SILK ROAD, BYZANTIUM AND VENICE

SILK ROAD DURING THE AGES OF THE MONGOLS, BYZANTIUM AND VENICE


Byzantine silk tapestry

Richard Kurin, a cultural anthropologist at the Smithsonian institution, wrote: “Though some new silk styles such as silk tapestry made their way eastward from Iran to Uyghur Central Asia to China, the transcontinental exchange of the Silk Road diminished in the later Middle Ages and through the period of the Christian Crusades in the Holy Land from 1096 to the mid-1200s. Yet Crusaders, returning home with Byzantine silks, tapestries, and other spoils, rekindled European interest in trade with Asia. [Source: “The Silk Road: Connecting People and Cultures” by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian institution <=>]

Moorish influence in Spain also had an enormous impact. It was through Arab scholars that Europeans gained access to Indian and Chinese advances in medicine, chemistry, and mathematics, and also to ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that had survived in Arabic translations and commentaries. This flow of knowledge eventually helped to fuel the Renaissance.

“With the Mongol descendants of Genghis (Chinghis) Khan in control of Asia from the Black Sea to the Pacific, a third Silk Road flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. The emissary of King Louis IX of France, Willem van Rubruck, visited the court of the Mongol ruler in 1253, and, seeing the wealth of silks, realized that Cathay, or China, was the legendary Seres of Roman times. The Venetian Marco Polo followed.” <=>

“The Mongols, with their vast Asian empire skirting the edge of Russia and Eastern Europe, were, through a mixture of hegemony and brutality, able to assure a measure of peace within their domains, a Pax Mongolica. They were also pragmatic and quite tolerant in several spheres, among them arts and religion. Their Mongolian capital of Karakorum hosted, for example, 12 Buddhist temples, two mosques, and a church. The Mongols developed continental postal and travelers' rest house systems. Kublai Khan welcomed European, Chinese, Persian, and Arab astronomers and established an Institute of Muslim Astronomy. He also founded an Imperial Academy of Medicine, including Indian, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Chinese physicians. European, Persian, Chinese, Arab, Armenian, and Russian traders and missionaries traveled the Silk Road, and in 1335 a Mongol mission to the pope at Avignon suggested increased trade and cultural contacts. <=>

“During this "third" Silk Road, silk, while still a highly valued Chinese export, was no longer the primary commodity. Europeans wanted pearls and gems, spices, precious metals, medicines, ceramics, carpets, other fabrics, and lacquerware. All kingdoms needed horses, weapons, and armaments. Besides, silk production already was known in the Arab world and had spread to southern Europe. Silk weavers and traders — Arabs, "Saracens," Jews, and Greeks from Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean — relocated to new commercial centers in northern Italy. Italian silk-making eventually became a stellar Renaissance art in Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Lucca in the 14th and 15th centuries. New stylistic techniques were added, like alto-e-basso for velvets and brocades, while old motifs, like the stylized Central Asian pomegranate, took on new life. <=>

Good Websites and Sources on the Silk Road: Silk Road Seattle washington.edu/silkroad ; Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Silk Road Atlas depts.washington.edu ; Old World Trade Routes ciolek.com ; Travel Photos studyrussian.com ; Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project silkroadproject.org ; Silk Road Society travelthesilkroad.org ; Silk Road Travelers silk-road.com ; International Dunhuang Project idp.bl.uk ; Camel Trains in the Desert chinavista.com ; Ancient China Life Ancient China Life

Books: on the Silk Road The Silk Road (Odyssey Guides); Marco Polo: A Photographer's Journey by Mike Yamashita (White Star, 2002); “Life along the Silk Road” by Whitfield, Susan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); “The Silk Route: Trade, Travel, War and Faith” by Susan Whitfield, with Ursula Sims-Williams, eds. (London: British Library, 2004). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com; Television show: Silk Road 2005, a 10-episode production by China's CCTV and Japan's NHK, with music by Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. The original series was shown in 1980s.

Marco Polo: Wikipedia Marco Polo Wikipedia ; Marco Polo Odyssesy nationalgeographic.com ; Open Directory Project dmoz.org ; Works by Marco Polo gutenberg.org ; Internet Movie Database imdb.com ; Marco Polo and his Travels silk-road.com ; Zheng He and Early Chinese Exploration : Wikipedia Chinese Exploration Wikipedia ; Le Monde Diplomatique mondediplo.com ; Zheng He muslimheritage.com ; Zheng He Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Gavin Menzies’s 1421 1421.tv ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; First Europeans in Asia Wikipedia ; Matteo Ricci faculty.fairfield.edu

Silk Road Guidebook from the Marco Mongol Era

At one point there were so many Europeans going to Asia that there were guidebooks for the Silk Road written in European languages. In 1340, Florentine banker Francesco Balducci Pegolotti advised travelers in Central Asia: "In the first place you must let your beard grow and not shave. And at Tana you should furnish yourself with a dragoman. And you must not try to save money by taking a bad one instead of a good one. For the additional wages of a good one will not cost you as much as you will save by having him."

Pegolotti also wrote: "And if the merchant likes to take a woman with him from Tana, he can do so; if he does not like to take one there is no obligation, only if he does take one he will be kept much more comfortable than if he does not take one."

In regard to changing money the Florentine banker wrote: "Whatever silver the merchants may carry with them as far as Cathay the lord of Cathay will take from them and put into his treasury. And to merchants who thus bring silver they give their paper money in exchange...With this money you can readily buy silk and other merchandised that you desire to buy. And all the people in the country are bound to receive it."

By 1342 there was an archbishop in Beijing and the Christian clergy "had their subsistence from Emperor's table in their most honorable manner."

Silk Road Trade in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Era


Constantinople

Elizabeth Williams of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “A dizzying array of goods circulated in the Byzantine and early Islamic Middle East along trade networks at the juncture of several continents and bodies of water. Although the region's best known routes were those running between Europe and Asia at the western edge of the Silk Road, no less important were north-south overland routes across the Arabian Peninsula to eastern Africa. The convergence of these routes created a unique setting for cultural exchange, as merchants, mercenaries, nomads, and pilgrims came into constant contact along these networks. [Source: Williams, Elizabeth. "Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, May 2012 \^/]

“Luxurious silks, spices, incense, and the like counted among the Byzantine and early Islamic period's most desired goods. Silk was particularly prized by both the Byzantine and Sasanian courts. Significant quantities of it outside the Middle East attest to the material's inherently high value and to the reach of its appeal. For instance, extraordinary silks survive as the linings of reliquaries in European treasuries; equally impressive are pieces wrapping the bodies of mummies found in China. Byzantine and Sasanian silks have been discovered in graves in Egypt, showing the taste for the material among local, upper-class populations (15.109). Silk's role as a valuable commodity ensured that its production continued for several centuries. Examples with classical imagery featuring crosses and Arabic inscriptions show the enduring popularity of older motifs (1987.442.5; 51.57). \^/

“Such luxury goods, however, were within the means of the relatively rarified elite. More mundane trade items formed the true foundation of the Byzantine and early Islamic economies. Late antique ostraka—pottery fragments with writing in Greek or Coptic, most of them from Egypt—are particularly valuable for historians studying trade (14.1.157). These documents include information about everyday life, such as receipts for commercial products like linen, letters between farmers about crops and livestock, and information about changing political and fiscal administration. Byzantium's wealthy southern provinces generated significant tax income for the imperial treasury based on these goods, and the loss of these territories in the seventh century dealt a major blow to the empire's finances. \^/

Silk Making Reaches the West

Silk production made its way to the West at least as early as the A.D. 6th century, when the first center of silk production outside of the Orient was established in the city of Bursa in what is now Turkey. There are several stories as to how this occurred. According to one story, a Chinese princess, engaged to marry a Khotanese king in Turkestan, smuggled live worms and cocoons out of China in an elaborate hairstyle in 140 B.C. so that she could wear silk in her "barbarian" home. In another story, monks working as spies for Byzantine Emperor Justinian brought silkworm eggs from China to Constantinople in the A.D. 6th century in hollowed out canes. Entomologists have said it was possible for the eggs to survive the two year journey back from China if they were kept moist and warm so they wouldn't hatch.

The historian Procopius wrote in the 6th century: “ About the same time [ca. 550] there came from India certain monks; and when they had satisfied Justinian Augustus that the Romans no longer should buy silk from the Persians, they promised the emperor in an interview that they would provide the materials for making silk so that never should the Romans seek business of this kind from their enemy the Persians, or from any other people whatsoever. They said that they were formerly in Serinda, which they call the region frequented by the people of the Indies, and there they learned perfectly the art of making silk. Moreover, to the emperor who plied them with many questions as to whether he might have the secret, the monks replied that certain worms were manufacturers of silk, nature itself forcing them to keep always at work; the worms could certainly not be brought here alive, but they could be grown easily and without difficulty; the eggs of single hatchings are innumerable; as soon as they are laid men cover them with dung and keep them warm for as long as it is necessary so that they produce insects. When they had announced these tidings, led on by liberal promises of the emperor to prove the fact, they returned to India. When they had brought the eggs to Byzantium, the method having been learned, as I have said, they changed them by metamorphosis into worms which feed on the leaves of mulberry. Thus began the art of making silk from that time on in the Roman Empire.

But even after silk production arrived in Europe, European fabric makers and weavers could not match the skill of their Asian counterparts and silk form the East continued making its way westward on the Silk Road.


11th century Byzantine griffins on silk

Silk Production and Trade in Byzantium

Daniel C. Waugh of the University of Washington wrote: “ Silk production and trade in Byzantium and Christian Europe had a close connection with the Church, analogous to what we find in the Buddhist world. Clerics would wear silk garments, silk would be used for altar cloths, and silks were preserved in church treasuries. It is largely thanks to some of these pieces that we can learn about silk produced in regions such as the Middle East, where climate conditions have not favored preservation of the fabric. In Byzantium, as in China, silk production was closely regulated by government decree. Sumptuary laws (that is, ones which determined what people of varying status were entitled to wear) were important in maintaining the elaborate hierarcies of these imperial courts. In the case of Byzantium, as much as anything the regulation had to do not with silk itself, but specifically with the silk dyed in the "royal purple." Color and/or design were an integral part of the symbolic status of wearing silk. [Source: Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/silkroad \*\]

“The further spread of silk manufacture and consumption from the Middle East on through the West is connected with the rise of Islam, since the early Muslim governments created conditions favorable to economic development and widely ranging international trade. Muslim merchants replaced the Sogdians on the routes of Inner Asia and established large communities in the main cities of China. The Muslim conquest of Spain brought silk manufacture to the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century. In the Mediterranean world, Jewish merchants played a key role in the silk trade of the Islamic lands. The weaving industries of the Middle East (Syria, for example, was an important textile center) revived and expanded. Islamic rule in North India was probably responsible for the establishment there by the twelfth century of the production of significant mulberry silk production alongside of the existing silk industry based on the native silkworm. As Xinru Liu has suggested, in the Islamic world the use of silk was not so closely restricted as it was in Byzantium or in China. Wearing of silk garments by the elite was widespread, irrespective of rank. What the Islamic governments tended to control, through what was known as the tiraz system, was the weaving in silk of the Arabic inscriptions with the rulers' names, which decorated the borders of textiles. \*\

“With so many centers of silk production across Eurasia by the end of the first millennium CE, one might think that the demand for silk produced in China would have disappeared. We know, however, that right down to the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century, the states on the northwest borders of China continued to receive large quantities of Chinese silk, at least some of which must have been traded to the West. In fact, it seems that most of the centers of production in the West did not supply enough to meet demand there. Moreover, there were always issues of quality, price and style which might support demand for the imported product.” \*\

Money, Weights and Tools of the Trade During the Byzantine Period


Byzantine coins

Elizabeth Williams of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Other kinds of material evidence speak to the practical mechanisms of commerce in the Byzantine and early Islamic periods. Surviving coins are valuable because they are often dated and include rulers' names, allowing scholars to map out changing patterns in the circulation of money. Numismatists, for instance, study the purity of metal content in coins to understand changes in the overall economy. Financial crises can be partially discerned in coins' lowered precious-metal content, while differing numbers of coins in hoards reveal governmental oversight in recalling older coinages. It is also possible to trace broader cultural shifts in the transition from coins in Greek with images of the emperor in the Byzantine period, to the purely epigraphic examples popularized under the Umayyads (04.35.3356; 99.35.2386). [Source: Williams, Elizabeth. "Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, May 2012 \^/]

“Surviving weights and balances give a sense of the tools used in negotiating commercial transactions. Byzantine-period balances and weights in the fanciful shapes of human and mythological figures served an important function in assuring customers of fair exchanges. (59.184). Similarly, government-issued glass weights from the early Islamic period assured consumers that the weights were balanced fairly. It was particularly important to ensure that gold and silver coins had not been shaved or otherwise modified in value, and indeed many of these glass weights include their equivalent weights in specific coin denominations (08.256.3). \^/

Global Routes and Local Markets During the Byzantine Period

Elizabeth Williams of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Lastly, we might consider the spaces where trade occurred, both along routes and in cities. Archaeologists have drawn attention to the value of material culture in documenting Byzantine and early Islamic trade networks. The Red Sea, for instance, has emerged as an important corridor for long-distance trade between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Study of networks like these allows us to track the cultural exchanges made possible by the movement of people and goods along prescribed routes. For example, Mecca and Medina at the time of the Prophet Muhammad were important cities at the intersection of trade networks, pilgrimage routes, and migrations of local tribes. [Source: Williams, Elizabeth. "Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, May 2012 \^/]

“Similarly important are the urban settings of trade in the form of local markets. In some instances, the early Islamic period witnessed the construction of new marketplaces, as in Baysan (Beth Shean, Scythopolis) in the early Umayyad period. An impressive blue and gold wall mosaic there names the caliph Hisham as the market's patron and the date 120 A.H."737–87 A.D. In other cities, the transition was more organic, as older urban fabrics transformed to accommodate burgeoning trade. For instance, in Tadmur (Palmyra), present-day Syria, the stately columns of the city's classical decumanus (main east-west thoroughfare) filled up with the ramshackle stalls of a suq (bazaar or marketplace). Whereas such structures were once viewed as symptomatic of the decline of the pristine ancient city, they are now understood more positively to reflect the vibrancy of commerce and cultural interaction during the transitional period. \^/

Books: 1) al-As’ad, Khaled and Franciszer M. Stepniowski “The Umayyad Suq in Palymrya." Damaszener Mitteilungen 4 (1989), pp. 205–23. 2) Banaji, Jairus “Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity: Gold, Labour, and Aristocratic Dominance” New ed.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007; 3) Berkey, Jonathan P. “The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East," 600–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003; 4) Heidemann, Stefan “Weights and Measures from Byzantium and Islam." 5) “In Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century," edited by Helen C. Evans, pp. 144–45.. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. 6) Khamis, Elias “Two Wall Mosaic Inscriptions from the Umayyad Market Place in Bet Shean/Baysan." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 64, no. 2 (2001), pp. 159–76. 7) Mango, Marlia Mundell, ed. Byzantine Trade: 4th–12th Centuries. Burlington, Vt." Ashgate, 2009. 8) Thomas, Thelma K. “’Ornaments of Excellence’ from ‘The Miserable Gains of Commerce’: Luxury Art and Byzantine Culture." 9) “In Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Century," edited by Helen C. Evans, pp. 124–33.. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012


Constantinople


Fragmentation of the Silk Road

Richard Kurin wrote: The period during the decline of the Mongol Empire and afterwards “were characterized by considerable political, commercial, and religious competition between kingdoms, markets, and religious groups across Eurasia. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus vied for adherents and institutional support. Conflict between and among the Mongols, European kingdoms, Arab rulers, the Mamluk Turks, Hindu chiefdoms, and others made for unstable states, diplomatic jockeying, alliances, and wars. [Source: “The Silk Road: Connecting People and Cultures” by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian institution <=>]

“Silk, while still a highly valued Chinese export, was no longer the primary commodity. Europeans wanted pearls and gems, spices, precious metals, medicines, ceramics, carpets, other fabrics, and lacquerware. All kingdoms needed horses, weapons, and armaments. Besides, silk production already was known in the Arab world and had spread to southern Europe. Silk weavers and traders — Arabs, "Saracens," Jews, and Greeks from Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean — relocated to new commercial centers in northern Italy. Italian silk-making eventually became a stellar Renaissance art in Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Lucca in the 14th and 15th centuries. New stylistic techniques were added, like alto-e-basso for velvets and brocades, while old motifs, like the stylized Central Asian pomegranate, took on new life. <=>

“Commercial trade and competition was of great importance by the 15th century with the growth of European cities, guilds, and royal states. With the decline of Mongol power, control over trade routes was vital. The motivation behind Portuguese explorations of a sea route to India was to secure safer and cheaper passage of trade goods than by land caravans, which were subject to either exorbitant protection fees or raiding by enemies. Indeed, it was the search for this sea route to the East that led Columbus westward to the "New World." When Vasco da Gama found the sea route to India and other Europeans subsequently opened direct shipping links with China, contact with Central Asia decreased dramatically. <=>

Venice and Trade at the Western End of the Silk Road (828–1797)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Founded in the seventh century and built upon more than 100 islets in a lagoon off the northeast coast of the Italian peninsula, Venice grew to be one of the largest cities in Europe and the capital of a great trading empire whose reach extended far into the eastern Mediterranean. Venice initially had strong political ties to Byzantium, and in the tenth and eleventh centuries Venetian merchants obtained the trading privileges from the Byzantine emperors that gave them a distinct advantage over their rivals from other western European cities. [Source: Stefano Carboni. Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Carboni, Stefano and Trinita Kennedy. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, March 2007 \^/


Venice


“The fact that Venetian gold ducat had currency throughout the Near East is an indication of the ubiquity and importance of Venetian merchants there. As Byzantium gradually gave way to Islamic caliphates from the eighth century onward, meeting its ultimate demise in 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II, Venetians increasingly came into contact with Muslims and their ideas, culture, and way of life. As a result, Venice became Christian Europe's most important interface with the Muslim civilizations of the Near East. \^/

“The artistic consequences of the dynamic relationship that Venice forged with its Islamic trading partners, especially the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the Ottomans of Turkey, and the Safavids of Iran, were felt over nearly a thousand-year period. The same merchant galleys that carried spices, soap, cotton, and industrial supplies from the bazaars of the Islamic Near East to the markets of Venice also brought with them luxurious carpets, velvets, silks, glass, porcelain, gilded bookbindings, illustrated manuscripts, and inlaid metalwork. Not surprisingly, these and other portable works of Islamic art, which were often superior in quality to what was available in Europe, made an indelible impression upon artistic taste and production in Venice. From the medieval to the Baroque eras, Venetians acquired Islamic art and adapted and imitated its techniques. In turn, albeit to a lesser extent, the arts of Venice became of interest to the Islamic world. \^/

The chronological framework begins in the year 828, when two Venetian merchants stole Saint Mark's relics from Alexandria (then part of the Muslim world) and brought them to their home city, and the year 1797, when the Venetian Republic fell to the French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte. \^/

Books: Carboni, Stefano, ed. “Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," Exhibition catalogue, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Howard, Deborah “Venice & the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian Architecture, 1100–1500," New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Venice's Main Trading Partner: the Mamluks


Venice coin

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Venice's economic and diplomatic relationship with Egypt, Syria, and other areas along the eastern Mediterranean shore was tied, in particular, to the Mamluks (1250–1517), the powerful Islamic rulers who both halted the advance of Mongols west of Iraq and expelled the last of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in the second half of the thirteenth century. The Mamluk capital of Cairo, a city of around 200,000 inhabitants, was the greatest metropolis of its age. In this and other principal cities of the sultanate, Mamluk rulers built impressive mosque complexes, funerary structures, and urban palaces. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, March 2007 \^/]

“The Mamluks inherited from the Fatimids (909–1171) and Ayyubids (1171–1260) the role of middlemen between South and Southeast Asia and Europe in the valuable spice trade and in the movement of other goods by land and sea through the Damascus and the Red Sea routes. Venice consistently sought favorable privileges for its merchants and through these efforts became the Mamluks' main European trading partner. Several cities under Mamluk control had a permanent Venetian diplomatic representative with regular access to local authorities. Ties between the Venetian oligarchy, nobility, and merchant class and the Mamluk court and its retinue were particularly strong. The longest reigning doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari (r. 1423–57), was even born in Mamluk Egypt. \^/

“Mamluk rule finally came to an end when Syria and then Egypt fell to the Ottomans in 1516–17. It was in the years leading up to this event that commercial exchange between the Mamluks and Venice intensified. As a result, a dazzling array of goods—textiles, spices, metals, medicines, pigments, precious stones, glass, and paper—traveled in both directions. Mamluk trade and, in some cases, direct artistic influence shaped the fashion in Venice for Islamic-style bookbindings, the development of inlaid metalwork, and the taste for blue-and-white ceramics in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. \^/

“Under the Mamluks, metalwork intricately inlaid with silver and gold flourished in Damascus and Cairo. In the late fourteenth century, however, as the Mamluk elite suffered an economic decline, the European export market became increasingly important for these wares. By the early fifteenth century, new shapes and decorative styles developed in response to European tastes, and Latin inscriptions could sometimes be found on Islamic metalwork in addition to Arabic ones. \^/

“Venice played a crucial role in the trade of Islamic metalwork in the Mediterranean. Shipping documents reveal that Venetians exported large quantities of copper and brass to the Near East; in return, they imported finished inlaid vessels. Mamluk basins, ewers, candlesticks, and incense burners found a place in the finest Venetian homes and churches, and some were even customized with the coat of arms of Venetian noble families. Local craftsmen admired the skill and design of Islamic metalwork too and frequently imitated it. \^/

“The connection between Venice and Mamluk metalwork is so strong that a myth arose in the nineteenth century that Arab or Persian craftsmen must have lived and worked in the city, producing "Veneto-Saracenic" pieces for the local market. One craftsman in particular, Mahmud al-Kurdi, has long been associated with this theory. Recent research, however, suggests that al-Kurdi most likely was active in western Iran. Indeed, it is highly improbable that Muslim metalworkers could have ever set up shop in a city as tightly regulated by the guilds as Venice."

Books: Auld, Sylvia Renaissance Venice, Islam and Mahmud the Kurd: A Metalworking Enigma. London: Altajir World Of Islam Trust, 2004. Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. Exhibition catalogue.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Howard, Deborah Venice & the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian Architecture, 1100–1500. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Mack, Rosamond E. Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Venice and Trade with the Ottomans


Ottoman women

Stefano Carboni, Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell of the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The Ottoman empire existed from 1281 to 1924 and at the height of its power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries included Anatolia, the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and much of southeast Europe. No other Muslim power in history has rivaled its longevity and extent. Because so many major Near Eastern entrepôts eventually fell within the confines of the vast empire, including Bursa (1326), Constantinople (1453), and Damascus (1516), Venetians perforce developed commercial and diplomatic relations with the Ottomans. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, March 2007 \^/]

"Being merchants," the Venetian ambassador to the Sublime Porte wrote in 1553, "we cannot live without them." Territorial disputes in the Balkanic border region led to the Ottoman-Venetian wars of 1463–79, 1499–1503, 1537–40, and 1570–73, but both parties generally sought peaceful coexistence rather than conflict in the name of trade. So important was the Ottoman empire to the Venetians that the ambassador to the Sublime Porte was regarded as the most senior post in the Venetian diplomatic service and was the highest paid. Venice itself received regular visits from Ottoman dignitaries, as numerous documents attest. \^/

“Venice relied on the Ottomans for wheat, spices, raw silk, cotton, leather, and calcified ashes for the Murano glass industry. In return, Venice exported finished goods, namely glass, soap, paper, and textiles. In addition, it also produced maps, clocks, portraits, and luxury arts. Trade with the Islamic world made an indelible imprint on the decorative arts of Venice. Pottery, parade armor, furniture, bookbindings, textiles, pattern books, and inlaid metalwork are just some of the many Venetian arts in which distinctly Ottoman techniques and/or motifs can be observed." \^/

Dursteler, Eric R. Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Venice and Trade with the Persian Safavids

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Because of distance, Greater Iran did not have as strong a link to Venice as the Mamluk and Ottoman empires did. Nevertheless, both the presence of Venetian merchants on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and the importance of the trade routes passing through Persian cities favored diplomatic and commercial exchange from the time of Mongol dominance in the region in the late thirteenth century down to its rule by the Safavid dynasty (1501–1722). [Source: Stefano Carboni, Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org, March 2007 \^/]

“The need to maintain political equilibrium in the Mediterranean is often what spurred diplomatic relations between Venice and Persia. For example, Christendom, including Venice, sought an alliance with the Mongol Ilkhanids (1256–1353) against the Mamluks and the Mongols of the Golden Horde. In the fifteenth century, there were envoys between Venice and Tabriz—the industrious capital of the White Sheep Turcomans in northwest Iran, where a large array of luxury goods were traded—to occupy the Ottomans, and therefore to weaken them, on both their European and eastern Anatolian borders. According to legend, the Turcoman envoy of Uzun Hasan (r. 1468–78) presented the celebrated "turquoise" (in reality pale blue-colored glass) cup in the Treasury of Saint Mark as a gift to Venice in 1472. \^/

“Thanks to trade, large numbers of objects, manuscripts, textiles, and Persian carpets passed through Venice or were collected and remained in the city. A glimpse of this wealth can be found today in works dispersed in collections such as the Museo Civico Correr and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. On the diplomatic level, the most important testimony of the exchanges between the Safavid shahs and the Venetian doges are a number of sumptuous silk and silver-wrapped-thread carpets of the so-called Polonaise type. Today in the museum of Basilica San Marco, these carpets were draped in front of the high altar of the church during religious festivals, used as a floor covering to display objects from the Basilica's Treasury, or laid beneath the doge's bier at his funeral." \^/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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