In the middle years of the sixteenth century Antwerp reached the zenith of its economic power. With ninety thousand inhabitants it was far from being the largest city in Europe, but its pre-eminence as a centre for European trade was now universally acknowledged. As a money market, commodity market and, above all, as a centre of the cloth trade Antwerp had by 1550 eclipsed its rivals in Flanders and Brabant and made itself indispensable to merchants from all over the continent. Germans made up the largest contingent among Antwerp's foreign merchant community, but there were substantial numbers of both Portuguese, still dominant in the international spice trade, and Italians, who had first introduced the sophisticated financial and accounting techniques which were now developed to a new peak of refinement in Antwerp. The concentration of capital in the city was an inducement to every major banking house to maintain a permanent representation there, as did their most regular clients, the princely houses of Europe. The real foundation of Antwerp's greatness, however, was the trade in English broadcloths, established there since the turn of the century and carried on by an English merchant community that numbered three or four hundred by 1560. All this frenetic economic activity was presided over with studied negligence by the city elders, whose tradition of minimum controls was calculated to avoid alarming an extremely heterogeneous trading community.