Trading company

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In commercial law, a trading company is understood to be a company that operates a trade and is considered an entrepreneur within the meaning of the Value Added Tax Act .


The compound "trading company" describes a company that does trade . Trade is not only to be understood as the trade sector ( wholesale , retail ), but also any type of trade, as well as in the sense of "being active". The German Commercial Code (HGB) combines different meanings with the legal term commercial company . For example, Section 6 (1) of the German Commercial Code (HGB) stipulates that the regulations that exist for merchants also apply to trading companies. Thus, they are for the general partnership (OHG), limited partnership (KG), Aktiengesellschaft (AG; § 3 para 1 AktG.) And limited liability company (GmbH; § 13 para. 3 Companies Act ) apply. The European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) is also a trading company . If one proceeds from § 6 Abs. 1 HGB, trading companies are always companies with full merchant status. According to this, the concept of society must be fulfilled, a purpose or legal form must be available that establishes full merchant status, and there must be no company that could also be a minor merchant or non-merchant .


Jewish trading companies have been documented since the time of the Mishnah in the 1st century AD . According to the Jewish legal definition , a trading company had to serve the promotion or achievement of a purpose, regardless of whether it is permanent or temporary. The purpose of Jewish trading companies was mostly to generate or maintain wealth for the society. In the 9th century there was a Jewish trading company that regularly traveled to India and China by two sea and two land routes. One of the routes led through Chasaria , a Jewish state in southern Russia. In the Islamic cultural area, the Mudaraba , which is still an important type of Islamic finance , developed from the 6th century - i.e. still in pre-Islamic times . It emerged as a silent society in which an investor provides the capital and the entrepreneur does the work .

In the Middle Ages , the trading company offered a much-used opportunity to distribute work and financial risk in economic life. Trading companies organized themselves without exception as partnerships. In the Mediterranean region there were trading companies in the seaside towns as early as the High Middle Ages , but their organization differed locally. The supraregional effective forms of the Commenda (in sea ​​trade ) and the Compagnia (in land trade ) established themselves at the beginning of the 12th century. At Commenda , the trading company consisted of two partners, an investor and a borrower, while at Compagnia several partners met for a limited period (usually for a period of 3–5 years). In addition to the shareholders' equity, these companies were already familiar with raising capital in the form of risk capital ( Italian accommandita ) and fixed-income capital ( Italian depositum ). The limited liability of such a company in the event of default was first documented in Florence in 1408. The oldest document about the establishment of an Italian , sea trade oriented commenda ( Latin commendare , "to entrust" ) comes from Venice from May 1072. It was considered a trading company in the form of a silent partnership in which someone took over the sale of foreign goods at sea for a share of the profit. In 1165 the Maritime Society ( Italian societas maris ) followed in Genoa with mutual capital contribution . In 1166 they were subjected to a legal regulation in Pisa and Florence. After that, around 1276, the land trading company ( Italian societas terrae ) emerged, which operated internal trade between markets. Italian sources spoke of companies ( Italian societas ) when the company risk , profit or costs were to be borne by several people. However, it is unclear whether the Commenda was recognized in Roman law . In the banking industry of Florence, the commenda developed into a major form of capital investment in the 14th century, alongside the Latin deposit . The limited liability of the "commendator" as the original form of the limited partnership found legal expression in Florence in 1408.

The trade organizations reached a high point in Italy from the middle of the 13th century. In Florence around 1270 there was a double company of the Mozzi-Spini families, which had a ship in Naples loaded with wine and fruit for Tunis in 1290. In 1310 the important company of Lapo and Dolfo de'Bardi was established in Florence with 24 partners, from which various ships in Venice were confiscated in October 1330. The Peruzzi had significant trading privileges in Cyprus and Armenia. These trading houses received purchase prices from their sales of goods and issued bills of exchange , so that the functional separation between trading and banking is not always clearly visible. When in 1339 the English King Edward III. stopped making payments to its creditors, this also resulted in the bankruptcy of the houses of Bardi, Peruzzi and many others.

In Germany , many trading houses gained significant market power through trading . The merchant Hermann Morneweg had a total of 18 articles of association entered in the Lübeck Niederstadtbuch between 1323 and 1335. The most important trading companies of the Middle Ages were run by the Welser and Fugger families from Augsburg . The largest trading company in Germany belonged to the Welsers under the name "Große Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft" ( Magna Societas in Latin ), which was founded around 1380 and had trading contacts with Spain from 1408 onwards. It marketed linen cloth and paper. Hans Fugger (from 1367 in Augsburg, † 1403) founded a trading company, which his widow Elisabeth continued until her death in 1436 and built up a copper monopoly. Her sons Andreas († 1457) and Jakob Fugger the Elder (from the Fugger von der Lilie tribe ) took over the company. Between 1485 and 1560, Jakob Fugger built the company into a leading large corporation in southern Germany . With their money, the Fuggers and Welsers ensured that Charles V was elected king on June 28, 1519. The trading companies of the Hanseatic League were often family businesses with two to four shareholders who used them to conduct their broadcasting business. Its shareholders were Hanseatic merchants, while participation bans for non-Hanseatic shareholders ("Butenhansische trading companies") ensured isolation. Charles V rejected a lawsuit by the Hanseatic cities against the Fugger and Welser trading companies because of excessive market power and usury .

In France , the limited partnership ( French Société en commandité ) was legalized in March 1673 by French commercial law ( French Ordonnance de Commerce pour la commerce ), and in September 1807 also in the Commercial Code ( French Code de Commerce ). The General Prussian Land Law of June 1794 only contained regulations on the general partnership and silent partnership; it was not until the ADHGB of May 1861 that regulations were also adopted for the limited partnership, which the HGB of January 1900 also left largely unchanged.

Historical species

The half society
The half company was the first real trading company in which the merchant brought in the capital and one or more members operated the trade. The traders received a share of the profit and therefore had to pay for losses.
The unknown commission business
The unknown business, which is also referred to as "commission business", can also be represented as a half-company, but only rarely occurred. It was characterized by the fact that one provided the capital, but another managed it. The profit was mostly halved, in contrast to the loss regulation, which turned out to be more difficult. However, the loss was often halved.
The Sevende business
One form of trading company was the "sevende" (broadcast goods), also called proprietary business. That is, a merchant sent goods through a so-called servant . This servant received neither a share of the profits nor a service contract, but a fixed wage . The merchant thus assumed full liability for his goods and his profit or loss. The broadcast business is also referred to as commission business, since the merchant took over the complete payment.
The Wederlegginge Society
In this form of trading company, there were bilateral investments and thus also two business partners. The business was taken over by one of the two partners, the other partner refuted (“neither legginge”) his capital to the so-called “capital leader”. This created a share capital. The term “refutation” actually only describes the founding process, but it is well established in the literature so that it referred to society itself. In addition, it is unclear whether there was a hierarchy between the shareholders. The frequency of this society suggests that this was the central form of society at that time. The profit was usually halved and the loss divided according to the capital employed. Often the financier increased his profit through additional investments or enabled the company to come into being.

Research and sources on trading companies in the Middle Ages

Company trade occurred in different forms, so in which historians researching the dimension of commercial companies is an important area of work . Research distinguishes between two lines of development that must be separated from one another: a Mediterranean and a Northern European . But there are only a few sources that offer in-depth insights into (late) medieval trading companies. The most important sources in northern Germany include the Hanseregesten , the Veckinchusen merchants' accounts and the Lübeck Niederstadtbuch from 1311–1361.

Types of Trading Companies Today

Trading companies are in particular

  • Partnerships, like
  • Corporations like
    • the limited liability company (GmbH) and
    • the stock corporation (AG).


Trading company or trading company were also the names of the companies that carried out overseas trade with overseas possessions or colonies. They were partially privileged.

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Jabornegg / Peter Apathy (eds.), Commentary on the HGB , Volume 1, 1997, p. 648, Rn. 3
  2. Peter Jabornegg / Peter Apathy (eds.), Commentary on the HGB , Volume 1, 1997, p. 648, Rn. 4th
  3. Peter Jabornegg / Peter Apathy (ed.): Commentary on the HGB . Volume 1, 1997, p 109, Rn. 6th
  4. Mishnah Ketubba X, p. 4
  5. Barbara Mattes, Jewish Everyday Life in a Medieval City , 2003, p. 59
  6. Erich Esril Hildesheimer: The Jewish company law . 1930, p. 3
  7. ^ Salcia Landmann: The Jews as a race . 1981, p. 277
  8. a b c d Hermann Kellenbenz, Handelsgesellschaft , in: LexMA IV, Sp. 1901
  9. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz : The structure of the enterprises . In: Troisième Conférence International d`Histoire Économique, 1965, pp. 1–32.
  10. Federigo Melis: Le società commerciali a Firenze dalla seconda metà del XIV al XVIs. In: Troisième Conference International d`Histoire Économique, Munich 1965, pp. 47–62.
  11. Hans Hattenhauer, European Legal History , 1999, p. 268 f.
  12. ^ Levin Goldschmidt , Universalgeschichte des Handelsrechts , 1891, p. 255
  13. Max Weber : On the history of trading companies in the Middle Ages . 1889, p. 16 ff.
  14. ^ Levin Goldschmidt: Universal history of commercial law . 1891, p. 267
  15. ^ Charles S. Lobingier: The natural history of he private artificial person . In: Tulane Law Review, 1939, p. 57
  16. Barbara Mattes: Jewish everyday life in a medieval city . 2003, p. 60
  17. ^ Robert Davidsohn : Research on the history of Florence . Volume 3, 1896, p. 153
  18. ^ Otto Meltzing: The Medici banking house and its predecessors . 1906, p. 68
  19. ^ Antony Mason, Die Renaissance , 2007, p. 12
  20. Barbara Mattes: Jewish everyday life in a medieval city . 2003, p. 66
  21. Herbert Franke: Saeculum world history: The discovery of the world through Europe . 1975, p. 11
  22. Mark Häberlein: The Fugger: History of an Augsburg family (1367-1650) . 2006, p. 93
  23. Brigitte Beier: The Chronicle of the Germans . 2007, p. 132
  24. Barbara Mattes: Jewish everyday life in a medieval city . 2003, p. 65
  25. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: trading company . In: LexMA IV, Sp. 1901
  26. ^ Michael P. Lesnikow: The account books of the Hansich businessman Veckinchusen . in: Research on Medieval History 19, 1973
  27. ^ Fritz Rörig: The Lübeck Niederstadtbuch of the 14th century. Its legal function, changing objectives and importance in economic history . In: Gift of honor presented to the German Juristentage by the VLGA, Lübeck 1931, pp. 35–54; see also Jürgen Reetz, Über das Niederstadtbuch , in: ZVLGA, 35, 1955, pp. 34–56