Harriet Tubman Seminar York University 7 February, 2000



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The size of these merchant caravans varied greatly depending on the state of trade and security. A "normal" size was around 1500 camels, though some reached as many as 4000. It was the "light caravans", however, that usually included the largest number of camels. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, growing demand for camels throughout the Ottoman Empire, brought annual caravans of 3000 to 5000 unladen camels from Basra to Aleppo. In 1745, William Beawes estimated that around eleven thousand camels were sold in Aleppo, while Plaisted estimated the figure at 3000-4000 annually.135 The caravans originated from al-cUqayr and other parts of southern Arabia, and moved north picking up more camels around Zubara, Qatif and Kuwait. The various caravans assembled at the town of Zubayr, to the south-west of Basra, prior to departing for Aleppo. Ideally, The merchant caravans departed after the arrival of the Bengal ships, usually in July, while the light caravans normally left in April. This schedule, however, varied quite often due to the ever changing political, economic and security situation in Iraq leading William Beawes, who travelled with a merchant caravan in 1745, to remark:


...nor have the caravans such regard to the seasons of shipping as I imagined, being here informed their setting out is far from depending upon the will of the merchants but entirely upon the will of the Bashaw of Bagdat and the agreement of the principal tribes of Arabs.136
The normal route, some 780 miles, ran parallel to the Euphrates. The caravans rarely approached the river because the muddy surface slowed the camels down and the desert provided a haven from the numerous custom points. The caravan continued to grow as it approached Najaf and Karbala', and at Kubaysah it was usually joined by the Baghdad caravan. The entire trip took between 45 to 70 days for the large caravans, and some 25 days for the small ones.

Many merchants believed that Baghdad's control over Basra had a disruptive impact on the Aleppo caravan trade. As early as 1739, Baghdad's Wali, Ahmad Pasha, refused to allow caravans to go directly from Basra to Aleppo without first stopping at Baghdad to pay additional tolls.137 During the century the Basra-Aleppo route functioned best when Baghdad's control over Basra was weak. By the middle of the century, Basra's merchants seem to have reached an agreement with the Wali to pay the additional Baghdad customs at Basra, thus being spared the costly and time-consuming trip to Baghdad. Several caravans were allowed to proceed in this manner until the agreement was nullified due to problems in collection from Barsa.138 Prior to the Persian occupation, the struggle between Basra's merchants and the central government in Baghdad over the Aleppo trade intensified greatly. In 1774, the Wali refused a request from a number of merchants to organize a caravan to Aleppo thereby increasing secessionist tendencies in Basra.139 This conflict of interests had profound political implications which will be discussed later.


Toward the end of the century Aleppo faced a growing economic crisis.140 Among the numerous causes for this crisis were the civil war in Persia which affected Aleppo's silk trade, the increasing power of the Najdi tribes in the countryside, and the rise of Izmir and Damascus as Aleppo's primary rivals for the European and Middle Eastern trades respectively. Constantine Volney who visited Aleppo at the end of the century speaks of the utter devastation of the economy and the desolation of the city and its hinterland.141 This alone would have guaranteed a reduction in Basra's caravan trade, yet the situation became quite critical when the rising power of the Najdi tribes affected the security of the caravan route. The greatest damage was certainly done by the Wahhabis and their allies who succeeded in sacking Karbala' in 1802. Two years later they raided the southern suburbs of Basra causing much damage and lose of life.142

In addition to this, the Persian occupation of 1776-1779 had two immediate impacts on the Basra-Aleppo trade.143 First, it encouraged the development of a Kuwait-Aleppo route where Kuwait's relative isolation afforded it greater security and freedom of commerce. Secondly, the decline of the Basra-Aleppo trade gave a boost to the hitherto secondary Baghdad-Damascus trade. During the second half of the century Aleppo's trading position gradually gave way to the rise of Damascus as the primary commercial city of Syria.144 This combination of increasing controls from Baghdad, a decline in the security of the caravan route, the development of an alternative route from Kuwait, the wanning of Aleppo's commercial prominance and the rise of Damascus, all contributed to the decline of Basra's caravan trade at the end of the century.


Three primary conclusions emerge from our discussion of Basra's trade networks in the eighteenth century. First, it is clear that Basra acted as the link between the two regions of the Persian Gulf and Western India on the one hand, and Mesopotamia, Persia and Syria on the other. It is, therefore, quite natural that Basra's economy would react to any developments that might occur anywhere in these regions. Secondly, Basra's primary role in this trade was as a port-of-transit. Though Basra's dates were in demand, especially in India and the Persian Gulf, this alone did not justify the importance of the city in the trade networks of the region. More importantly was its strategic location linking the various routes between Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and India. Lastly, while all indications point to the decline of Basra's trade after the plague of 1773 and the Persian occupation of 1776-1779, these events represented only the short-term causes of this decline. More important were the significant structural transformations that affected the region after the rise of the Qajars in Persia, the decline of Aleppo, and the rising competitiveness of other ports in the Gulf. Likewise, the late eighteenth century witnessed the height of tribal power in southern Iraq enabling tribes, such as the Khazacil, cUbayd and Muntafiq to flout Baghdad's authority and disrupt the important trade routes with Baghdad and Aleppo. As late as 1850 Basra's Mutasallim, Macshuq Pasha, was still complaining of the government's inability to control the tribes and secure the chief inland trade routes.

1 On the concept of boundaries during this period see Hala Fattah, The Politics of Regional Trade…, particularly chapter 1.

2 Neils Steensgaard, "The Indian Ocean Network and the Emerging World-Economy, c.1500-1750," in Chandra, Satish, (ed.), The Indian Ocean: Explorations in History, Commerce and Politics, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1987, pp.130-131, 144.

3 Ibid., pp.144-145.

4 Ibid., pp.145-146.

5 Yilmaz, Serap, “Osmanli Imparatorlugu’nun Dogu...”, p.40.

6 Ibid., p.59.

7 Daniel Panzac, "International and Domestic Maritime Trade...”, p.191.

8 Yilmaz, Serap, “Osmanli Imparatorlugu’nun Dogu...”, p.36.

9 These bales varied in weight from three to four hundred pounds each. See Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 229.

10 See, for example, the list of the Albion's cargo in MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.198, entry dated 5 Jul, 1768.

11 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 232.

12 BA, DBSM, BSH-1, sira 20.

13 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folios 228-229.

14 Serap Yilmaz, “Osmanli Imparatorlugu’nun Dogu...”, p.58 and Daniel Panzac, "International and Domestic Maritime Trade...”, pp.191,192.

15 K.N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilization..., p.92.

16 In figures 1 and 2, the total number of arrivals appears larger than that of the departures because some of the ships that arrived from India chose to depart to another destination. The arrivals were also usually better recorded than the departures.

17 BA, DBSM, BSH-1, sira 25.

18 Ibid.

19 Sir Hermann Gollancz, Chronicle of Events..., p.568.

20 Ashin Das Gupta argues that the backbone of this boom was a "vigorous merchant class" taking advantage of "feudal fragmentation" which ensured an atmosphere of commercial freedom. See Ashin Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian Trade, 1740-1800, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1967, pp.4,19.

21 The Turkish word chalabi was a title given to some of the wealthier merchants in the Ottoman Empire. The Chalabis of Surat, however, formed a single clan or extended family. For information on the title of chalabi in Iraq see, Hana Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of its Communists, Bacthists, and Free Officers, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1978, pp.124-125. For information on the Chalabis of Surat, see Ashin Das Gupta, Indian Merchants..., pp.76-77 and passim.

22 BA, DBSM, BSH-1, sira 25.

23 See IOR, Letters from Basra, G/29/19, letter dated 29 Aug, 1739; and MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.201, folio 203.

24 For a full discussion of this episode, though favoring the Dutch view, see Edward Ives, A Voyage from England..., pp.209-215; and MSA, Gombroon Factory Diaries no.117, entry dated 17 Jul, 1754.

25 Ashin Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian Trade..., pp.89-100, 102-123, and passim.

26 Catherine Manning, "French Interest in East Asian Trade, 1719-1748," Moyen Orient & Ocean Indien, vol.7, 1990, p.155.

27 Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800,University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1976, p.282.

28 Elena Frangakis-Syrett, The Commerce of Smyrna..., pp.85-86.

29 Ashin Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian Trade..., p.33.

30 On this point see Ashin Das Gupta, "India and the Indian Ocean in the Eighteenth Century", in Ashin Das Gupta & M. Pearson, (eds.), India and the Indian Ocean, 1500-1800, Calcutta, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp.131-161.

31 Lakshmi Subramanian, "The Eighteenth-Century Social Order in Surat: A Reply and an Excursus on the Riots of 1788 and 1795," Modern Asian Studies, vol.25, no.2, 1991, pp.344-345.

32 As early as the middle of the century, the Dutch Resident, von Kniphausen, wrote that profits from the India freight trade was the main factor keeping other European companies in the Gulf. See Willem Floor, "The Dutch On Khark Island: A Commercial Mishap," IJMES, vol.24, No.3, August, 1992, p.450.

33 An example of the first case can be found in a statement by sixty-two merchants from Surat to the city's Qadi in 1764. A copy of this is at IOR, Misc. Correspondence with Agents in Turkish Arabia,G/29/25, folio 30. An example of the second case can be found in a 1768 letter of twelve Basrawi merchants to the English Agent in MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.199, folio 113.

34 Serap Yilmaz, “Osmanli Imparatorlugu’nun Dogu...”, p.33.

35 For a discussion of the extent of European control of Ottoman trade in the Mediterranean see Daniel Panzac, "International and Domestic Maritime Trade...”, p.195-7.

36 For a brief yet concise history of cUman see G.P. Badger's introduction to Hamid ibn Muhammad Ibn Ruzayq, History of the Imams and Seyyids of cOman by Salîlibn Razîk, from A.D. 661 1856, Hakluyt Society, No. 43, London, 1871. For the history of cUman in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries see Abdul Aziz El-Ashban, "The Formation of the Omani Trading Empire Under the Yacaribah Dynasty (1624-1719)," Arab Studies Quarterly, vol.1, no.4, 1979, pp.354-371; Patricia Risso, Oman and Muscat: An Early Modern History, Croom Helm, London, 1986; Willem Floor, "Dutch Trade With Masqat in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century," Asian and African Studies, vol.16, 1982, pp.197-213.

c Ashin Das Gupta, Indian Merchants..., p.71; Abdul Aziz El-Ashban, "The Formation...", pp.360-361.

37 Abdul Aziz El-Ashban, "The Formation...", p.368.

38 BA, DBSM, BSH-1, sira 25.

39 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 219.

40 Murray Gordon, Slavery in the Arab World, New Amsterdam Books, New York, 1989, pp.141-143; and Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770-1873, Ohio University Press, Athens, 1987, passim.

41 Ehud Toledano, The Ottoman Slave Trade and Its Suppression: 1840-1890, Princeton U. Pr., Princeton, 1982, pp.34-35.

42 M. Otter, Voyage en Turquie..., p.73.

43 Dina Khoury, "Merchants and Trade...”, pp.66-67.

44 Ehud Toledano, The Ottoman Slave Trade..., p.33.

45 Even here, historians have differed over the numbers involved. Austen, for example, estimates that between 1830 and 1866 a total of about 2000 slaves were sold in the "Upper Persian Gulf" (mainly Basra, Kuwait, Bushire and Bahrayn). Toledano, on the other hand, estimates that 4000-5000 slaves were sold in 1840 alone, "most of them in Basra, Kuwait, Bahrayn and Bushire". See Ralph A. Austen, "The 19th Century Islamic Slave Trade From East Africa (Swahili and Red Sea Coasts): A Tentative Census," Slavery & Abolition, vol.9, no.3, Dec.1988, p.29; and Ehud Toledano, The Ottoman Slave Trade..., p.82.

46 Thomas M. Ricks, "Slaves and Slave Traders in the Persian Gulf, 18th and 19th Centuries: An Assessment," Slavery & Abolition, Vol.9, No.3, Dec.1988, pp.64-65.

47 Albertine Jwaideh & J.W. Cox, "The Black Slaves of Turkish Arabia During the 19th Century," Slavery & Abolition, Vol.9, No.3, Dec.1988, pp.51-52.

48 Ibid., pp.52-53.

49 Patricia Risso, Oman and Muscat..., pp.77-80.

50 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 219.

51 Ibid., folios 219-220.

52 Ibid.

53 Mentioned in Kristof Glamann, Dutch-Asiatic Trade, 1620-1740, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1958, p.206.

54 BA, DBSM, BSH-1, sira 25.

55 Ashin Das Gupta, "Gujarati Merchants and the Red Sea Trade, 1700-1725," in Blair King & M.N. Pearson, (eds.), The Age of Partnership: Europeans in Asia Before Dominion, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1979, p.130.

56 Paul Dresch, Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, p.206. Dresch estimates that Mukha's export of coffee in the first half of the century peaked in 1730.

57 Carsten Niebuhr, Voyage en Arabie..., p.192.

58 MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.198, folios 84-85.

59 Calvin H. Allen, “The State of Masqat in the Gulf and East Africa, 1785-1829,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, no.2, vol.14, May, 1982, pp.117-118.

60 For Ibn Sacud's raids on southern Iraq, see Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, Four Centuries..., pp.212-217; and cAli al-Wardi, Lamahat Ijtimaciyyah..., pp.183-206.

61 Fattah, Hala, The Politics of Regional Trade..., p.56.

c J.B. Kelly, "Kursan", in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol.5, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1986, p.507.

62 Ibid., pp.120-122.

63 Patricia R. Dubuisson, "Qasimi Piracy...", pp.52-53.

64 Paul Dresch, Tribes, Government and History..., p.200.

65 Mohammed al-Zulfa, "Omani-Ottoman Relations During the Reign of Imam Ahmad b. Sacid, 1741-83, in the Light of a Recently Discovered Exchange of Letters Between the Imam and the Ottoman Sultan," Arabian Studies, Vol.8, 1990, pp.95-96.

66 Ibid., p.96.

67 Ibid., p.100.

68 Calvin H. Allen, “The State of Masqat...”, p.121.

69 cAbdul-Malik al-Tamimi, Tarikh al-cIlaqat al-Tijariyyah Bayn al-Hind wa Mantaqat al-Khalij al-cArabi fi al-cAsr al-Hadith, al-Adab College, Vol.8, 48th Monograph, Baghdad, 1986, p.21.

70 See Willem Floor, "A Description of the Persian Gulf and Its Inhabitants in 1756", in Persica, No.8, 1979, pp.163-185.

71 Ibid., p.165.

72 For the history of Bushire in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries see Stephen R. Grummon, "The Rise and Fall of the Arab Shaykhdom of Bushire: 1750-1850", Ph.D. dissertation, John Hopkins University, 1985.

73 J.B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf..., p.44.

74 The pearl fisheries of Bahrayn brought in an estimated 500,000 rupees annually in the 1770s. See Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade..., p.293.

c Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, Croom Helm, London, 1979, pp.27-28; Willem Floor, "The Iranian Navy in the Gulf During the Eighteenth Century," Iranian Studies, vol.20, no.1, 1987, pp.34-36.

75 Hala Fattah, The Politics of Regional Trade..., pp.67-68.

c Ahmad Mustafa Abu Hakima, History of Eastern Arabia..., pp.175-177 and passim.

76 Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, p.28.

77 G. Rentz, "al-Kawasim", in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol.6, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1978, p.777.

78 MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.197, entry dated 22 Aug, 1767.

79 For a contemporary description of pearl fishing in the Gulf see the report by the head of the Dutch Factory at Kharj, baron von Kniphausen in Willem Floor, "Pearl Fishing in the Persian Gulf in 1757", in Persica, No.10, 1982, pp.209-222.

80 cAli al-Wardi, Lamahat Ijtimaciyyah..., p.192.

81 Ahmad Mustafa Abu Hakima, History of Eastern Arabia..., pp.176-177.

82 Patricia R. Dubuisson, "Qasimi Piracy...”, p.48.

c Rosmarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, pp.29-30.

83 Charles Belgrave, The Pirate Coast, Libraire du Liban, Beirut, 1972, pp.28-36.

84 Patricia R. Dubuisson, "Qasimi Piracy...”, p.49.

85 Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, p.32.

86 Charles Issawi, (ed.), The Economic History of Iran, 1800-1914, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971, p.82.

87 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 235.

88 See Ahmad Mustafa Abu Hakima, History of Eastern Arabia..., pp.45-63.

89 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 213.

90 Ahmad Mustafa Abu Hakima, History of Eastern Arabia..., pp.96-97.

91 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folio 235.

92 See the summery of Macshuq Pasha's report to the Porte in Mahdi al-Bustani, "Watha'iq cUthmaniyyah...", p.110.

93 J.B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf..., p.29; Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar, p.28; and Hala Fattah, The Politics of Regional Trade..., p.59.

94 See Mir cAbdul-Latif al-Shustari, Tuhfat al-cAlam, passim.

95 IOR, Letters from Basra, G/29/18, letter dated 14 Aug, 1729.

96 MSA, Bussora Factory Diaries no.199, entry dated 1 May, 1768, folio 140.

97 Gavin Hambly, "An Introduction to the Economic Organization of Early Qajar Iran", in Iran, Vol.2, 1964, p.74.

98 Hala Fattah, The Politics of Regional Trade..., p.65.

99 Ibid.

100 Samuel Manesty & Harvard Jones, Report on the British Trade..., folios 242-243; Gavin Hambly, "An Introduction...", p.78; Charles Issawi, The Economic History of Iran..., p.88; J.B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf..., p.36; and Ann K.S. Lambton, Qajar Persia, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., London, 1987, pp.115-116.

101 Charles Issawi,
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