Following the Crusades, which Venice and Genoa played major roles in, Europe was able to expand its trade connections and become a greater player in the “world system.” To utilize its position in the world system, however, Europe would need to pass through one (or all) of the three routes in the eastern Mediterranean that granted access to the Orient. There was northern, central, and southern routes, all of which were functioning and highly networked by distant peoples. Despite the increased relations among world economies, and the promising future of a world trade system, many regions were left in ruins by the second half of the 14th century. A series of events and relations can be examined for answers as to how this all unfolded.
The northern route spanned across Central Asia, and experienced both its birth and (near) death within a century. During the 13th century, the Mongols were under the leadership of Genghis Khan, whose aspirations were world conquest. He started with Europe, but quickly turned his attention eastward. Before any conquests made progress, however, Khan passed away. The campaigns were paused, and Khan’s sons were assigned different regions to conquer. By the second half of the 13th century, southern Russia, Poland, Hungary, parts of the Middle East, and all of Central Asia were under Mongol control, signifying the commencement of the Central Asian route. Although Genghis Khan’s death did not hurt his empire or his dream of conquest, the separation of regional rulers later proved problematic. The subgroups diversified – some rulers converting to Islam, others adapting to Chinese culture and Buddhist faith – and fragmented the Mongols. In addition to this, plagues and insurrections furthered weakened the empire, and the northern route to the Orient via Central Asia was left a damaged, inhospitable terrain.
Like the northern route, the middle route – connecting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean – was greatly affected by the western Crusaders and Mongol armies. For centuries, the Mediterranean/Indian Ocean connection was a prime route. Baghdad was right in the center of this connection, making it a “true world city;” full of trade, culture, and religion. Despite this prosperity, however, the Mongols were able to destroy the city and turn rule over to Persia in the mid 13th century. This devastated the middle route through Baghdad. Persia rule secluded the region from world trade, breaking the connection between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Further damage to the middle route occurred when the Mamluk military state of Egypt successfully expelled all Crusaders from the Syrian coast, and sealed the western end of the route. This blocked Europe’s direct contact with East, and Europe suffered industrially and commercially.
Hindrances with the northern and middle routes created a shift to the south in the world system. Focus was in Egypt, more specifically Cairo, and the powerful Mamluk slave state became the major player in the world trade system. Interestingly enough, this state was established as a result of the dual threat posed by the Mongols and Crusaders, and its existence put it in a position to set the terms of trade for both of these groups. Egypt became the sole connection between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and as a result its capital Cairo was a flourishing city from 13th to 15th century. Egypt’s prosperity was not completely a product of itself, however. Unlike feudal or political institutions that could be replenished through inheritance, the Mamluk slave state needed to be continually recreated, to uphold the nation’s strength. Ironically, the very state whose contact with the East had been stripped by Egypt was the one to come to its aid. In return for trading rights in Egypt, Italy provided the nation with the steady supply of manpower it needed to maintain its strength.
These examples illustrate the complexity that existed in the world trade system, and the strategic moves states made to ensure their position in the system. Similar to the world trade system in the 13th through 15th centuries, today's global society operates under many key players, whose actions and decisions all effect one another. In today's world, if a nation stripped our (the United States) trading rights with another nation, do you think our government would then set out to aid that nation if it was the only means we had to gain trading rights in a crucial area?