commerce in medieval n.
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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.

the seljuks and european trade
  • The Seljukwere a Turkishdynastythatruledparts of CentralAsiaand the Middle East from the 11th to 14th centuries. Theyestablished an empire, the GreatSeljuqEmpire, which at itsheightstretchedfromAnatoliathroughPersiaandwhich was the target of the FirstCrusade. Developed a taste in the West fortheirindigenousproductions, gave a freshvigour to thisforeigncommerceandtrade, andrendered it moreproductivebyremoving the stumblingblockswhich had arresteditsprogress.

TwoIslamic men on a silk traderoute with camels

picture of medieval merchants meeting a trade ship at the local dock
Picture of medievalmerchantsmeeting a tradeship at the localdock.
  • Localmanufacture of goods was highlyencouragedby the Seljuks.  The manyChristianGreekandArmenianbusinessmenandmerchantspresent in Anatolia at the arrival of the Turkswereallowedby them to continuelivingandworking in theirtowns. Theyformed a veryactivesector of economicimportance in the areas of metalwork, textiles, andconstruction, and even taughtthesetrades to the Seljuks. By the secondquarter of the 13th century the Seljuks had become an exportnation, althoughtheystillimportedmorethattheyexported. They had alsodevelopedmanylocalindustriesandtradedtheirowngoodsamong the cities of the Empire. Theseindustriesincluded the production of alum (an importantmordantfordyeingwool) andrefinedsugar.

 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.

Depiction of a medieval market fair with round topped stalls from which livestock, textiles, and household tools are being sold.
  • Patterns of trade were varied. Merchants bought and sold along the way, bumble-bee style, or drove specific convoys of goods to a specific client, urban market or port of call. Trade went on inside of the han as well, where merchants could meet with local clients and negotiate prices and orders.

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.


What did they export?

  • sugar from the refineries of Alanya
  • soap
  • thoroughbred horses
  • livestock
  • produce: fruits (notably apricots), grains, olives, wheat, salted fish
  • textiles and carpets
  • dried wheat
  • chemical and mineral compounds: alum, salt, borax, yellow arsenic orpiment ("King's yellow" arsenic trisulfide pigment). Alum, an essential mordant for dyeing wool, was a particularly important export.

metals: silver, lead, tin, zinc, copper, iron

  • lapis lazuli
  • leather, wool, mohair
  • gum Arabica, pine resin, timber
  • slaves, taken captive in war or raid, usually supplied by the Kipchaks. Slaves appeared to be the most valuable commodity of the Black Sea route. The Seljuks were the middlemen in the trade of slaves. Circassians and Kipchaks of Southern Russia were sold in the great markets of the Crimea to the Egyptians who imported them to become Mamluk slave servants.
  • Mail, and documents of official and governmental nature were also transported along these routes.

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.