Economic Impact the Islamic World Had on Christian Europe (11th ~14th century)

 

Jihoon Ko

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy

 

 

 

Introduction

 

             Henri Pirenne, the renowned Belgian historian, denied the view that the Middle Age was started by the invasion of Germanic tribes into the Roman empire and insisted that the social and economic system that had been continued from the age of Roman Empire to the establishment of Gothic kingdoms was ended by the pervasion of Islamic influence in the 7th century. He insisted that the Islamic influence in the 7th century stopped the Mediterranean trade and created the manorial system, a typical characteristic of the medieval society. [1] This theory has brought a strong impulse among historians, some of whom remained critical of it. This paper does not try to prove the validity of his theory, as it is impossible to utterly prove a historical theory wrong. But it seems evident that the Islamic world had benefited the Medieval Christian World to a certain extent. The Mediterranean was not blocked permanentlythere were lots of interactions going on between Christians and Muslims, and some of such connections contributed to the development of Medieval Christian Europe. This paper would try to look on the other side: this paper would examine the positive effects the Islamic world had on Medieval Christian Europe, and how the Islamic World had helped the Medieval Christian Europe develop into a more sophisticated state in constructive ways.

 

             The Mediterranean had played a role of an active mediator between two seemingly drastically different cultures: Christian and Islamic. The Christians in Medieval Europe were religiously devoted people who neglected the advancement of technology or civilization. Muslims, in contrast, possessed a thriving culture that was far more advanced than that of the Christians. The two cultures confronted each other over the Mediterranean, and the relationship between the two was basically hostile, since the two were dogmatic enemies. However, as time went on, the two began to interact, and this interaction between the two had actually benefited Christians, as they got access to the sophisticated civilization by the contact with the Muslims. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the Islamic influence was crucial in the Christian Europes renewal from the exclusive medieval society to a more developed and lively one.

 

             The Islamic powers affected the regions they ruled in Europe significantly. The Islamic powers directly ruled the southern region of Spain, al-Andalus, from 753 to the early 15th century. [2]  This direct Islamic rule for more than 600 years had affected the region seriously: the region, because, it was included in the Islamic sphere of influence, was different from other Medieval Christian regions in Europe. This helped the region urbanize and become commercially developed, with many large cities appearing which had become favorite trade spots appearing. This long-time Islamic rule enabled the region to remain commercially far more developed than most other parts of Europe at the beginning of the Christian rule.

 

             The trades that were going on between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean world are also important. The long-distance trades that were going on in the Roman world disappeared from Christian Europe. However, after the series of Crusades which saw a large influx of Eastern goods into Christian Europe, European trades with the Islamic began to a wide extent. The development of sailing techniques also enabled the long-range Mediterranean trade with the East. Italian maritime city-states, such as Genoa and Venice, were major participants of the Mediterranean trade and the Levant trade, a trade with the Middle East or Further Eastern Asia. The goods mainly traded with the East, most notably spices, earned great popularity in Europe. The Italian maritime city-states became the wealthiest nations in the medieval and early Renaissance Europe, and this fact can be attributed to the large wealth accumulated by this trade with the Islamic World. The Islamic regions later also served as major export partners.

 

             This paper would examine the positive economic impacts that Muslims had on Christian Europe. The concentrations are the establishment of cities and settlements in the areas of Christian Europe they ruled, the trades between the Christians and the Muslims in the Middle Age, and the effect of Muslims on the revival of commercial nature of Medieval Christian Europeans.

 

 

 

 

1. Urbanization

 

The development of cities in Medieval Europe can be indeed greatly attributed to the Islamic influence. The Islamic rule in the region of al-Andalus saw the construction of many major cities as flourishing trade outposts; the southern Spain had remained the most densely populated part in the entire Iberian Peninsula, and still is one of the most populous regions. [3]

 

             Al-Andalus had been directly controlled by the Muslims. While the economic and urban systems of other regions of Europe had been stuck within the manorial system, Al-Andalus could benefit from deep commercial tradition and flourishing economy of the Islamic world. The cities of Al-Andalus became commercial centers of Europe under the Muslim rule, and the Andalusi markets served as places for both domestic and foreign merchants. Andalusi people traded with other fluent regions under Islamic sphere of influence, and also with the Iberian Christian kingdoms of the North. They also later traded with Christian regions of the Mediterranean such as Italian city-states. The cities in the region of Al-Andalus were the commercial hubs of the Iberian Peninsula. Cities which later gradually became trade centers were newly established and many existing cities were further developed and expanded.

 

             There exists a twelfth century anecdote in which an Arab merchant tells his son to take your goods to the large cities even if you believe that you will sell there more cheaply. [4] There were number of sites suitable for the establishment of large ports. The amount of trade through the Mediterranean was greater than that of the land trades with the Christian kingdoms in the north, and the Mediterranean trades were also more profitable than the trade with the Northern states. A dense range of large ports along the coast of the region was established, thus making the region a large commercial center of the Mediterranean. The region gained wealth by the extensive maritime commerce, and this facilitated the expansion of commercial cities even further. The Andalusi ports that became great commercial cities include Algeciras, Malaga, Almeria, Cartegena, Alicante, Denia, Valencia, and Sevilla. Algeciras, Almeria, and Denia were established by the Muslims in both commercial and military reasons, with their names originating from Arabic language. [5] Malaga, Cartagena, Alicante, Valencia, and Sevilla were established prior to the Muslim rule, and their urban tradition as thriving population center was preserved and intensified by the Muslims.

 

             Among the port cities of Al-Andalus, Almeria, the port built by the Muslims, was the most prosperous one in the region. Descriptions of the city are found abundantly in Arabic, Latin, and Jewish chronicles and commercial letters. The city was a thriving commercial center which was also renowned for silk weaving and ship building. Letters which mention ships from Almeria arriving in Egypt in the eleventh and twelfth century exist, thus demonstrating the presence of long-distance international trade in the Mediterranean.[6] Malaga also became a center of international trade under Muslim rule, particularly because it served as a base for ships awaiting the westward wind to sail across Gibraltar along the way to Sevilla. Denia on the eastern coast traded actively with the Balearics on its east and also traded internationally. Valencia at the age might not have participated actively in direct trade with the east, since few records exist. However, it became a center of Andalusi coastal trade, and later it became major trade partner with Genoa in the twelfth century. Seville was a strategically important place since by controlling it the rulers could control the straits of Gibraltar. Seville, despite the fact that it was more distant from the major Muslim cities at the east, prospered as one of the largest trade centers in the region.

 

             One of the major reasons that Seville could succeed as a major maritime port is that it was connected with Cordoba, the largest city of the Al-Andalus of that age, by the Guadalquivir River. Cordoba, the city originally built by the Romans, became the largest city in the Iberian Peninsula. The city later became the capital of the Umayyad caliphate in the Iberian Peninsula, and it was large enough to impress people from other regions and one Muslim chronicler described it as no equal in the Maghrib, or in the Jazira, or Syria, or Egypt, to approximate the size of its population, extent of its territory, area of its markets, cleanliness of its inhabitants, construction of its mosques, and number of its baths and hostelries.[7] Even if it seems that it had fewer foreign merchants than the Andalusi ports, it had a very large population and was definitely the most urban city in the peninsula at that age.

 

             Andalusi ports also served as naval bases. Not only serving as commercial centers and markets, they had shipyards and harbors that could sustain many ships, and thus could serve as an important center for military activity. In fact, the major ports built by the Muslims in Al-Andalus were at the first time built as fortresses against foreign military activities.

 

             The urban tradition in the Iberian Peninsula is an old one: it had been one of the most commercially influential regions in the Roman Empire, and the Iberian cities remained even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Roman historian Pliny described and praised the products from Iberia. The important facts about the Muslim rule in the region can be summarized in two: first, while the commercial activities in the other regions of Christian Europe had largely waned and the long-distance international trade was virtually extinct during the Middle Ages, the region could enjoy the international trade and Andalusi commerce could thrive internationally. These abundant mercantile activities helped the cities and ports of the regions become a larger trading center, and this in turn made the cities in Al-Andalus more populated and more developed. Second, while the construction of the cities in the other regions of Europe was largely restrained, Al-Andalus saw the most active construction of new towns and cities, thus making the region heavily populated.

 

             While the northern region of Spain was thinly populated, Al-Andalus was heavily populated. This was primarily because of the advanced level of Muslim civilization and economy. From the Muslim conquest of the region in the 8th century, various Muslims from various parts of Islamic world came into Al-Andalus, and this migration was in fact recommended by the caliphates over time. The Muslim immigrants settled in the region and thus built many towns. The caliphates were religiously tolerant and many Christian people were also living in the region. Christian kingdoms of the North, on the other hand, did not escape from the manor system and its commerce and industry was far less developed than those of the Islamic caliphate; thus, the Christian kingdoms did not see the rise of major towns. Even after the reconquista, the towns remained in the region and Al-Andalus would remain as the most heavily populated region in Spain for centuries to come.

 

             Other regions of Christian Europe, such as Sicly and Corsica, were also temporarily under the Muslim rule. However, the Muslim rules in these regions were relatively shorter than the Muslim rule in Al-Andalus. There are evidences of Muslim settlements, but there were no constructions of major cities that could vitalize the commerce. The sparse Muslim settlements, moreover, were not protected and kept but were in most cases destroyed later by the Christians who took the territories from Muslims. Al-Andalus, however, saw the large extent of urbanization. The region flourished even after the completion of reconquista, the commercial tradition shaped by the Muslims was kept, and the cities built by the Muslims survived. Al-Andalus remained an important commercial center for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Trades

 

The conquest of Muslims of various regions of Europe had actually ceased the major long-distance trade of the Christian Europeans overseas for a while and the commerce of Christian Europe had been limited to the local ones. But the regions which were under Islamic rules were included in the commercial sphere of the Muslimswho were the most active adventurers and entrepreneurs at the timesaw the rise of international and complicated commercial activities. The international trades in Christian regions were late to appear. The crusade created a large influx of Eastern goods and luxuries into the Christian Europe. This created a large interest among rich Europeans for the Eastern goods, and the Christian merchants saw this to be an opportunity for a dramatic profit. As the merchants began to actively engage in the trade with the Islamic world, the trade of the Christian states overseas began to flourish. The leading states of the trade with the East were Italian city-states, most notably Genoa and Venice. The extent of the international trades before the 11th century, however, was nothing compared with those of the Muslim world. The case of Al-Andalus indicates how well established was the Andalusi merchants trades compared with the Europeans in the same era.

 

The region of Al-Andalus had been a hub for the Islamic trade, and the long-distance trade of Andalusi merchants with the other parts of Islamic world had accumulated large wealth in the region. Al-Andalus traded both with Christian kingdoms at the Northern Spain and the various regions under Islamic rule. So, it was a major market in which eastern goods were imported, Andalusi goods were exported, and in which the Muslim merchants could get the commodities from the Christian world, although the trade with the Christian kingdoms seems to be not so extensive. The Christian commerce had not developed into international extent actively until the 12thentury, so for the Christians, Al-Andalus was a rare source from which the Christians could get the luxuries from the Islamic world; thus, Al-Andalus was on more dominant position with the relationship with the northern Christian kingdoms than with the Islamic regions. The trade going on in Al-Andalus was a international one, and the Andalusi merchants sailed as far as Constantinople. The large economic sphere connecting markets of Al-Andalus, Sicily-Tunisia, and Egypt was created, and the rare goods from the further Eastern parts such as China or India could be obtained. 

 

The first major international trade going on in the region was the one with Maghrib. Andalusi merchants sailed to the various ports of Maghrib, and this was in fact major source for them from which to contact with the rest of the Islamic world. This was because of the regional proximity. The distance between Al-Aldalus and Maghrib is not so far, and this provided an ample opportunity for Andalusi merchants to get the goods from Islamic world with ease. The sailing technique of the Andalusi merchants was remarkable, but still, sailing across the Mediterranean to the easternmost parts for almost a month might have been tedious process for them. So, the another probability is that the Andalusi merchants sailed until the Maghribi ports, and then proceeded by caravans to get to the further Eastern trading posts. By this process, Andalusi merchants could remain in contact with the other parts of Islamic world even in winter, when the long-distance sailing was highly undesirable.

 

The popularity of the Maghribi ports for the Andalusi merchants changed over time. Tunis was not a popular trading post for Andalusi merchants during the tenth century, probably because of Umayyad-Fatimid hostilities going on, but became an important trading partner of Andalusi merchants by the eleventh century. The trade routes became more complicated and the trade became more extensive at that period. This fact might be owed to the rise of the individual Taifa kingdoms in Al-Andalus. While the stable regime of Umayyad caliphate had set trading partners, the individual Taifa kingdoms developed their own ports and diversified their trade. In Almoravid and Almohad periods, the number of routes between Al-Andalus and Maghrib seems to have declined, primarily because the regimes in North Africa sought to control commerce traffic by concentrating long-range merchant activities to a few specified ports. But the amount of trade seems to have increased during these periods, since the entire region was being ruled by a single, united, and stable regime.

 

             The Morrocan inland cities of Fez and Marrakesh have been important trading posts for Andalusi merchants, and their importance increased further under the Almoravid and Almohad rules, since the regimes put much prestige to the cities. So, the inland itinerary, starting from Ceuta or from other ports nearby, flourished and economic connections existed between Al-Andalus, Fez, Marrakesh, and regions further to the south, as guessed from the discovery of coins molt from Andalusi cities in Awdaghost, a region in inland part of North Africa. [8]

 

Andalusi merchants also established bases in the central Mediterranean, in Tunisia and pre-Norman Sicily. They ran their businesses there and controlled the shipment of goods traveling between Al-Andalus and the East. Andalusi economic influence was also apparent in the deep inland areas of Africa, and even after the Norman conquest of Sicily, the region played an important rule in Andalusi trade, and for foreign merchants Sicily actually served as a station for the trade journey to Andalusi ports. Ships containing eastern goods passed these regions until they finally reached Al-Andalus, and at the same time ships containing goods from Al-Andalus also passed these regions to reach the further Eastern ports such as Alexandria.

 

By this cross-Mediterranean channel, Andalusi merchants remained in close contact with Egypt, and they could also reach the other eastern regions of Islam. Andalusi connections with the eastern Mediterranean were already well-established in Umayyad period, and ample evidences exist that report the arrival of Andalusi ships in Al-Andalus. Alexandria was the major trading port of Egypt, and Andalusi merchants advanced into the inland Egypt by caravan from Alexandria. The regions further to the east were in the Andalusi merchants reach. Andalusi merchants and scholars often sought to learn useful knowledge and open business in the further eastern inland regions such as Hijaz, Iraq, and Aden. There is also possibility that Andalusi merchants reached even further easternmost regions, including India and China; they might have advanced across the land to the Islamic states of the Middle East and then sailed from their ports to reach India and China.

 

The case of Al-Andalus shows how developed was the international trades of the Muslims in the age when the Christian maritime commercial activities were largely limited. By the Muslim conquest of the significant portion of land of Christian Europe, the sea trade was closed to serious extent, and the international maritime trades in Christian Europe were greatly reduced. Henri Pirenne, the renowned historian of all time, remarked on this situation: The Tyrrhenian Sea became a Moslem lake.[9] While the Islamic merchantsSaracens who occupied the regions around the Western Mediterranean, people of the East, the Andalusi people, and the North Africans traded internationally through the Mediterranean, the Christian economy became parochial and it was not until the new millennium that the Christian mercantile range increased significantly. The religious difference and the strict religious discipline of the Christian Europe prevented the commercial contacts of Christian states with the Islamic world. Political discords between the Christian states and the Islamic states also blocked the serious trade between the two. In addition, commercial system and infrastructure of the Christian world was yet to be organized, since the Medieval Christian Europe was stuck with the economically ineffective manor system. Before the 11th century, the major Christian maritime power remaining was the Byzantine Empire, and the Christian part did not see the rise of the dominant maritime power.

 

There were some global commercial activities going on in the Christian world, however, before the Christians began to trade over long distance, by the Jewish merchants. The Jews were also the first merchants in the Middle Ages to introduce goods from the East to the Christian Europeans. They supplied goods from the Islamic world as soon as the Carolingian era. The Jews could travel to Europe with relative ease. Some of them settled in Italy, but majority of them were those who based their commerce in the Muslim countries. The Jews from the Muslim world reached Western and Northern Europe through Spain. At first, they exclusively traded spices, pepper, manufactured goods, and other precious stuffs from Egypt, Syria, and Maghrib. They provided the goods to the churches which used the goods to make incense for religious activities, and to the selected nobility. The Jewish commercial influence was especially strong in Spain, a place where many Jews lived

 

They have earned great profit from these trades. However, gradually, Christians began to control the trade to a great extent and the Jews participation in long-distance trades diminished. The Jewish presence that was quite strong gradually waned, and after the Italian merchants began to trade extensively, the Jewish trade activity waned in Europe in general. The field they constantly specialized in was usury, but their participation in the trade with the Muslims decreased.

 

The first Italian city-state that started the extensive trade with the Islamic world was Venice. While the city-states that later became major nautical commercial powers, Genoa and Pisa, banned the trade with the Islamic states because of political conflicts with them, the Venetians traded, even though little in amount, with the Muslim merchants as early as 10thentury, when the rest of the Christian Europe despised the trade with them. The extensive trade created a rich class of merchants in the city, while the other regions of Europe were largely bound by the manorial system that was primarily agricultural.

 

Italian city-republics revived the international Mediterranean trade with the East, and they played major roles in reviving the extensive commercial system in Christian Europe itself. While the international trades were virtually stopped in other regions of Christian Europe, the Northern port cities of Italy began to trade with the Islamic world to a large extent and accumulated significant wealth. The success of these cities in turn aroused the interest of the other European states toward the commercial contacts with the Islamic world.

 

The crusades, in turn, helped to change the economic activity of Christian Europe. The crusades enabled Western Europe to monopolize the whole trade from the Bosphorus and Syria to the Straits of Gibraltar.[10] Even if they failed to take the holy place from the hands of Muslims, they politically weakened the powers of the Islamic states and Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empires maritime power was weakened seriously and their merchants now could not compete with the Italian rivals, which now controlled the Byzantine Empires export and import trades. The crusades also caused the large influx of Eastern luxuries into Christian Europe, thus stimulating the interest of people for the trade with the Islamic world. So, it is no exaggeration to say that the crusades were crucial factor in the revival of extensive economic activities of Medieval Christian Europe.

 

The trades with the Islamic world at first time were limited because of religious reason, and because of technical reasons, but gradually the Italian merchants began to seek profits and the economic incentives were large enough to overcome religious obstacles for greater incomes. As a result, the Italian city-states rose as major maritime commercial centers from 11th century, and the scope of their trades even exceeded that of the Muslim ports. Examples of Genoa would indicate this effectively.

 

Genoa had been a thriving commercial port for a long time, but it traded only with Christian ports. The trades with the Muslim ports were restricted by the government, nor did the Genoese merchants sought to trade with the Muslim merchants. However, gradually, Genoese merchants recognized that the trade with the Islamic world would be a source of immense profits, and Genoa soon became the major nautical mercantile power in the Mediterranean. The following is the table that shows the flow of Genoese trade from 1191 to 1227.

 

 

 

 

1191

1200-3

1205-16

1214

1222-27

Destination

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandria

0%

10.00%

7.30%

0.70%

0.30%

Bougie

4.70%

12.00%

13.70%

16.10%

7.20%

Ceuta

10.60%

14.00%

13.00%

4.20%

14.40%

Corsica

0.10%

7.00%

2.70%

0.20%

2.50%

France

1.40%

12.00%

2.50%

0.00%

4.70%

Maremma

0.40%

2.50%

4.00%

2.70%

1.50%

Naples

8.10%

20.00%

1.50%

0.00%

4.80%

Oltramare

20.00%

15.50%

32.20%

29.50%

39.80%

Romania

17.00%

0.70%

0.00%

0.00%

0.00%

Sardinia

6.70%

9.00%

4.50%

2.20%

6.00%

Sicily

17.80%

15.00%

14.70%

40.90%

12.00%

Spain

2.10%

3.00%

0.40%

0.00%

0.40%

Tunis

3.30%

0.40%

0.50%

0.10%

5.50%

Other

7.80%

0.50%

1.20%

3.40%

0.70%

<Table1> Genoese Trade from 1191 to 1227

Source: Abulafia, The Two Italies, p. 182

 

 

             The table shows the trade relationship of Genoa with the Islamic ports. 1191 is the year when the city of Acre was fallen to the hands of the crusades, and the years listed are all the times in which crusaders were actively participating in battles.

 

             The sole trade partner that overwhelms all its counterparts is Oltramare, the beyond-the-sea(Outremer), or the Latin kingdoms in the Levant regions. The so-called Levant trade was prevailing even from these times. Merchants from Genoa could get an immense profit from this Levant trade, since they could get goods from distant Eastern states, such as Arabia, India, or China from this region. Unlike previous situations, the trades with the Byzantine Empire were diminishing even before the crusades, and the major trade partners with the Genoese merchants were the Latin kingdoms. The journey to the east, however, was a tedious and long one. The fact that the Levant kingdoms were the major trade partners even if they were far away suggests that the sailing technologies of Genoese merchants were developed to a significant degree. Indeed, the Genoese ships could sail against the tide and wind. June was the time when the merchant ships came back from the long journey. Considerable amounts of eastern luxuries like spices or silk came into Genoa, and the main provider of such goods was the Latin Kingdoms, which traded both with the Islamic world and Genoa.

 

             The trade with the Egypt fluctuated, depending on political situations. In 1191, Genoa did not trade with Alexandria at all since the crusade movements made Egypt cease the trade relationship officially. However, over time, Genoese merchants began to trade with the Egyptian merchants, and this trade continued to prosper, and the route became the most extensive trade route in the 14th century. The table shows fluctuations in the trade with Alexandria, and this is primarily because of the fluctuations in the trade with Alexandria, and this is primarily because of the fluctuations in the political relationships between the two.

 

             The Genoese merchants traded mostly with Muslims in these times, since the trade promised immense profits for them. The North African Muslim ports, Ceuta, Bougie, Tunis, and Maremma are represented in the table and they were major trade partners of Genoese merchants, primarily because of regional proximity. The total proportion of the amount of trade of these ports is significant. Genoese ships sailed to these ports abundantly and sold and bought goods there.

            

Another table also indicates Genoas close mercantile relationship with the Islamic world. The table below is the record of numbers of contracts by destination in 1184:

 

 

 

Destination

No. of spring contracts

Late summer contracts

Ceuta

4

1

Bougie

2

1

Tunis

5

-

Alexandria

1

6

Syria

3

15

SICILY

6

4

S. ITALY

1

2

Rome

1

-

Maremma

4

12

Sardinia

9

-

Corsica

6

1

Mallorca

-

1

Spain

2

-

Unknown

-

1

<Table2> Number of Genoese contracts by destination in 1184

Source: Abulafia, The Two Italies, p. 161

 

 

The numbers of contracts show the trade tendency of Genoa in the year of 1184. It is evident from this table that the Genoese merchants then traded widely with the Muslim regions. The North African Islamic ports, Ceuta, Bougie, and Tunis are present as trade partners with Genoa in the year. Alexandria and Syria were also trade partners, and the regions where the Muslim political influence was intenseCorsica, Spain, and Mallorcaare also included in the list. The number of contracts with Islamic regions constitutes a large proportion of the total number of contracts. In case of Alexandria and Syria, the numbers of winter contracts are notably much larger than those of the summer contracts, and this is primarily because of regional distance, as it took long time for the ships to sail from Genoa to the ports on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, so the contracts were naturally signed lately. The merchants spent the rest of the winter at their destinations and came back in spring.           

 

             The table below is another record that shows the strong mercantile connection of the Genoese with the Muslims throughout the Mediterranean in 1186 from September to December:

 

 

 

Destination

Number of Contracts

Total Value(in Lira)

Average investment(in Lira)

% of total

Syria

14

3,552.0

253.71

29.2

Sicily

24

2,159.8

90

17.75

Constantinople

16

2,118.0

132.37

17.41

Ceuta

20

1,983.1

99.15

16.3

Naples

9

672.5

74.72

5.52

Maghrib

10

630.4

63.04

5.18

Maremma

7

266.0

38

2.19

Alexandria

5

246.6

49.32

2.02

Provence

6

207.9

34.65

1.71

Sardinia

4

188.2

no record

1.55

Rome

3

140.6

no record

1.16

<Table 3> Genoese contracts in 1186, from September to December

Source: The Two Italies, p.166

 

 

             Again, Genoas strong commercial ties with the Islamic regions are reflected. The most notable from the list is Syria. The total value of trade with Syria solely constitutes 29.2% of the total, and the average investment for the trade is also the highest of all. These shows how actively the Genoese merchants traded with Syrian merchants. This is because the region of Syria acted as an intermediate for the Genoese merchants to get access to the Eastern goods. Genoese merchants could get rare Eastern goods from Syria, and this trade route was lucrative; the Eastern luxuries such as spices could be traded at extremely high prices, so the trade with Syrian merchants looked promising to Genoese traders. The number of contracts with Syria is smaller than that with Sicily, Ceuta, and Constantinople but the total value and average investment are the highest. This fact indicates that the goods imported from Syria were mainly the luxury goods which cost very much. This table also shows that Ceuta, Maghrib, and Alexandria, all ruled by Muslims then, were also serious commercial entities.

 

             The following table shows the changes in commercial relation of Genoa with various trade partners from 1252 to 1313:

 

 

 

Destination

1252-53

1270

1272-85

1307

1313

Alexandria

0%

0

36.7

0

0

Bougie

10.1

0

0

0.8

4

Ceuta

0

0

0

0

0

Corsica

0.8

0.2

0.5

0.4

0

France

25.1

9.3

0.5

12

35.7

Genoa(a)

0.2

0

15.5

8.3

11.8

Maremma

0.2

0

1.1

0

0

Naples

0

6.2

0

0

0.1

Oltremare

26.4

26

0.5

24.2

0.7

Romania

0

24.5

18.6

18.2

22.2

Sardinia

1.3

3.1

2.5

10.7

0

Sicily

4.4

15.7

0.3

1.1

5.6

Spain

2

1.2

0

0

9.6

Tunis

15

0

0

0

0

Other

12

0.7

22.7

1.5

7.1

Unknown

2.5

13.1

1.1

22.8

3.2

<Table 4> Genoese commercial connection with various ports, 1252-1313

Source: Epstein, Genoa and the Genoese, p.142

((a) Genoa and Riviera)

 

 

The table shows dramatically vibrant trade patterns. Alexandria, Bougie, Maremma, Oltramare, and Tunis show the most changes in the amount of trades, sometimes with no trades going on and sometimes with high percentage of the total trades. The trades with the Muslim world were subject to many factors: the political situation, weather, prospect of profit, and so on. The table shows that the trades going on in general were not always stable; they changed a lot. The trades going on in the era were not always regular and varied much; in 1270 and 1307, for example, there were almost no trades going on between Genoa and the Muslim ports. However, it can be shown that the Muslim ports were always trade partners with the Genoese and Genoese merchants earned very much from the trades.

 

The fact that Genoa had traded regularly with the Muslims is evident, as it is demonstrated by the tables above. The tables indicate the deep commercial connection of the Genoese merchants with the Muslim merchants. Genoa had apparently been a large port and had traded with various parts of the Mediterranean. The comparable Muslim ports were only the largest ones like Alexandria, as Genoese trades had become much larger and much broader. 

 

Venice was also a leading trade partner with the Muslim merchants and they often competed with Genoa. Venice was a larger city than Genoa was, and it grew to be a large port in the process just like Genoa: as its merchants actively engaged in trades with the Muslim merchants, large wealth was accumulated and Venice naturally became the largest commercial center then of Europe. This made people move to the city of Venice and it became the largest port of Mediterranean, and its commercial activities had surpassed even those of largest Muslim ports. It is no exaggeration to say that the sole factor that made Venice grow into a metropolis was commerce, and the major objects of its commerce were the Muslim ports.

 

The major Christian ports of Mediterranean grew to be major maritime commercial centers, and by the 13th century, they became the largest ports, even surpassing the sizes of major Muslim ports. The major Christian ports also possessed large units of fleet, thus the Muslims could not neglect the ports presence. The major Christian ports, most apparently Genoa and Venice, grew by the commercial relationship with the Muslims, and thus it can be said that the Muslim ports were the factors that further advanced the commercial activities of Christian European ports.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Goods Traded

 

The most active trade going on between the European merchants and the Muslims was the Levant trade, by which traders from major Italian ports such as Genoa, Venice, and Pisa directly obtained the goods from the East. The goods from the East were the kinds the Christian Europeans have not seen before, and this spectacular rarity sparked enthusiasm among the European merchants to seek trade with the Muslim merchants. The goods the Europeans imported from the Muslim merchants were mainly treated as luxuries, while the goods the Europeans exported were basic goods, as they were not so developed as to produce goods compatible with the luxuries from the East.

 

The one commodity that can represent the whole commercial flow of the medieval maritime trade is the spice. Spice was then one of the most coveted luxuries for the European nobility. Spices could add the unprecedented flavor for the cuisine of the nobles, and possessing spices was considered as a sign of social supremacy and wealth. However, no spices were indigenous to Europe, so spices were extremely rare in the continent. The only way to get spices was through the trade with the East, where spices were abundant. It was spices that facilitated the active participation of Europeans in the Levant trade, as variety of spices from the farther East, such as India or China, could be procured in the region. Also, the benefits from the spice trade were enormous: spices could be sold at roughly about 50 times the price they were bought. Thus, the spice created great incentive for Europeans to seek long-distance trade with the Muslim merchants. Hundreds of tons of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, sucarcane, and so on were traded.

 

This spice trade had accumulated a large wealth for the Italian port cities, and it was the main source of income for them. The spice trade with the East through Mediterranean continued throughout the Late Middle Ages. The Italian dominance in the spice trade, however, was diminished as the new trade routes over the Atlantic were established by the Portuguese and Spain. It was now Portuguese who mainly controlled the spice trade with the East.

 

Another good that was imported from the East was silk. Silk, like spices, could not be obtained from European continent at the first time, since the silkworm, which produces raw silk, was not indigenous to European continent. So, the only way from which Europeans could get the silk was the trade with the East. The caravans from China continuously provided silk to the Muslim world by the Silk Road, and European merchants, especially those of Italian maritime city-states, could get access to silk by the trade with Muslim merchants. Silk was a much coveted commodity for rich Europeans, and this large demand, just like the case of spice, made the trade extremely lucrative. Thus, the Italian merchants, who led the trade with the Muslim world at the time, could profit very much from the silk trade.

 

Europeans, gradually, developed the skills to produce silks by themselves, and this silk manufacture became popular throughout the continent. As a result, the raw silk, instead of the silk fabric, began to be imported, and the price of silk went down. The leading European manufacturer was Italy, and the technique spread into many parts of Europe.

 

Likewise, cotton was also one of the major goods the European merchants imported from the Muslim world. Cotton was crucial in everyday life, so the demand for cotton in Europe was high. Muslim merchants could provide much high-quality cotton for the Europeansespecially in North Africa the cotton was produced in large quantitythe cotton trade could be a large profit for European merchants. The Italian merchants bought cotton from the Muslim merchants, and then it was distributed throughout the continent. Indeed, the word cotton derives from the Arabic word cotone.

 

As the commercial relationship between the Christians and Muslims became closer and closer, the variety of goods imported also increased. The goods imported from the Muslim world include rice, oranges, apricots, figs, raisins, perfumes, medicaments, and dyestuffs.[11] Manufactured goods from the East were also imported, such as damask from Damascus, baldachins from Baghdad, muslins from Mosul and gauzes from Gaza.[12] These goods were later imitated in Europe, and European manufactures of imitations these goods appeared. Many rare luxury goods from the Muslim world were imported to be sold to the European riches, and they soon became valuable addition to the European culture. The European contact with various Arabic goods can be observed from the modern words whose origins are Arabic. The words include divan, bazaar, artichoke, spinach, tarragon, orange, alcove, arsenal, jar, magazine, syrup, taffetas, tare, tariff in English, and douane, darse, gabelle, goudron, jupe, quintal, and recif in French. Much more words other than these have originated from the Arabic names, and this fact indicates the tight commercial involvement of Muslims with the Christian Europeans in the Late Middle Ages. 

 

Rice and lemon, which are used widely in European cuisine, originated from the Muslim world. Muslims knew how to cultivate rice. Around the 8th century, Muslims cultivated rice in al-Andalus. Europeans did not grow rice in their territory. However, by the 15th century, rice was an important crop in Italy. French farmers also cultivated rice. Rice was then spread to European colonies during the age of exploration, and was one of the chief produced crops of plantations. Lemons, which are supposed to have been originated from the Deccan Plateau in India, were spread to the Muslim world and Saladin, the great Muslim leader against Crusades, wrote about lemon. The Europeans gradually grew lemon. In the mid-fifteenth century, lemon was cultivated in Genoa; then, it was spread to the whole Europe[13]. The word lemon, indeed, comes from the Persian Lima. Both lemon and rice cultivation were especially developed in Italy, since its climate was fit for effective growth of the both.

 

The goods imported from the Muslim world had enriched the Christian European life in the Late Middle Ages, especially that of Italians. Europeans, by the most basic rule of trade, had to trade their commodities to get the goods from the Muslim merchants. Also, the Muslim world proved to be a vast market for European exports, since its commercial system was superior to that of contemporary Christian Europe. At first, Christian Europeans in the Middle Age did not possess technology to produce the goods compatible with the Eastern counterparts. As a result, Italians, who controlled the Mediterranean trade with the Muslims, had to provide the basic commodities for them. The most important commodity for Italians to sell at the beginning was timber. Muslims needed timber, and it was often difficult to get natural access to enough timber for Muslims around Mediterranean, as North Africa and Syria lacked large forests. In Europe, however, large forests continuously supplied fine timber. Merchants from Italian maritime city-republics thus used timber as the chief means of transaction.

 

Another commodity that Italian merchants sold to the Muslim merchants was weapons. Fine iron was accessible in the European continent, and Europeans possessed the technology to produce durable weapons. The advantage of selling weapons was that it could be sold at higher price than timber. So, Italian merchants at certain points of time sold weapons to the Muslim merchants. However, moral questions were brought out, as selling weapons could ultimately strengthen the Muslim army, who were potential enemies of Christians. Weapons were sold rather sporadically, and did not turn out to be a stable means of transition as timber was. Venetians, at the early phase of the trade, Venetian merchants sold slaves from Balkan Peninsula. Blonde girls, especially, were sold at a reasonable price for the Muslim riches. However, this slave trade did not last long.

 

As European weaving technology improved significantly, the woolen goods soon became the prime Italian export to the Muslims. European woolen goods from the twelfth century possessed quality and durability that the Muslims appreciated greatly. At first, fustians woven in Italy were mainly traded. As the weaving skills of the artisans of Flanders increased and Flanders became the center of woolen goods, Italian merchants bought Flemish textiles and exported them to the Muslim world. The Flemish textiles were unquestionable luxuries; they possessed unrivaled flexibility, softness, and color, and its preeminence among other textiles could be compared to that of spices among all foodstuffs. By selling Flemish goods to the Muslim world, Italian merchants could pile up a large profit.

 

             Metals, such as gold, silver, and iron, and gems, were also often sold to Muslims. Since there were many good mines in Iberian Peninsula, Central Europe, Italian Peninsula, and Eastern Europe, metals and gems could become a chief trade means of the European merchants. In fact, they were the classic medium of trade, as Romans used the Spanish silver in trades with Asia.

 

 

 

 

4. Development of Economic Systems

 

The trade with the Muslim world went beyond the difference in religious principles; although the Muslims were religiously enemies, the Italian merchants opened new trade routes heading towards Muslim ports, and this brought out global economic pattern that had not appeared for a long time until then. This long-distance trade with the Muslim merchants was a new thing, and it was a cause of many changes in the economic system.

 

The maritime trade with the Muslim merchants made a new class of merchants who specialized in long-distance trade in Italian city-states. The merchants in Italian maritime city-states such as Venice, Genoa, or Pisa knew how to maximize profits, demand and supply goods, and manage the assets. They were professionals, and they possessed skills and knowledge to effectively manage the long-distance trade with the Muslims. They earned a large profit and lived influential lives within the cities. This was a great change. While in other regions of Europe did not still escape from the manor system and the organized commercial activities were still limited, Italian cities saw the rise of many merchants and the accumulation of large wealth. No other region of Christian Europe possessed more wealth than the Italian cities, and they were the best in commercial activities. 

 

The commercial nature of Italian ports had not been observed in the Middle Age. It had largely died out after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the global trades have virtually stopped after the event. The economy of the Christian Europe remained agricultural, and the commercial activities were done mainly through land. Maritime commercial activities were limited to a regional scale, as Medieval Europeans lacked both technology and incentive to sail a long distance for trade. However, the presence of the commercial potential of the Muslim world changed all of these. The trade with the Muslim world presented a lot of profit and the opportunity to get exotic goods, so this was a great incentive for the merchants. As a result, the Italian merchants sought a long-distance maritime trade with the Muslim World. This was a great change. Italians, for the first time after the fall of Roman Empire, sought economic opportunity and transgressed the religious difference. 

 

 

The Italian cities, as a result, became large commercial centers while commercial activities other regions of Europe were virtually dormant. The population of Venice then is estimated to be over 100,000, and population of Genoa and Pisa also increased dramatically. Much more freedom was given to the citizens of the Italian cities than the inhabitants of other parts of Christian Europe, and large group of free labor appeared. The Italian cities became less reliant on serfdom, as they relied on commerce, not agriculture, for their survival. 

 

The ineffective manorial system decayed in Italian peninsula, so it was freer to engage in various commercial activities. Italy saw the fastest modification from the manorial society to the urbanized one. The population density of the Italian Peninsula was the highest of all Europe, and the number of big cities in the Italian Peninsula was greater than any other region of Europe.

 

The commercial activities of Italian cities were the most active in Europe in the Late Middle Ages, so the financial and managerial skills were also the most effective. The fortune of Italian cities was reliant not on agriculture, but on commerce. Venice serves as the most dramatic demonstration, as the landless city became the hub of the Medieval Christian Europe by commercial venture. Venetian merchants possessed skills and maneuvers to manage their enterprises, and Venetian nobles, unlike those in the manors, possessed a large fleet of commercial galleys and earned profit from trades. The most developed cities in the Medieval Christian Europe were located almost exclusively in the Italian Peninsula, and they include Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Genoa. One thing common among them was that they were commercial centers: Venice, Genoa, and Pisa were largest trade port cities, and Florence was the hub of banking. The Italian commercial tradition was truly outstanding within Europe, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the nobles of Italy lived within the city walls. Nobles in other regions of Christian Europe lived in manors and relied on agriculture; the cities were haven for the commoners, and nobles influence was weak within them. On the other hand, the Italian nobles dwelled in the cities and owned commerce. They owned large fleets of commercial galleys and managed trades. This was a great difference, and this is rather modern, since the Italians had already recognized the importance of commerce, sought benefit over the religious principles, and actively engaged in the global commercial activities. 

 

The trade with the Muslim world was a tedious one; the distance was enormous at that age, as most of the nautical activities were local at best, pertaining to the nearby shores. Sails to the Muslim ports, however, could take months during its entire course. They were also much more dangerous, as the galleys were subject to various natural disasters during the voyage. There were also dangers of piracy, as the Mediterranean was the home to many pirates, both Christian and Muslim. The pirates not only took the all cargos but also sometimes enslaved the sailors, posing serious problem to the trade. To make the trades with the Muslim merchants successful, development in sailing technologies and protection of the galleys were necessary. As a result, the means of long-distance trade changed from small groups of ships to large fleets, consisting of the ships that carried the cargo and the ships that protected them. The fleets, which were owned by magnates or nobles, could defeat pirates, safely arrive at the destination, and return without being threatened. This fleet system minimized the threat of piracy and facilitated the Mediterranean trade to a great extent.

 

These dramatic changes that happened in the Italian Peninsula was a precursor to the other economic alterations happened throughout Europe. Italian cities led the commercial revival in Europe as they reestablished the long-distance trade routes, imported rare commodities, and circulated a large sum of money. Europe was gradually modified from the manorial system to the liberal, effective commercial one. The main reason for the revival of commerce among the Italian cities was the presence of the Muslim world; thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the Muslim world shaped the economic nature of Europe. This commercial nature of the Italian cities led the Renaissance, in which the entire Europe was revolutionized in every way, and Europe soon became the economic powerhouse that became the strongest in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

Christians and Muslims have been enemies by principles. Moreover, as the Middle Age was the time when the religion affected the lives of Christians most significantly, the Muslims were considered evil by Christians. This aversion of Christians toward Muslims, however, could not stop the economic interest of the Christian merchants, and the new pattern of global trade appeared.

 

The Muslim world indeed acted as an important trade partner of Europe in the Late Middle Age. They facilitated the European trade and thus strengthened its economy. Also, they provided the goods that were not available in Europe, and this fact made Europe a favorite place for European merchants. The religious principle could not separate the two. The trades between Europe and the Muslim World sometimes stopped because of political situations, and were greatly reduced when the Turkish soldiers occupied Constantinople and destroyed Byzantine Empire. However, it is evident that the two had long-time economic connections, and such connectivity helped the European economy a lot.

 

The Muslim occupation of certain areas of Europe actually helped the regions to urbanize. Muslims in the Middle Age possessed better construction techniques and better infrastructure, making it easier for them to build new cities. Muslims who settled in the various parts of Christian Europe built new cities and settlements. The population density was higher than that of other parts of Christian Europe. When the Christians retook the regions, they remained more developed. 

 

The Muslims indeed had great economic impact on Christian Europe in a beneficial way. Without Muslims, the Christian society might not have escaped from the manorial system and the economy of it might not have developed to the degree they enjoyed after the Renaissance. The economic relationship between Christians and Muslims was symbiotic, and the role the Muslim society had on the development of Christian economy should be appreciated.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Constable, Olivia. Trade and traders in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 

Kennedy, Hugh. Muslim Spain and Portugal. Longman, 1996.

 

Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. Greenwood Press, 1999.

 

Lane, Frederic. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

 

Steven, Epstein. Genoa and the Genoese, Chapel Hill, 1996.

 

David, Abulafia. Mediterranean in History, Getty Trust Publications, 2003.

 

David, Abulafia, The Two Italies, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

 

Norwick, John. A history of Venice, Vintage Books, 1989.

 

Benjamin, Arbel. Intercultural contacts the Medieval Mediterranean, 1996.

 

Pirenne, Henri. An Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Harcourt, 1956.

 

Pirenne, Henri. Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, Princeton University Press, 1956.

 

 

 



[1]  Pirenne, Henri. An Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Harcourt: 1956.

See also: Pirenne, Henri. Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, Princeton University Press: 1956.

 

2  This Islamic rule, however, gradually lost its dominance and gave way slowly to the  Christian kingdoms of the north. See Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain, Greenwood Press, London: 1999. pp. 29~41.

 

[3] The region of Al-Andalus core area is roughly equivalent to modern Andalusia. Andalusia is the second most densely populated autonomous province in Spain, but also the second poorest one, mainly because its economy failed to industrialize. See: Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. Greenwood Press, 1999.pp. 7.

[4] Constable, Olivia. Trade and traders in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press, 1996. pp. 18.

[5] The name Algeciras stemmed from the Arabic al-jazeera("the island"). Almeria stemmed from the Arabic al-Meraya("the watchtower"), as it had the castle Alcazaba, the second largest Muslim fort in al-Andalus

[6]  See Constable, Olivia. Trade and traders in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press, 1996. pp. 19

[7] See Constable, Olivia. Trade and traders in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press, 1996. pp. 22

 

[8] See Constable, Olivia. Trade and traders in Muslim Spain. Cambridge University Press, 1996. pp. 34

 

[9] Pirenne, Henry, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Harcourt, New York. pp.15. ln.3-4./

[10] Pirenne, Henry, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, Harcourt, New York. pp.32. ln. 25-26.

 

[11] Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, pp.143

[12] Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe, pp.143

[13] Archeologists identified lemons in the ruins of Pompey, but this is not a sufficient evidence to prove the existence of wide-range lemon cultivation in European continent in the Roman times.