COMMERCE IN MEDIEVAL. IntroductIon.
Medievaltradeandexchangeaffected not justmerchantsand the governmentsthattaxedandregulated them. Trade within a countryorcultureandtrade with people of otherlandsaffectedalmosteveryone. The open, protectedtraderoutesfosteredby the earlyIslamicworld, forexample, wereessential to the agriculturalboomthatbegan in the 700s. Still, trade was aboutmorethanbringingfood to market.
Underlyingtrade was people’sdesire to purchasegoods not to be foundlocally; merchantswhounderstoodwhattheirmarketswantedcouldprosper. The mostspectacularexamples of this in the medievalworldwereprobably the trade in silkandthe trade in spices. Silk was a productthatdrovemuchinternationaltrade in Asiabefore the medievalera. In the earlymedievalperiodChinasought to militarilydominate the traderoutes of centralAsia, out of a desire to ensurethat the traderoutesforits silk remainedopen. In the Near East andEuropegovernmentstried to learn the secret of making silk; whentheydid, theybegan silk-makingindustries in theirownlands. Inthiswereelements of modern tradeandexchange, because not all silk was equal in quality.
The Silk Roadrepresents an earlyphenomenon of politicalandculturalintegrationdue to inter-regionaltrade. The routeexperiencedits prime periods of popularityandactivity in differingeras at differentpointsalongitslength. The MiddleAgessaw the rapidexpansion of Medievaltradeandcommerce. The mostimportantfactor in the expansion of tradeandcommercewere the Crusades. The Crusades, which had facilitated the relations with Easterncountries.
TwoIslamic men on a silk traderoute with camels
Parallel to thismercantileactivityinland was an extensiveshippingtrade, based in the ports of AntalyaandAlanya on the Mediterraneanand in Sinop on the BlackSea. The capture of Antalya in 1207 had signaled a majortriumphfor the Seljuks, as it openedtrade with Europe. The capture of Alanya in 1221 was an even greater asset, as the natural harbor provided the opportunity to set up a naval base in addition to the establishment of commercial activities, notably with Florence and France. The bulk of the trade was of a transient nature. Major trading originated in the cities of Konya, Sivas and Kayseri, and was often handled in these urban centers by Greeks and Armenians. In a later time, the Venetians and merchants of Constantinople set up elaborate trade agreements, notably for luxury items such as textiles and gems. Trade was also maintained with the east to Syria and Iraq, as well as with the Kipchak Empire of Southern Russia via the active port of Sinop.
The Turks were heavy exporters, and sent out more goods than they imported. In addition to the tin, alum and other goods mentioned above, what exactly was sold along these routes? What was unloaded from the tired camels tethered at the end of the day in the courtyards of the great Anatolian hans? Many of these items could eventually have made their way to Europe as well, transported by the Latins and Byzantines from the maritime ports of Antalya, Alanya and Sinop.
Venetian and Genoese merchants set up prosperous trading posts on the Black Sea that benefited from a flow of goods from central Asia. These merchants traded for spices, silk and luxury goods with slaves, iron, wine, light wool, linen and metal wares. European wines from Italy, France and Germany were highly prized, but it was European wool, linen and other textiles that were particularly valued. England, the Netherlands and northern Italy produced high quality woolen cloth in various luxurious weaves using technology unknown outside of Europe. Similarly, European linen was another sought after import.