Thursday, September 17, 2009

Venice and Genoa

Abu-Lughod depicts Venice and Genoa as rather significant elements of European involvement in the world system very clearly. She goes into detail about the effect of the Crusades, colonial expansion along with technology at sea, and capitalism, all resulting in some changes in trade. Genoa gained de facto independence from the Roman Empire at the end of the eleventh century, and Venice already had a more active role in commerce even before the Crusades. During the Crusades, Europeans sought out Muslim land and wealth, although the interest was not reciprocated. There was a revival of the Champagne fairs, which enhanced demand for eastern goods, and Genoa began to move beyond the Islamic fa├žade into Asia and Africa. Throughout colonial expansion, Italians demonstrated success often times by plundered weaker vessels, and when Venice added on Constantinople, Genoese competition was quickly displaced. In the thirteenth century there is substantial Venetian efflorescence in culture, politics, industry, and business. Then, both Venice and Genoa develop ship size, ship maneuverability, and navigation technique significantly.

Some of the most enticing ideas that Abu-Lughod presents involve the idea of merchant capitalism. Venice had state capitalism with a strong subcomponent of individual enterprise on one hand, and on the other, Genoa had individual citizens more involved in the state. Both already possessed an institution of public debt in order to fund infrastructure and defense. There was also a significant amount of family businesses where brothers worked as partners, and there were also commendas and colleganzas at this time. It is rather surprising that the idea of distributing risk and pooling capital was already so well developed. Also, that documentation of contracts and other various records were becoming more and more common, and the Genoese institution was similar to that of a joint stock company.

In the early fourteenth century, there is already a world system that is a large part capitalist. Genoa is connected to both Bruges and the Black Sea, and Venice has its own strong trade routes with Antwerp and Egypt, yet these well-developed systems face a mid-century economic depression. Why was Genoa unable to recover after the Black Death and naval defeat by Venice (1378-1384)? Abu-Lughod suggests that the inability of mariner states to determine what would occur in regions beyond there control may be a reason for some of their struggle. She described how Venice and Italy were very important in the origins of European trade, but it is difficult to understand how they led to European hegemony if they faced such great struggle. There is lack of transition between the role of the Italian mariner states in the world system, and the basis for European success through northern, middle, and southern routes, moving right along to the Mongols.

1 comment:

  1. I also found it very interesting that the methods employed by the Italians and the other traders in the world system, even at that time, were so complex and sophisticated. I also think of it as a necessary strength when other things, like transportation and long land routes were relatively rudimentary.

    Abu-Lughod's explanation of why Genoa "failed" and Venice "succeeded" is lacking partially in sound evidence and explanation. However, in a general sense I think she does a good job of explaining in the second half of this week's readings how and why fragmentation of the Pax Mongolica really affected the trade routes and European opportunities for participating in the world system (a reference to your reference of mariner states not being bale to determine/control what happened in other regions that affected them.)