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Kate Fleet (1999)

European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State

Cambridge University Press Cambridge.

The examination of the commercial relations between the early Ottoman State and Europe is limited mainly to the relations between Asia Minor and Genoa in the 14th and 15th centuries. After an overview of the political development in Turchia (chapter 1) and the methods of payment, including some remarks on the different currencies (ch. 2), the author studies the main trading goods: slaves (ch.4), grain (ch. 5), wine (ch. 6), alum (ch.7), cloth (ch. 8), metals (ch. 9), and other commodities, like soap, wax, pepper, etc. (ch.3). Ch. 10 examines the Ottoman-Genoese relations after the fall of Constantinople 1453.

Chapter 4, dedicated to the study of slave trade, is based mainly on European (Italian) sources, as the Ottoman sources are scarce. From the mention of slave sales in various settlements in Turchia, recorded in Venetian notarial deeds on Crete, the author concludes that nearly every town in Asia Minor must have had a slave market (p.37ff.). The traders were Christians as well as Turks, and between the slaves, often prisoners of the different wars in the region, both orthodox Christians and Muslims can be found, too (p.39).
The prices can hardly be determined because of the lack of sources, but supposing that most slaves sold in Turchia were resold in Candia later, one can assume that the prices for slaves in Turchia must have been inferior to those in Crete that are rather well known (p.47). They must have risen in times of great demand / decreasing offer during the wars between Venice and Genoa (war of Curzola 1294-9, war of Chioggia and Tatar attack on Caffa 1374/6), and fallen in times of a larger offer (successes of the Byzantine general Philanthropenos in the late 13th century, Ottoman conquests in the 1430s).
Slave trade seems to have been “an important source of income in Turchia” (p.46) as shows the fact that export duties had to be paid both in Menteşe and in Aydın. Another possibility of making profit with slaves was ransoming, even between Christians: A group of slaves imprisoned in Pera in 1430 suggests that they were kept for ransoming. “If the slaves were not kept there for this purpose it is difficult to think up any other explanation.” (p.55)
Escape was a great problem and remained “a constant theme in the relations between the Turks and the Genoese and Venetians in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.” (p.55) It was even mentioned extensively in several treaties between the Ottomans and the Italian republics (p.56).

Though the fall of Constantinople certainly affected Italian commerce in the Levant, it continued throughout the 15th century. The Ottoman legislation concerning trade with Europeans did not change considerably, and both sides had an interest to keep the commercial relations. running. It is impossible to tell from the extant sources in what extent the trade suffered from the Ottoman conquest, but the assumption that the fall of Constantinople and the loss of the Genoese colonies in the Levant (especially Pera and Caffa) led “directly to the end of the Genoese trading presence” in the Eastern Mediterranean seems unlikely (p.123f.): The example of Genoese commerce with the Mamluk empire or Tunisia shows that profitable and extensive trading was possible without the possession of trading bases. They rather represented a higher degree of security for the merchants (p.124).

Appendices: Exchange rates – Price of slaves in Constantinople in the late 1430s – Alum prices – Imported cloth prices – 12 notarial deeds

Ottoman Empire Levant trade Genoa 14th century 15th century
by Annika Stello last modified 2008-05-06 09:20

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