In this week’s readings Abu-Lughod focuses mainly on the “merchant mariners” of Genoa and Venice and stresses their importance in connecting Europe to the Eastern trading system. Both cities became involved with the Orient through the Crusades. Although these battles arose in deep seated conflict, they eventually permanently linked the East and West to each other. Abu-Lughod emphasizes the reluctance of the Muslim world to interact with the European “barbarians”. For instance, Cipolla states, “…Europe was an underdeveloped area in relations to the major city centers of civilization at the time…clearly a land of barbarians”(106). This characterization of the European inhabitants was not far-fetched. For example, in 1098 Crusaders destroyed the town of Ma’arra and practiced cannibalism, “boling pagan adults in cooking pots” (107). With these inhumane practices the Europeans lived up to Islamic myths that Westerners were nothing but animals.
Once Venetian and Genoese ports began to expand and grow, it was the beginning of the development of a new world system, with Europe at its head. Although not yet trading fully in the East, by the thirteenth century the main centers of European trade were stationed in Italy—Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Milan. Although prosperous at the time, Abu-Lughod next traces the reasons for the economic collapse of the system—the Bubonic plague. The loss of life and changes in the port system really effected the economy. But Abu-Lughod also mentions that other factors following the Black Death, such as political factionalism, poor food growth, and communal expenditures, also greatly wronged the once thriving economy.
In these readings I found the “New Technologies at Sea” extremely interesting because I did not (and still do not) know much about ships or naval technology. I enjoyed when Abu-Lughod explained the three ships the Italians used—the sailing ship (navis or bucius), the galley ( galea, galeotis, or sagitta), and a cross between these two called the tarida. Additionally, regarding the Italian merchants I really found it fascinating that they used methods relatable to modern day economics. Reading about the fraterna, the commenda or colleganza, and the stans emphasized the advancement of the people at this time. Finally, I enjoyed the discussion of the relationship between the Mongols and the Mamluk state in Egypt; I had learned about them separately but had never known about the connections between the two. One of the questions I had about these readings was the sometimes hostile relationship between Venice and Genoa. There are some instances of massacres and battles between the two ports which had many casualties. I wish Abu-Lughod focused on this more; how could such ports so close in distance survive after incidents like this? Furthermore, with the kind of “advanced” economy they had for this time, how did capital keep flowing with these sporadic war time eruptions?