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Sites of Encounter in the Medieval World

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Click on the name of each location for further information.
Sites of Encounter
Physical Features
Wind and Ocean Currents
Religions
Trade Routes
States in 1279
States in 1491
Spread of the Black Death
Voyages of Marco Polo and Ibn Buttuta

Norman Castle, Erice, Sicily, photo by Alex Metcalfe,The Medieval Mediterranean: Islamic and Norman Sicily (800-1200),
http://www.medievalsicily.com/Images/Erice/Erice_castle.jpg. Courtesy of Alex Metcalfe.

Renshou Pagoda, the western of the twin towers of the Kaiyuan Temple, Quanzhou, Fujian, photograph by Tomchen, 2010. Wikipedia Commons.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kaiyuan_Temple_-_Renshou_Pagoda_-_DSCF8595.JPG.

Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt, photograph by Daniel Mayer, 2008. Wikipedia Commons.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cairo_-_Islamic_district_-_Al_Azhar_Mosque_and_University.JPG.

Great Mosque of Djenné (Jenne), photo by Andy Gilham, uploaded by Jcarriker and used with the permission of Andy Gilham of www.andygilham.com, Wikipedia Commons,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Mosque_of_Djenné_1.jpg.

Bellver Castle, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, photograph by Ponio160, 2007. Wikipedia Commons,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Castillo_de_Bellver.jpg.

Gangaikondacolapuram Temple, Chola Dynasty, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India. Photograph by Benjamín Preciado, Centro de Estudios de Asia y África de El Colegio de México, Wikipedia Commons,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gangaikonda_Gopuram_5-10a.jpg.


Circle I: European Circle

Description: The European circle was the poorest and least developed circle in the 13th century, because there were not many productsfrom Europe that the Muslims, Indians or Chinese wanted to buy. The Europeans, on the other hand, were hungry for luxuryproducts from Asia. The first important trade link was established between Venice and Genoa in northern Italy and Brugesin Flanders. The merchants traveled overland and met halfway at fairs in Champagne during the 13th century. There theyexchanged the fine wool cloth made in Flanders for the imported goods from Asia. In the 14th century, the Genoese andCatalans figured out how to navigate through the difficult wind pattern at the Strait of Gibraltar (the exit of theMediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean) and then began sailing from Genoa to Bruges. From the trade city at Bruges,merchants spread the imported products all over northern Europe.

Main trade cities: Bruges, Venice, Genoa

Products imported: cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger (from Southeast Asia & India), ebony chessmen (from Indo-China); perfumes (from Madagascar, Tibet, Arabia), jewels (from India), silk, muslin and brocade (from Persia, China and India), gold and ivory (West Africa), porcelain (from China).

Products exported: wool cloth (from Flanders), slaves, furs, and silver. Merchants traded grain, wool, fish, wine, and copper from one area of Europe to another.

Major shippers: Venetian, Genoese, Catalan and Hanseatic (German) shippers; merchants from Flanders, Venice and Genoa; Catalan & Hanseatic merchants after the mid-13th century.

Method of Travel: Overland packtrains (lines of horses, donkeys or wagons loaded with products) in 13th century; Atlantic galleys and cogs in the 14th century.

Important States: Venice, Genoa, Florence (Italian city-states), France, Crown of Aragon, Castile, Flanders, Holy Roman Empire, England

People: European Christians, French, Germans, Italians, Spanish, Flemish, Catalan, English

Circle II: Mediterranean Circle

Description: Ships from the Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa picked up the products of Asia (spices, silk, jewels) from Muslim and Jewish merchants at ports on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea or on the Black Sea. The Venetians and Genoese sold wool cloth, slaves, furs and silver made or collected in Europe to Muslim or Jewish merchants. The Venetians and Genoese then sold the Asian products to wealthy people in Europe. During the Crusades, Latin Christian crusaders conquered Mediterranean ports which were at the end of the Silk Road trade routes, such as Acre and Tyre. The crusaders gave the Venetians and Genoese, their fellow Latin Christians, trading rights at those ports. After 1291, when Baybars of the Mamluk Sultanate (Egypt) defeated the last of the crusaders, the Venetians moved their businesses to trade at Alexandria and Cairo, and the Genoese moved their businesses to Caffa (on the north shore of the Black Sea.) All of these ports were at the end of land trade routes from the east. North African Muslim merchants also sold gold (from Mali) at Cairo and other North African ports.

Main trade cities: Alexandria, Cairo, Constantinople, Venice, Genoa, Caffa

Products imported: cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger (from India and Southeast Asia), ebony chessmen (from Indo-China); perfumes (Madagascar, Tibet, Arabia), jewels (from India), silk, muslin and brocade (from Persia, China and India), porcelain (from China), gold and ivory (West Africa)

Products exported: slaves (from the Mongol steppe), silver and precious metals, wood and furs (from Russia and Scandinavia), wool cloth (from Flanders)

Major shippers: Venetian, Genoese and Catalan shippers; merchants from Venice and Genoa, later Catalan (in the Crown of Aragon, Spain) and Karimi merchants from Egypt, Jewish and Muslim Arab and North African merchants

Method of Travel: Mediterranean galleys (wide, shallow ships rowed by slaves); cogs(sailing ships with two or three decks, and four to six lateen sails)

Important States: Mamluk Egypt, Venice, Genoa, Crown of Aragon, Byzantine Empire

People: North Africans (Maghribi), Egyptians, Syrians/Palestinian Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Byzantine Greeks, Italians (Venetians, Genoese, Sicilians, etc.), Catalans, French

Circle III: Overland Circle

Description: This route, part of which is the Silk Road, had been traveled for more than a thousand years before the medieval period. The land of Central Asia is mostly desert, steppe or mountains, and few people lived along the route. Finding water was a major problem, and bandits often robbed caravans. For these reasons, the land route was more dangerous and expensive than the sea routes between the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans and had become much less popular than Circles IV (the Persian Gulf circle) and V (the Red Sea circle.) When the Mongols conquered their huge empire, the new Mongol rulers got rid of dangerous bandits, protected caravans, and established peace. Merchants had to pay the Mongols tribute (like a tax), but this tribute was less than others charged. The Mongols also maintained a road network, with caravanserais (businesses which provided shelter, food and water for caravan merchants and their animals) at each stopping point. Mongol rule made the overland route to the east more cost-effective. Marco Polo and his relatives traveled this route on their journey to China, and John of Montecorvino, an Italian Franciscan missionary, wrote that it took less than one year to travel between the Mediterranean and China by this route. When the Mongol empire broke up in the 14th century, bandits again threatened merchants on the overland route, and merchants switched back to the safer sea routes.

Main trade cities: Constantinople, Caffa, Tabriz, Samarkand, Bukhara, Beijing

Products imported: [Many products from China and East Asia were transported through this circuit to be sold in other circuits.] paper, silk (from China), spices (from India and Southeast Asia)

Products exported: slaves, gold, silver, copper

Major shippers: Central Asian, Persian, Jewish, Turkish and European merchants

Method of travel: Groups of merchants traveled together in caravans of camels (across desert areas), packhorses or mules (across mountains) and wagons.

Important States: Mongol Empire/kingdoms (Khanate of the Golden Horde, Il-Khan Empire, Empire of Chagatai, Empire of the Great Khan [Yuan China]), Byzantine Empire

People:Mongols, Turks, Central Asian nomads, Muslim, Christian and Jewish merchants

Circle IV: Persian Gulf Circle

Description: This circle was one of three trade routes that connected the Mediterranean Sea area with the Indian Ocean and east Asia. The trade route began at the Syrian ports on the eastern coast (also called the Levant) of the Mediterranean Sea. Before 1280, these ports were controlled by Venice, because they were located in the Crusader kingdoms. Even though they were sometimes at war with each other, Muslim and Christian states signed treaties to protect each other’s merchants and their goods. Traveling inland from the port, merchants crossed the desert to the Tigris River and then took ship down the river to Baghdad. From there, merchants traveled down the river to the Persian Gulf, and across the Arabian Sea to India to northwest India (Gujarat), the Malabar coast and/or Ceylon. John of Montecorvino, an Italian Franciscan missionary, wrote that it took 2 years to travel from the Mediterranean to China by this route. After the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and the Egyptian Mamluks took over the Crusader kingdoms in 1291, this route became less safe and less popular than the Red Sea Circuit. The Mamluks no longer allowed Christian merchants to travel across Muslim lands.

Main trade cities: Tyre, Acre, Baghdad, Oman

Products Imported: [Many products from China and East Asia were transported through this circle to be sold in other circles.] silk, paper (from China), spices, jewels (from India and Southeast Asia), silver, slaves (from Europe and Mongol lands), drugs, perfumes, saffron, teakwood, ivory, pearls, onyx, rubies, ebony, sugar, aloes, iron, lead, canes, earthenware, sandalwood, glass, and pepper (according to Muhammad al-Muqaddasi, a geographer born in Jerusalem in 945).

Products exported: cotton, sugar, carpets, silk, linen, brocade (cloth of gold), steel, swords, pearls, dates, henna

Major shippers: Arab, Persian, and Indian shippers; Muslim and Jewish merchants from Egypt, Syria, and Persia. The sources usually call these shippers and merchants “Arabs,” but they probably came from many different lands, such as Persia, India, Southeast Asia, and east Africa.

Method of travel: Over land, merchants traveled together in caravans of camels, horses and mules. On the seas and rivers, shippers used dhows (small trading ships with lateen sails)

Important States: Mongol Il-Khanate, Crusader Kingdoms, Mamluk Egypt, Turkish sultanates, Persia

People: Arabs, Syrians, Persians, Turks, Indians, Venetians, Genoese

Circle V: Red Sea Circle

Description: This circuit was one of the three middle routes between the Mediterranean and East Asia. After the fall of Baghdad in 1258 and the Crusader kingdoms in 1291, Mamluk Egypt became the most powerful state in the western Muslim world. The Mamluks were a dynasty of slave-soldiers. Non-Muslims from Central Asia were sold into slavery as young boys, carried to Cairo on Genoese ships, and trained as soldiers by older Mamluk slave-soldiers. Talented Mamluk slaves could rise to become officials in the Mamluk government. When the old sultan died, an experienced and powerful slave-general became the new sultan. Merchants came from the Egyptian population and were both Muslim and Jewish. The greatest Muslim Mamluk traders, known as the Karimi merchants, monopolized the trade of Asian products into the Mediterranean and Europe. Travel decreased along the other two middle routes (circuits III and IV), and Venetian and Genoese merchants came to Cairo to get products from the east in exchange for slaves from Europe and the Mongol steppe. To protect their monopoly on trade, the Mamluks did not allow Venetian, Genoese, or any other Christian merchants to sail south and east of Cairo.

Main trade cities: Cairo, Alexandria, Aden

Products imported: [Many products from China and East Asia were transported through this circuit to be sold in other circuits.] slaves (from Europe and Central Asia), paper, ebony, coconuts (from China and India), metals (from Europe), spices (from southeast Asia), black pepper, cotton cloth, jewels (from India), porcelain and silk (from China)

Products exported: papyrus paper, carpets, cotton and linen cloth, glassware, hawks, and sugar. In Cairo there were many workshops that manufactured goods such as swords and armor, leather objects, furniture, paper and cloth.

Major Shippers: Venetian, Genoese, Arab, Persian and Indian shippers; Karimi merchants (private Egyptian Muslim merchants), Jewish, Muslim and Christian merchants from Venice, Genoa, Egypt, Syria, Persia

Method of Travel: Boats could sail from the Arabian Sea into the Red Sea and then take a canal over to the Nile River at Cairo. They could then sail up the Nile to the Mediterranean Sea. Italian ships sailed to Alexandria in convoys (large groups of ships sailing together.)

Important States: Mamluk Sultanate (Egypt)

People: Mamluks, Arabs, Venetians, Genoese, Syrians, Yemenese

Circle VI: Arabian Sea Circle

Description: This circle is one of the oldest trade routes in world history. Ships have been crossing it for the last 4,000 years. This Arabian Sea circle depended on the monsoon winds. The only other way to sail from India to Arabia was to sail along the coast, which took much more time. Because ships had to delay six months to a year to wait for the right monsoon winds, merchants and shippers set up homes and communities in Indian ports, such as Cambay (in Gujarat), Quilon or Calicut (on the Malabar coast). They intermarried with local Indians and depended on family members and people who had come from their own home towns to do business. The sources identify these people as Muslims, even though they probably came from different ethnic groups and religions (some were Jewish or Hindu). Although north-central India was united in the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526), the rest of India was divided into small kingdoms and city-states with local rulers. In this circle there was no one dominant state controlling trade. Inside there were lots of smaller states and a common culture that valued trade connections and business. All shippers and merchants respected the right of other ships to travel and trade in the circuit, except there were many However, pirates who attacked ships.

Main trade cities: Aden, Hormuz, Cambay, Quilon, Calicut

Products imported: Silk, porcelain and manufactured luxury goods (from China), glassware (from the Mediterranean), spices, perfumes (from Southeast Asia) metals, armor, weapons, perfumes (from Egypt, Arabia and Persia), and slaves (from East Africa and the Mongol steppe). Unlike some other circles, here ships carried many more ordinary bulk items, such as metal utensils, weapons, grain, sugar, butter, salt, dried food, horses and lumber, from one place to another within this circle. This means that there was much more dependence on trade networks in this circle.

Products exported: Cotton cloth, pepper, jewels (from India), silk and cotton cloth (from Egypt and Persia)

Major shippers: Arab, Persian, Indian and Southeast Asian shippers; Karimi merchants (from Mamluk Egypt), Jewish, Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese merchants. The sources identify the shippers and merchants as “Arabs” or “Muslims”, but some were probably East African, Persian, Javan, Chinese, or Filipino.

Method of travel: The two types of ships used in this circuit were junks and dhows. Ships sailed in convoys, following the monsoon sailing seasons. A ship could sail from west to east across this circle from February to May and from mid-August to the end of September. A ship could also sail down the east coast of Africa (the Swahili Coast) to Kilwa and other ports during this monsoon season. A ship could sail from east to west (and north from Africa) from mid-October to mid-April. See the monsoon maps and tables for more information.

Important States: Mamluk Egypt, Persia Delhi Sultanate

People: Arabs, Egyptians, Persians, East Africans, Indians

Circle VII: India-Southeast Asia Circuit

Description: Trade in this circuit depended on the monsoon winds. In addition, ships had to sail through the narrow Strait of Malacca to go from the Bay of Bengal into the South China Sea. Because ships had to delay six months to a year to wait for the right monsoon winds, merchants and shippers set up homes and communities in ports on the Coromandel coast (southeast India), the Malay peninsula, and the Southeast Asian islands. Merchants from China, Southeast Asia, India, Persia and Arabia intermarried with local people and depended on family members and people who had come from their own home towns to do business. These merchants carried their religions, beliefs and customs with them and gradually spread those to the local communities. The biggest cultural influence from 1000 through 1300 was the Hindu religion and south Indian culture, but Buddhism, Chinese culture, and later the Muslim religion were also influential. All of the land regions of this circuit were divided into small states or smaller village communities. Those towns and states that were on the coast depended on sea trade for local trade and luxuries. Their rulers looked to India and China as powerful cultures that could give them power and prestige. Chinese naval fleets, under Zheng He and other commanders, often sailed throughout this circle. Shippers and merchants respected the right of other ships to travel and trade in the circle, except there were pirates, especially in the Strait of Malacca.

Main trade cities: Palembang (Srivijaya), Malacca (after 1430), Quilon, Calicut

Products imported: Silk, porcelain and manufactured goods (from China), silk and cotton cloth (from Egypt and Persia), horses and glassware (from the Mediterranean), metals, armor, weapons, perfumes (from Egypt, Arabia and Persia), and slaves (from East Africa and the Mongol steppe)

Products exported: Cotton cloth (from India), spices, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardemom, cloves, nutmeg, pearls, coral, betelnuts, aromatics (camphor, sandalwood), dyes, medicines, tropical wood, resin (from Sumatra)

Major Shippers: Arab, Persian, , Indian, Malay, Sumatran, Tamil (from the Chola kingdom and Coromandel), Javan and Chinese shippers and merchants. The sources identify the merchants as “Arabs”, “Muslims” or Chinese, but some were probably East African, Persian, Vietnamese, Javan, Malaysian, or Filipino.

Method of Travel: The two types of ships used in this circuit were junks and dhows. Ships sailed in convoys, following the monsoon sailing seasons. A ship could sail from west to east across this circuit from February to May and from mid-August to the end of September. It could also sail south to the islands. A ship could sail from east to west (and north from the islands) from mid-October to mid-April. The wind patterns changed at the Strait of Malacca, and ships had to time their arrival there between December and mid-February if they were going from China to India. Sailing around the southern tip of India and Ceylon was very difficult. See the monsoon maps and tables for more information.

Important States: Chola kingdom (Coromandel coast), Srivijaya, China, Khmer (Angkor)

People: Malay, Sumatran, Javan, Chinese, Indian, Arab, Cambodian, Vietnamese

Circle VIII: China-Southeast Asia Circle

Description: The empire of China was the most powerful state in the medieval world, and it dominated this circuit. Chinese naval fleets dominated the smaller kingdoms of Southeast Asia and took tribute from them for the Chinese emperor. The Chinese usually did not want to conquer lands, but they wanted the leaders of Southeast Asian states, such as Champa and Srivijaya, to acknowledge Chinese superiority and authority. Early Ming emperors sent out large naval fleets to extend Chinese power. From 1405 to 1433, Admiral Zheng He commanded seven huge fleets which explored the near Pacific islands, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean, collected tribute and rare items, and spread Chinese authority. Because of threats on the northern border and the great cost of the voyages, a new emperor and his administration ended the voyages in 1433 and abandoned the Chinese fleet. Private Chinese merchants continued to sail and trade. The Chinese government allowed foreign merchants to trade in Chinese ports, especially Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Quanzhou. Main trade cities: Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Quanzhou, Palembang, Malacca (after 1430

Products imported: black pepper, cotton textiles, pearls, horses (from India), ambergris, frankincense and glassware (from Arabia, the Mediterranean, or east Africa), spices, sandalwood and tortoiseshells (from Southeast Asia to China), silk, porcelain, iron products (from China to Southeast Asia)

Products exported: porcelain, silk, manufactured luxury goods, tea, cotton, sugar, cannons, coins, paper (from China), spices, aromatics, tropical woods (from Southeast Asia), rice, swords, timber, medicines (from the Philippines)

Major shippers: Arab, Persian, Indian, Southeast Asian and Chinese shippers; merchants from China, Arabia, Persia, and India; Muslim, Jewish and a few Christian (Italian) merchants

Method of travel: Most travel in this circuit was by sea using junks, first made in China, but later also made in Southeast Asian ports. Ships followed the monsoon sailing seasons to travel between China and the southern islands. From the seaports, merchants carried the trade goods inland throughout China. These merchants traveled by boat on rivers and canals, and by packtrain over land.

Important States: China (under the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties), the Mongol Empire

People: Chinese, Filipinos, Annamese, Javans, Sumatrans, Arabs, Persians, Indians

Circle IX: Trans-Saharan Circle

Description: This circle connected the north coast of Africa (the Maghrib towns in the west and Cairo in the east) with the gold region of West Africa. The merchants (who came from North Africa) had to cross the Sahara Desert by going from oasis to oasis. The merchants carried salt from the northern Saharan to southern gold region, which did not have enough salt for the people who lived there. Merchants probably also carried cotton cloth, luxury silks, spices, and manufactured goods from Mamluk Egypt and Asia. In addition to gold, those merchants bought ivory and slaves from African merchants. The Muslim religion spread along with the merchants. Many people in West Africa converted to Islam. The biggest kingdom in West Africa from the 12th to the 15th centuries was Mali. Genoese and Catalan merchants traveled to north African ports to buy gold, but the Muslim merchants of the Maghrib would not let them travel south across the Sahara. This was one reason why the Portuguese began sailing into the eastern Atlantic and down the coast of Africa in the 15th century.

Major trade cities: Sijilmasa, Cairo, Tunis, Timbuktu, Jenne

Products imported: Salt, luxury goods

Products exported: Gold, ivory, slaves

Major Shippers: Arab and Berber Muslim merchants

Method of Travel: This circle was mostly desert. Caravans of merchants crossed it riding camels. They traveled from oasis to oasis, led by experienced guides.

Important States: Mali, Mamluk Sultanate

People: Arabs, Maghribis, Egyptians, Berbers (from north Africa), West Africans

Circle X: East Asian Circle

Description: From the 600s, Korea, Japan and China traded with each other. The Tang dynasty rulers of China invaded the Silla kingdom in Korea and made it into a vassal state of the Chinese empire. The Silla and Goryeo (918-1392) kingdoms in Korea had a tributary relationship with China. This meant that they gave tribute to the emperor and received gifts from him. They could also trade with China. Chinese culture deeply influenced both Korea and Japan. During the Heian dynasty (794-1185), Japanese leaders read Chinese literature and copied Chinese styles. During the Medieval period in Japan (1185-1573) trade between China and Japan grew enormously.

Major trade cities: Quanzhou, Mingzhou, Hangzhou, Nagasaki

Products imported: cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, tropical wood, pearls, betelnuts, aromatics (camphor, sandalwood) (from Southeast Asia and India) dyes, medicines, resin (from Sumatra), copper (from Japan to China), horses (from Korea to China)

Products exported: silk, porcelain, iron products, manufactured luxury goods, tea, cotton, sugar, cannons, paper (from China), copper coins (from China to Japan and Korea), swords, copper, silver, hides (from Japan), horses (from Korea to China)

Major shippers: Arab, Persian, Indian, and Southeast Asian shippers; Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Persian, Indian, and Southeast Asian merchants

Method of travel: Shippers used junks to sail between China and the Japanese and Korean ports. From the seaports, merchants carried the trade good inland through China, Japan, Korea and the islands. These merchants traveled by boat on rivers and by packtrain over land.

Important states: China (under the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties), Silla kingdom, Goryeo kingdom (both in Korea) Japan

People: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Arabs, Persians, Indians, Southeast Asians