European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State: The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey

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 European And Islamic Trade In The Early Ottoman State
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Kate Fleet
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A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire



European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State-The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey International trade was of great importance for the Ottomans in the construction of their early empire.

Kate Fleet’s book examines the trade links that existed between European merchants and their Muslim counterparts from the beginnings of the Ottoman empire in 1300 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

By using previously unexploited Latin and Turkish sources, and by focusing on the trading partnership between the Genoese and the Turks, she demonstrates how this interaction contributed to the economic development of the early Ottoman state and, indeed, to Ottoman territorial expansion.

Where the previous literature has emphasised the military prowess of the early Ottoman state and its role as ‘the infidel enemy’, this book offers a rare insight into its economic aspirations and eventual integration into the economy of the Mediterranean basin. This is a readable, authoritative and innovative study which illuminates our understanding of an obscure period in early Ottoman history.

KATE FLEET is Curator of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, Newnham College, Cambridge.


Any economic history of the late Middle Ages is handicapped by the nature, and scarcity, of the sources. This problem is accentuated when dealing with Turchia1 in the fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries by the great dearth of Turkish sources for the period.

The extant data do not deal in general with economic activity, concerning themselves more with the bloodthirsty activities of the various rulers. It may be too strong to say that without western sources there would be no economic history of Turchia in this period, but it does make the point that no worthwhile research into this area can be done without using western archives such as those of the city states of Genoa and Venice.

The history of western Anatolia in the fourteenth century has been described by Suraiya Faroqhi as a topic much used by research students for their theses because of the limited primary and secondary sources and the limited extension of the beyliks themselves. This lack of sources has, she says, acted as a challenge and ‘scholars have squeezed the last drop of information out of a few inscriptions, chronicles and occasional references in early Ottoman or Venetian documents’.2 In fact this does an injustice to the amount of material available.

The Genoese state archives are a rich and largely unmined source of material for this subject. The notary deeds, one of the most valuable sources for TurkishGenoese trade, give information on commodities, prices, locations and, in the case of disputes, more general information on how these relations functioned. There are problems, however, in dealing with this material, the most important of which concerns the non-availability of analytical catalogues of the notary deeds.

The catalogues for the notaries list one notary and one date while the cartulare (bound collections of deeds) themselves may contain deeds enacted by many different notaries at different dates and at different places of enactment, these remaining thus uncatalogued.

It is not possible therefore to rely on the information in the catalogues when selecting which cartulare to consult for references to Turchia, and there is no alternative to wading through large quantities of irrelevant documents. The financial records and the accounts of the Comune in the Archivio di San Giorgio and the Antico Comune as well as the documents from the Archivio Segreto are also valuable, particularly for diplomatic and political relations.

Much western source material from the archives of Venice, Genoa and Florence has been published.3 Venice, in particular, with the treaties between Venetian Crete and the beyliks of Mentese and Aydin, the Senate’s instructions to ambassadors, merchants’ letters and notary deeds, provides invaluable information for this early period of Ottoman history.

Other published sources of particular importance are merchant handbooks and accounts, giving information on commodities traded, ports used, prices, weights and measures. The manual of the Florentine merchant Francesco Balducci Pegolotti is of great importance for the earlier fourteenth century while the account book of Giacomo Badoer, who was active in Constantinople in the later 1430s, is particularly useful, giving details of all his commercial activities, including expenses incurred when buying commodities in Ottoman territories.

Other western sources that give some information useful for trade include accounts of travellers, for example those of the Aragonese ambassador, Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, who travelled through Anatolia on his way to the court of Timur, and Bertrandon de la Broquière, who was in Ottoman territory in the 1430s.

Byzantine sources have only a limited value for the economic history of Turchia in this period, for while histories such as those of Pachymeres, Gregoras, Dukas, Kantakuzenos and Chalcocondyles discuss Turks, they tend to concentrate on what was of most significance for them, Turkish territorial expansion and gradual dominance of Byzantine politics, rather than on any commercial activity within the empire. In any case, medieval historians rarely touched on economic complexities.

Apart from western sources, there is some Arabic material, the works of ibn Battuta and al-‘Umari *, and Ottoman sources. Ottoman material for the period before 1453, particularly for the fourteenth century, is very sparse, limited largely to a few chronological lists, the earliest of which dates from 1421, Ahmedi’s History of the Ottoman Kings, probably from the 1390s, a few documents, the number of which increases slightly from the 1430s, and a small number of inscriptions and coins from the fourteenth century. Dating from the latter part of the fifteenth century there are chronicles dealing with the earlier period, those of Asikpasazade *, Oruç, the Anonymous Chronicles, and Enveri and Sukrullah*.

The works of Asikpasazade, Oruç and the Anonymous Chronicles rely on the chronological lists and no longer extant chronicles from the fourteenth century.

 Asikpasazade, born around 1400, incorporated into his History of the House of Osman, which goes to 1484, pieces from a history, now lost, written by Yahsi* Fakih, as well as relying on his own memory. Nesri*, writing slightly later, produced his history, using much of the work of Asikpasazade.4 None of the above histories is particularly helpful when dealing with trade. Apart from chronicles and chronological lists from the later fifteenth century, there are documents, such as kanunnames and sicils from the reign of Mehmed II, which can be used, with caution, for comparative purposes and as indicators of what the position could have been in a slightly earlier period.

 It must, however, constantly be borne in mind that to rely entirely on material from a later period to elucidate an earlier one is open to danger.

Using predominantly western sources, this study investigates one aspect of Turkish economic life, that is, international trade between the Turks and the Genoese, in the period between the rise of the Turkish beyliks, among them the Ottomans, and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453. International trade was of great importance from the very beginnings of the Ottoman empire, and the desire of Ottoman rulers to control international trade routes to a degree influenced their territorial expansion.5

This book examines the commodities that made up OttomanGenoese trade and its importance, and considers whether the Genoese, with their capital and expertise, contributed in any way to the early

Chapter 1 Historical Outline

At the beginning of the fourteenth century the world of the eastern Mediterranean was a counterpane of political powers with small states forming and large ones in decline. The Seljuks of Rum, dominant in Anatolia since the twelfth century, had been defeated at the battle of Kösedag *, north-west of Sivas, in 1243 by the Mongols, who then became the major power in the region. By 1300, however, Mongol power in Anatolia had declined.

The Byzantine state was a mere remnant of its former glory, losing even its capital in 1204 to the fourth crusade. Although the emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos was able to regain the city in 1261 the empire’s Asiatic possessions had by now been reduced to a small strip of land in western Anatolia. From this time the Byzantine rulers set out in a constant, but fruitless, search for help from the west in an attempt to guarantee their state’s survival.

Off the coast of Anatolia, the patchwork of islands scattered through the Aegean was under Latin or Byzantine control. The Genoese were established in Chios, first under the control of the Zaccaria family from the early fourteenth century to 1329, and then, from 1346, under the Maona. The Genoese family of the Gattilusio controlled Lesbos (Mytilene) from 1354.

 The Genoese were also established in Phokaea (modern Foça), on the Anatolian coastline opposite Chios, initially under the Zaccaria family, from the late thirteenth century, and in Pera, on the European side of the Golden Horn opposite Constantinople, from 1267. Venice controlled Crete and Negroponte, and Venetian lords ruled in many of the islands including

This chapter is an historical outline of events, serving as a background to the discussion on trade. For more detailed histories, see in particular Franz Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and his Time, trans. Ralph Manheim, ed. with preface William C. Hickman, Bollingen Series 96) (Princeton, 1978); Michel Balard, La Romanie génoise (XIIedébut du XVe siècle), ASLSP, n.s. v.18 (92), fasc. I; Bibliothèque des Ecoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 235 (Genoa and Paris, 1978), vols. III;Claude Cahen, Pre-Ottoman Turkey. A General Survey of the Material and Spiritual Culture and History c. 10711330 (London, 1968); Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire 13001481 (Istanbul, 1990); Halil Inalcik*, The Ottoman Empire. The Classical Age 13001600 (London, 1973); Elizabeth A. Zachariadou, Trade and Crusade, Venetian Crete and the Emirates of Menteshe and Aydin Library of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, 11 (Venice, 1983).

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