This week’s reading focused on the ever-expanding trading system between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. More specifically, Abu-Lughod detailed the importance, yet instability, of the three major trade routes; the Northeast Passage, Sinbad’s middle route through the Persian Gulf, and the southern route through the Red Sea. All three of these routes fluctuated in significance as a result of many factors.
During the 10th century, Baghdad was still largely considered a central part of world trade, moreover the center of the earth. They used the middle route for trade, through the Persian Gulf, because of the simplistic transit between Asia. The 11th and 12th centuries brought misfortune for Baghdad. There was famine, many serious fires, religious conflicts, destructive floods, and subsequent chaos in the city. This deteriorated the cities wealth and power, leaving only a prominent name in history. Prosperity was lacking, but Baghdad remained part of the trading network. By the end of the 13th century, Mongol’s added to Baghdad’s diminishing economy by averting European trade northward and taking over their city.
Islam took over, unifying Arab, Egyptian, and Persian ideologies; furthermore, this integrated the utilization of both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. By the 14th century, however, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea became rivals again. Both routes always had a constant flow of trade. The cause of the fluctuation of value within the trade system relied more on the quantity of trade flow.
Abu-Lughod described three reasons for this constant fluctuation of route significance. The first was that the Persian Gulf had a lack of unified control. This encouraged traders to use another route to prevent risks. Secondly, when Persia and Iraq unified, trade through the Gulf was re-encouraged. The third factor related to economic health around the Indian Ocean. Ultimately, both the Persian Gulf route and the Red Sea route were rivals. This led the demise of Baghdad and the rise of Egypt.
The one question that stuck out of me the entire time I was reading was whether Baghdad was completely destroyed or did it redeem itself in later centuries. This would depend on one’s definition of success. Baghdad was no long a world hegemony but had a persistent role within the world trade system.