Friday, September 18, 2009

Mid East, Genoa, Venice

In the week’s reading, Abu- Lughod explains the importance of Venice and Genoa in Europe’s short-lived success over the Middle East. Abu-Lughod explains how it was that Europe came out on-top; first, Venice and Genoa were rivals, as both made for excellent port cities. The struggle for power between Venice and Genoa lasted for decades; one always trying to get the upper hand on eastern trade. The Crusades was one event which really separated one city from the other. Genoa, in contrast to Venice, recaptured Palestine and Jerusalem. Yet, Venice, who had better relations in the mid-east, was much more reluctant to cause conflict in Palestine. Venice eventually did answer the pope’s call only after it was clear that the West (Genoa) had control over the region. Venice and Genoa were both rewarded with territory; power-hungry Venice continued to feed until Constantinople was in its own reach.
Having control of Constantinople gave Europe an edge. Europeans were more able to control trade in the East, by directing trade and calling for European goods/ controlling the sale of Eastern goods to Europe. These two cities were very influential to Europe and were probably the most powerful cities in the west at the time. When the Bubonic plague hit, both of the trading cities lost masses of their population, undoing many of the developments which occurred when the cities were on-top.
One of the more interesting things Abu-Lughod writes about is Europe’s reliance on force and war. I think the Pax Mongolica era that Abu-Lughod describes portrays and exemplifies Europe’s long history of conquest through battle. If the Crusades hadn’t been so successful, would Europe have found another way to go about the process of gaining economic success? Could that possibly have started a completely different era of European idealism, possibly influencing the ways of Kings for centuries to come? Or, would the Middle East have continued to trade so much to the point that they became the most dominant and wealthy region in the World System? Had the Crusades not been so successful, I believe our world today, and our history would be infeasible.
There is one thing I am slightly confused about. We discussed in class, that the Middle Easterners believed they were better than the Westerners. Many people said yes, because they were ‘more civilized, and had more luxurious goods.” I was wondering, what about spices, silks, and superficial items actually makes a “better culture?” These things are so unnecessary, and hardly make a difference in life except for maybe showing off money. Also, what does this question “Did the people of the middle east believe they were better than the west?” really relate to the overriding topic of the book we’re examining?


  1. I think that the spices, silks, etc. that the Middle Easterners had made them important because Europeans wanted these goods like drugs. The fact that they sold high-value items does not necessarily make them a better culture, but it does make them more important (than if they didn't sell these items).
    I know that spices were important to the Europeans because they had to hide the rotten taste of meat with spice; and silks just look hot I guess (for showing off, like you said).
    I think that the question raised does relate to the overriding topic of the book we're discussing because we are trying to investigate whether or not there were cultures/societies that were (or thought they were) superior to the Europeans; we are trying to investigate societies before Europe gained dominance.

  2. You brought up a good point about Europe using war and force in order to gain trade in the Middle east. I also raised the question about whether Europe would have been as successful had the Crusade Wars never occured and I think eventually Europe might have obtained some success although maybe in later centuries. And although at first Middle Eastern nations did not want to trade with Europeans some future goods like textiles in Flanders might have forced trade between the two systems.

  3. I agree that having an excess of material goods does not make a culture superior to another, but those goods can be seen as representative of the Middle East's highly advanced culture. In the Middle Ages, luxury goods were not only a sign of wealth and status, they were a sign of advanced technology, artisanship and culture. Spices may not be the best representation of advanced culture, but ceramics, metal work and other crafts certainly do. If you recall the Celadon vase from China, and the beautiful Iranian brass bowl(pg. 7)you can see the incredible art produced by these cultures. And while it is true that the Europeans did construct magnificent cathedrals with impressive stained glass windows, the method of producing glass was developed by Mesopotamian and Egyptian potters, and then spread to Europe. Medieval Europeans did not flourish in the arts, (or other "luxury goods," as we called them in class) to the extent the Muslims and Asains had. And I believe we can agree that art is necessary when deciding if a culture is "advanced" or superior to another.

  4. I feel like during that time period that silk and spices were that serious. I feel that now things such as spices and silk are things that we take for granted. I feel that in those days those items were seen as luxury items because they were things not many people had. Therefore making them very special items and those who possess them as higher in class.
    -Teresa Green