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From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean

From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa

Sebouh David Aslanian
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean
    Book Description:

    Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, this study explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco. The New Julfan Armenians were the only Eurasian community that was able to operate simultaneously and successfully in all the major empires of the early modern world—both land-based Asian empires and the emerging sea-borne empires—astonishingly without the benefits of an imperial network and state that accompanied and facilitated European mercantile expansion during the same period. This book brings to light for the first time the trans-imperial cosmopolitan world of the New Julfans. Among other topics, it explores the effects of long distance trade on the organization of community life, the ethos of trust and cooperation that existed among merchants, and the importance of information networks and communication in the operation of early modern mercantile communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94757-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. 1 From Trade Diasporas to Circulation Societies
    (pp. 1-22)

    During the Safavid-Ottoman wars of 1603–1605, the Safavid monarch Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) practiced “scorched earth” tactics, laying waste to the frontier regions of his empire, deporting up to 300,000 Armenians and others from the frontier territories, and resettling them in the interior of his realm.¹ While many of the deportees suffered from their brutal displacement and perished during their deportation to Iran, the population from the small mercantile town of Old Julfa on the banks of the Aras River was given relatively privileged treatment by the Safavid ruler. After their town was razed to the ground...

  8. 2 Old Julfa, the Great Deportations, and the Founding of New Julfa
    (pp. 23-43)

    In 1595, an Armenian merchant from Old Julfa named Mahdasi Aghaval wrote a will bequeathing his house on the edge of the Aras River along with his patrimonial gardens, which formed the southern perimeter of the town, to the children of his brother, Selim.¹ This will is the oldest preserved document in the All Savior’s Monastery Archive in Julfa, Isfahan. It most likely would have been entirely insignificant were it not for the fact that it is at this point the sole surviving textual evidence from Old Julfa, apart from some surviving tombstone inscriptions and colophons. This is paradoxical because,...

  9. 3 The Julfan Trade Network I: The World of the Indian Ocean
    (pp. 44-65)

    This chapter and the next provide a broad overview of the Julfan trade network in the early modern period to elucidate not only the trade settlements’ connection to each other and to the nodal center in Julfa, Isfahan, but also the network’s circulatory nature—that is, its circulation of credit, merchants, and information—which is the subject of chapters 5, 6, and 7. Thus our focus here and in chapter 4 is the cluster of trade settlements that formed four general circuits around New Julfa: Indian Ocean, Russian, Mediterranean, and northwestern European. The Indian Ocean circuit was arguably the most...

  10. 4 The Julfan Trade Network II: The Mediterranean, Northwestern European, and Russian Networks
    (pp. 66-85)

    The extension of the Julfan network into the “West”—the Mediterranean, northwestern European, and Russian circuits—was one of its distinctive features and an important reason for its continuous growth and prosperity in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. Western expansion made the Julfan merchant community an important bridge in the early modern period for economic and cultural encounters between the two great zones of the world economy, the Mediterranean and the IndianOcean, as well as the Eurasian landmass, which was a link between these zones. Julfan merchants who circulated and made a living in this network...

  11. 5 “The salt in a merchant’s letter”: Business Correspondence and the Courier System
    (pp. 86-120)

    It is now widely acknowledged that “information was the most precious good” in the lives of early modern merchant communities.¹ Claude Markovits explains:

    It is the capacity of the merchants to maintain a constant flow of information within the network that ensures its success. This means two things: first, that “leaks” have to be avoided asmuch as possible to the outside world, secondly, that information must circulate smoothly within the network, both spatially and temporally, as it gets transmitted from one generation to another . . . , in the long run, the most successful merchant networks have been those...

  12. 6 The Circulation of Men and Credit: The Commenda and the Family Firm
    (pp. 121-165)

    This description of the peripatetic lifestyle of Julfan merchants is from a seventeenth century Armenian chronicle written by a priest named Grigor of Daranagh. Unusual for a chronicler of his times, Grigor was not favorably inclined toward Julfans and, in the course of his chronicle, categorically condemns their greed and their “worship of Mammon” as opposed to God, which in his view led them to wander and circulate for long years throughout the world (including theNewWorld, as this passage intimates) at the expense of abandoning their families in Julfa for many years. The objects of Grigor’s contempt, it should be...

  13. 7 Trust, Social Capital, and Networks: Informal and Semiformal Institutions at Work
    (pp. 166-201)

    Trust was an essential component of early modern long-distance trade, as such trade depended upon a modicum of mutual confidence and expectation that neither party would be defrauded by the other in a potentially profitable venture. Trust emerges as an issue because economic transactions in early modern long-distance trade were rarely based on “simultaneous exchange.”³ Rather, thequidwas separated from thequoover time and space in such transactions, to paraphrase Avner Greif.⁴ Risk and potential malfeasance arise because of this separation.⁵ For instance, as we have seen, an eighteenth-century Armenian merchant from Julfa who wanted to sell his...

  14. 8 The Center Cannot Hold: The Decline and Collapse of the Julfan Trade Network
    (pp. 202-214)

    In his characteristically astute fashion Fernand Braudel remarks that trade networks collapse because of “failings” and attendant complications that occur at their center but have devastating ramifications beyond the core. Braudel’s account of how trade networks collapse may not apply to all trade networks. For instance, networks that have multiple centers, such as the Sephardic one in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic worlds, may not be susceptible to the kind of collapse envisaged by the great French historian andmay be flexible enough to recover from severe “shocks” to one of their centers by shifting their weight to another location.² However,...

  15. 9 Conclusion: Comparative Thoughts on Julfan Armenians, Multani Indians, and Sephardic Jews
    (pp. 215-234)

    Most scholarship on “trade diasporas,” or long-distance mercantile communities and their networks, has tended to be insular and narrowly focused on a single community of merchants. Little work has been done to conceptualize mercantile communities in a comparative context. As Jonathan Israel puts it, “The role of different diasporas in long-distance trade . . . [has] only rather rarely been systematically compared.”²

    This chapter offers a comparative excursus into Julfan Armenian, Multani Indian, and Sephardic Jewish trade networks and trading practices. The comparison is warranted because the three trade networks were arguably the leading long-distance mercantile communities of the early...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 235-306)
    (pp. 307-344)
  18. Index
    (pp. 345-364)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 365-366)