- Mediterranean Encounters: Trade and Pluralism in Early Modern Galata by Fariba Zarinebaf
When Al-Hac Mehmed, resident of Kasim Paşa, Istanbul, died onboard ship in the Mediterranean, his estate was registered in the court of the Galata kadi in 1606. He owned stakes in several shops across Istanbul, including a confectionary shop in Galata. He had clearly been trading in Egypt in spices, dyes, coffee, and sugar. Among his movable belongings were fine textiles alongside European watches. He had borrowed money from two charitable endowments, and he owed money to a man with whom he had perhaps gone into partnership. He had also lent money and received collateral. His portfolio spanned long-distance trade, retail, property, and banking. In the inventory of his estate, the topography of Istanbul and its environs meets the wider Mediterranean, and the Ottoman world meets the European. He exemplifies the teeming cast of characters in Zarinebaf's excellent new study of Galata, the European port of Istanbul on the other side of the Golden Horn, and its hinterland of Pera to the north.
Evliya Çelebi saw Galata, with its taverns and brothels, as "sin city." Visiting Europeans would later see it as an enclave of Western modernity. Zarinebaf dispels both stereotypes, by examining the local history of Galata and by placing Istanbul's Mediterranean trade (much of which passed through Galata) within a wider Mediterranean and Black Sea frame.
To pursue Galata's trade in every direction within the larger Mediterranean world right through the early modern period would be a task of Braudellian scale. Sensibly, Zarinebaf's emphasis is on the trade with [End Page 627] France via Marseilles in the long eighteenth century. The book has three parts. Part I starts with the twelfth-century Genoese enclave and runs through the Ottoman conquest (which Zarinebaf sees as only temporarily disruptive) to the limited subsequent Islamization, which did not hinder Galata's development as a European port, before moving north to Pera and its transformation from necropolis to diplomatic center.
Part II is a discussion, spanning the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, of the regime of adhnames, commercial and diplomatic treaties. Especially for the earlier part of the period in question, Zarinebaf presents them as far more bilateral than has often been supposed. They were not symptoms of Ottoman decline but evidence of a continuing international legal and economic order around the Mediterranean, in which ports such as Galata enjoyed considerable autonomy.
Part III, the most substantial, shows how this legal regime manifested itself in Ottoman–Latin relations, particularly in local trade and the provisioning of the capital. Earlier chapters touched on trade in an extensive range of goods, but this final section brings textiles, coffee, and sugar to the fore. It also fully tackles the question of whether the Ottoman sultans oversaw a sclerotic command economy with limited scope for private initiative or, as Zarinebaf argues in this book, an economy of often large-scale merchant partnerships with ready access to credit. The final section also discusses interfaith (sexual) relations, violence, and dragomans.
In place of a conclusion, Zarinebaf offers an epilogue that covers the unraveling of the system that she described as a consequence of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt. A new era of free trade replaced monopolies, and for the first time, European ports were opened to Ottoman merchants who previously were forced to charter Dutch or Swedish ships. A concluding summary would have helped.
The chapters are each long and detailed, grounded in archival detail, and often threading together several related but distinct topics. Mastery of an immense secondary bibliography is everywhere apparent, but Zarinebaf tends to represent current debates in it without always making her own sympathies clear. Moreover, even though she invokes models to follow from the historiography, she does not explicitly embrace any particular methodology.
What might Zarinebaf have claimed in her conclusion? She could legitimately have laid claim to five achievements: (1) a study of a neglected sub...