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8-08-2015, 00:24

Latin settlement in romania : economic growth

The Latin conquest and the subsequent redistribution of property in the Latins’ favour did not alter the nature of Romania’s economy. Land remained the main source of income, wealth and taxation, the agrarian infrastructure of the countryside was hardly affected, and the basic pattern of agricultural exploitation persisted. This continuity, furthered by the inclusion of Greek officials in the Latins’ administration, is illustrated by the survival of Byzantine administrative, fiscal and legal institutions and practices, by the structure of the large estates of Frankish Achaia – documented by fourteenth-century surveys – and by various agricultural contracts. The Latin conquest, however, put an end to the dominance of the Byzantine archontes in the financing of economic activities and definitively abolished the Byzantine state’s restrictive control over particular branches of manufacture and trade. Central and western Greece and the Aegean islands, which stayed under Frankish rule longer than the territories recovered by Byzantium in the thirteenth century, saw ever stronger economic interaction between the rural sector, the cities and long-distance maritime trade. The free flow of cash between these sectors of the economy was furthered by various factors: the temporary or permanent presence of Latins, mainly in coastal cities, whose population grew; the supply of goods and services to merchants and ships in transit; the expanding western demand for agricultural and industrial commodities; and, finally, the infusion of liquid capital from the west. This last process was promoted from the 1270s at the latest by the activity of mercantile and banking companies from Siena (the Piccolomini and Tolomei), and these were later joined by some from Florence (the Cerchi, Bardi and Peruzzi). The range of their large-scale business stretched from the Latin east to the fairs of Champagne and to England. In Latin Greece, Clarence constituted their main credit centre, but they also operated in Corinth, Thebes and the city of Negroponte. The Italian merchants and bankers introduced new forms of profitsharing ventures, credit, business and estate management, as well as ways of marketing, and invested capital in the exploitation of rural land and in manufacturing. Thus in Thebes, Genoese merchants acted as entrepreneurs, financing the production of silk textiles from before 1240. We may safely assume that Venetian merchants acted in a similar capacity, both in Thebes and elsewhere. On the whole, the presence and activity of Italian bankers, merchants and administrators from the second half of the thirteenth century stimulated a growth in agricultural, pastoral and industrial productivity, output and profit, and boosted the economy of the former western provinces of Byzantium occupied by the Latins. Manufacturing, however, took a different course. To be sure, the silk textiles of Thebes and other centres of Latin Romania were still shipped to the west in the second half of the thirteenth century. Yet the expanding and diversified manufacture of prized silks in Italy, several of whose types were of Byzantine origin, and the improvements in the quality of glass vessels produced in Venice, partly intended for export to Romania, eventually stifled these same industries in western and central Greece and the Aegean islands. These regions increasingly supplied industrial raw materials to the west, while absorbing an ever larger volume of western finished products. An important aspect of the economic evolution of western and central Greece and the Aegean islands after 1204 was the partial reorientation towards the west of long-distance exports, which had been largely geared towards Constantinople before the Fourth Crusade. TheGreek inhabitants of these regions continued to participate in short-range and regional trade and in transportation, by land and by sea, as well as in seasonal fairs. Yet the Latins’ overall share in these activities grew at their expense, and from the 1270s the Greeks appear to have relied increasingly on Latin shipping, even in the Aegean. The seaborne commerce of western and central Greece was increasingly subordinated to the requirements, routes and seasonal rhythm of long-distance maritime trade, dominated by Venetian merchants and carriers who took advantage of Venice’s naval and diplomatic protection and the infrastructure which its colonies and commercial outposts in the easternMediterranean offered. This led to the growing integration of these territories into a triangular trade pattern linking Romania with Italy and the Levant. The vigour of the pirates and corsairs preying along the main sea lanes of this network in the second half of the thirteenth century illustrates the overall growth of maritime trade in the eastern Mediterranean in that period.16 The economy of Latin Constantinople deserves special attention. It contracted after the Latin conquest of 1204 for want of massive local consumption or investment in high-grade manufacture, but revived shortly afterwards. Its operation became overwhelmingly based on commercial exchanges and the transit and transshipment of goods, functions already performed before the Fourth Crusade. Constantinople’s economy was boosted by Venice’s treaties with the Seljuq sultans of Rum, the emperors of Nicaea, and various other powers in the easternMediterranean along the sea route linking the City to Egypt. The strong position of Venice in Constantinople ensured its merchants – whether itinerant or settled – a dominant share in the City’s trade; Pisan, Anconitan, Amalfitan and Provenc¸al merchants also participated in this trade, as did the Genoese from 1232 onwards. One of the most important economic effects of the Latin conquest of Constantinople was to open up the Black Sea to unrestricted western commerce. At first, however, the Latins appear to have relied upon local traders who had traditionally supplied Constantinople, mainly with wheat, salt, fish, hides and furs. The Latin merchants and carriers gradually extended their ventures in the Black Sea. Yet only after the Mongols consolidated their rule north of the Black Sea from around 1240 did the Latins markedly increase the geographical, commercial and financial range of their operations beyond the coast and penetrate deep inland. Some of them settled in Sougdaia on the southern shore of the Crimea, making it a base for penetration inland to Kiev and beyond, as well as for the export of slaves from Mongol territory to theMediterranean. Significantly, theVenetiansNiccol`o and Matteo Polo – father and uncle respectively of the famous Marco – passed through Constantinople and Sougdaia in 1260 before undertaking their journey into inner Asia. Latin Constantinople thus served as an important transit station with a pivotal role in the integration of the Black Sea andMediterranean trade systems. A sound knowledge and much experience of economic resources, markets and trade routes in the Black Sea and its hinterland were accumulated during the Latin period. They paved the way for the swift and substantial expansion of Genoese and Venetian trade and shipping in that region in the decade following the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople in 1261.17