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Les échanges en Méditerranée médiévale

Élisabeth Malamut
Ouerfelli Mohamed


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1Traduit par Clément Authié

2Ceramic was frequently used in everyday life during medieval times. It was then a vital product, especially for cooking purposes. In archeology, it is omnipresent and samples are commonly found as the material remains extremely well-preserved over time. Thus, it is possible to study sample series of considerable size, covering a long time-span, which tell us more about how such items were produced, supplied and used throughout the Middle Ages. This paper aims to show the importance of this material source in the history of trade around the Mediterranean Sea during this period. Our analysis will be primarily based upon artifacts discovered in Southern France. It is, inevitably, in the field of commercial trade that these artifacts offer most data, but ceramic also provides information about other forms of transfer, whether technical, social or cultural.

3Thanks to archeological discoveries, it is a known fact that in the Mediterranean, during the Middle Ages, ceramics sometimes circulated in places far removed from where they had originally been made. What is usually less known is how they actually circulated. Sometimes, written sources can help us learn more about it, but when it comes to the Byzantine Empire, the texts only bring very little information on crockery trade. A cartography of the digs – based on a meticulous bibliographical examination – allows us to draw a map of the distribution of the main types of crockery – both produced and commercialized – between the 7th and the 15th centuries, inside and outside the Empire. In order to understand the market of crockery and to find models of distribution and consumption, we will cross archeological data with geographical, geopolitical and economic data. Those comparisons aim to show the areas of distribution of contemporary productions, taking into consideration factors such as complementarity and competition. They also help us study the circulation flows of these products over long distances, whether it be on the scale of the Mediterranean or, as in the case of Nicaea and Pergamon, on smaller scales (regional and macro-regional.)

4The study of money – based on both finds and written documents – is one means of examining in more detail the question of trade during the High Middle Ages. As far as money and politics were concerned, Southern Italy was at the of the three monetary areas around the Mediterranean Sea: Byzantium, Islam and the Latin West. Before the arrival of the Normans, imperial money was mostly used in Apulia, the Muslim money of Calabria was used in Naples and Western money was used in Gaeta. In the mid 11th century, the inflow of Muslim money ceased as a result of the troubles in North Africa. The inflow of imperial money also ceased after the departure of the Byzantine authorities. This led to a shortage, and the Normans’ royal money – of oriental inspiration – was insufficient to fill the gap. In the 12th century, the Provins denier started to be used in many areas.

5Thanks to a set of documents preserved in the Archivio di Stato di Pisa – composed of peace treaties, trade treaties, instructions to ambassadors and letters exchanged between monarchs and businessmen – one can study the nature of the diplomatic and commercial relationships between the town of Pisa and the Maghreb states during the 12th-14th centuries. This collection of documents is unique because it gives us multiple versions of the letters – in Arabic, in Latin and even in Italian – as well as of the agreements negotiated between the two parties. The first step of these relationships was marked by verbal agreements, and it is confirmed by the exchange of letters between the two powers. From the end of the 12th century, the way such agreements were negotiated and written changed: treaties were now written more formally. This new phase was marked by the strengthening of diplomatic relationships, by the regular exchange of ambassadors but also by the growth of commercial activities. This is shown by the letters exchanged between merchants from Pisa and their counterparts from Maghreb. This correspondence allows us to understand who the actors of such relationships were, but it also enables us to understand the narrow and personal links that existed between these men from the two shores of the Mediterranean.

6When the Maghreb was conquered by the Muslims its economic and political centers moved inland as the coast suddenly became a frontier against Christian enemies. Even before this conquest the Mediterranean area had stopped being a hub for exchanges, and the political rupture between north and south intensified the decline of the shipping trade and harbors. The coasts were then only progressively integrated into the Muslim regimes under the double influence of the political powers and the merchants, especially from Andalusia, who connected the Iberian peninsula to the Maghreb and the Middle East thanks to commercial and maritime exchanges from the 9th century onward. The coastal area, therefore, gained in importance first on the scale of the Maghreb as a dense inland network of roads between the harbors and the main political and economic places was developed, and secondly on the scale of the whole Mediterranean area thanks to the creation of a really united and dynamic economic system within the Muslim world.

7The colonial phenomenon is characterized by the threefold domination of the colonial power over the colonized country, — politically, economically and culturally. In the Middle Ages Genoa and Venice were the main colonial powers, and the different steps in the overseas expansion of those two maritime republics are recalled here. This expansion went hand in hand with migratory movements that were caused first by the crusades and secondly by the development of the trading posts in the Middle East. As far as Italy was concerned, migrant workers were either individuals who decided to leave on their own, people who were directly recruited by businessmen or whole groups of workers who were officially displaced by the authorities of Genoa and Venice. The two cities’ overseas policy paved the way for the specific characteristics of modern colonization.

8In this paper, the author studies commercial networks within the Byzantine Empire as well as colonization of space during the reign of Andronikos II. She shows that all the treaties signed with the Mamelukes, the Genovese and the Venetians were the result of diplomatic initiatives during the reign of Michael VII when Constantinople was reconquered. The treaties were still in effect under the rule his successor. Slave traffic from Crimea to Egypt was very important for the Mamelukes. The opening of the Black Sea to the Genovese resulted in rivalries with Venice over the control of the Straits. As for the relationships between Byzantium and the West, wheat trade remained a delicate issue, as it used to be the monopoly of the Empire. After several concessions, the Empire eventually gave up on economic and political sovereignty along with colonization of space and commercial networks. Finally, the author focuses on the naturalization regime which allowed the subjects of the Empire to gain the same rights and privileges than Venetians and Genovese citizens within the Empire. This regime came as a major disruption for Byzantine society. This paper reveals the tight bounds between politics and trade. Such bounds were strengthened thanks to the exchange of embassy officials during the whole period. One could eventually say that it only was very late – and very partially – that the actors of the time saw the Turkish menace hanging over Byzantium.

9For over a century historians have been working on the way merchant associations were organized at the end of the Middle Ages, especially in Italy where a rich and various documentation was available. The legal culture of the first researchers induced them to study the different contracts. In the 1930s a new approach developed when historians took advantage of the ledgers left by the agencies in order to study the numbers and wages of their workforce. Going along with the questioning of economic notions and the development of quantitative methods for social history, recent scholars have focused on the structure of economic networks, analyzing both the nature of associations and the recurrence of transactions between partners. The correspondence written between merchants has only been marginally exploited so far. The letters of the Archivio Datini show how the clientelistic culture prevailed over the contracts drawn between members of an agency. They document the way the firms found both money and manpower in order to expand into large scale networks. A focus on the recruitment of apprentices and employees illustrates the potential of the epistolary source and demonstrates how technical requisites were set against moral appreciations when collaborators had to be selected.

10The Battosi of Lucca ran a company that was started in the mid 12th century. At the beginning of the reign of Charles II (1285-1309), they became the main bankers of the monarchy of Anjou and remained so until the mid 1290s. They provided the Crown with several financial services. One of the most important of these was the transfer of funds across the Alps. To that end, the company could rely on a well-established network of agents and associates in Genoa, in the Kingdom of Sicily, in the County of Provence as well as in the Kingdom of France. Thanks to this network, the Battosi could quickly and easily transfer large sums of money for the monarchy. Thus, they supplied the monarch – wherever needed – with the funds required for his policy to reconquer the territories lost after the Sicilian Vespers (1282). Usually, such operations were not invoiced as the merchants of Lucca were paid by other means: they enjoyed royal protection as well as the status of main bankers of the Crown, which provided them with gifts, titles, privileges and enabled them to have a considerable number of clients in the territories near Anjou.

11 This paper is an analysis of the exemplary and original career of Lluis Sirvent, a businessman from Barcelona during the first half of the 15th century. Because of his success and his connections with royal power he was able to serve as an ambassador to the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt and Syria in 1429-1430 and in 1411. More importantly, he presented a plan according to which galleys of the Generalitat of Catalonia would be sent to commercial destinations far away from Barcelona (the East, Flanders and England). Doubtless had he the example of Venice in mind. This well-known plan, whose scope is still debated, made possible fifteen journeys between these destinations from 1434 to 1447, which is more than anything reported so far — a fact which deserves to be highlighted. However, the use of galleys – former warships – was part and parcel of the lasting conflict that King Alphonso V was leading to dominate the Kingdom of Naples. This way, if the monarch decided so, the ships could easily go back to serving their primary purpose. Nonetheless, Lluis Sirvent was not a mere subject serving his monarch: his career proves to be unusual because of his initial training within the Tuscan company Datini and his specialization in financial affairs and ship commanding. Eventually, his narrow and personal relationships with Muslim merchants – showing that some networks went beyond religious boundaries – make him unique among merchants from Catalonia and show us a man with an original individual profile.

12Though the Medieval Mediterranean is often defined as a place of cultural exchanges, studying the role of diplomatic contacts there can prove worthwhile. Judging from diplomatic evidence one is forced to acknowledge that very few cultural exchanges resulted from official contacts between courts. On the contrary, as it will be shown here by many examples, there was a will to keep away from one’s diplomatic partner in order to undervalue or even deny his culture. Thus, the Other’s food, clothes, intellectual culture and hair could be mocked and turned into objects one could despise or deeply reject. However, it is necessary to qualify such a statement for three reasons. First of all, one should not read some of the accounts without being aware of the precise diplomatic context that surrounded the arrival of a delegation and the drafting of texts that followed. A context of tension does not particularly favour cultural exchanges. Then, the question of the drafting of documents after official meetings must not be forgotten. The missions that were sent by a monarch always showed his superiority over foreign princes if the authors were on the side of the sovereign. On the contrary, if the monarch invited a foreign delegation, it was customary to depict them as inferior and even to mock them. To that extent, the Other’s culture – even if he was an ambassador – was disparaged. Eventually, even without reading between the lines, there are many examples in the texts that show that some cultural exchanges did take place through diplomacy, and it seemed that this official channel favoured this type of exchange.

13Medieval authors who are popular today are not necessarily those who achieved great success during the Middle Ages. In order to gain clearer insight into the scope of such success, several lines of enquiry require exploration, as illustrated by the example of Marco Polo’s Description of the World. The first involves the study of textual tradition and, more particularly, of the various translations of a specific work that may have been carried out. The study of the manuscript tradition of each version helps determine when and where it was done. Analyzing surviving manuscripts – their dating, origin, production context and circulation – provides considerable information relating to the distribution of the text and its readership. Consideration of catalogs and inventories of ancient libraries can prove useful to supplement the data obtained from manuscripts, enabling us to trace as accurately as possible the distribution of a medieval text.

14Panel paintings have recently been reintegrated in the more general study of European trading, notably towards Mediterranean countries, and scholars, during the last decades, have focused on the example of Flemish altarpieces, private devotional pictures and portraits during the 15th century, appropriately in reason of their distant and capillar diffusion. The text brings together and reasserts the specific conditions of production of those appraised objects making them proper for exportation towards the Spanish peninsula, the attractive factors for Flemish painters tempted to emigrate, such as longlived and efficient commercial nets, these precious and innovative art objects being welcome to foreign courts, sets of laws favouring imports ans settlements. This story of the intrusion of the Flemish ars nova in different Spanish provinces has been susceptible of precisions in a few cases, even if quantitative facts are still awaiting and the provenance and pedigree of most of the surviving paintings have not proved traceable. Original compositions or copies, certain done on express asking from Spanish sovereigns, Spanish painters imitating those models, gifts to highly regarded religious foundations, quotations of motives and compositional schemes, technical devices such as oil medium simplified and combined with traditional practices, all these facts have known success from top classes, gentry and ecclesiastical dignitaries, for they met in time and spirit with the Reconquista, both military and religious, and embodied perfectly, in all their realistic details, the descriptions and prescriptions of the new devotional and spiritual treaties.

15To the presence, in those progressively united Spanish kingdoms, of masterpieces from Rogier van der Weyden, Dirck Bouts o Hans Memling, reacted later Flemish painters in Spain such as Juan de Flandes and painters working in Catalunia or Aragon (Luis Dalmau, Jaume Huguet, Bartolome Bermejo) or Castilla (Pedro Berruguete, Fernando Gallego). From the court palaces and chapels to the modest country churches, this enthusiastic and yet critical reception, has modified the reference works to comply to the committents creeds and needs. The importance of this phenomenon during half a century explains why traditional Spanish art histories have labelled “hispano-flemish” a stylistic phase, even if those studies have not inquired enough in the social and economical context of it.

© Presses universitaires de Provence, 2012

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