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«The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh published by Dumbarton Oaks ...»

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This is an extract from:

The Crusades from the Perspective

of Byzantium and the Muslim World

edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh

published by

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Washington, D.C.

© 2001 Dumbarton Oaks

Trustees for Harvard University

Washington, D.C.

Printed in the United States of America


Byzantine Trade with Christians and Muslims and

the Crusades

Angeliki E. Laiou, ´ with an Appendix by Cecile Morrisson In May 1192, at a time when the Third Crusade was still in progress, the Byzantine emperor Isaac II sent one of his virtually annual embassies to Saladin, seeking, among other things, an offensive and defensive alliance directed, inevitably, against Western Europeans. In late summer or early autumn of the same year, a Venetian ship carrying the Byzantine ambassadors, Saladin’s envoys and gifts to Isaac, and goods and merchandise belonging to Isaac, his brother and future emperor Alexios, an imperial official, and “Greek and Syrian merchants,” set sail from Egypt toward Constantinople. Near Rhodes, it was attacked by Pisan and Genoese ships led by the Genoese corsair Guglielmo Grasso. The goods were seized, and the ambassadors and the merchants were killed, or so Isaac said in his letter of complaint to Genoa.1 Nor were the sums involved negligible. Isaac claimed that the merchandise was valued at 96,000 hyperpyra and 566 nomismata,2 of which 39,000 hyperpyra and 193 nomismata belonged to merchants of Constantinople.

This affair initiated a series of diplomatic and not-so-diplomatic negotiations that lasted until September 1195. Almost immediately after the attack, in November 1192, Isaac wrote to the Commune of Genoa describing what had happened and seeking satis´ faction (iJkanwsi") for the property lost. Otherwise, he said, the Genoese merchants in I should like to thank my research assistant, Charles Dibble, for his help.

The main information about this incident is contained in G. Bertolotto, Nuova serie di documenti sulle relazioni di Genova coll’Impero bizantino, Atti della Societa Ligure di storia patria 28.2 (Genoa, 1898), doc. , pp.

` 448–53 ( F. Miklosich and J. Muller, Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, 6 vols. [Vienna, 1860– ¨ 90], 3:37–40), and doc. , pp. 454–64, and J. Muller, Documenti sulle relazioni delle citta Toscane coll’oriente cristi¨ ano e coi Turchi fino all’anno , Documenti degli archivi toscani (Florence, 1879; repr. Rome, 1966), nos.


–  –  –

Constantinople must sell their goods and deposit the money as a guarantee of the eventual restitution to be made by the Commune.3 Similar letters, with a similar content, must have been sent to Pisa: although the early phases of negotiations with Pisa elude us, the surviving documentation makes reference to previous embassies. Very soon thereafter, indeed in the same month of November 1192,4 Isaac did seize the property of Genoese and, undoubtedly, Pisan merchants. The name of a Genoese merchant, Enrico Novitella, who had sailed into Constantinople in November, is specifically mentioned.

In a sigillion given to the city of Genoa in October 1193, Isaac explained why he had taken this extraordinary measure. Once again, he recalled Grasso’s attack, which had taken place, he reminded the Genoese, shortly after the conclusion of a treaty with Genoa.5 He was most emphatic on the damages suffered by his merchants, many of whom, he said, were from Constantinople itself, and among the most important merchants in the City (kai ta prw'ta tw'n ejn aujth' pragmateutw'n feromenou"). He, Isaac, `` ´ could not take this lightly, especially since the merchants (or, one assumes, the heirs or creditors of those who were killed) vociferously demanded justice, revenge, and reparation. They had asked to be allowed to get satisfaction from the property of Genoese merchants in Constantinople; the Genoese in question had not responded to the emperor’s request that they make reparations, which upset their Byzantine counterparts even more. Isaac held the city of Genoa responsible, even though it had tried to claim that the corsairs were outlaws—expelled from the city—and that therefore the Commune bore no responsibility for their actions. In the second instance, Isaac held responsible the Genoese merchants active in Constantinople. Under heavy pressure from the people,6 and fearing a riot,7 but not wanting to take extreme measures such as rescinding the privileges of the Genoese, he had seized a portion of the money and goods of some ´ Genoese merchants and given them to Byzantine “guarantors” (ejgguhta") to hold in ´ deposit (parakataqhkh). The sum so deposited was 20,000 hyperpyra, just over half what the Byzantine merchants claimed to have lost; it is legitimate to suppose that the goods of Pisan merchants, which we also know to have been seized,8 made up the other half. This property was meant to be returned if the Genoese (and Pisan) Commune made reparations. If not, it would be given outright to the Byzantine merchants in repa´ ration (iJkanwsi").

Between November 1192 and October 1193, the Genoese (and the Pisans, one assumes) had sent envoys, promising to pursue the corsairs and deliver them into Isaac’s hands, and asking that the Commune not be made to suffer for the actions of individuals.

Isaac chose to believe that the Commune would make restitution, or else that the prom

–  –  –

ise itself was sufficient. In any event, although the Genoese did not send the money seized by the corsairs,9 the Byzantines returned the 20,000 hyperpyra held in deposit.

The man who returned it, and who perhaps had held it in deposit, was John Oxeobaphopoulos.10 The transaction was effected with all the Byzantine legal forms: the Genoese, for example, gave formal assurance that they had, indeed, received the money (ajnargu´ ´ rian probalesqai oujk ecomen). The Genoese Commune agreed not to raise any fur ther claims for damages suffered by its merchants whose goods had been confiscated, not to refer to the matter again, nor to seek revenge. And in return, the emperor issued his sigillion, closing the matter, and renewing Genoese privileges.

That the accused neatly turned into accusers is only one of the interesting aspects of the story. Clearly, we are at a crossroads in the development of the law of reprisals, and the principle prevailed that reprisals should not be sought of innocent parties; but in the process, the Byzantine merchants did not receive restitution. It is, I think, unlikely that in closing the matter in this way Isaac II was swayed by arguments regarding the respective responsibilities of individuals and collectivities. For the dispute with Pisa dragged on until 1195. It was, eventually, resolved in a way parallel to the settlement with Genoa, but only because Pisan ships kept harassing the environs of Constantinople, attacking Byzantine ships, seizing goods, and killing people.11 One wonders whether in the Genoese case as well there was not an element of military or political persuasion.

The origins of the events of 1192–95 were embedded in political affairs: the last effort on the part of Isaac II to ally himself with Saladin against the Crusaders. It has been argued that the corsair attack was also in some degree political, the corsairs being in part bent on creating trouble for Saladin, the great enemy of the Crusader states.12 The conclusion of the affair was also, it would seem, political, for the capture and murder of the ambassadors ended the close relationship between Isaac and Saladin. That having proved unproductive or even counterproductive, Isaac now made a full turn toward Genoa, Pisa, the pope, and the Normans13 —which may serve as another explanation of the ease with which Pisan and Genoese goods were returned. Despite the political aspects, however, the role of the merchants is central to the story, and the importance of Constantinopolitan merchants is especially noteworthy. They appear as a large, influential, rich, and dangerous group, and it is no accident that Isaac began by demanding restitution for everyone’s goods (including his own, his brother’s, and his official’s), then very quickly limited his demands to reparations for the goods of the merchants, even though in the end he got nothing.

Modern scholars have given this story scant attention. Yet it cannot be equaled as a Heyd, Commerce, 1:234, says that restitution of the money was, in fact, made, but the documentation nowhere suggests that; he may have misunderstood the text in Bertolotto, Nuova serie, p. 457. Brand, “The Byzantines and Saladin,” 178, follows Heyd.

Cf. below, 177.

Muller, Documenti, no. .

¨ Heyd, Commerce, 1:233. Heyd presents this as a hypothesis, suggesting that Isaac’s alliance with Saladin and the presence of Egyptian ambassadors aboard this ship made it doubly interesting to the Genoese pirates.

Brand, “The Byzantines and Saladin,” 178: “Saladin was disillusioned with Isaac’s military capabilities, while Isaac finally realized that Saladin was too distant to protect him from the Latins.” [ 160 ] Byzantine Trade snapshot of conditions in the eastern Mediterranean in the late twelfth century, for it illustrates a number of important developments. For one thing, it makes evident the close connections between the Crusades and the increasingly strong presence of Italian merchants in the eastern Mediterranean. It brings to the fore the Byzantine bankers and merchants, here engaged in international money transactions. It allows us more than a glance into the developing law of the sea regarding issues of paramount importance to merchants, here the question of reparations and reprisals. And it hints at the nature of political and commercial connections between the Byzantine Empire and the Muslims during the time of the Crusades. These topics will be discussed in what follows.

For the Byzantine Empire, the question of the economic influence—if any—of the Crusades is almost inextricably connected with the question of the influence of the Italian merchants on the Byzantine economy, which both predates the crusading movement and becomes closely tied to it, certainly by the time of the Fourth Crusade. Indeed, the presence of Italian merchants on Byzantine soil eventually became dominant, reducing the degrees of freedom of the native merchants, although possibly increasing their opportunities. This is a topic of significance, touching primarily the economy of exchange, and it has been treated by a number of scholars.14 I will not offer a reconsideration of the question; I simply note the double presence of Italian merchants and Crusaders in many geographic areas, constant but in small numbers in the case of the first; somewhat more sporadic but sometimes in huge numbers in the case of the Crusaders.

The “Crusades” were a frequent phenomenon of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

We are accustomed to taking account of the major crusades, the ones with numbers, but crusading expeditions of one kind or another took place often, and certainly the Christians and Muslims of the area were aware of the fact. The First Crusade, insofar as the Byzantine Empire was concerned, did not end in 1099. It extended from 1096 until 1108 and the Treaty of Devol, which marked the end of Bohemond’s quasi-crusade.

And the 1120s were punctuated by crusading expeditions undertaken by Pisans and Genoese by sea, while in 1122 a Venetian Crusader fleet on its way to Palestine attacked Corfu in retaliation for the attempt of John II Komnenos to reduce Venice’s commercial privileges; it pillaged Byzantine lands on the way to and from Palestine and extracted the confirmation and expansion of Venetian commercial privileges in the Byzantine Empire.15 Thus large armies and small and large fleets often traversed Byzantine lands and waters, presenting the Byzantines with the new problem of dealing, in economic ways too, with theoretical friends in large numbers.

The other general point that should be remembered is the existence of Crusader states

–  –  –

after 1099, which meant that there were three sets of Christians in the eastern Mediterranean: Byzantines, Crusader states, and Italian merchants (not to mention the native Christians of the East, who will not enter this discussion); the interconnections between them will be seen to have been of importance.

That having been said, I should like to pose a few questions that are somewhat different from the questions scholars have been asking. The focus, to the extent possible, and bearing in mind the sometimes inextricable interconnections between Crusaders and merchants, will be on the effects of the Crusades themselves, and of the Crusader states, on Byzantine commercial relations. What new and specific problems and challenges did the Crusaders and the existence of the Crusader states pose to the Byzantine Empire?

Did they influence the mechanisms and methods of trade? Did they help bring about any structural changes? Or were they irrelevant, and do the only questions continue to be those associated with the Italian presence and eventual dominance over the commerce of these areas?

I will concentrate here not on the overall canvas (the bird’s-eye view), but rather on the worm’s-eye view to start with, and then on the point of view of the flying-fish— the middle distance, the structural and institutional developments that took place in Byzantine trade with Christians and Muslims especially during the twelfth century, but also in the later period—connected with conditions in which the Crusades played a role. I will take for granted the very large changes after 1204, insofar as Byzantine trade with Western Christians is concerned.

I. The Byzantine Economy and the Crusades

This is a time when armies and navies passed through the territories of a still relatively intact and prosperous Byzantine Empire. The discussion of the First Crusade will include the expedition of 1100–1101 and end in 1108.16 There were two major relevant problems: that of provisioning the armies as they crossed Byzantine lands and the related problem of currency exchange.

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