Characteristics Of Fairs

Yarid is the common term employed in the Tosefta and the Talmuds for the fair.1 According to Z. Safrai's work on the subject, this term is comparable to a rare and antiquated meaning of the Greek term, katabaino, "to descend" (1984, 139-58). In Greek, it was more common to use pangypis or, at times, agora. Latin employs nundinae or simply mercatus (analogous to shuk2 in Hebrew), which are not found in rabbinic literature. The Talmudic corpus also employs atlaz (especially in relation to the fair held at Aza), which is equivalent to the Latin atelus, a place "free of taxes." Shuk is used in the Talmud to signify a more localized market.

Features of the ancient Mediterranean fair are known primarily from Greco-Roman sources. Ramsay MacMullen wrote an article on the subject, using information culled from ancient central Italy (1970, 333-41). He noted that the fairs operated at set times of the year. Taxes at these fairs were waived or greatly reduced. We are not certain as to the amount of this reduction, but it was significant. A wide variety of items were available, many of them luxuries. Religious worship was connected with the fair. MacMullen claims that "the most important factor of all was the connection between religion and commerce. A particularly clear illustration lies in the worship of Jupiter Nundinarius or Mercurius Nundinator, by persons known to be merchants" (1970, 336). The shrines of various gods, most notably those of Jupiter and Mercury, provided ready-made sites for crowds and fairs to gather. Many other festivals were associated with the sale of commercial goods.

The fair also served social functions, and sexual activity took place. The fair was held in or near a city (polis) or in an open area in a village. The fair was accorded prestige by the king under whose authority it fell. At times, a fair was arranged to complement the beginning of a king's reign. Official acts also took place: laws were passed, judgments granted, and so on.

Such aspects of the fair, which are indeed varied, were not only functional but also introduced by the king, landowner, or magnate (or other

1 Manuscript evidence for the Tosefta suggests that yarid is also written yarud. Tosefta Avo-dah Zarah has three manuscripts: Vienna, Erfurt, and editio princeps. Vienna (Lieberman's choice of text in his Tosefta) is more reliable and reads yarud, but the other two witnesses (Erfurt, used in Zuckermandel's 1888 edition) record yarid. I have employed the more familiar and contemporary yarid.

2 Shavakim were better established than fairs; the former took place on Monday and Thursday. Public fast days and some forms of legal activity were also typical at marketplaces. The shuk was characterized by these and by many other elements common to the fair (e.g., worship, sale of all kinds of goods), but one important distinction must be recognized: the shuk did not have a decrease in taxes, a feature discussed below.

sponsor of the event) in order to attract merchants. All fairs during the later empire had to receive permission from the emperor (MacMullen 1970, 334). The sponsor of the fair, including the king, prevented other fairs from being held in the same locale in order to reduce competition. One proconsul of Asia, for instance, announced that in Tetrapyrgia "an agora [was established] for goods for sale on the fifteenth of the month. Let no other city whatsoever in Maeonia anticipate Tetrapyrgia in holding a market" (SEG 13, 518; ca. 250/270 ce, as cited in MacMullen 1970, 335n. 10). The reason for this prohibition was that a fair's success depended upon the presence of vendors, and a wide range of elements needed to be included in order to enrich the gathering. MacMullen writes: "Efficiency required that they [vendors] be brought together in large numbers, whether once every seven, or eight, or thirteen, or thirty days, or less frequently still. To this end a variety of other purposes were adopted: assemblies for worship, spectacles and entertainments, elections, or assizes" (1970, 341).

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