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Between Venice and Alexandria: Trade and the Movement of Precious Metals in the Early Mamluk Period
By David Jacoby
Mamlūk Studies Review, Vol.21 (2018)
Abstract: The investigation of coinage and monetary systems in the Ayyubid and Mamluk dominions has gained in intensity in the last decades. The meticulous examination of coins, combined with textual evidence, has yielded new insights into the operation of these systems from the second half of the twelfth century onward. It is commonly acknowledged in general terms that the import of gold and silver from the West, both bullion and coins, strongly impacted upon the monetary evolution and economies of Egypt and Syria.
However, much textual evidence on this movement has remained untapped, a result of the compartmentalization of Islamic and Western studies. Contemporary sources drafted in Western languages offer precious evidence on the movement of precious metals. In some cases the Latin or vernacular version of treaties between Egypt and the main Western maritime nations, Venice, Pisa, and Genoa, is the only extant one, while in others it provides information absent from the corresponding Arabic version. Western trading manuals, official records, and private documents yield data not found in Arabic sources on a variety of monetary issues in Egypt, which include the transfer, sale, and refining of precious metals, the minting of coins, mint charges, coin circulation, moneys of account, and exchange rates. Moreover, they offer a Western perspective on these issues.
The present article addresses some of them in the period extending from ca. 1250 to ca. 1350 within the context of contemporary trade patterns, with special attention to Venice, a prominent bullion market and a major trading partner of Egypt.
Top Image: 1572 Portolan chart of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean Sea by Diogo Homem