Friday, September 18, 2009

Venice, Genoa and Mongols

When the dark ages fell upon Europe, Italy remained almost completely unaffected. Venice and Genoa were the frontiers for trade and commerce that began to flourish in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were the gates to the trading that took place in the Byzantine area and the Far East (through trading connections, however, not directly). New technology was the springboard for such trading expansion; for example, ships were larger and more efficient, with more sails and cargo room. Some say that the Italian merchants could be credited with the forming the crude beginning of capitalism, which I will address later. The black plague caused the mid-century depression, which eradicated a large percent of Europe’s population. This, in turn, sometimes affected the sea ports, which were the center of commercial trade. Other routes to the east, however, were opening up. There were three roots to the east; the northern route, which was helped by the protection of the Mongols along the Khan trail; the middle root, through the Byzantine area; and the southern route through Egypt. The Mongols were credited with upholding the safety of the trail that lead through the northern passage, and allowing for the merchants to cross into China.
I found it extremely interesting that some people will credit the Italians with forming the basis of capitalism. I think that I agree, also. The way the Italians globalized the market with trading and through opening the door to the East from the Western world. However, I’ve never heard anything about the roots of capitalism or about any other potential creators, so I don’t know how to justify this information or how to look deeper. Also, was it the Italians themselves who could be credited, or is it the time period in general?
Additionally, with transportation so slow from place to place, how did it sustain a active market; in other words, were there really that many merchants, because markets couldn’t be constantly active? I guess I am just confused of how this could all take place when it took 150 some days to get across the world? Any thoughts, I’d love to hear your input…


  1. This would have to be the beginning of capitalism because goods were traded for profit of the merchants. As simple as the system was then, I feel that it began capitalism as we know it today.

    As far as crediting the Italian merchants for this invention, I believe other factor were more important. Capitalism could not survive without a market. That is, unless other empires sought the goods of other this system would be nonexistent. During that time period the desir of goods fueled the market, and I feel that if the Italian did not organize and establish trade another power would have facilitated this global trade.

  2. I agree, I think it is interesting how everything, the basis of capitalism and the credit was given to the Italians. I believe, while yes they helped bridge the gap and expand the global trade system it was not just them who created "capitalism" or the early form of it. I believe it is more the time period that should be credited, because I feel as though most credit has been given to the west over time when it was really something started by the East. Abu-Lughod gave many examples in the introduction and beginning chapters of her book on how the West took things that were started in the East possible centuries before.

    Your second question is something I was wondering too. How was the market kept up with such long periods between places? I think we just cannot comprehend it because we are used to being able to connect to people across the world in a matter of seconds, but it would have been normal for things to take a long time.

    -Justine Howe

  3. I know this is a bit late but better late than never...

    I agree with Bethany's statement that capitalism could not have survived without a market. I don't believe that it had to be Italy to set the foundations for capitalism but because they controlled most of the trade between Asia and Europe at the time it makes sense that any innovative forms of trade and profit would be put to their credit.

    I too am baffled by the consistency in trade between places that are and were so far apart. I think that because society at the time did not know any other way to trade, did not know what it feels like to trade faster, they were content to maintain trade at the fastest speed they could. This was probably facilitated by goods that were more durable and in higher demand. These qualities would keep the consumer interested. Above all, if a person in Europe wanted something that had to be made in Asia, they would have to wait for the goods for as long as it took to make and ship them because there was no other way to come across or make the goods themselves.