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Copernicus and his interest in economics (introduction)

Nicolaus Copernicus wide-ranging interests, among which astronomy was without any doubt the primary, included nevertheless economics in the broadest sense of the term. This is why, following his epoch-making works on astronomy, Copernicus economic writings or, to be more precise, treatises on economic and financial matters, as well as those of administration, constitute the most important part of his manuscript legacy. Written in the years 1516-32 they were directly connected with his canonical offices and duties undertaken on behalf of the cathedral chapter of Warmia (Ermland) which included many administrative and public functions, in particular those of inspector (interruptedly, starting from 1511), administrator of the estates of the chapter (1516-21), guardian of the accounting table of the chapter (1526-32), and representative of the bishopric of Warmia at both an assembly of the estates of Royal Prussia (Stany Prus Królewskich - 1522) and of the Prussian general diets (sejmiki: 1528-30). Copernicus writings also emerged from his personal scholarly interest and high level of expertise in researching economic issues, especially those concerning coinage made in close combination with observation of the living conditions of his contemporaries.

The bulk of Copernicus economic works comprise both academic papers (especially essays on coinage), and writings closely connected to his practical administrative and financial activity among which the most important are Locationes mansorum desertorum (Leases of Abandoned Farmsteads) written in 1516-21; the first draft of his treatise on money Meditata of 1517; its second draft Modus cudendi monetam (The Way to strike Coin) of 1519, revised in 1522; the third expanded version called Monete cudende ratio (On the Minting of Coin) of 1526; Ratio panaria Allensteinensis (The Olsztyn Bread Tariff) of 1531; and Ratio pecuniaria ex redemptis bonis Baysen, Codien, Reberg etc.(Calculation of Income and Expenditure in the accounts of the Chapter of Warmia), written in collaboration with Tiedemann Giese in 1531-2.

Leszek Zygner
Nicolaus Copernicus University