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9-08-2015, 14:43

Travel beyond Europe

The opportunity to grow rich was a powerful motive for a few travelers, especially men who lived in seaports or cities located on important land trade routes. For centuries after his trip, literate urban dwellers avidly read the tales of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo ( c . 1253–1324) who spent seventeen years at the court of Kublai Khan in China. Polo dictated the account of his travels to a writer of romance stories while they were imprisoned together as war captives after Polo came back from China; they were recopied and translated many times even before the development of the printing press. Polo’s stories of the distances he traveled and the wonders that he found were exaggerated, but they inspired many men, including Christopher Columbus, who had a printed copy of Polo’s stories in his sea chest when he sailed. Urban merchants, in Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries (what is now Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) developed new business techniques, including various forms of contracts, some of them temporary partnerships and some more permanent arrangements called in Italian compagnie . ( Compagnie literally means “bread together,” i.e. sharing bread, and is the root of the English word “company.”) These trading companies sponsored land and sea expeditions in search of better routes, sources of supply, and markets. Merchants from Florence, Venice, Genoa, and other northern Italian cities established merchant colonies, or at the very least set up permanent agents in faraway locations. During the fourteenth century, merchants from Venice, Genoa, Barcelona, and other southern European cities developed permanent trading centers in most of the ports of the Middle East and many in North Africa. Genoese merchants dominated in the Aegean and the Black Sea, meeting caravans carrying goods from India, central Asia, and China. These caravans also brought the bubonic plague, which came into Europe from Asia in 1347. Venetian merchants paid more attention to Asian spices, traded up the Red Sea to Cairo, which in the mid-fi fteenth century was the capital of the Mameluke Empire. In these Near Eastern cities, European merchants often lived in enclaves separate from the rest of the population, with special privileges granted them by the local rulers. The same was true in northern Europe, where cities from Holland to Poland joined together in a mercantile association called the Hanseatic League (or Hansa for short) in which the German cities of Lübeck and Hamburg were the most powerful players. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the Hansa controlled the fur trade with Russia, the fi sh trade with Norway and Sweden, and the wool trade with Flanders. Hansa merchants gained special concessions in cities such as Bruges, Bergen, and London, and often lived in special trading centers called “factories.” In 1370, the Danish king tried to break the league’s power, but a Hansa fl eet seized Copenhagen and imposed severe peace terms on Denmark. While Italian ships sailed the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Black Sea, and German ships the North Sea and the Baltic, Portuguese ships inched further and further down the African coast, searching for better and more direct supplies of gold and slaves. Prevailing winds in the Atlantic meant that though ships could stick close to land when sailing south, they had to cut far to the west when sailing home to Portugal. Such travel patterns led to the Portuguese discovery in the late 1300s of the uninhabited Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, Madeira, and later São Tomé. Portuguese, Genoese, and Spanish ships landed on the inhabited Canary Islands, carrying off livestock and people. The inhabitants of the Canaries, called Guanches, were probably the descendants of North African Berbers and had been in the islands since at least the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus in the fi rst century ce . They lived primarily herding sheep and goats. The Guanches, who may have numbered about 100,000 when Europeans fi rst came to the Canaries, were eventually defeated by Spanish armies in 1496, although more by European disease than by military action. In the 1450s, a Genoese merchant sponsored by Portugal made direct contact with the Mali Empire of West Africa; trade in gold and slaves expanded dramatically. Portugal also encouraged colonization and farming in the Atlantic islands, which were soon exporting wheat and sugar. Hoping to see a population increase, the Portuguese crown brought in female slaves from Africa and later orphan girls from Portugal for the male settlers of São Tomé. Royal offi cials did not require marriage and did not even object very much when households included numerous women. Though explicit royal support of population mixing on São Tomé was unusual, in many of the port cities of Italy and the Iberian peninsula, sailors, ship captains, pilots, peddlers, laundresses, slaves, ex-slaves, and drifters from a wide variety of backgrounds mixed very regularly. They shared practical knowledge as well as trading merchandise, which early explorers like Columbus – who spent his youth and young manhood in such cities – absorbed eagerly. They also shared beds; offi cial prohibitions of sexual relationships across religious and sometimes social boundaries were enforced only sporadically among this mobile and marginal population. All of these encounters did not necessarily lead to toleration, however. Columbus learned Muslim geography, but still regarded his name (Christo-fero or “Christ-carrier”) as a sign he was destined to oppose Islam. People may have socialized with others from all over the world, but they also accepted national stereotypes: Germans were drunkards, Moors and Italians were homosexual sodomites, Frenchmen engaged in sex with animals. While economic motives inspired merchants to travel, and escaping creditors or legal authorities spurred sailors and peddlers, religious motives drew others to the roads and sea routes. From ancient times, many of the world’s religions encouraged pilgrimages to holy sites. Chinese Buddhists went to India seeking texts and relics, and Japanese Buddhists later went to China seeking the same things. Christian pilgrims traveled to Canterbury in England, Maria Wörth in Austria, or Czestochowa in Poland, and some ventured to the international pilgrimage sites of Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, or Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Because making a pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the duties of the believer in Islam, by 1200 there was a steady pilgrimage traffi c in the western India Ocean. Local shrines to holy people also drew Muslim believers. Inns, hostels, and shops were established along major routes, supplying pilgrims with shelter, food, and souvenirs like badges and relics. Women as well as men made pilgrimages; certain sites promising safe childbirth and healthy children became popular with Christian women, and Muslim women mixed freely and unveiled with Muslim men while in Mecca. In theory, at least, peasants bound to the land were supposed to be allowed to go on a pilgrimage by their lords if they had a specifi c request. Reports from real pilgrims mention few who were very poor, but pilgrims were still a more varied group of travelers than were merchants. By the middle of the fi fteenth century there were steadily more places they could visit, or sometimes the holy objects came to them in the form of traveling collections of saints’ bones and other relics. The longer pilgrimage routes often crossed the territories of a number of different rulers, and during times of war and confl ict pilgrims were easy prey. Attacks on pilgrims could sometimes have major consequences. Political turmoil in Palestine during the tenth century, and the conquest of Jerusalem by the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century, for example, led to attacks on Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. These provided Pope Urban II with a justifi cation – some historians would say pretext – for advocating a military campaign against the Turks, with the ultimate goal of conquering Jerusalem. Urban fi rst issued his call at a council of French bishops at Clermont in 1095, and for roughly two hundred years after this western Christians engaged in a series of campaigns against Muslims (and occasionally against eastern Christians) in Palestine and the eastern Mediterranean. The Crusades – a title given to these campaigns long after they were over – sometimes involved mass movements of troops and the men and women who supplied them, and shaped Muslim–Christian relations from that time forward. Though the Crusades to the Holy Land are the best-known example of religious confl ict in the Middle Ages, other confl icts both within Christianity and between Christians and Muslims led people to travel far from home. Beginning in the tenth century, Christian forces fought Muslims in Spain and many islands of the Mediterranean, with Pope Gregory VII (pontifi cate 1073–85) asserting that any land conquered from Muslims belonged to the papacy (an assertion largely ignored by the conquerors). In the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III (pontifi cate 1198–1216) called for a military campaign to wipe out what he viewed as heresy in southern France, and northern French nobles and their supporters streamed southward. In the early fi fteenth century, forces of the pope and the German emperor carried out military campaigns in Bohemia against the followers of Jan Hus, a religious reformer burned at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415. By 1450, the heretics in southern France had been wiped out, most of the followers of Hus had been pacifi ed (largely by letting them worship as they pleased), and Muslim territory in Spain had been reduced to the kingdom of Granada in the south. The largest theatre of Christian/Muslim confl ict had shifted to the east, where the Ottoman Turks conquered much of Greece and the Balkans even before they captured Constantinople in 1453. For combatants on both sides, whether Christian knights or Muslim ghazi (warriors), opportunities for fi ghting in the name of God continued.

 

 

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