Aub-Lughod introduces you to the thirteenth century “world system” from non-biased perspective. While most authors describe the Western strength and their self-propelled entrance into the “world system”, Aub-Lughod paints the scene of the European societies as periphery at best in the thirteenth century and its slow indirect elevation to a core role. This rise as a more central role was due to the non-western societies falling behind. The Orient was struggling with the breaking down of their trade routes and the Black Death wake of annihilated cities.
With this shift in power came a sense of European arrogance (as if they needed any more fuel on that fire). Roger Bacon to Francis Bacon optimizes the European mentality from “willing to learn” to “willing to dominate”. In 1257, Roger Bacon wrote to the Pope requesting the funding to write an Encyclopedia on natural sciences. His work was strongly influenced by a number of Moslem philosophers, which illustrate openness and an eagerness to learn and work with foreign cultures. In 1584, Francis Bacon viewed the Orient with little interest. For him, there was nothing to learn through the exploration of what his predecessor so valued. In the sixteenth century, Europe took on a core role in the world system.
Regardless of the present day superiority complex of Western societies, Europe’s rise to hegemony was a slow process. The fastest way to gain power and influence is through capital—a sad reflection on our past and present day society. The creation of subsystems or “world cities” presented the beginnings of Europe’s serious participation in the “world system”. Three groups within the subsystem were 1) the towns of the Fairs of Champagne, 2) the industrial and commercial towns of Flanders, and 3) the seaports of Italy.
The Fairs of Champagne began with a barter-based system, which with the Fair’s expansion demanded the development of currency, notaries, scribes, and fair guards. The expanding market at the Fairs of Champagne created an influx of outside traders, which lead to the merchants to work together on security and an exchange rate. The Fairs began to decline in 1285 due to the pressures of specialized monopolies, political controversy, Black Death, and the opening of the Atlantic sea route that bypassed these “world cities”. The institutions and agreements developed to manage global trade are still present today.
The commercial/industrial cities of Flanders illustrate the effect more permanent establishments effected the growth of the global commercial market. With the development of Italian shipping and the Atlantic sea route, the Bruges commercial city became the number one international port.
The seaports of Italy were crucial to cheap and efficient transportation of goods in the new capitalistic system. Genoa and Venice were imperative to placing Europe in the world economy. With the advancement in transportation, Europe was able to trade more heavily. By the end of the 14th century, both Europe and Orient were fighting to gain a monopoly on sea-lanes and ports. Although feudalism was dominant in 14th century Italy, the role Italy played in shipping and banks secured them a role in the “world system”.
The question I had was why the fragmentation of the Genghis Khan region had such an effect on the forward momentum of the Orient. The role as successful merchants would bring in revenue for their country as well as numerous luxury goods, or relatively luxury items. Therefore, why would the leaders of the Mongols, who are know for parallel government styles, bring such an upset to the trading routes? Wouldn’t they want to maintain them in order to maintain the good favor of the merchant class? Through what means were they so disrupting: force, legislature, fear, or miscommunication of intent?