In a broad sense, the guild definition includes the secular and religious associations of different nature that existed in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. The guilds were divided into subspecies, depending on the purpose that bound the people. In general, medieval guilds performed commercial, social, military, and religious functions.
In the period of the early Middle Ages, the city and handicrafts developed poorly, the city craftsmen produced products for sale, but most of the consumer goods they needed were received from their farms. Many of them had small crops, gardens, and productive livestock. Women were engaged in linen yarns, wool for clothing. Since time immemorial, artisans have been prominent in the settlements, a category of people capable of producing socially useful goods. Artisans settled near feudal fortresses, forming cities.
With the growth of cities, guilds appeared, uniting citizens in the struggle against the arbitrariness of large feudal lords. Guilds as social associations were formed based on an agreement, had their charter, acting under customary law. They were structures that had a directed social meaning of mutual protection and social security. In Western Europe, the first guilds were first mentioned in the sources in the 7-8th centuries.
The wealthiest part of the urban population were merchants. Trade activities were developed both in the cities inherited from the era of slavery and in the cities that emerged under feudalism. Shop organization in trade corresponded to the organization of guilds in business. Medieval Merchant guilds existed almost everywhere during the feudalism era. The emergence of the phenomenon of the guild was primarily dictated by the needs of developing inter-city and international trade. The members of the guild, which brought together merchants from a particular city, jointly guarded the goods being transported, sought the profitable sale of goods by creating courtyards in fairgrounds and other shopping centers and obtaining legal and especially customs privileges. Often, the guild would bring together merchants who traded in one particular type of goods (cloth makers or wine merchants). The members of the guild were bound by joint armed self-protection and mutual assistance, which manifested itself, for example, in shipwrecks, attacks by robbers, and ransom demands. In their hometown, the guilds guaranteed a monopoly on their retail sales of imported goods, which was beneficial to them. The monopoly rights of the guild were detrimental to the consumer interests of the city itself.
From an organizational point of view, medieval guild system was usually headed by an elder, several assistants, and an elected council. At first, all interested persons joined the guild, but over time the possibility of joining the guild began to be severely restricted. In the later Middle Ages, the guild, as a typical corporate association, mainly gave way to other forms of merchant associations. Each association of people which was considered medieval guilds had its own guild crests and anthem.
A common type of medieval guild was religious fraternities: during the 10-13 centuries, their number was continuously growing, and by the fifteenth century, they were extremely numerous in all European cities. Each guild chose a particular saint as its patron and was often named after him. Specific forms of guild, related to the defense of the town and the protection of internal order, existed in the late Middle Ages. In addition, knightly societies and similar associations of the city patriarchate can be considered as separate forms of the guild. With the spread of Christianity, the church began to fight the guilds as remnants of paganism, but over time the guilds lost their pagan character, and they began to cope even near Christian temples.