Thursday, September 17, 2009

Venice vs. Genoa and the Mongols

These chapters discuss the different struggles for dominance in the trade system and the factors that influenced them. First, in the case between Venice and Genoa, they were both fighting to be the main middle-man. They were both located at prime spots to be connected with many people. However, i think that Venice had more advantages than its rival.
Morally, the crusades were horrible and gave the Muslims a well deserved bad impression of the Europeans. They considered them as "beasts superior in courage and fighting ardour but in nothing else, just as animals are superior in strength and aggression." Considering what the westerners were doing, these accusations were not far off. Although morally horrible the Crusades greatly influenced the expansion of trade and the improvements in naval power. When the Pope ordered the fight against the Muslims and Jews and the capture of Palestine and Jerusalem unlike Genoa, Venice held off until the end when the outcome was already clear to join the fight. As a result of their help the Venetians were awarded a privileged position in the trade system and became an active player in the exchange of goods.
The struggle between Genoa continued for decades most dramatically over the fight and the transfer of control of Constantinople. With Constantinople and access the Egyptian spices and goods Venice had the upper hand over Genoa. However, even without Constantinople, Genoa controlled the passage with North Africa and northwestern Europe. The fight for dominance, with Genoa lagging behind in a close second, continued until they both began to fall along with the rest of the trade system. There were a few main reasons for their demise. First, both Genoa and Venice's populations increased drastically during the prosperous trading years. Venice's population almost doubled and Genoa's was not far behind. This led to a strain on space and sustenance. Second, the Bubonic plague took three fifths of Venice's population and sixty percent of Genoa's within eighteen months after it hit the Italian ports. Third, before the Black Plague even arrived there was an economic decline due to wide spread crop failure. Fortunately for the Venetians Venice was in the right spot to commence trade after the Bubonic plague finally disappeared. Genoa could no longer safely protect their traders or their trade routes and therefore never reemerged as a strong player in the trading game.
The second chapter was about the Mongols. They did not offer their own goods to trade with but rather the goods of those people they conquered. They supplied land passages that were protected and secure for transfers of good to take place on. Unfortunately for them their system fell apart rather rapidly. First because they stopped being able to conquer people and the Mongols were restless and always needed to be mobile. Therefore they could not get together a system of their own when they could no longer use the ones they stole from those they conquered. Second, when the black death hit they were hit the hardest because it spreads the fastest in the areas where people are the most mobile. Therefore the Mongols and any people utilizing their trade paths were hit hard. When the Black death finally subsided and traders reemerged they no longer sought the passages provided by Central Asia and the Mongols.
What is most interesting about the trade system developed in Venice and Genoa was that it established the first forms of Capitalism. The traders banded together and split costs. Mostly families where the males would all trade together and split the cost leaving one brother at home to manage dealings with locals. It was initially mainly limited to families because that is who people thought they could trust. However, some people don't have brothers. In this case they would partner with others splitting the cost in various ways depending how much each individual put in. Also, everyone took very detailed records of what money went where and who traded with whom. The traders developed systems of borrowing money, paying back debts, making partners and one independent trader even developed an investment banking system.
Although Abu-Lughod describes these chapters such a way that is enjoyable to read and easy to understand i think she could have spent more time discussing what the Muslim civilization was like at this time compared to the westerners. Their society had reached a much more advanced point at the time of the crusades than the societies of Europe and yet they were being destroyed.

--Dorothy "Bunny" Smith

1 comment:

  1. The compare and contrast of Muslim society verses the Western society would have been something interesting to know. When you get into the interworkings of a society in a 3rd person view the history makes even more sense. The knowledge of society would be able to give us a better view of the Muslim mind. Religion is an important aspect of Muslim life that affects each Muslim person everyday. Since the Crusaders were so barbaric the Muslim took their social standing as an insult not only to there culture but to their religion.