der Kabel, 1682

During the thirteenth century, European businesses became more permanent and were able to maintain sedentary merchants and a system of agents. Merchants specialised in financing, organisation and transport while agents were domiciled overseas and acted on behalf of a principal. These arrangements first appeared on the route from Italy to the Levant, but by the end of the thirteenth century merchant colonies could be found from Paris, London, Bruges, Seville, Barcelona and Montpellier. Over time these partnerships became more commonplace and led to the development of large trading companies. These developments also triggered innovations such as double-entry book-keeping, commercial accountancy, international banking including access to lines of credit, marine insurance and commercial courier services. These developments are sometimes known as the commercial revolution.[27]

Luca Clerici has made a detailed study of Vicenza’s food market during the sixteenth century. He found that there were many different types of merchants operating out of the markets. For example, in the dairy trade, cheese and butter was sold by the members of two craft guilds (i.e., cheesemongers who were shopkeepers) and that of the so-called ‘resellers’ (hucksters selling a wide range of foodstuffs), and by other sellers who were not enrolled in any guild. Cheesemongers’ shops were situated at the town hall and were very lucrative. Resellers and direct sellers increased the number of sellers, thus increasing competition, to the benefit of consumers. Direct sellers, who brought produce from the surrounding countryside, sold their wares through the central market place and priced their goods at considerably lower rates than cheesemongers.[28]

A merchant making up the account
A merchant making up the account by Katsushika Hokusai.

From 1300 through to the 1800s a large number of European chartered and merchant companies were established to exploit international trading opportunities. The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, chartered in 1407, controlled most of the fine cloth imports[29] while the Hanseatic League controlled most of the trade in the Baltic Sea. A detailed study of European trade between the thirteenth and fifteenth century demonstrates that the European age of discovery acted as a major driver of change. In 1600, goods travelled relatively short distances: grain 5–10 miles; cattle 40–70 miles; wool and wollen cloth 20–40 miles. However, in the years following the opening up of Asia and the discovery of the New World, goods were imported from very long distances: calico cloth from India, porcelain, silk and tea from China, spices from India and South-East Asia and tobacco, sugar, rum and coffee from the New World.[30]

In Mesoamerica, a tiered system of traders developed independently. The local markets, where people purchased their daily needs were known as tianguis while pochteca was the term used to describe long-distance, professional merchants traders who obtained rare goods and luxury items desired by the nobility. This trading system supported various levels of pochteca – from very high status merchants through to minor traders who acted as a type of peddler to fill in gaps in the distribution system.[31] The Spanish conquerors commented on the impressive nature of the local and regional markets in the 15th century. The Mexica (Aztec) market of Tlatelolco was the largest in all the Americas and said to be superior to those in Europe.[32]

Merchants in the modern era

The modern era is generally understood to refer to period that coincides with the rise of consumer culture in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe.[33] As standards of living improved in the 17th century, consumers from a broad range of social backgrounds began to purchase goods that were in excess of basic necessities. An emergent middle class or bourgeosie stimulated demand for luxury goods and the act of shopping came to be seen as a pleasurable pass-time or form of entertainment.[34]

Der vollkommene Kaufmann
Merchants engaged in international trade began to develop a more outward-looking mindset

As Britain embarked on colonial expansion, large commercial organisations were much in need of sophisticated information about trading conditions in foreign lands. Daniel Defoe, a London merchant, published information on trade and economic resources of England, Scotland and India.[35][36] Defoe was a prolific pamphleteer and among his many publications are titles devoted to trade including; Trade of Britain Stated, 1707; Trade of Scotland with France, 1713; The Trade to India Critically and Calmly Considered, 1720 and A Plan of the English Commerce 1731; all pamphlets that were highly popular with contemporary merchants and business houses.[37]

Eighteenth century merchants, who traded in foreign markets, developed a network of relationships which crossed national boundaries, religious affiliations, family ties, and gender. The historian, Vannneste, has argued that a new cosmopolitan merchant mentality based on trust, reciprosity and a culture of communal support developed and helped to unify the early modern world. Given that these cosmopolitan merchants were embedded within their societies and participated in the highest level of exchange, they transferred a more outward-looking mindset and system of values to their commercial exchange transactions, and also helped to disseminate a more global awareness to broader society and therefore acted as agents of change for local society. Successful, open-minded cosmopolitan merchants began to acquire a more esteemed social position with the political elites. They were often sought as advisors for high-level political agents[38]

By the eighteenth century, a new type of manufacturer-merchant was emerging and modern business practices were becoming evident. Many merchants held showcases of goods in their private homes for the benefit of wealthier clients.[39] Samuel Pepys, for example, writing in 1660, describes being invited to the home of a retailer to view a wooden jack.[40] McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb found extensive evidence of eighteenth century English entrepreneurs and merchants using 'modern' marketing techniques, including product differentiation, sales promotion and loss leader pricing.[41] English industrialists, Josiah Wedgewood and Matthew Boulton, are often portrayed as pioneers of modern mass marketing methods.[42] Wedgewood was known to have used marketing techniques such as direct mail, travelling salesmen and catalogues in the eighteenth century.[43] Wedgewood also carried out serious investigations into the fixed and variable costs of production and recognised that increased production would lead to lower unit costs. He also inferred that selling at lower prices would lead to higher demand and recognised the value of achieving scale economies in production. By cutting costs and lowering prices, Wedgewood was able to generate higher overall profits.[44] Similarly, one of Wedgewood's contemporaries, Matthew Boulton, pioneered early mass production techniques and product differentiation at his Soho Manufactory in the 1760s. He also practiced planned obsolescence and understood the importance of "celebrity marketing" – that is supplying the nobility, often at prices below cost and of obtaining royal patronage, for the sake of the publicity and kudos generated.[45] Both Wedgewood and Boulton staged expansive showcases of their wares in their private residences or in rented halls.[46]

Eighteenth-century American merchants, who had been operating as importers and exporters, began to specialise in either wholesale or retail roles. They tended not to specialise in particular types of merchandise, often trading as general merchants, selling a diverse range of product types. These merchants were concentrated in the larger cities. They often provided high levels of credit financing for retail transactions.[47]

In art

Elizabeth Honig has argued that artists, especially the Dutch painters of Antwerp, developed a fascination with merchants from the mid-16th century. At this time, the economy was undergoing profound changes – capitalism emerged as the dominant social organisation replacing earlier modes of production. Merchants were importing produce from afar – grain from the Baltic, textiles from England, wine from Germany and metals from various countries. Antwerp was the centre of this new commercial world. The public began to distinguish between two types of merchant, the meerseniers which referred to local merchants including bakers, grocers, sellers of dairy products and stall-holders, and the koopman, which described a new, emergent class of trader who dealt in goods or credit on a large scale. With the rise of a European merchant class, this distinction was necessary to separate the daily trade that the general population understood from the rising ranks of traders who operated on a world stage and were seen as quite distant from everyday experience.[48] The wealthier merchants also had the means to commission artworks with the result that individual merchants and their families became important subject matter for artists. For instance, Hans Holbein, the younger painted a series of portraits of Hanseatic merchants working out of London's Steelyard in the 1530s. [49] These included including Georg Giese of Danzig; Hillebrant Wedigh of Cologne; Dirk Tybis of Duisburg; Hans of Antwerp, Hermann Wedigh, Johann Schwarzwald, Cyriacus Kale, Derich Born and Derick Berck. [50] Paintings of groups of merchants, notably officers of the merchant guilds, also became subject matter for artists and documented the rise of important mercantile organisations.

In recent art: Dutch photographer Loes Heerink spend hours on bridges in Hanoi to take pictures of Vietnamese street Merchants. She published a book called Merchants in Motion: the art of Vietnamese Street Vendors.

Paolo Uccello 059

A Jewish merchant and his family by Paolo Uccello 1465-1469

Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait

The Arnolfini Portrait, believed to be of Italian merchant, Giovanni de Nicolao Arnolfini with his wife, by Jan Van Eyck, c. 1434

Verrocchio Lorenzo de Medici

Lorenzo de' Medici, merchant, Florentine bust, 14th or 15th century

Mathias Mulich (1470-1528), Merchant in Lübeck, by Jacob Claesz van Utrecht

Mathias Mulich (1470-1528), Merchant in Lübeck, by Jacob Claesz van Utrecht, c. 1522

Porträt des Anton Fugger -durch Hans Maler zu Schwaz

Portrait of Anton Fugger by Hans Maler zu Schwaz, c. 1525

Hans Holbein the Younger - George Gisze - 1532

Portrait of George Gisze, the merchant, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c 1532

Hans Holbein d.J. - Porträt eines Mitgliedes der Familie Wedigh

Portrait of a member of the Wedigh merchant family by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1532

The Hanseatic merchant Cyriacus Kale, by Hans Holbein

The Hanseatic merchant, Cyriacus Kale, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533

A Hanseatic merchant, by Hans Holbein the younger

A Hanseatic merchant, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c 1538

Corneille de la Haye Portrait of a Merchant

Portrait of a Merchant by Corneille de Lyon, c. 1541

Portretten van Sir Thomas Gresham en Anne Fernely Rijksmuseum SK-A-3118.jpeg

Sir Thomas Gresham by Anthonis Mor, c. 1560.

Anthony van Dyck - Cornelis van der Geest - WGA07391

Cornelis van der Geest, merchant of Antwerp, by Anthony van Dyck, c. 1620

A. van Dyck Portrait of Nicolaes van der Borght 1625-1635

Portrait of Nicolaes van der Borght, merchant of Antwerp by Van Dyk, 1625–35

WLANL - kwispeltail - Delcourt en Keersegieter-detail

Portrait of the cloth merchant, Abraham del Court and his wife Maria de Keerssegieter by Bartelmeus van der Helst, c. 1654

Rembrandt - Frederick Rihel on Horseback - WGA19157

Frederick Rihel, a merchant on horseback by Rembrandt, c. 1663

Jürgen Ovens - Cornelis Nuyts

Portrait of Amsterdam merchant, Cornelis Nuyts (1574-1661) by Jürgen Ovens


Portrait of Joshua van Belle, merchant in Spain by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1670

De Bataviase opperkoopman Pieter Cnoll en zijn gezin Rijksmuseum SK-A-4062.jpeg

Portrait of Pieter Cnoll, senior merchant of Batavia, with family, by Jacob Janz Coeman, c.1655

Abraham van Strij Merchant

The Merchant by Abraham van Strij c. 1800


Caspar Voght, German merchant, 1801 by Jean-Laurent Mosnier

Joshua Watson

Joshua Watson, English wine merchant, 1863

Jean-Léon Gérôme - The Carpet Merchant - Google Art Project

The Carpet Merchant by Jean-Léon Gérôme, c 1887

Merchant Sytov by anonymous (Rybinsk museum, mid. 19 c.)

Merchant Sytov by anonymous (Rybinsk museum), mid-19th century

Ferdinand Bol - Governors of the Wine Merchant's Guild - WGA2361

Governors of the Wine Merchant's Guild by Ferdinand Bol, c. 1680

Four officers of the Amsterdam Coopers and wine-rackers Guild

Four officers of the Amsterdam Coopers and wine-rackers Guild by Gerbrand Jansz van den Eeckhout, c. 1660

Balthasar Van den Bossche - The reception of Jan Karel de Cordes at the guild hall

Reception of Jan Karel de Cordes at the guild hall by Balthasar van den Bossche, c.1711

In architecture

Although merchant halls were known in antiquity, they fell into disuse and were not reinvented until Europe's Medieval period.[51] During the 12th century, powerful guilds which controlled the way that trade was conducted were established and were often incorporated into the charters granted to market towns. By the 13th and 14th centuries, merchant guilds had acquired sufficient resources to erect guild halls in many major market towns.[52] Many buildings have retained the names derived from their former use as the home or place of business of merchants:

Merchant's House, Kirkcaldy

The Merchant's House, Kirkcaldy, Scotland

Medieval merchant's house 2012

Medieval merchant's house, Southampton, England

Tudor Merchant's Hall - - 1428491

Tudor Merchant's Hall, Southampton, England

Drapers' Hall, Bayley Lane - - 534432

Drapers' Hall, Coventry, England

8197 - Venezia - Scola dei fabbri in p.zza San Moisè (sec. XVI) - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto, 8-Aug-2007

The Blacksmiths' Guild Hall, Venice, Italy

Scuola dei Tessitori di Panni di Lana

Shoemakers' Guild Hall, Venice, Italy


Brodhaus, Bakers' Guild, Einbeck, Germany

Knochenhaueramtshaus Hildesheim 719-vfL-50

Knochenhaueramtshaus, Butcher`s guild hall, Hildesheim, Germany

4678 vleeshuis

The Butcher's Hall, Antwerp, Belgium


The Hanseatic League Building, Antwerp, 16th century

See also

References and sources

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  3. ^ Honig, E.A., Painting & the Market in Early Modern Antwerp, Yale University Press, 1998, pp 4-10
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External links

  • The dictionary definition of merchant at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Merchants at Wikimedia Commons
  • Quotations related to Merchant at Wikiquote
Armed merchantman

An armed merchantman is a merchant ship equipped with guns, usually for defensive purposes, either by design or after the fact. In the days of sail, piracy and privateers, many merchantmen would be routinely armed, especially those engaging in long distance and high value trade.

In more modern times, auxiliary cruisers were used offensively as merchant raiders to disrupt trade chiefly during both World War I and World War II, particularly by Germany.

While armed merchantmen are clearly inferior to regular warships, sometimes they have scored successes in combat against them. Examples include East Indiamen mimicking ships of the line and chasing off regular French warships in the Battle of Pulo Aura in 1804, and the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran sinking the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney in their battle in 1941, although Kormoran was also destroyed and had to be scuttled.

Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and was a major part of the Naval history of World War II. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, announced the day after the declaration of war, and Germany's subsequent counter-blockade. It was at its height from mid-1940 through to the end of 1943.

The Battle of the Atlantic pitted U-boats and other warships of the Kriegsmarine (Navy) and aircraft of the Luftwaffe (Air Force) against the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy, United States Navy, and Allied merchant shipping. Convoys, coming mainly from North America and predominantly going to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, were protected for the most part by the British and Canadian navies and air forces. These forces were aided by ships and aircraft of the United States beginning September 13, 1941. The Germans were joined by submarines of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) after their Axis ally Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940.

As an island nation, the United Kingdom was highly dependent on imported goods. Britain required more than a million tons of imported material per week in order to be able to survive and fight. In essence, the Battle of the Atlantic was a tonnage war: the Allied struggle to supply Britain and the Axis attempt to stem the flow of merchant shipping that enabled Britain to keep fighting. From 1942 onward, the Axis also sought to prevent the build-up of Allied supplies and equipment in the British Isles in preparation for the invasion of occupied Europe. The defeat of the U-boat threat was a prerequisite for pushing back the Axis. The outcome of the battle was a strategic victory for the Allies—the German blockade failed—but at great cost: 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships were sunk in the Atlantic for the loss of 783 U-boats (the majority being Type VII submarines) and 47 German surface warships, including 4 battleships (Scharnhorst, Bismarck, Gneisenau, and Tirpitz), 9 cruisers, 7 raiders, and 27 destroyers. Of the U-boats, 519 were sunk by British, Canadian, or other allied forces, while 175 were destroyed by American forces; 15 were destroyed by Soviets and 73 were scuttled by their crews before the end of the war for various causes.The Battle of the Atlantic has been called the "longest, largest, and most complex" naval battle in history. The campaign started immediately after the European war began, during the so-called "Phoney War", and lasted six years, until the German Surrender in May 1945. It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre covering millions of square miles of ocean. The situation changed constantly, with one side or the other gaining advantage, as participating countries surrendered, joined and even changed sides in the war, and as new weapons, tactics, counter-measures and equipment were developed by both sides. The Allies gradually gained the upper hand, overcoming German surface raiders by the end of 1942 and defeating the U-boats by mid-1943, though losses due to U-boats continued until the war's end.

Credit card

A credit card is a payment card issued to users (cardholders) to enable the cardholder to pay a merchant for goods and services based on the cardholder's promise to the card issuer to pay them for the amounts plus the other agreed charges. The card issuer (usually a bank) creates a revolving account and grants a line of credit to the cardholder, from which the cardholder can borrow money for payment to a merchant or as a cash advance.

A credit card is different from a charge card, which requires the balance to be repaid in full each month. In contrast, credit cards allow the consumers to build a continuing balance of debt, subject to interest being charged. A credit card also differs from a cash card, which can be used like currency by the owner of the card. A credit card differs from a charge card also in that a credit card typically involves a third-party entity that pays the seller and is reimbursed by the buyer, whereas a charge card simply defers payment by the buyer until a later date.


A guild is an association of artisans or merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as a confraternities of tradesmen. They were organized in a manner something between a professional association, a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent from a monarch or other authority to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials. A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as guild meeting-places. Guild members found guilty of cheating on the public would be fined or banned from the guild.

An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna (established in 1088), Oxford (at least since 1096) and Paris (c. 1150); they originated as guilds of students (as at Bologna) or of masters (as at Paris).

Maritime transport

Maritime transport, fluvial transport, or more generally waterborne transport is the transport of people (passengers) or goods (cargo) via waterways. Freight transport by sea has been widely used throughout recorded history. The advent of aviation has diminished the importance of sea travel for passengers, though it is still popular for short trips and pleasure cruises. Transport by water is cheaper than transport by air, despite fluctuating exchange rates and a fee placed on top of freighting charges for carrier companies known as the currency adjustment factor (CAF).

Maritime transport can be realized over any distance by boat, ship, sailboat or barge, over oceans and lakes, through canals or along rivers. Shipping may be for commerce, recreation, or for military purposes. While extensive inland shipping is less critical today, the major waterways of the world including many canals are still very important and are integral parts of worldwide economies. Virtually any material can be moved by water; however, water transport becomes impractical when material delivery is time-critical such as various types of perishable produce. Still, water transport is highly cost effective with regular schedulable cargoes, such as trans-oceanic shipping of consumer products – and especially for heavy loads or bulk cargos, such as coal, coke, ores, or grains. Arguably, the industrial revolution took place best where cheap water transport by canal, navigations, or shipping by all types of watercraft on natural waterways supported cost effective bulk transport.

Containerization revolutionized maritime transport starting in the 1970s. "General cargo" includes goods packaged in boxes, cases, pallets, and barrels. When a cargo is carried in more than one mode, it is intermodal or co-modal.

Merchant Navy (United Kingdom)

The Merchant Navy is the maritime register of the United Kingdom, and comprises the seagoing commercial interests of UK-registered ships and their crews. Merchant Navy vessels fly the Red Ensign and are regulated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). King George V bestowed the title of "Merchant Navy" on the British merchant shipping fleets following their service in the First World War; a number of other nations have since adopted the title.

Merchant bank

A merchant bank is historically a bank dealing in commercial loans and investment. In modern British usage it is the same as an investment bank. Merchant banks were the first modern banks and evolved from medieval merchants who traded in commodities, particularly cloth merchants. Historically, merchant banks' purpose was to facilitate and/or finance production and trade of commodities, hence the name "merchant". Few banks today restrict their activities to such a narrow scope.

In modern usage in the United States, the term additionally has taken on a more narrow meaning, and refers to a financial institution providing capital to companies in the form of share ownership instead of loans. A merchant bank also provides advisory on corporate matters to the firms in which they invest.

Merchant navy

A merchant navy or merchant marine or mercantile marine is the fleet of merchant vessels that are registered in a specific country. On merchant vessels, seafarers of various ranks and sometimes members of maritime trade unions are required by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) to carry Merchant Mariner's Documents.

King George V bestowed the title of the "Merchant Navy" on the British merchant shipping fleets following their service in the First World War; since then a number of other nations have also adopted use of that title or the similar "Merchant Marine." The following is a partial list of the merchant navies or merchant marines of various countries. In many countries the fleet's proper name is simply the capitalized version of the common noun ("Merchant Navy").

Merchant ship

A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This is in contrast to pleasure craft, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are used for military purposes.

They come in myriad sizes and shapes, from twenty-foot inflatable dive boats in Hawaii, to 5,000 passenger casino vessels on the Mississippi River, to tugboats plying New York Harbor, to 1,000 foot oil tankers and container ships at major ports, to a passenger carrying submarine in the U.S. Virgin Islands.Most countries of the world operate fleets of merchant ships. However, due to the high costs of operations, today these fleets are in many cases sailing under the flags of nations that specialize in providing manpower and services at favourable terms. Such flags are known as "flags of convenience". Currently, Liberia and Panama are particularly favoured. Ownership of the vessels can be by any country, however.

The Greek-owned fleet is the largest in the world. Today, the Greek fleet accounts for some 16 per cent of the world's tonnage; this makes it currently the largest single international merchant fleet in the world, albeit not the largest in history.During wars, merchant ships may be used as auxiliaries to the navies of their respective countries, and are called upon to deliver military personnel and materiel.

Natalie Merchant

Natalie Anne Merchant (born October 26, 1963) is an American alternative rock singer-songwriter. She joined the folk rock band 10,000 Maniacs in 1981, and was lead singer and primary lyricist for the group. She remained with the group for their first seven albums and left it to begin her solo career in 1993. She has since released seven studio albums.

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Dene Gervais (; born 25 June 1961) is an English stand-up comedian, actor, director, screenwriter and singer.

Gervais worked initially in the music industry, attempting a career as a pop star in the 1980s as the singer of the new wave act Seona Dancing and working as the manager of the then-unknown band Suede before turning to comedy. Gervais appeared on The 11 O'Clock Show on Channel 4 between 1998 and 2000. In 2000, he was given a Channel 4 talk show, Meet Ricky Gervais, and then achieved greater mainstream fame a year later with his BBC television series The Office. It was followed by Extras in 2005. He co-wrote and co-directed both series with Stephen Merchant. In addition to writing and directing the shows, he played the lead roles of David Brent in The Office and Andy Millman in Extras. He reprised his role as Brent in the comedy film David Brent: Life on the Road.

Gervais began his stand-up career in the late 1990s. He has performed five multi-national stand-up comedy tours, and wrote the Flanimals book series. Gervais, Merchant and Karl Pilkington created the podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show, which has spawned various spin-offs starring Pilkington and produced by Gervais and Merchant.He has also starred in the Hollywood films Ghost Town, the Night at the Museum trilogy, For Your Consideration and Muppets Most Wanted. He wrote, directed and starred in The Invention of Lying and the Netflix-released Special Correspondents. He hosted the Golden Globe Awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016, and appears on the game show Child Support.

Gervais has won seven BAFTA Awards, five British Comedy Awards, two Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and the 2006 Rose d'Or, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. In a 2004 poll for the BBC, he was named the third-most influential person in British culture. In 2007, he was voted the 11th-greatest stand-up comic on Channel 4's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups and again in the updated 2010 list as the 3rd-greatest stand-up comic. In 2010, he was named on the Time 100 list of the world's most influential people.


A sailor, seaman, mariner, or seafarer is a person who works aboard a watercraft as part of its crew, and may work in any one in a number of different fields that are related to the operation and maintenance of a ship.

The profession of the sailor is old, and the term sailor has its etymological roots in a time when sailing ships were the main mode of transport at sea, but it now refers to the personnel of all watercraft regardless of the mode of transport, and encompasses people who operate ships professionally or recreationally, be it for a military navy or civilian merchant navy. In a navy, there may be further distinctions: sailor may refer to any member of the navy even if they are based on land; while seaman may refer to a specific enlisted rank.

Stephen Merchant

Stephen James Merchant (born 24 November 1974) is an English writer, director, radio presenter, comedian and actor.

Merchant is best known for his collaborations with Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington, as the co-writer and co-director of the popular British sitcom The Office (2001–2003), co-writer and co-star of Extras (2005–2007) and co-host of The Ricky Gervais Show in its radio, podcast, audiobook and television formats; the radio version won a bronze Sony Award. He is also known for his voice role as Wheatley in the 2011 video game Portal 2.

Merchant co-developed the Sky1 travel series An Idiot Abroad (2010–2011), appeared as himself in the BBC series Life's Too Short (2011–2013), and performs as a stand-up comedian. He starred in his first play, Richard Bean's The Mentalists, at London's Wyndham's Theatre from July to August 2015. His various endeavours have earned him two Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA TV Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and four British Comedy Awards.

Merchant had his first dramatic role in a film when he was cast as Caliban in the superhero film Logan (2017).

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice (Antonio) must default on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and it is best known for Shylock and the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech on humanity. Also notable is Portia's speech about "the quality of mercy". Critic Harold Bloom listed it among Shakespeare's great comedies.

United States Maritime Commission

The United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM) was an independent executive agency of the U.S. federal government that was created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, passed by Congress on June 29, 1936, and replaced the United States Shipping Board which had existed since World War I. It was intended to formulate a merchant shipbuilding program to design and build five hundred modern merchant cargo ships to replace the World War I vintage vessels that comprised the bulk of the United States Merchant Marine, and to administer a subsidy system authorized by the Act to offset the cost differential between building in the U.S. and operating ships under the American flag. It also formed the United States Maritime Service for the training of seagoing ship's officers to man the new fleet.

United States Merchant Marine

The United States Merchant Marine refers to either United States civilian mariners, or to U.S. civilian and federally owned merchant vessels. Both the civilian mariners and the merchant vessels are managed by a combination of the government and private sectors, and engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine primarily transports cargo and passengers during peacetime; in times of war, the Merchant Marine can be an auxiliary to the United States Navy, and can be called upon to deliver military personnel and materiel for the military. Merchant Marine officers may also be commissioned as military officers by the Department of Defense. This is commonly achieved by commissioning unlimited tonnage Merchant Marine officers as Strategic Sealift Officers in the Naval Reserves.Merchant mariners move cargo and passengers between nations and within the United States, and operate and maintain deep-sea merchant ships, tugboats, towboats, ferries, dredges, excursion vessels, charter boats and other waterborne craft on the oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, canals, harbors, and other waterways.As of October 1, 2018, the United States merchant fleet had 181 privately owned, oceangoing, self-propelled vessels of 1,000 gross register tons and above that carry cargo from port to port. Nearly 800 American-owned ships are flagged in other nations.The federal government maintains fleets of merchant ships via organizations such as Military Sealift Command (part of the US Navy) and the National Defense Reserve Fleet, which is managed by the United States Maritime Administration. In 2004, the federal government employed approximately 5% of all American water transportation workers.In the 19th and 20th centuries, various laws fundamentally changed the course of American merchant shipping. These laws put an end to common practices such as flogging and shanghaiing, and increased shipboard safety and living standards. The United States Merchant Marine is also governed by more than 25 (as of February 17, 2017) international conventions to promote safety and prevent pollution.P.L. 95–202, approved November 23, 1977, granted veteran status to Women Airforce Service Pilots and "any person in any other similarly situated group" with jurisdiction for determination given to the Secretary of Defense who delegated that determination to the Secretary of the Air Force. Although the Merchant Marine suffered a per capita casualty rate greater than those of the US Armed Forces, merchant mariners who served in World War II were denied such veterans recognition until 1988 when a federal court ordered it. The Court held that "the Secretary of the Air Force abused its discretion in denying active military service recognition to American merchant seamen who participated in World War II."

United States Merchant Marine Academy

The United States Merchant Marine Academy (also known as USMMA or Kings Point), one of the five United States service academies, is located in Kings Point, New York. It is charged with training officers for the United States Merchant Marine, branches of the military, and the transportation industry. Midshipmen (as students at the academy are called) are trained in marine engineering, navigation, ship's administration, maritime law, personnel management, international law, customs, and many other subjects important to the task of running a large ship.


Vaishya is one of the four varnas of the Hindu social order in the Indian subcontinent. Vaishyas are third in distinction of the four Hindu castes, comprising mainly the merchants, business or trade professions.


A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more manoeuvrable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.

In wartime, the distinction between warships and merchant ships is often blurred. In war, merchant ships are often armed and used as auxiliary warships, such as the Q-ships of the First World War and the armed merchant cruisers of the Second World War. Until the 17th century it was common for merchant ships to be pressed into naval service and not unusual for more than half a fleet to be composed of merchant ships. Until the threat of piracy subsided in the 19th century, it was normal practice to arm larger merchant ships such as galleons. Warships have also often been used as troop carriers or supply ships, such as by the French Navy in the 18th century or the Japanese Navy during the Second World War.

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