Crusaders in the Middle East in 1249 (See Separate articles on the Crusades)

Because of the European colonization of North and South America, European trade with the Arab world virtually stopped, except for few kinds of goods, in the 16th century and did not resume until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

By the 18th century the balance of power between the Ottoman sultanate and regional governments began to shift in the direction of the regional governments, which enjoyed relative autonomy while remaining faithful to the interests of the Ottoman state. The regional leaders were sometimes called “local Ottomans.”

Merchants and traders began bypassing the Ottoman government and dealing directly with buyers in Europe or other contacts. Wealthy families and military leaders grabbed up land. Sensing which way the wind was blowing, some of these people began learning European languages and educating their children and setting up offices in Europe. The result was a dual society with a wealthy merchant and landowning class with ties to the foreign community and an underclass of peasants. This in turn spurred migration to cities, many of which were coastal cities, booming with trade.

Ottoman dominance was also undermined by the age of exploration, which was motivated in part by European nation seeking a way to avoid the Venice-Ottoman monopoly on eastern Trade. Early Portuguese and Dutch trade didn’t have much impact on Asian trade through the Ottoman Empire and what impact it did have was more than offset by profits made by the Ottomans in the coffee trade. The Ottomans weren’t really hurt until the 17th century when the Dutch East India monopolized the spice trade between Indonesia and Europe and the British moved into India in a big way. The British ultimately took over much of the coffee trade too. Coffee and many of the spices valued from Asia began being produced more cheaply on the Caribbean islands.

Islamic History: Islamic History Resources ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook ; Islamic History ; Islamic Civilization ; Muslim Heritage ; Brief history of Islam ; Chronological history of Islam

Venice and the Islamic World

Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Marco Polo's (1254–1324) intrepid twenty-five-year journey took him from Venice to China, where he met the Great Khan of the Mongol empire, Kublai Khan. Though his experience was exceptional for its duration and for the illustrious people whom he encountered, Polo is simply the most famous of the thousands of Venetian merchants who sought to make a fortune by acquiring luxury goods, spices, and raw materials in the East and selling them for a high return on Venetian markets. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Trinita Kennedy, Elizabeth Marwell, Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“For Venetians, Levantine emporia became synonymous with profit, and visiting them was a crucial part of a young nobleman's education. Their most frequent ports of call included Istanbul, Damascus, Cairo, Aleppo, Tripoli, and Alexandria. Handbooks and travel diaries, often written in Venetian dialect, offered these merchants advice about tariffs, prices, weights, and measures in these cities, while astrolabes and portolans aided them in overseas travel. In many Near Eastern cities, Venice had established trading colonies where its traveling merchants could find lodging, food, a public bath, and a church upon arrival. Multilingual interpreters, known as dragomans, were often readily available for hire, though many Venetian merchants did learn Arabic and Persian so that they could have firsthand interactions with Muslim traders and custom officials. Arabic words in particular infiltrated the Venetian dialect as a result. \^/

In recognition of the importance of Near Eastern trade to its economy, the Venetian Republic assumed control of the local shipbuilding industry at an early date. By the fourteenth century, Venetians had developed a special type of large cargo ship, the cog or round ship, which they armed with crossbowmen to protect against pirate attacks while at sea. Both state convoys and private ships regularly shuttled Venetian merchants back and forth from Near Eastern ports, often even in the winter. By contrast, and contrary to the nineteenth-century myth, Islamic merchants only rarely traveled to Venice. As a result, Venetians were able to maintain their status as middlemen for the sale of oriental goods to mainland Europe for centuries, and to grow rich from its profits. Venice's status as a world emporium served a crucial role in the city's self-definition.” \^/

East Meets West in Venice

“Venice's worldview was intimately bound to its relation to its Near Eastern neighbors, as is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the story of how it acquired its patron, Saint Mark. The Egyptian city of Alexandria, where in the first century A.D. the evangelist had died and was interred, came under Muslim control in the seventh century. In 828, two Venetian merchants restored the saint to Christian soil by surreptitiously carrying his relic home with them to Venice. The doge triumphantly received the miracle-working relic and enshrined it in a new church, the Basilica San Marco. In this way, Venetians deftly combined their identity as traders in the Muslim world with that of defenders of the Christian faith. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

The papacy often sought to prohibit trade between the Christians of western Europe and the Muslims of the Near East with trade embargos. But because their livelihood depended so much on east-west trade, Venetians in particular fought to have such bans lifted and, on occasion, even defied the pope. During The Crusades, the Venetians compromised their position with the papacy by acting opportunistically to maintain their good trade relations with the Muslim world.

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; Mack, Rosamond E. “Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300–1600" Berkeley:

Diplomatic Relations between Venice and the Islamic World

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Venetians gained the advantage in Near Eastern trade over other Europeans thanks to their skilled diplomatic efforts, which had a two-pronged approach. At the highest level, Venetian doges engaged Muslim sultans and other officials in trade negotiations, a process facilitated by ambassadors. Reports of their diplomatic visits highlight the importance of display, ritual, and gift exchange. For example, in 1502 the Venetian envoy Benedetto Sanudo ceremonially presented an emir in Alexandria with fine cloth and Parmesan cheese (a favorite diplomatic gift). In Cairo, Sanudo's official gifts to the sultan included luxury textiles, furs, and yet more cheese, and in return he received chickens, sweetmeats, and watermelons. At the climax of his visit, he was ceremonially robed in a gown of silk woven with gold thread and lined with ermine. The gifts from the sultan to the doge included twenty pieces of Chinese porcelain of various sizes. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

At a lower, but still important level, Venice engaged consuls, known as baili, to serve two-year terms at the trading colonies in the Near East. Elected by the Venetian Senate from the ranks of the nobility, the consuls paid tribute to sultans and local admirals and arbitrated in the event of a trading dispute while in residence.\^/

Trade routesi in Europe and the Middle East during the Venetian-Genoese wars (1256-1381)

In at least one important instance, a Venetian artist served as an emissary to an Islamic power. In 1479, Gentile Bellini, official painter to the Venetian Republic, traveled to the court of Mehmet II (r. 1444–46; 1451–1481) in Istanbul as a diplomatic favor. During his nearly two-year stay, Bellini created painted and bronze medals of the sultan similar to those he and other Venetian artists made of Venice's own ruler, the doge. In addition, a courtier recorded that "Gentile made several beautiful pictures, and most of all things of luxury, some beautiful in style, of which there were a large number in the [sultan's new] palace." Prior to his departure from Istanbul in January 1481, Mehmet II honored Bellini with the titles of golden knight and palace companion and gave him a gift of a gold chain with a medallion. Few of the works of art created by Bellini during his Ottoman sojourn survive, but the episode lives on as one of the high points in artistic and cultural exchange between Venice and its Islamic neighbors.” \^/

Europe and the Islamic World, 1600–1800

Marika Sardar of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University wrote: “At the beginning of this period, the European presence in the Islamic world was largely based on trade. Dutch, French, English, and Portuguese merchants first arrived in the late fifteenth century, attracted by the wealth that could be acquired in exporting luxury items to the European market, and encouraged by the Mughal and Safavid governments, which desired trade partners to stimulate the economy. Diplomatic ties later officially cemented these partnerships. The first British representatives arrived in Persia in 1622 and the French in 1638. The Portuguese landed in India in 1498 and the French soon afterward, but the British, under the aegis of the East India Company, would prove to be the chief force in the subcontinent. Sir Thomas Roe brokered the first trade treaty in 1615. The Ottoman empire was initially more isolated as it had a strong domestic trade network, but in the eighteenth century it began to receive European merchants and consuls as well as to send out its own. One mission from Turkey visited the court of Louis XV of France in the 1720s. [Source: Sardar, Marika, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2004) [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

“As the Europeans were introduced to many new kinds of textiles, carpets, spices, and clothing, so too was the Islamic world enriched. European art circulating among court artists transformed painting under both the Mughals and the Safavids. By carefully copying the engravings in sixteenth-century illustrated Bibles presented by Jesuit missionaries, Indian artists learned techniques of modeling and spatial recession that they then applied to their own works. Illustrations in books of herbals affected the way flowers and plants were depicted. In Persia, oil paintings had a greater effect, the lifesize portraits of Louis XIV sent to Isfahan eventually metamorphosing into Zand and Qajar state portraits. Although manuscripts such as the Bellini Album ( attest that European drawings were known in Turkey, it was exposure to the French Baroque that captured the local imagination. Soon after the return of travelers to Versailles, flamboyant architectural ornament began to appear on both royal residential buildings and mosques.\^/

Some maritime sea routes between China, India and the Middle East

By the end of the period, European colonial interests had upset this equitable cultural exchange. The British East India Company established an army to protect its commercial interests in India; its 1757 defeat of the nawab of Bengal led to further armed conflicts and finally to the 1858 declaration of British sovereignty over the country. The British also became involved in interdynastic conflicts in the Arabian Peninsula and established a military post in Muscat, Oman. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, and though he was forced to withdraw from the area in 1801, the French would later occupy parts of North Africa. The Dutch became involved in lands further east, especially in the Indonesian archipelago, where islands controlled by different Muslim rulers were united as one colony.\^/

European Victories and Intrusions in Muslim Lands

In the 15th century, the Golden Horde, Tatars and Mongols were expelled from Russia and the Moors were driven from Spain. The Russians invaded Muslim Kazan and Astrakhan in 1552 and 1556 and imposed Christianity there.

The Portuguese attempted to trigger a neo-Crusades in the Red Sea in an effort to reduce the power of Arab sea merchants in the Indian Ocean. Although the move had dramatic impact on the West it was of little consequence in the Muslim world.

By the early 19th century European diplomats and merchants began gaining significant influence in Ottoman territories. British exploration in the Middle East in the 19th century was the idea of John Barrow, a British navy bureaucrat, who was trying to come up with something for idle navy officers to do after the Napoleonic wars were over in 1815.

By the early 20th century, almost all the Muslim world was divided up among four European empires: Britain, France, Russia and the Netherlands. The process began in earnest the 19th century after Napoleon easily conquered Egypt.

See Ottoman Empire

Reconquista, Driving the Muslims Out of Spain

Reconquista battle

The campaign by Christians to drive the Muslims out of Spain is known to the Spanish as the Reconquista, which is sometimes referred to as the world's longest war. Also referred to as the Spanish Crusades, the campaign lasted from 718, seven years after the Moors invaded Spain, to 1492 when Granada was conquered. The historian Eugene Lyon wrote: "the “Reconquitsa” had shaped a warrior people, created a dominant language—Castilian—and fostered ardent Catholicism."

The Crusades in the Middle East provided impetus to launch the Reconquista. Spanish policy was dictated by “limpieza de sangre” "purity of blood." After the Moors conquered Spain, Saint James the Moor-slayer, “Santiago Matamoros”, became a unifying figure among Christians. During the Reconquista both sides cut off the heads of their enemies and mounted them on poles. Once an enemy commander was disemboweled and his body was stuffed with straw and hung from a battlement.

Under the tutelage of the neighboring Franks, a barrier of pocket states formed along the range of the Pyrenees and on the coast of Catalonia to hold the frontier of France against Islamic Spain. Out of this region, called the Spanish March, emerged the kingdom of Aragon and the counties of Catalonia, all of which expanded, as did Leon-Castile, at the expense of the Muslims. (Andorra is the last independent survivor of the March states.) [Source: Library of Congress *]

Valencia, seized from its Muslim amir, became federated with Aragon and Catalonia in 1238. With the union of the three crowns, Aragon (the term most commonly used to describe the federation) rivaled Venice and Genoa for control of Mediterranean trade. Aragonese commercial interests extended to the Black Sea, and the ports of Barcelona and Valencia prospered from traffic in textiles, drugs, spices, and slaves. *

Final Chapter of the Reconquista

Portugal united with Castile and Aragon to drive the Muslims out. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Boabdil, had received help from Christian armies in battles against his Muslim rivals and even had received a letter of congratulations from the Catholic monarchs when he won an important battle in Malaga. But when Christians began raiding the farmlands that supplied Granada, Boabdil was forced to attack Christian fortresses, which in turn provoked Ferdinand and Isabella to march southward to attack Granada.

Ivan the Terrible captures Kazan

Boabdil was captured twice by Ferdinand. He renounced his throne and then changed his mind and decided to resist in 1490. In the end Ferdinand essentially turned Boabdil into a Spanish puppet.

The Christians and Muslims never fought a battle for Granada. Knowing that any attempt to fight back was doomed, Boabdil negotiated a treaty with Ferdinand and Isabella in which the Muslims living in Granada could keep their faith and customs in return for the relinquishing of power to the Christians.

Third wave of devastation of Muslim resources, lives, properties, institutions, and infrastructure. End of Muslim rule in Spain (1492). More than one million volumes of Muslim works on science, arts, philosophy and culture was burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada.

Ivan the Terrible Defeats the Muslim Mongols

In 1552, Ivan the Terrible drove the last Mongol khanates out of Russia with decisive victories in Kazan and Astrakhan. This opened the way for the expansion of the Russian empire southward and across Siberia to the Pacific.

Moscow historians have traditionally claimed that the Russians were joined by other ethnic groups to overthrow the Mongols in 1552 and these groups voluntarily sought inclusion in the Russian Empire which was able to expand greatly by adding their territory after the Mongol conquest. But this was not the case. The ethnic groups for the most part did not want to join Russia.

The Russians invaded Muslim-Mongol Kazan and Astrakhan in 1552 and 1556 and imposed Christianity there. Ivan lost everything when his campaign against the Crimean Tatars ended with the sacking of Moscow. He ordered St. Basil Cathedral to be built to commemorate the victory over the Tatar khan in Kazan. He also presided over the disastrous 24-year-long Livonian War, which Russia lost to the Poles and Swedes.

Europeans in North Africa

North-Africa-based pirate

The final triumph of the 700-year Christian reconquest of Spain, marked by the fall of Granada in 1492, was accompanied by the forced conversion of Spanish Muslims (Moriscos). As a result of the Inquisition, thousands of Jews fled or were deported to the Maghrib, where many gained influence in government and commerce. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Without much difficulty, Christian Spain imposed its influence on the Maghrib coast by constructing fortified outposts (presidios) and collecting tribute during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. On or near the Algerian coast, Spain took control of Mers el Kebir in 1505, Oran in 1509, and Tlemcen, Mostaganem, and Ténès, all west of Algiers, in 1510. In the same year, the merchants of Algiers handed over one of the rocky islets in their harbor, where the Spaniards built a fort. *

The presidios in North Africa turned out to be a costly and largely ineffective military endeavor that did not guarantee access for Spain's merchant fleet. Indeed, most trade seemed to be transacted in the numerous free ports. Moreover, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, sailing superior ships and hammering out shrewd concessions, merchants from England, Portugal, Holland, France, and Italy, as well as Spain, dominated Mediterranean trade.*

Why Spain did not extend its North African conquests much beyond a few modest enclaves has puzzled historians. Some suggest that Spain held back because it was preoccupied with maintaining its territory in Italy; others that Spain's energies were absorbed in obtaining the riches of the New World. Still another possibility is that Spain was more intent on projecting its force on the high seas than on risking defeat in the forbidding interior of Africa.*

Pirates and Privateers in North Africa

Privateering was an age-old practice in the Mediterranean. North African rulers engaged in it increasingly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century because it was so lucrative, and because their merchant vessels, formerly a major source of income, were not permitted to enter European ports. Although the methods varied, privateering generally involved private vessels raiding the ships of an enemy in peacetime under the authority of a ruler. Its purposes were to disrupt an opponent's trade and to reap rewards from the captives and cargo. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Privateering was a highly disciplined affair conducted under the command of the rais (captain) of the fleets. Several captains became heros in Algerian lore for their bravery and skill. The captains of the corsairs banded together in a selfregulating taifa (community) to protect and further the corporate interests of their trade. The taifa came to be ethnically mixed, incorporating those captured Europeans who agreed to convert to Islam and supply information useful for future raids. The taifa also gained prestige and political influence because of its role in fighting the infidel and providing the merchants and rulers of Algiers with a major source of income. Algiers became the privateering city-state par excellence, especially between 1560 and 1620. And it was two privateer brothers who were instrumental in extending Ottoman influence in Algeria.*

European maritime powers paid the tribute demanded by the rulers of the privateering states of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Morocco) to prevent attacks on their shipping by corsairs. No longer covered by British tribute payments after the American Revolution, United States merchant ships were seized and sailors enslaved in the years that followed independence. In 1794 the United States Congress appropriated funds for the construction of warships to counter the privateering threat in the Mediterranean. Despite the naval preparations, the United States concluded a treaty with the dey of Algiers in 1797, guaranteeing payment of tribute amounting to US$10 million over a twelve-year period in return for a promise that Algerian corsairs would not molest United States shipping. Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.*

battle between the Dutch fleet and Barbary pirates

The Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century diverted the attention of the maritime powers from suppressing what they derogatorily called piracy. But when peace was restored to Europe in 1815, Algiers found itself at war with Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia, Denmark, Russia, and Naples. In March of that year, the United States Congress authorized naval action against the Barbary States, the then-independent Muslim states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Commodore Stephen Decatur was dispatched with a squadron of ten warships to ensure the safety of United States shipping in the Mediterranean and to force an end to the payment of tribute. After capturing several corsairs and their crews, Decatur sailed into the harbor of Algiers, threatened the city with his guns, and concluded a favorable treaty in which the dey agreed to discontinue demands for tribute, pay reparations for damage to United States property, release United States prisoners without ransom, and prohibit further interference with United States trade by Algerian corsairs. No sooner had Decatur set off for Tunis to enforce a similar agreement than the dey repudiated the treaty. The next year, an Anglo-Dutch fleet, commanded by British admiral Viscount Exmouth, delivered a punishing, nine-hour bombardment of Algiers. The attack immobilized many of the dey's corsairs and obtained from him a second treaty that reaffirmed the conditions imposed by Decatur. In addition, the dey agreed to end the practice of enslaving Christians.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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