The Ogilvie Guilds Databases


These open-access databases are the ones used and referred to in:

Ogilvie, S. (2019). The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

These databases consist of all observations that could be collected up to October 2017, when the book manuscript of Ogilvie (2019) was finalized. They make no claim to include all data sources published before that date, and they do not include data sources published after that date.

These databases are made available on this web page for the benefit of any interested user. Such users are encouraged to download, analyze, add to, and improve them, in order to address their own research questions.

The materials on this web page are made available on a By-Attribution, Non-Commercial Creative Commons Licence. This means that anyone can use this information in any way they like, so long as they attribute it to Sheilagh Ogilvie and do not use it for commercial purposes.

Data files (downloadable)

Qualitative Database (12,051 observations)
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Quantitative Database (5,333 observations)
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Bibliography (1,032 bibliographical items)
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Systematic information on guild activities is scarce. There are a few large compilations of guild ordinances, referred to in Ogilvie (2019), but such compilations are rare. For many societies, even to look at guild rules we must turn to individual ordinances for specific guilds in particular places and times. How guilds actually behaved, as opposed to how the rules ordered them to behave, is even harder to get at. What guilds did in reality can only be teased out through painstaking analyses of variegated local-level sources such as guild accounts, mastership admissions, journeyman registrations, apprenticeship enrolments, assembly resolutions, guild court minutes, petitions, legal records, and so on. These sources survive only for a minority of guilds in a few time-periods. We only know as much as we do about European guilds because hundreds of devoted scholars have carried out labour-intensive case-studies of guilds in specific places and periods.

Such case-studies have proved the mainstay of most accounts of medieval and early modern guilds. Without such dedicated work, our knowledge of guilds in Europe would be as tentative as that for other continents. But precious though these case-studies are, they can only reveal the activities of specific guilds in particular places and times. Some studies exploit documentary sources that can be analyzed quantitatively, but most rely on piecing together scattered evidence from purely qualitative sources. Through no fault of their own, these studies can only draw limited conclusions. An individual case can illustrate what is possible, and this can be a strong way of refuting an erroneous hypothesis. But one example cannot show what is typical. Nor do scattered qualitative references enable systematic comparisons among guilds of different occupations, societies, or periods. Almost any theory of guilds can always find at least one guild that did something consistent with that proposition.

Detailed case-studies of specific guilds and industries are hugely valuable, but in an effort to transcend some of their limitations, Ogilvie (2019) sought to bring together observations of guild activities from hundreds of studies of guilds in different European societies. This data compilation exercise yielded two databases, one qualitative and the other quantitative, keyed to a bibliography of guild studies. These are the databases posted on this web page.

The Qualitative Guilds Database consists of 12,051 qualitative observations, each showing a guild or group of guilds in a particular period and place engaging in a particular activity of interest. Examples of these activities include practising collective devotion, paying rulers for privileges, restricting entry to the occupation, fixing prices and output, limiting women’s work, inspecting quality, regulating training, forbidding or permitting innovations, holding guild assemblies, and so on. The observations come from a wide range of different societies, corresponding to 23 countries of modern Europe (Ogilvie 2019, Table 1.3). The earliest observation dates from 1095 (the admissions policy of the Pisa smiths’ guild), the latest from 1862 (the sale of a mastership license in the Willstätt raftsmen’s guild, for three times the value of a cow), so the data span a period of 767 years (Ogilvie 2019, Table 1.4). By assembling qualitative observations on many variables of interest, this data compilation makes it possible to transcend the boundaries of the individual case-study. With care, this qualitative database can be used to gain a sense of what is usual or unusual for guild activities in different societies and periods.

The Quantitative Guilds Database assembles 5,333 observations of particular types of guild behaviour that can be measured in numbers. Examples include the share of guild expenditures allocated to lobbying the public authorities, the proportion of masters’ sons among new guild members, the share of women operating guild workshops, the percentage of guild fines imposed for quality violations, the share of guilds with apprenticeship or journeymanship requirements, the number of guilds formed in particular periods and places, the attendance rate at guild assemblies, and the date of guild abolition in different polities. These quantitative observations again come from a wide range of different societies, corresponding to 22 countries of modern Europe (Ogilvie 2019, Table 1.3). The earliest observation dates from the late tenth century (the numerus clausus imposed by the Pavia tanners’ guild), the latest from 1859 (the percentage of female apprentices in the Vienna silk-weavers’ guild), so the data span a period of about 860 years. The observations in this quantitative database do not cover all guild activities. They can only be assembled for things guilds did that lend themselves to quantitative analysis, mattered to those who kept written records, and have attracted the interest of more than one scholar. But for the subset of guild behaviour that satisfies those conditions, it is illuminating to compare quantitative observations across multiple places and periods.

The Guilds Bibliography assembles the 1,032 sources for the observations in the Qualitative and Quantitative Guilds Databases. Each observation in the databases is keyed to one or more of these bibliographical items. The items in this Guilds Bibliography consist of books, journal articles, essays in edited volumes, conference papers, working papers, unpublished manuscripts, online databases, published document editions, and archival documents. These sources comprise all those that could be consulted up to October 2017, when the book manuscript of Ogilvie (2019) was finalized. They make no claim to include all data sources published before that date, and they do not include data sources published after that date. Many data sources exist that could not be consulted for these databases and one motivation for publishing these data on open access is to encourage other scholars to add to them.

In compiling the databases, every effort was made to disaggregate observations to specific dates and centuries since the guild was not a static institution but one that developed and metamorphosed over time. But some observations could not be assigned to a particular century, either because the underlying research study from which it was drawn did not give that information or, more often, because the observation itself spanned several centuries. This means that about 5 per cent of observations in the database could only be assigned generally to the medieval period (c. 995 – c. 1500), about 8 per cent generally to the early modern period (c. 1500 – c. 1900), and about 1 per cent spanned the medieval and early modern periods. Of all 17,384 observations, 99 per cent could be assigned to either the medieval or the early modern period, and 86 per cent of observations could be assigned to particular centuries.

The observations of guilds in this database can be categorized in many ways, as would be expected of more than seventeen thousand observations spanning twenty-three countries and over eight centuries. The databases categorize them according to how they are distributed across the spheres of guild activity analyzed in the chapters of the book (Ogilvie 2019, Table 1.5). Within those spheres of activity, each observation is also categorized according to the different research questions addressed in the book; many observations are keyed to particular tables in the book.

These data compilations are a work in progress. They cannot, and do not claim to, encompass remotely all of the tens of thousands of guilds that existed in Europe from the eleventh to the nineteenth century. That would be beyond the capacities of a single scholar. Even in their current state, they depend on the dedicated work of hundreds of scholars, and before them on the record-keeping of thousands of guild members, public officials, and ordinary people in cities, towns and villages across the continent for a period of many centuries.

By its very nature, a data compilation such as this cannot represent all activities undertaken by guilds in all occupations, societies and time-periods, even in Europe. It is hoped that the databases will be expanded to cover other occupations, societies and time-periods, other aspects of guild activity, and the many occupational associations formed in non-European societies. These databases are made available on open access to encourage this collaborative process and to facilitate analyses, additions, and improvements by future researchers.


This web page is presented by Sheilagh Ogilvie for the purpose of disseminating data on guilds for the benefit of any interested user. The materials on it are made available on a By-Attribution, Non-Commercial Creative Commons Licence. This means that anyone can use this information in any way they like, so long as they attribute it to Sheilagh Ogilvie and do not use it for commercial purposes.

Sheilagh Ogilvie has taken care to ensure the information in these databases is as correct and accurate as possible. However, the databases are provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, express or implied. Sheilagh Ogilvie does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from, out of, or in connection with, the use of any material contained on this website or on any linked site. Furthermore, Sheilagh Ogilvie is not able to answer questions about any aspect of these databases. Users are welcome to notify Sheilagh Ogilvie of any actual or apparent errors in the databases, but she cannot enter into discussion of any such errors.

Sheilagh Ogilvie recommends that users exercise their own skill and care with respect to their use of this website and that users carefully evaluate the accuracy, currency, completeness, and relevance of the material on this website for their purposes.


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