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Colour of Paradise

Colour of Paradise: Emeralds in the Age of the Gunpowder Empires

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Colour of Paradise
    Book Description:

    Among the magnificent gems and jewels left behind by the great Islamic empires, emeralds stand out for their size and prominence. For the Mughals, Ottomans, and Safavids green was-as it remains for all Muslims-the color of Paradise, reserved for the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants. Tapping a wide range of sources, Kris Lane traces the complex web of global trading networks that funneled emeralds from backland South America to populous Asian capitals between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Lane reveals the bloody conquest wars and forced labor regimes that accompanied their production. It is a story of trade, but also of transformations-how members of profoundly different societies at opposite ends of the globe assigned value to a few thousand pounds of imperfectly shiny green rocks.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16470-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Preface
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    By the end of the seventeenth century, Safavid Persia’s decline had become painfully obvious. It was in the reign of Shah Sultan Husayn, beginning in 1694, that the most serious threats arose. Neighbours in Georgia mounted the first external challenges, followed by others from Russia inspired by Peter the Great. More worrisome were much older rivals to the west: the Ottomans. Harsh treatment of Sunni subjects on Persia’s western frontier encouraged Turkish aggression in the first decades of the eighteenth century. But in the end it was Afghani tribesmen, nominal subjects of the shah, whose rebellions finally brought down the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Sacred Origins
    (pp. 23-43)

    Colombia’s emeralds were infused with meaning long before they went global, yet it is only after the arrival of Europeans in the Americas that we know much about them. A close reader of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, for whom Colombia was named, died believing he was close to Çipango, or Japan, ‘a huge island rich in gold, pearls, and precious stones’.¹ Columbus touched on a small portion of Venezuela’s coast in 1498, where he found the predicted pearls, but it was not until 1499, during the first voyage of Alonso de Hojeda, that sustained contact with indigenous peoples in what...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Conquistadors
    (pp. 44-64)

    Just as it took firearms global, Europe gave birth to its own gunpowder empires. As in Asia, gunpowder weapons played a key role in state consolidation and expansion beginning about 1450. Partly for this reason, historians use the term ‘early modern’ to mark off the explosive era toc.1750, when new and profound shifts in military technology and strategy began taking shape. De-emphasizing ‘medieval’ archers and crossbowmen, catapults, rams and knightly contests, early modern warfare required new battlefield configurations, a new defensive architecture – even new livelihoods, such as gunner or engineer.

    Spain has been held up as a prime...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Emerald City
    (pp. 65-92)

    Even as the blood of conquest dried, Colombian emeralds did not come cheaply. In October 1564 the seven aldermen of the new ‘city’ of La Trinidad de los Muzos wrote to King Philip II in Madrid. They reported that in the five years since the town’s founding all but twenty of the original sixty-four conquistadors had been killed. The native inhabitants, described by the councilmen as ‘vicious warriors’, continued to use poisoned darts and arrows of the type said to kill within twenty-four hours. Most survivors suffered from wounds and disabilities, including paralyzed limbs. The Muzos, though temporarily ‘pacified and...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Empires and Inquisitors
    (pp. 93-124)

    As the 1622 wreck of theAtochastrongly hints, gem trading in the age of gunpowder empires was often carried out in secret, its full dimensions only partially revealed by criminal investigations or chance discoveries. Trade monopolies and high taxes encouraged subterfuge, but there were other, more natural, incentives. Gemstones such as emeralds, diamonds and pearls – compact, durable and extremely valuable – were everywhere ideal stowaways, a kind of second-tier commodity that could be hidden in the secret compartment of a sea chest, sewn into one’s clothes or even swallowed, both for security against thieves and to avoid paying...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Globetrotters
    (pp. 125-142)

    In the year 2000, an international team of mineralogists led by Gaston Giuliani reported its comparisons of oxygen isotope ratios in one of the emeralds recovered from the 1622Atochashipwreck with those of some famous Mughal stones long thought to be either Egyptian or South Asian in origin. The mineralogists confirmed what historians and gemologists had long suspected: that most of the quality emeralds circulating in Eurasia after the time of Columbus were of New World origin, including those still touted as ‘oriental’ or ‘lost mine’ stones.¹ Nearly all the emeralds tested could be traced not only to Colombia’s...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Emeralds of the Shahs
    (pp. 143-160)

    As Jacques de Coutre’s adventures suggest, Europeans were getting a taste not only of the wealth but also the tremendous power of Asia’s gunpowder empires in their heyday. Coutre was not unique. Catholic missionaries, most of them Iberians and Italians, had long sought the ears of Asian sultans and shahs, particularly those of Mughal India and Safavid Persia. Embassies sent by the newly chartered trading companies of Protestant Europe followed closely on their heels. Indeed, in the years around 1600 the courts of the Mughal Akbar and Persia’s Shah Abbas I were veritable hives of European activity, and the atmosphere...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Tax Dodgers and Smugglers
    (pp. 161-188)

    As chance would have it, rising Asian demand for Colombian emeralds coincided with the decline of the Spanish Habsburgs, whose own gunpowder empire proved nearly as fragile as that of the Mughals. The rebellion of Portugal in 1640 and final capitulation in the Netherlands in 1648 signalled the end of a remarkable era of global maritime dominance. Dutch gains at the Iberians’ expense began much earlier and reached as far as Manila, but they avalanched after the Twelve Year Truce expired in 1621. Portuguese trading forts from Elmina to Melaka fell to Dutch cannons, and by 1637 much of Brazil...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Twilight of Imperial Emeralds
    (pp. 189-203)

    In the midst of the 1702–13 War of the Spanish Succession, an English squadron attacked the Tierra Firme treasure fleet just as it was reaching Cartagena de Indias from Portobello, on the coast of Panama. The attack, which took place on the afternoon and evening of 8 June 1708, led to the sinking of the 1,200-ton flagshipSan José, killing all but a dozen of her six hundred-odd crew-members and sending several million pesos’ worth of treasure – mostly Peruvian silver – to the bottom. It has yet to be recovered. TheSan Josémay have carried emeralds, too,...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-209)

    The discovery and dissemination of Colombian emeralds, beginning around 1540 and ending in the 1790s, was not globally transformative. Emerald mining and trading were minuscule and irregular enterprises next to the constant, high-volume traffic in spices, textiles and precious metals. Even within Colombia, emeralds were a minor story next to gold. As this book has sought to demonstrate, however, the mining, transoceanic circulation and often ritualized consumption and ‘gifting’ of emeralds in early modern times still amounts to more than a curious, three-part tale of production, circulation and consumption. The emerald story may illustrate better than almost any other commodity...

  16. Postscript: From British Adventurers to Today’s Esmeralderos
    (pp. 210-223)

    The story of Colombian emeralds did not end with the decline and fall of gunpowder empires. The Muzo mines reopened soon after independence in the 1820s thanks to British interest and local initiative, although they still struggled. Various Colombian and European partnerships formed and dissolved through the turn of the twentieth century, with most emeralds going to European and U.S. markets via Amsterdam, Antwerp, London and New York. Some stones went to Calcutta for cutting and polishing. An attempted government takeover of Muzo around 1910 failed, and the mines returned to private hands. By this time, U.S. investors and engineers...

  17. Note on Weights and Measures
    (pp. 224-225)
  18. Appendices: Production, Appraisal and Brazil’s Fabled Emerald Range
    (pp. 226-247)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 248-264)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-274)
  21. Index
    (pp. 275-280)