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European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State: The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey. (Reviews of Books).

European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State: The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey. By KATE FLEET. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999. Pp. 204. $59.95.

This book deals with a quite special aspect of trade with Turchia, i.e., trade between the Turks and the Genoese. It aims to concentrate on commodities and their importance and to consider whether the Genoese contributed to the early development and success of the Ottoman state. Following a historical outline, the author discusses the following items: money, commodities, slaves, grain, wine, alum, cloth, and metals. A final chapter deals with Ottoman-Genoese relations after 1453, and in a conclusion, the Latin contribution to the early Ottoman economy. The book is further enriched by a number of appendices on prices and "exchange rates," a glossary, place names, select bibliography, and index.

The historical outline sets the scene in which trade took place, while the chapter on money covers mainly the problems dealing with currencies and the methods of exchange employed. Apart from cash, barter and bills of exchange were used. Since the remaining chapters, in fact the entire book, treat the subject of commodities, I found it odd that the third chapter is specifically called "Commodities," under which label the author discusses basically all other trade goods (soap, hides, timber, pepper, etc.) that are not discussed in the separate chapters.

Slaves were a profitable commodity for merchants of whatever origin. The trade in slaves and its characteristics are detailed as well as prices and what influenced them. Other issues include ransom and aiding runaways. Grain was one of the most important commodities and the Genoese dominated this market. In the eastern Mediterranean, Turchia was one of the main sources for it, and its importance fluctuated with the ups-and-downs of political developments in the area. Some of these matters are discussed, such as taxes and export bans, as well the impact of either on prices. Wine was another important trade good, a commodity also imbibed by the Turkish rulers. Turchia was both an importer and exporter of wine and grapes. This trade was a significant source of fiscal revenue and in some beyliks it was under strict government control. Alum, which was used as a dye in the European cloth industry, was also a major trade item. This line of trade (including its extraction) was dominated by the Genoese, who mined alum in Anatolia. Details about end-use localities, qualities of alum, as well as sources of origin, taxes, prices, and the impact of politics on them, are given here. Cloth also figured heavily in trade; rich fabrics were used as presents. Turchia was an importer of these fabrics, while at the same time being a supplier of raw materials and worked tissues. The author discusses raw silk and cotton in particular, as well as unspun hemp and wool. While Europe used cloth from Turchia, the Turks also imported various cloths from Europe, and both aspects are covered; and prices and taxes are touched upon. The study of trade in metals is hampered by lack of data. This is due to the fact that there was a papal ban on trade in metals with the infidels. Accordingly the trade in metals could not be mentioned in documents. There was, however, trade in iron, copper, gold, and silver, although this was probably also limited because Turchia itself produced many of these metals. In the final chapter, Fleet shows that trade cont inued after 1453 as if Constantinople had not fallen, although, due to lack of data, it is not clear whether there was more or less trade. Ottoman policy vis-a-vis the Genoans did not change; with them it was business as usual.

There can be no doubt that the author has made an important contribution to the economic history of Turchia by making the data from the Genoese archives available. However, it would have been useful to include not only a chapter giving a historical outline, but also to have one on the economic context in which the Genoese themselves functioned. To understand and appreciate truly the contribution of the Genoese, this larger context has to be known. For those who already know that context, such a chapter might be superfluous, but those who are not among the cognoscenti will be at times lost without this framework. What the author has not done, although she promised to do so, is to discuss the contribution of the Genoese to the success of the Ottomans. The excursus called "The Latin Contribution to the Early Ottoman Economy" does not deliver on that promise. It is basically a discussion of the role of some Latin merchants as tax-farmers for the Ottoman state and other beyliks. Taxation is important, but tax farm ing is a neutral instrument in that it does not make a difference who the farmer is, but rather what rules are on the books and how he applies them. The author has not made the case, for example, that the Latin tax-farmers did a different job and had a different impact than, say, Moslem tax-farmers on the economies concerned. Fleet also does not deal, either in the money or metals chapter, with the question of whether there was a deficit or surplus on the current account in the trade with Turchia. This is clearly a difficult issue, given the available data, but it would have been instructive to address it nonetheless.

Finally some minor items. Since the author makes much of the term "Turchia" in her introduction, I find it strange that she does not use the term in her title. I also find it odd that she uses the term "Islamic trade," for she nowhere defines what it means (if it means anything at all), unless she intends to convey the notion that this trade took place during the Islamic era, which, however, is already implied by the reference to the Ottoman state, making its use superfluous. The same holds for "European trade," because the book is about Genoese trade. Also, why "han" instead of the more common "khan"? Nevertheless, this is a well-written book that makes excellent use of the underutilized Genoese data and thus has enriched our knowledge and understanding of the economic development of this important but less well-known era. For anyone working on this period it is now essential.
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Author:Floor, Willem
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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