Calamityand transition: Re-imaginingitaliantrade in the eleventh-century Mediterranean

Romney David Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In the year 1000, the Mediterranean thrummed with a commerce as vital as any that has graced its waters. With its heart in Egypt, a trading network spanned the sea from east to west. Its merchants were chiefly Muslims and Jews, and their ships hailed from ports in the House of Islam: Alexandria, Mahdia and Palermo. A century later, the situation was transformed: Italian merchants traversed the sea, and their ships emerged from the quays of Pisa, Genoa or Amalfi. By the late twelfth century, once prosperous North African entrepoˆts were begging for Italian patronage.1 Abrupt shifts in maritime hegemony are not rare, but the economic transition of the eleventh-century Mediterranean has attracted little attention, perhaps because of the sense of manifest destiny that has usually accompanied it in accounts of European predominance. Crusade narratives, for instance, often take for granted the seaborne supremacy that made them possible. And from a long-term perspective, the outlines of this economic transition are well known: first, the direction of trade was reversed from south to north; second, the trade techniques of the south were adopted in the north. What we do not know is how this reversal took place. It is the purpose of this paper to propose a mechanism, and its focus will be on the cities of Italy’s west coast.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-56
Number of pages41
JournalPast and Present
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


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