Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scramble for Dominance

The trade route through the Persian Gulf had to first run through Strait of Hormuz before reaching the Arabian Sea and continuing through the middle route to Asia. Here, a number of principalities and smaller cities took advantage of their location and began to impose their influence on merchant vessels. These people either imposed a toll of tribute on merchant vessels trying to pass through to the ports which connected to land routes or captured their own sections of the trade, pushing their status as small city-states to commercial centers along the trade route. Merchants traveling to and from Baghdad, India, and China, along with from the Red Sea route would dock at these centers and exchange goods creating a new market which previously did not exist, helping economy systems of these port cities to prosper.

Something I found interesting was how that even with the dominance of Baghdad declining, commerce between the Gulf region and China remained prosperous. Merchants were still raking in huge fortunes through this route. What spawned from this power shift was the emergence of independent entrepreneurs who competed with each other for control over trade throughout the Gulf, weather it was through legitimate business or piracy. One example is the island of Qais, which practiced both. It began with the use of blockades on major trade passages through the first half of the twelfth century to acquire goods from passing merchants. Then during the Mongol conquest of Persia and Iraq in the late thirteenth century, this port became a key center of trade for the Asian market.

I wonder if the piracy practiced by the people of the island of Qais was so significant in their development into one of the key ports along the middle route. Would their fate have been the same if say they concentrated on becoming a legitimate center from the start?


  1. I think it is safe to assume that some piracy was going on everywhere - it was kind of something that came with the territory. They even talked about how in the Indian Sea (which was considered really safe and peaceful) there were pirates and some problems with that.

    Even though Persian trade remained prosperous, it was also largely supplanted by the Red Sea as the Egyptians monopolized the transit of goods between Europe and the Far East...

  2. I agree with Ragini. Piracy is a constant variable in the lives of sea traders. I highly doubt that the leaders of Qais had any real authority over the pirates.
    It is kind of like crime today. We have created and established numerous institution to prevent crime, but it still exists. Would we be a more productive society without crime? Absolutely, but there is a reason why we have developed institutions to deal with crime. Corruption can be limited, it can be controlled to a certain degree, but it can never truly be eliminated.