WIT Press

Maritime Commerce In The Mediterranean In The 10 Th –13 Th Centuries, A Meeting Place Between Cultures


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A. Rona


The 12 th century brought an intensification of maritime commerce between Italy, Spain and the Muslim world. Participation of Jewish traders captured the attention of many scholars, some claiming that these merchants served as a kind of middlemen between the Muslims and the Christians, an argument with no profound basis. Merchants in Italy, Egypt, Tunisia and other Muslim countries traded regularly without the need for a go-between. The importance of Jewish traders as a source to understand and follow the \“International Maritime Trade” lay in the phenomena that Jews have laid aside papers bearing Hebrew characters. Many synagogues contained a chamber for disposal of such papers, called Beth Genize (shortened to Genize), literally meaning the House of Concealment, a very large example of which was found in the synagogue of Fustat, south of Cairo. Hebrew scripts had been found there, throwing light on the life of Jews, Arabs and Christians in many aspects of their day-to-day living. These documents were discovered in the later years of the 19 th century and were brought to European and American university libraries. These writings served as an inexhaustible source of study material of Jewish–Arab symbiosis, and in our case as a means to understand the maritime trade in the Mediterranean. According to Prof. S.D. Goitein, an important Genize researcher, Jews, Arabs and Christians sent joint cargos and were partners in business ventures. The contracts among the traders illustrate outstanding cooperation in many ways such as sharing cargo spaces in vessels, loans, credit letters and arbitration. Arbitrations took place before Rabbinical Courts, in Muslim courts before a kadi according to Muslim Shari´a, or before European Christian courts, with all courts recognizing verdicts of the others. Some contracts were written in Arabic with paragraphs in Hebrew side by side. Marine trade around the 12 th century was carried out with harmony and co-operation despite the religious and cultural differences of the people involved. Keywords: Geniza papers of Cairo, maritime commerce 10 th –13 th centuries, Mediterranean, S.D. Goitein.


Geniza papers of Cairo, maritime commerce 10 th –13 th centuries, Mediterranean, S.D. Goitein.