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8-08-2015, 00:37

Routes, products and conjuncture

There were three distinct areas of Latin trade in the Aegean and the Balkans: the Peloponnese, the Venetian islands and the Genoese possessions. The Peloponnese had long been considered the preserve of Venice, which had gained total freedom of trade upon the creation of a Frankish principality there. Records from the earliest known Venetian assemblies refer to Venetians trading between Clarence and Apulia. This port was in effect the most convenient on the routes between Italy and the principality of Achaia, particularly once the latter passed into the Angevin domain. A Venetian consul saw to it that things ran smoothly, though with some local disruptions. The Venetians brought in metals and cloth, loading their vessels with salt, cereals, cotton, oil, raw silk and raisins from the Morea; the mudae were authorised to make a stop at Clarence, and unarmed ships were allowed to collect merchandise left in transit by the galleys. The Genoese also did business at the port, investing almost 4,620 livres in sixteen contracts between 1274 and 1345. On a smaller scale, the people of Dubrovnik were also interested in the principality’s ports, buying wheat, hides, silk and linen and selling woven cloth, wine and cheeses. The second half of the fourteenth century was less favourable from the Latin point of view: Clarence followed the decline of the principality of Achaia and its port suffered stagnation, which Pero Tafur noted on his travels there around 1435. Patras appears to have taken over as the main trading port in the area; the Venetian senate estimated that in 1400 merchandise worth 80,000 ducats had been imported from Patras, with a further 60–70,000 ducats’-worth in 1401. It is understandable that in these circumstances Venice accepted from Patras’ archbishop responsibility for protecting the city in 1408, seeking a replacement for the decline of Clarence. The Venetians also played a significant role in the Byzantine despotate until the early fifteenth century, bringing raw materials and manufactured goods and buying wheat, cotton, honey and raw silk. However, Despot Constantine Palaiologos’ conquest of Clarence and Patras in 1428 put paid to this cordial relationship. In the absence of conclusive documents, it is hard to evaluate the economic role of the Catalan duchies in this intra-Mediterranean exchange.13 To the south of Messenia, the two ports of Coron and Modon were of major interest to Venice. They were, to use an expression of the senate, the ‘principal eyes’ of the Dominante, and of prime strategic importance. They surveilled the movements of enemy fleets and served as a base for the reconquest of rebellious Crete in 1363–4. As staging-posts and warehouses, they received the convoys of merchant galleys which had to call atModon every year: bills of lading preserved in the Datini archives in Prato list the various commodities – most often of eastern origin such as cotton, sugar and spices – which the galleys would pick up.With their rich agricultural hinterlands, Coron andModon exported agricultural goods and, most importantly, the products of local stock-raising. Understandably, when faced with Greek and Turkish incursions, Venice tried to protect its two isolated enclaves, and from 1390 to 1430 sought to reunite them territorially through a series of annexations.14 It is in the Venetian-dominated islands of the Aegean that we can see the Dominante’s mercantile dirigisme most clearly; Venice hoped to satisfy its own needs by developing agricultural production there, and aimed to create transit centres for merchandise bound for or coming fromthe Levant. Crete enjoyed an exceptional position in this respect. It was the point of departure for regional exchanges with the Turkish territories of AsiaMinor, which supplied it with slaves, wheat, horses and alum, and to which Crete sent textiles, wine and soap; likewise for exchanges with the Cyclades – which suffered from a chronic shortage of cereals – and with Negroponte, Coron and Modon. But above all the Cretan ports, first and foremost Candia, played a vital part in Mediterranean trade. In effect, they saw two convoys of galleys pass every year: those of Cyprus, then those of Syria and Alexandria. Before the Genoese capture of Famagusta in 1373, trade with Cyprus was of prime importance: Crete imported Cypriot salt and sugar and exported cereals there, and this trade was dominated by the Corner family, who had possessions in Crete and around Piskopi. The galleys of Syria and Alexandria brought spices, silk and cotton, with the result that Crete became the repository for Mediterranean trade’s most valuable products. Finally, the Dominante regarded the island as its wheat granary, since Crete provided more than a third of its supplies; wheat was a state monopoly and the great landowners could not export it elsewhere without the senate’s authorisation.Other products fostered trade betweenCrete and Venice, including wine from Malvasia (‘malmsey’), dessert grapes, cotton, wood, cheeses and hides, and this trade came to dominate the entire Cretan economy, provoking frequent revolts, even from the ranks of Venetian fiefholders. 15 The island of Negroponte, divided between Venice and the terciers, was a compulsory stop for the muda to Romania, which put in there either on the outward journey at the end of August, or on its return from Constantinople in November. It was thus pivotal to Venetian trade in lower Romania, importing and distributing western products such as woollen and linen cloth, which piled up in the island’s warehouses, as well as taking in products from Greece, such as wood, hides, acorns from kermes oaks (yielding crimson dye), wax, cotton, cereals and raisins, for transport to the west. Moreover, Negroponte’s principal port of Chalkis was a stop for the trade in wood, cereals, hides and cloth between Crete andMacedonia. But there was no longer a question of state-organised trade confined to spring and autumn passages along the coast of Thessaly; most were left to private enterprise. Thessaloniki was now the hub of these multi-part voyages. The Venetians had a consul there and their small merchant colony amassed wheat from Macedonia and the Bulgarian plains and sold woollen and linen cloth from the west. Their trade continued, even after the Ottomans occupied the town.Merchants from Dubrovnik had been active in Thessaloniki since 1234, when its lord, Manuel Angelos (1230–7), granted them a privilege. The Genoese, too, tried to establish themselves in Thessaloniki; they had a consul there in 1305 and invested in the town around that time. However, they did not act in liaison with those making for the Aegean’s east coast, the heart of the Genoese domain from the end of the thirteenth century on.16 Chios witnessed the development of trade in mastic and alum under the rule of the Zaccaria (1304–29). Alum became very important after 1346, when the mahonesi secured control of it. It was indispensable for fixing dye in cloth, and came from the mines of theOld andNew Phokaia on the coast of Asia Minor. However, the Giustiniani also tried to control production of alum from other sources in Ottoman territory : Koloneia, K¨utahya, Ulubad and Kyzikos. Chios was thus the great repository for alum, which ships and cogs ferried to Flanders for the textile industry. The transport of such a heavy product undoubtedly lay at the root of the medieval ‘nautical revolution’, which saw square-rigged cogs replacing the Latin ships in use in the thirteenth century, putting Genoa ahead of other maritime towns in the race for heavy tonnage (see fig. 60). Until the loss of Phokaia in 1455, Genoese alum occupied a key place in the exchanges between east and west; it stimulated shipbuilding and an increase in the size of ships, and dictated a regular shipping circuit, directly linking Chios with Flanders and England.17 same time amassing the products of Anatolia in its warehouses. Finally, the island lay on the axis of two shipping routes, one via the Straits north to Constantinople and the Black Sea, the other leading to Syria and Alexandria by way of Rhodes and Famagusta. It was the hub of Genoese international trade in the east.18 From 1355, the Genoese had another base in the same region, the island of Lesbos, which had passed into the hands of the Gattilusio family. Apart from the alum from Kallones on the shore of the island’s gulf, the port of Mytilene received Genoese trade on its way from Egypt to Constantinople, via Rhodes and Chios. This trade was primarily in Pontic slaves being exported to Egypt to swell the ranks of the Mamluk army. The seizure of the northern Aegean islands and of the port of Ainos at the mouth of the Maritsa by the Gattilusio at the beginning of the fifteenth century gave the Genoese access to the cornfields of Thrace and the Bulgarian plains.19 This picture of western trade in the Aegean would not be complete without some reference to the fluctuations and hindrances characterising fourteenth-century commerce in general. Papal embargoes on trade with the Saracens were heeded to varying degrees until 1345–50, and during the first half of the century this gave great significance to the sea routes to Rhodes, Cyprus and Lesser Armenia, where the harbour of Ayas was the outlet for a famous ‘Mongol route’ leading to India and China. Crete then had a decisive role as port of call and warehouse for all Venetian shipping, while Negroponte was an essential staging-post for the galleys to Constantinople. In the second half of the century, the issuing of papal licences allowing Latins to traffic in Syria and Egypt led to a proliferation in trading links. Cyprus, partially dominated by the Genoese, was to a large extent abandoned by the Venetian merchant galleys, while Chios added the profits derived from its intermediary role in north–south trade and trafficking with Turkish Anatolia to its large-scale dealings with the west. Despite everything, western commerce in the Aegean suffered the setbacks which engulfed the fourteenth century as a whole. Both the figures from the incanti of Venetian galleys gathered by Thiriet and St¨ockly, and those collected from the Karati Peyre register by the author, show very high levels of trade with Romania in the first half of the fourteenth century, followed by a fall-off in trade from 1350 and a recession lasting until at least 1410–20. Lower production in the west after the Black Death in 1348, an increase in Ottoman incursions in the Aegean, depopulation in Genoese and Venetian territories of which their authorities complained and the development of piracy – which finds an echo in all sources, beginning with the business letters of the Datini archive – all combine to explain this drop. But war never hindered the expansion of business for long; the Venetians and Genoese were able to come to terms with the Turks and the despots of the Morea. As for piracy, it would be a mistake to overestimate its effects; the goods seized by the pirates re-entered the economic system sooner or later, burdened only by an additional tax. After several decades of crisis, western trade resumed its expansion in the Aegean after 1420, more diversified in its agents, its objectives and its results.