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Medieval guilds (or gilds) were an approximate equivalent to modern-day business organisations such as a chamber of commerce[?].

They are sometimes compared to modern labor unions; however, the similarities are few and there are important differences. The medieval guild held a oligopoly on its trade in the town in which it operated. Because of this, the guild could regulate pricing, quality, training, working hours, sales hours, and other such things. In many towns, the guilds were the wealthiest organizations and would use their considerable finances to build grandiose guild halls[?] and to finance festivities.

The guild used to be the center of European handicraft organization. The guild system appeared in Germany in the Middle Ages, circa 1300. The guilds are identified with organizations enjoying certain privileges[?], issued by local state authorities. Handicraft workers were forbidden to run any business if they were not members of a guild. Before these privileges were legislated, these groups of handicraft workers were simply called "handicraft associations".

The guild organization was of mutual benefit for the guild and the state, as the authorities were represented on the guild meetings and thus had a means of controlling the handicraft activities.

Because of industrialization and modernization of the trade and industry, the guild became increasingly old-fashioned. In the 1800s the guild system was disbanded and replaced by free trade laws. By that time, a large portions of the former handicraft workers had already been converted to workers of the manufacturing industry.

Some guild tradtions still remain in a few handicrafts, in Europe especially among shoemakers[?] and barbers. Some of the ritual traditions of the guilds were conserved in order organizations such as the Freemasons.


  • Söderlund, Ernst: Den svenska arbetarklassens historia - Hantverkarna II frihetstiden och den gustavianska tiden Stockholm 1949 (in Swedish)

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