Medieval merchant guilds were local associations, in a particular town or city, with privileges obtained from a local ruler granting the members exclusive rights to practice certain commercial activities. Merchant guilds became closely involved in regulating and protecting their members’ commerce, not only locally but also at the level of long-distance trade. They controlled the distribution and sale of food, cloth, and other staple goods and hence obtained a monopoly over local commerce. They constrained foreign merchants and traders to pay fees if they wanted to participate in the local trade. Merchant guilds played a dominant role in the governance of many towns and cities.