Economics and Wealth

Welcome to the Economics and Wealth theme of the Maastricht Collection. From Roman Times to the present day, the city of Maastricht has evolved and transformed alongside its economic achievements. In this section, we are telling the story of Maastricht highlighting its rich history in trade and resulting growth in affluence and status of which remainders are still visible in the city today.

Although Maastricht was primarily rural with farming and animal husbandry being the main activities, the city’s location on the Maas river made it an important trading hub, and proved to be strategic to important trade routes (Ramakers, 2016). As a result, the settlement grew to become an important economic hub over the centuries. During the medieval period, Maastricht flourished due to its booming textile industry, producing high-quality cloth exported to other European countries. This newfound wealth made the city vulnerable to attack, leading to its fortification which many still exist in the city today (Wetzels, 2023).

In the 19th century, Maastricht experienced a new wave of economic growth during the industrial revolution, which led to its prominence in ceramics, glass, and paper production (Jansen, 1986). The city became known for processing agricultural products such as potatoes and sugar beets. Maastricht also established an eminent role in the evolution of firearms technology as one of its traded products was later selected by major military powers (Geschiedenis van de Maastrichtse Wapenfabricage, n.d.).

Join us on a journey through time as we guide you through a selection of artifacts that highlight the history of Maastricht’s economy and wealth. Starting in the Neolithic period all the way to the Industrial Revolution, this part of the Maastricht Collection offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s economic past.

A fortification tower in Maastricht

5300 – 2000 BCE

4000 BCE

1 – 300 CE

500 – 600 CE

500 – 600 CE

1869 – 1880 CE


During the Frankish period (5th-10th century), Maastricht became an important city for the Merovingian and Carolingian Empires (Kooijmans et al, 2022; Theuws, 2001). The Franks, as a Germanic tribe, were known as the major power in Europe at the time (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2023). Their empire reached most of modern-day France, Germany, and parts of Italy and Spain. With the start of the Merovingian period, Maastricht became an important center for trade and commerce. Its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes gave the city a geographic advantage and made Maastricht a wealthy and influential city in the Merovingian empire (Theuws, 2001, 2007).

With the Frankish kingdom, Christianity became popular in the city of Maastricht, which is still visible in the many religious medieval institutions in Maastricht, for instance, the Basilica of Saint Servatius. Maastricht’s social status has a history that dates back to the Neolithic period of the Michelsberg culture which is distinguished by its distinct pottery, produced using the coil and paddle method, and ornamented with unique engraved and punctured designs. One example of such is the cooking pot featured in this collection.

After around 300 years of the Merovingian period, the Carolingian kings ruled over Maastricht. The city’s economic status increased in growth, and the city became an important key element for the expansion of the Carolingian empire; Since it was located near its borders, it served as an important strategic point of defense (Kooijmans et al, 2022; Theuws, 2001).

Along with the progress in economics and wealth, social status and the showcasing of such became more and more visible. During the Frankish period, the elites, especially kings and queens or high officials, adorned themselves with jewelry to show off their wealth and power and to represent their status. During this time, it was normal for many different social classes to wear jewelry made from various materials such as glass, amber, bone, shell, or even gold and silver for the elite (Halsall, 2010; Mazzoni, 2010, Singapuri, 2020). Beads and necklaces were not only important symbols of individual status and wealth but also had religious and symbolic significance in the Frankish period since belief and Christianity were widely shared values at the time.

The city wall to protect Maastrichts’ economical wealth
Basilica of Saint Servatius

Frankish Bead
Roman Arm Purse
Frankish Necklace
previous arrowprevious arrow
next arrownext arrow

The Maastricht Collection presents two astonishing examples of jewelry that serve as a visualization of how important status was in the Frankish period. One example is the approximately 2000-year-old amethyst, glass, copper, and silver necklace. Those valuable materials were incorporated into the design of the necklace to showcase the economic wealth of the people who wore it (as only the wealthy could afford these exclusive materials). As a symbol of roman methodology, the necklace centers on a medallion featuring the Lupa Capitolina (English: “Capitoline Wolf”).

Another archeological artifact from the 6th to 7th century is the Frankish bead. Located near Saint Servatius in Maastricht, the bead featured in this collection was found in a grave of a woman, presumably as a means of protection and to showcase the social status of the deceased woman. Both the necklace and the bead represent how social status was represented during the Frankish period as one of the wealthiest time periods in the history of the city of Maastricht.



The city of Maastricht has a long history of trade dating back to the Neolithic period. The region was rich in natural resources, including flint, timber, and antlers, which were highly sought after by neighboring communities (Ramakers, 2016). Antlers, notably, were used as tools to create flint mines, where miners used them to construct passages, allowing them to navigate throughout the mines (Bosch, 1979).

The particular Antler digitised in this collection was found in the vicinity of Rijckholt and Sint Geertruid. Rijkolt was in fact one of the most prominent flint mines in Europe and was discovered in 1881 (Bosch, 1979). Amongst the many tools found on the site, red deer antlers seemed to be the most prominent tool used at the time (Bosch, 1979). Thus, antler picks not only represent some of the first mining tools, but they also embody the symbolism of trade, as they lay the foundation for some of the first trading vendors in Europe during the Neolithic period (Aarts, 2023).

During the time of the Roman Empire, Maastricht became a thriving commercial center, particularly known for its marketplace that attracted merchants from all over the empire (Ramakers, 2016). The Roman army played a role in the city’s economy as soldiers stationed in Maastricht purchased supplies and goods from local vendors. In order to purchase these supplies, soldiers would carry their money in a roman arm purse, such as the one present in this collection (The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ British Museum, n.d.).

Arm purses, also known as armillae or arm bags, were small metal bags generally worn on the upper arm or wrist (Aarts, 2023). It is speculated that they were exclusively worn by men, more specifically in the military (The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ British Museum, n.d.). Not only were they used to carry coins, but they also served as small storage spaces for keys and writing supplies. Aside from their practicality, Roman arm purses were also given as gifts or rewards. Essentially, these purses are a symbol of status, as they were mainly worn by soldiers.

As trade grew, Maastricht became an important hub for merchants traveling between northern and southern Europe (Ramakers, 2016). The city’s strategic location on the banks of the Meuse River made it an ideal trading location to exchange goods including amber, pottery, and textiles (Ramakers, 2016). Maastricht’s high-quality woolen cloth became a popular export item throughout Europe (Wetzels, 2023).

Maastricht Helpoort: the last authentic city gate

Map of the fortifications Hoge Fronten
Beaumont Rifle M1871
Neolithic Antler Axe
Maastricht Fortifications Key
Cooking Pot
previous arrowprevious arrow
next arrownext arrow
The M1871 Beaumont rifle gun

As the city grew in wealth and importance, it became vulnerable to attacks by neighboring powers. Fortifications, of which remainders still exist in Maastricht today, were built around the city to protect it (Wetzels, 2023). The City Key, as showcased in this collection, therefore holds significant symbolic importance as a representation of the city’s fortified status, as well as the “key to craftmanship” of this growing trading location (Wetzels, 2023).

More broadly, it signifies the authority of Maastricht at the time – the key was frequently employed as collateral for loans, as merchants entering the city were required to pay a toll, collected by the gatekeeper (Wetzels, 2023). With the 19th-century industrial revolution trade in Maastricht expanded even further: The city’s factories started producing goods such as beer, ceramics, and firearms (Ramakers, 2016).

The M1871 Beaumont rifle gun marked a major milestone in the evolution of firearms technology (Van Driel, 2009; The dutch model 1871/79 Beaumont – from Ethiopia, 2021). It was the first bolt-action rifle to be adopted by a major military power, and it set the stage for the development of more advanced firearms in the years to come (Van Driel, 2009).

While the Beaumont rifle may not have had a direct impact on the history of trade in Maastricht, it played an important role in the city’s overall development and reputation as a center for innovation and industry (Van Driel, 2009). Noteworthy, its reputation lasted to this day, making it a beloved collector’s item that is still up for auction online (A Dutch military Beaumont-carbine. Maastricht: Veilinghuis Hessink, n.d.; The dutch model 1871/79 Beaumont – from Ethiopia, 2021).

From a bustling trading hub to a center of manufacturing and innovation, Maastricht has always found a way to play a part in regional, and later, global exchange and trade. Today, Maastricht remains a vibrant and dynamic city, with a rich history that continues to shape its identity and its future.