Medieval Mill at Herault

The Origins of Corporations – The Mills of Toulouse in the Middle Ages

The first business corporations were French and from the Middle Ages. This a was already documented in 1954. Yet historians continue to claim the roots were found in the 17th century Dutch and English companies

The Origins of Corporations: The Mills of Toulouse in the Middle Ages
by Germain Sicard. Translated by Matthew Landry; Edited by William N. Goetzmann; with an Introduction by David Le Bris, William N. Goetzmann, and Sébastien Pouget
Yale University Press 2015 (in French: 1954)
ISBN-10: 0300156480
ISBN-13: 978-0300156485

The origins of corporations by Sicard - coverIn 1954 Germain Sicard set out to prove that Europe’s first corporations were fourteenth-century mill companies operating in Toulouse, rather than seventeenth-century English and Dutch trading companies as is commonly believed. He showed that the corporate form derives from a unique ownership contract from Medieval Europe called pariage, and a culture of strong property rights and municipal self-governance. Based on archival research, Sicard’s 1952 thesis has now been translated into English with an introduction that places the work in the context of new institutional economics and legal theory. It is an important contribution to research on the history and legal origins of the corporation.

A key example of this was the mill at the Bazacle, a natural ford on the Garonne river in Toulouse. Here people had milled grains since at least 1071. In 1369, the mill owners who shared a perpetual lease on the river signed a profit-sharing agreement. And in 1372, after one of their number was about a decade late in repaying a debt to a merchant, what’s likely one of the oldest creditor/shareholder lawsuits of all time led to a corporate structure that lasted centuries. It is this corporate structure, which Germain Sicard wrote his thesis about.

Original Edition:

Aux origines des sociétés anonymes. Les moulins de Toulouse au Moyen Age.
By Germain Sicard.
Paris, Armand Colin, 1953.


Germain Sicard is a jurist and legal historian who served as Officer of General Affairs, Center for Historical Research, School of Practical Studies in France.


Medieval Mill at Herault. Source:


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