One characteristic of the Renaissance was a new expression of wealth, and the related consumption of luxury goods. The belief in the flowering of the spirit of the Renaissance is strangely at odds with the general belief that the 14th and 15th centuries experienced a profound period of economic depression. Prices fell and wages slumped. The impact of the outbreak of the Black Death in 1348 only intensified these problems. However, one of the consequences of widespread disease and death, just like warfare, is often radical social change and upheaval. Such was the case in Europe in the aftermath of the plague. As well as disease, warfare ravaged the region. The incessant wars disrupted trade and agriculture, creating a recurrent pattern of inflation and deflation. One consequence of all this death, disease, and warfare was a concentration on urban life, and an accumulation of wealth in the hands of a small but rich elite.
As in most, periods of history, where some people experience depression and decline, others see opportunity and fortune. States like Venice capitalized on the growing demand for luxury goods, and developed new ways of moving larger quantities of merchandise. Their older galleys, narrow oared ships, were gradually replaced by the heavy, round-bottomed masted ships, or 'cogs', used to transport bulky goods such as timber and iron between northern European ports. These cogs were able to transport more than three times the amount possible aboard the older galley. By the end of the 15th century, another new type of ship, which was able to transport more merchandise considerably faster than the cog, was developed.
As the amount and speed of distribution of merchandise increased, so ways of transacting business also changed. The complexity of balancing the import and export of both essential and luxury international goods and calculating credit, profit, and rates of interest sounds so familiar to us today that it is easy to see why the Renaissance is often referred to as the birthplace of modern capitalism.