A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities produced by others, in order to earn a profit. The status of the merchant has varied during different periods of history and amongst different societies. Merchants have often been the subject of works of art.
There are two types of merchants.
A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant, typically dealing in large quantities of goods. Some wholesale merchants only organize the movement of goods rather than move the goods themselves.
A retail merchant or retailer, sells merchandise to consumers (including businesses), usually in small quantities. A shop owner is a retail merchant.
A merchant class characterizes many pre-modern societies. Its status can range from high (the members even eventually achieving titles such as that of Merchant Prince or Nabob) to low, as in Chinese culture, owing to the presumed distastefulness of profiting from “mere” trade rather than from labor or the labor of others as in agriculture and craftsmanship.
In the Greco-Roman world merchants typically did not have high social status, though they may have enjoyed great wealth, and there were exceptions, such as in Syria and Palestine in late antiquity, where merchants did have a high social position.
Medieval attitudes toward merchants in the West were strongly influenced by criticism of their activities by the Christian church, which closely associated their activities with the sin of usury.
From around 1300 to the 1800s a large number of European Chartered and Merchant Companies were established to exploit international trading opportunities, for instance the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, Chartered in 1407.
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