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From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean

The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa

Sebouh Aslanian

Publication Year: 2011

Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, this study explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco. The New Julfan Armenians were the only Eurasian community that was able to operate simultaneously and successfully in all the major empires of the early modern world—both land-based Asian empires and the emerging sea-borne empires—astonishingly without the benefits of an imperial network and state that accompanied and facilitated European mercantile expansion during the same period. This book brings to light for the first time the trans-imperial cosmopolitan world of the New Julfans. Among other topics, it explores the effects of long distance trade on the organization of community life, the ethos of trust and cooperation that existed among merchants, and the importance of information networks and communication in the operation of early modern mercantile communities.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: California World History Library

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. vii-11

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

It is not possible to thank all the individualswho have given so generously of their time and expertise. I would like to single out for specialmention those whose help was indispensable during the writing of this book. I am grateful for the patience and expert guidance of my advisers and mentors while this book was in its dissertation stage: Francesca Trivellato...

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pp. xv-xviii

Some studies are idea-driven; at their inception is a notion or theory about a process of historical development. The writer usually begins with an insight that may help pull together certain relatively well-known historic facts or events into a coherent whole. Others are archive-driven. In this case, the work in question begins not with a theoretical insight; rather...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xix-xx

In general, I have utilized the Armenian script in the notes to transcribe longer passages from archival documents. Shorter passages in the body of the text as well as titles of works originally written in Armenian have been transliterated using the scheme of the Journal of the Society of Armenian Studies (JSAS). Based on the system developed by the Library...

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1. From Trade Diasporas to Circulation Societies

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pp. 1-22

During the Safavid-Ottoman wars of 1603–1605, the Safavid monarch Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) practiced “scorched earth” tactics, laying waste to the frontier regions of his empire, deporting up to 300,000 Armenians and others fromthe frontier territories, and resettling them in the interior of his realm.1While many of the deportees suffered from their brutal displacement and perished during their deportation to Iran, the population...

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2. Old Julfa, the Great Deportations, and the Founding of New Julfa

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pp. 23-43

.In 1595, an Armenian merchant from Old Julfa named Mahdasi Aghaval wrote a will bequeathing his house on the edge of the Aras River along with his patrimonial gardens, which formed the southern perimeter of the town, to the children of his brother, Selim.1 This will is the oldest preserved document in the All Savior’s Monastery Archive in Julfa, Isfahan. It most likely would have been entirely insignificant were it not for the...

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3. The Julfan Trade Network I:TheWorld of the Indian Ocean

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pp. 44-65

This chapter and the next provide a broad overview of the Julfan trade network in the early modern period to elucidate not only the trade settlements’ connection to each other and to the nodal center in Julfa, Isfahan, but also the network’s circulatory nature —that is, its circulation of credit, merchants, and information—which is the subject of chapters 5, 6, and 7.Thus our focus here and in chapter 4 is the cluster of trade settlements that...

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4. The Julfan Trade Network II: The Mediterranean, Northwestern European, and Russian Networks

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pp. 66-85

The extension of the Julfan network into the “West”—the Mediterranean, northwestern European, and Russian circuits—was one of its distinctive features and an important reason for its continuous growth and prosperity in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. Western expansion made the Julfan merchant community an important bridge in the early modern period for economic and cultural encounters between the...

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5. “The salt in a merchant’s letter”: Business Correspondence and the Courier System

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pp. 86-120

It is now widely acknowledged that “information was the most precious good” in the lives of early modern merchant communities.1 Claude Markovits explains: It is the capacity of the merchants to maintain a constant flow of information within the network that ensures its success. This means two things: first, that ...

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6. The Circulation of Men and Credit:The Commenda and the Family Firm

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pp. 121-165

This description of the peripatetic lifestyle of Julfan merchants is froma seventeenth century Armenian chronicle written by a priest named Grigor of Daranagh. Unusual for a chronicler of his times, Grigor was not favorably inclined toward Julfans and, in the course of his chronicle, categorically condemns their greed and their “worship of Mammon” as opposed to God, which in his view led them to wander and circulate for long years throughout...

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7. Trust, Social Capital, and Networks: Informal and Semiformal Institutions at Work

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pp. 166-201

Trust was an essential component of early modern long-distance trade, as such trade depended upon amodicum of mutual confidence and expectation that neither party would be defrauded by the other in a potentially profitable venture. Trust emerges as an issue because economic transactions in early modern long-distance tradewere rarely based on “simultaneous exchange.”3 Rather, the quid was separated from the quo over time and space in...

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8. The Center Cannot Hold: The Decline and Collapse of the Julfan Trade Network

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pp. 202-214

In his characteristically astute fashion Fernand Braudel remarks that trade networks collapse because of “failings” and attendant complications that occur at their center but have devastating ramifications beyond the core. Braudel’s account of how trade networks collapse may not apply to all trade networks. For instance, networks that have multiple centers, such as the Sephardic one in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic worlds, may...

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Conclusion: Comparative Thoughts on Julfan Armenians, Multani Indians, and Sephardic Jews

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pp. 215-234

Most scholarship on “trade diasporas,” or long-distance mercantile communities and theirnetworks, has tended to be insular andnarrowly focused on a single community of merchants. Little work has been done to conceptualize mercantile communities in a comparative context. As Jonathan Israel puts it, “The role of different diasporas in long-distance trade . . . [has] only rather rarely been systematically compared.”2 This chapter offers a comparative...


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pp. 235-306


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pp. 307-344


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pp. 345-364

Acknowledgments, Production Notes

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pp. 365-389

E-ISBN-13: 9780520947573
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520266872

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: California World History Library