Ibadi trading networks and cultures in North Africa (8th-11th century)
Since T. Lewicki’s works, many scholars have stressed the pioneering role of Ibadi Berbers in the development of trading networks between bilād al-Sūdān and Islamic North Africa, and perceived their doctrine as a perfect illustration of what Max Weber called “intramundane asceticism”. Yet, the Trans-Saharan trade was in fact a complex array of social and economic processes and the exclusive focus on this sectarian minority as a cultural intermediary might not be the best interpretation. Attention has been drawn so far to a small number of stereotyped chronicles and hagiographical sources, while the Ibadi case offers other promising data. Juridical literature, for instance, provides unpublished information about economic laws and contracts and includes many questions about slavery. The historical and archaeological recent study of Sedrata (Wargla, Algeria), led in collaboration with P. Cressier & S. Gilotte, should also help us to understand how the Ibadi archipelago interacted economically with the Saharan and Mediterranean worlds.
The Indo-Pacific Spice Trade and the Eastward Expansion of Islamic Maritime Networks: 10th-Early 11th Centuries
By the end of the 10th century, Islamicate merchants and emissaries could be found in trading outposts and emporia as far apart as the Sahara, the Volga, and Sumatra. From the point of view of scholars in Baghdad and Cairo, one of the least-known of these frontier regions lay to the southeast, across the Indian Ocean and along the tropical western Pacific Rim. Nevertheless, this easternmost horizon of Islamicate commerce looms large in contemporary Arabic and Persian writings, as it was the sole source of many of the fine spices and aromatics which early Islamicate elites desired. By the end of the 10th century, Islamicate merchant-seafarers were probing beyond the limits of contemporary geographical knowledge in their pursuit of these luxuries, laying the foundations for later Islamic expansion in Southeast Asia. This presentation will synthesize texts and maritime archeological discoveries to highlight some of the historical questions associated with the 10th– and early 11th-century expansion of Islamicate commerce in the tropical Indo-Pacific.
The emergence of a mercantile bourgeoisie from the ninth century
From 800, the traditions inherited from Late Antiquity did not overshadow Islamic markets acquiring original specificities in the context of expanding commercial needs. Despite obvious physical similarities, the passage from the Late Antique ergastērion to the medieval sūq was marked by a stronger specialisation in sales. This paper explores how a stronger focus on retail trade would change the nature of the social position of merchants and their involvment in religious leadership. In 1957, Salomon Goitein argued that the merchants came to form a bourgeoisie in Syria, Iraq and Iran from the early ninth century onwards, but never a politically empowered organised ‘class’. This paper seeks to reopen the debate on the social identity and class culture of this community from the late Umayyads to 950. I will discuss how the merchants came to constitute collectivities of individuals sharing identities and practices and how these cultural outlooks were implicated in modes of exclusion and domination.
The Islamic trade network in the Indian Ocean (7th-11th c.): locations and practices
The Persian Gulf served as the main departure point for Muslim merchants up until the beginning of the 11th century, when the focus shifted to the Red Sea. For travel to East Africa, India and Southeast Asia, the key starting points were Siraf and the Oman ports. The merchants would sail as far as Sofala in Africa, with coastal towns serving as stop-off points along the way. These towns became city-states and served as the interface between the Swahilian language communities and the Arab Muslim traders. Travelling beyond Ceylon out towards the East, the main destinations were first Kalah and then the port of Srivijaya, where Palembang now lies. The merchants traded under Sunni or ibāḍit Muslim law, and trade partnerships were based on shares in limited partnerships. In India and Southeast Asia, there were local Muslim representatives who were able to join the local trade guilds. Transactions were carried out either by bartering or using currency. The wrecks that have been found beyond the Strait of Malacca show the ‘triangular’ aspect of trade during this period.
A View from the Middle of the Edge: Trade and Change in East Africa
This paper presents a view of the influence of Islam on maritime communities of the Swahili Coast between the 6th – 11th centuries, through recent archaeological investigations of port settlements in the Zanzibar Archipelago. The famed Swahili stonetowns of the East African coast such as Kilwa, Manda, and Shanga, once thought to be Islamic colony sites, have their origins in a distinctly African occupation of the coast between the 6th -7th centuries. Connected to each other by cultural affiliations, these early wattle-and-daub settlements were also clearly involved with the trading networks of the western Indian Ocean from their earliest phases. As trade relations intensified between the 8th – 11th centuries, various social, economic, and architectural changes in the archaeology of the Zanzibar Archipelago indicate an unplanned transition towards the distinctly maritime, uniquely Swahili Islamic stonetowns of the second millennium.
Faith in the medieval Mediterranean marketplace
In the medieval Islamic Mediterranean, international trading involved a variety of uncertainties and obstacles to overcome. Being unable or unwilling to rely solely on formal contracts, trust and trustworthiness were central for the medieval merchants in their everyday trading business. On the other hand, a common belief system would serve as an identity marker and secure clear boundaries for the business community. This paper examines the role of faith in the everyday business of merchants in the medieval Mediterranean. The correspondence of 11th-century Jewish merchants in the Cairo Genizah documents sheds light on both aspects, the importance of trust among business partners and the factor that the merchants shared a common religious background. However, contrary to the view that Jewish Genizah merchants formed a clearly identifiable business community as opposed to non-Jewish traders in their Islamic environment, this paper questions the degree of exclusivity and re-examines the central pillars of this Jewish mercantile network.
The Role of Byzantium in the Islamic Trade System
Byzantium was a bit-part player in the economic life of the Caliphate in its golden era of urbanisation and commercial growth (9th-10th centuries). A disdain for trade in its governing and intellectual elite, inherited from the Late Roman Empire, inhibited writers from referring to trade. There was no Byzantine analogue to the geographers of Islam. Documentary evidence for commerce is limited to two texts, the eighth-century Rhodian Sea Law and the tenth-century Book of the Eparch. These can be supplemented from incidental references in histories and hagiographies, archaeological material and relevant passages in Islamic sources (principally geographies and documents from the Cairo Geniza). Nevertheless a picture can be pieced together of a Byzantine economy which was centred on Constantinople. The great city sucked in foodstuffs and raw materials from its Thracian hinterland, the islands of the Aegean, and the maritime frontages of Asia Minor and the Balkans, exporting manufactured goods in exchange. This Byzantine commercial world was, unlike its east Roman predecessor, cut off from the wider commercial world of the Indian Ocean. Spices and other Far Eastern goods could only be acquired through Muslim intermediaries. On the other hand it benefited greatly from its role as the principal intermediary between the Caliphate and Latin Christendom, and as an important trading and manufacturing region immediately adjoining the Caliphate. Apart from Constantinople, Byzantium’s major entrepôt, goods flowed through two forward emporia, Attaleia and Trebizond, while others were picked up by commercially predatory merchants in Muslim ports. In sum, Byzantium was a major trade partner of Islam in its early medieval heyday, probably ranking ahead of the Rus and Volga-Bulgar merchants who specialised in furs and slaves, but well behind the Arab and Indian seafarers of southern seas.
Merchants enter the land of Gog and Magog
Ibn Hawqal has never met anyone better informed about the Gog and Magog than Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Alptigin, the chamberlain of Samanid amirs and ephemeral ruler of Ghazna (963-6), from whom he learned about Muslim merchants from Central Asia penetrating deep into the land of Gog and Magog. They were treated well by the local prince who allowed them to acquire beaver skins and furs, but who banned their facial hair and ordered their beards to be pulled out. Even if we disbelieve this story, there exists sufficient information on merchants from the Islamic world travelling and settling far beyond its northern borders. The travels of Ibn Fadlan, Ibrahim ibn Yaqub or Abu Hamid al-Gharnati were only possible because of the presence of such communities in market cities such as Bulgar, Itil, or Prague. Their accounts can be complemented with archaeological material, such as the surprising hoard from Heligholmen at the southern tip of Gotland, to form a picture of Muslim merchants actively searching out in northern Europe goods in high demand in the Islamic world: the furs and the slaves.
Prophet Muhammad and the Islamic Concept of Freedom of Movement and Navigation
In October 630, shortly after the campaign of Tabuk, Prophet Muhammad contacted the local leaders and worthies of the surroundings of Tabuk – including Maqna in northern Hijaz, and Jarba, Adhruh, and Aylah on the coast of the Gulf of Aqabah – and offered them protection and freedom of movement on land and at sea in return for the imposition of poll tax (jizya). However, the pledge of safe-conduct (aman) granted to Mar Yuhanna Ibn Ruba, the governor and bishop of the port-city of Aylah (Aqabah today), is unprecedented and deserves careful scrutiny because it reflects the Prophet’s practical attitude towards the liberty and freedom of movement on land, and most importantly, as our discussion is concerned, the access to the sea, freedom of navigation, jurisdiction over the vessel at sea, and the legal status of subjects aboard national and foreign flagged ships. The pledge was issued long before Byzantium lost Greater Syria and Egypt to Muslims, as well as before the disappearance of the Persian Empire from the international political map, and establishment of the first Islamic navy. This paper will discuss the way the practices and principles of safe-conduct set by the Prophet in the early seventh-century influenced later official decrees of safe-conduct and bilateral and multilateral international diplomatic and commercial treaties concluded between Muslim and foreign political entities across the Mediterranean world and elsewhere.
The Late Antique and Byzantine Context to Early Islamic Mercantile Activity
What was the economic legacy of Late Antiquity to the world of Medieval Islam? The recent historiography has tended to answer this question by focusing primarily on the monetary systems and general level of economic complexity that the Umayyad Caliphate inherited from the East Roman and Sasanian empires. This paper examines the early economic development of the Medieval Islamic world in a comparative historical context. It then turns to examine Late Roman and early Byzantine attitudes to capital and investment, the role and significance of merchants, and the use of financial instruments in order to nuance our understanding of the nature of the transition that occurred across the seventh to eighth centuries.
The commercialization of the Middle East Islamic Economy: Markets, Monetization and Transaction Technology before the Genizah
It is incorrect to assume that the structures of the Islamic economy were ultimately a continuation of Sasanian and Late Antique economies. Rather, the contrary prevailed. Recent work has shown that a process of economic change occurred in the Middle East between 700-1000 AD, stimulating economic growth. The new dynamics affected patterns of international and regional trade and, as trade indicators multiply, it is possible to offer a new analysis. At first, a change in the factors of production, the ratio of land to labour, increased demand for manpower, while a rise in incomes and standards of living created demand for luxuries, income elastic goods. Change in demand was accompanied by an increase in the amount of money in circulation as more people were using markets and money to satisfy basic needs. A rise in aggregate demand for manufactured goods fuelled an increase in specialisation, division of labour and the extent of the markets. Efficiency in transaction technology grew, a result of the adoption and manufacturing of cheap paper.
Trade Routes in the early ʿAbbasid North
The period from 800 to 1000 saw significant political change in Armenia and Caucasian Albania. With the Decade of Anarchy, caliphal control of the North waned, allowing the emergence of independent regions and local kingdoms. Employing Arabic and Armenian sources, this paper focuses on the place of traders in the political changes of the ninth and tenth centuries, while mapping out potential changes in the trade centres and routes with the collapse of ʿAbbasid control. Specifically, it reevaluates two of the main premises found in modern scholarship, mainly: (1) that trade diminished in the period of direct caliphal control, reemerging only during the Golden Age of Armenian independence under the Bagratuni kings; and (2) that ʿAbbasid taxation so devastated the economy in the North that the production of commodities shifted, allowing a massive regeneration of the economy.