Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blog 2: What would you do with your Khanate?

In this weeks reading, Janet Abu-Lughod discussed the development of Genoa and Venice as major players in the shipping industry. Beginning in the 11th century until the 14th century, the two cities were locked in battle over fruitful sea-lanes. Throughout the 12th century, Italians made huge feats in their imperial reach by building and arming ships, plundering weaker vessels, making advancements in navigational techniques, and through the development of larger more maneuverable vessels.
Another aspect Abu-Lughod focused on was the development of new capitalist partnerships, such as the fraternal, commenda, sleeping partner, etc. Each created new opportunities for various groups of people. For example, the fraternal was a family firm usually between two brothers. The two brothers would share the capital investment. The first brother would stay at home to protect their interests. The second brother traveled abroad to sell and secure items for trade. The commenda partnership consisted of two partners as well. One partner would put forth 2/3 of the capital and the other partner put up the other 1/3 as well as his labor. The sleeping partner was extremely appealing to wealthy individuals who were looking for an investment with minimal involvement and to men who lacked capital but were young and eager to pursue the exotic adventurous Orient.
In the second section of our readings, Abu-Lughod focuses on the Mongol Empire. The Mongol Empire was a unique conquering group. The Mongol Empire spanned from Asia to Eastern Europe during the 13th and 14th century. The Mongol Empire, established by Kublai Khan, was divided into four khanates and distributed to his four sons.
Each of the four sons remained peaceful and united under the Mongol banner, but each pursued his own interest and objectives with their khanate. The Mongols acted under entrepot function. Through which the Mongols created a place where there was less risk to transit, and lower protection cost than the Genoa and Venice shipping. The set back for the Mongols was evident in their lack of strategic crossroads, a lack of industrial capacity, and a no transportation function. However, the benefits were enough to overcome their faults. Thus, the Mongol broke up the southerly routes monopoly on shipping. At a time where the shipping cost escalated due to armory protection.
The Mongols ability to expand their empire was based on their method. Mongols are known to ride in on horses establish themselves and continue on to other lands. They would establish allow the conquered to continue with their cultures and social institutions. They did not try to impose their culture on their conquered. In fact, they took calculated action to remain distinctive. In this sense, they were perfect for establishing efficient trade routes. They did not wish to impose their own culture and desired only the profit that could be obtained through occupation.
One aspect of the text that I did not really understand was when Abu-Lughod focuses on the three routes to the East: 1) northern route on land from Constantinople to central Asia, 2) central route between Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, and 3) southerly route that linked the Red Sea with the Arabian Sea. Who controlled each of these routes? Or was there not really a single group in control of these three like the Genoa or the Venice ports?


  1. I agree with you about the differences between the three routes and who exactly controlled which -- it was complicated and I often got lost in Abu-Lughod's descriptions. Sometimes I think that if she had created a graph, or bulleted some of her main points it would be a great help for me. I appreciated how you picked out and described the partnerships, which we didn't really discuss in class (unless I missed it somehow.)

  2. Different powers controlled different routes, and it changed over time.

    For example, the Northern route was controlled mostly by the Mongols, but there were periods of time before the rise of their Empire and after its fall that the route was controlled by other powers.