Caravans and Trade Routes Blue Ribbon

Although officially the Ottoman Empire had no trade with anyone outside the Empire, the reality is quite different. Caravans left and arrived in Istanbul on a daily basis and there are numerous records of merchant ships moving between English and Ottoman ports. Shipping by boat between England and the Ottoman Empire was at a standstill only between 1550 to 1573, due to generally unfavorable economic conditions. During this time walking caravan trade made up for the shortages.

Since we portray a walking caravan, we will focus on that. Caravans were made up of people and pack animals traveling in large groups; up to 20,000 people and 300,000 animals has been recorded in a general caravan made up of merchants and pilgrims traveling to Mecca. A pilgrim caravan to Mecca would carry a heavier percentage of people (50,000) to animals (40,000). Smaller caravans would join together to make larger caravans and provide safety in numbers. Occasionally heavy wagons would be used, but this slowed progress and "time is money", (the expression was already in use). An enormous variety of goods were shipped across Europe, the mid-east and north Africa (the Maghreb). Faires generally lasted a fortnight (two weeks). Faires were typically one to two weeks walk apart or approximately 250 miles, with caravans traveling 20 to 35 miles a day, much slower with wagons (5 to 10 miles a day).

The pack animals consisted of camels, dromedaries, donkeys, mules and horses. Each different animal was used for the climate and terrain it was best suited, camels used in the steppe regions, were traded for dromedaries in the desert, and donkeys and mules were used in the Balkans, Syria, and Palestine.

Everyone on a caravan had a job to do and in many ways it became a city in motion. Many trades were necessary to keep a caravan moving. A caravan couldn't go far without animal handlers and shoemakers. It was not uncommon for marriages to happen between people on a caravan, with a divorce happening if the families decided to go separate ways. Leadership positions were elected by the membership at large, as you needed the most able and trustworthy person to see the caravan safely through to the next faire. Caravan leaders had to have the experience to select the correct routes, make provisions for protection, know how and where to find fresh water, know prices and goods, and what would make the most profit. Your class or status didn't make as much difference as your experience and ability.

When selecting items for trade there were many considerations. The ease of moving the items, what kind of duty and customs charges might be incurred, the possibility of a city sequestering your items (not an uncommon practice if transporting high demand items like wheat). Ultimately the most important consideration was not the volume of trade, but the ultimate rate of profit. It was safer and easier to transport luxury goods and "royal merchandise" than to transport high demand items such as grain, which might leave the caravan open to raids or sequestration by a starving populace. Caravans were occasionally hired to transport gold from one country to another, with couriers carrying up to 5,000 crowns sewn into their garments.

Merchants also dabbled in every kind of operation and speculation: purchases of land or houses, industrial investments, banking, marine insurance, lotteries, urban rents, peasants quit-rents, stock farming or speculation on foreign exchanges. Gambling also held an important place in the life of a merchant and any subject was a pretext for a wager, such as the number of cardinals to be promoted, the death or survival of famous men, the sex of unborn children, or the outcome of battles.

The following are three major trade routes taken by caravans during the renaissance. Only one of these includes England and is the one we would have taken to get there. I have not necessarily named all the cities where there were faires, but have tried to name the major ones. I have used the period names as much as I can, and notate names currently in use. Spelling varies, so I have used the spelling from the atlas I have or have used the spellings on the period maps I used to determine the route. I have attached a map for easier reference. The map uses all modern names for your convenience.

The Russian Isthmus: Istanbul, Bucharest, Odessa, following the Dneper North, Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk), Kiev, Smolensk, Novgorod, to Narva (on the coast), back to Novgorod, to Moscow, following the Volga South, Cere (now Kazan), Saratov, Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd), Astrakhan, Baku, Tabriz, somewhere in Armenia (can't locate the city name) where the bankers hung out, Trabizond, from here we either walked the coast or took a boat (they had boats especially for pack animals and caravans) to Sinop and back to Istanbul. Many times marauders would try to take over a caravan, especially one carrying practical goods such as grain or textiles. This is especially true in the case of Cossacks or Tartar raiders along the Volga. The problem was severe enough to essentially close the route between 1560 and 1570.

The Maghreb Isthmus: From Istanbul taking a path inland across Turkey stopping I know not where, Aleppo, Jeble (on the coast and a major money faire), Damascus, Ma'an (now Amman?), to Medina, Mecca, and Medina during Ramadin, Cairo, Jalu, Kufra, Marzuq, Ghat, Ghudamis, Algiers, (from here we would most likely take a ship), Tunis, Tripoli, Benghazi? (this had another name but I lost it), Alexandria, to Beiruit, to Jeble (again), Smyrna (with minor stops along the Turkish coast), and Istanbul.

The Hanseatic Isthmus: Istanbul, Bucharest, to Cracow following the Danube? or Odessa and Kiev to Cracow, Breslau, to either Leipzig or Prague, Nuremberg (whose population was over 40,000 and was a great place to sell furs), Frankfurt, Cologne, Antwerp, London, Kings Lynn, Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Oslo, to either Dansig and Riga or Stockholm, to Reval (which I think is Narva), Novgorod, Smolensk, Kiev, Odessa, Bucharest and Istanbul.

Major faire or trade cities in no particular order were:Marseilles, Lyon, Rouen, Bridgewater, Gniezmo, Posen, Warsaw, Lublin, St. Dominic's, Vienna, Lwow, Galatz, Sandomir, Frankfurt_am_Oder, Augsberg, Emden, Hamburg, Bremen and Copenhagen. They avoided Hungary during this period due to political strife and frequent outbreaks of war.

Trade Goods by Region

From the Levant (Turkey):

Spices: saffron, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace, pepper, salt, and sugar.

Drugs: opium, balm of mithridate, arsenic, benjamin (the balsamic resin, benzion), mirobolani (an astringent plum-like fruit), and perfumes.

Textiles: silk (green, blue, red), crimson damask, crimson velvet, camlets, cotton, linens, carpets.

Foods: wheat, barley, millet, raisins, olive oil, oranges, lemons, rhubarb, wines (malmsey, madeira).

Dyes: Cochineal (red), indigo (blue).

Luxuries: gold dust, slaves, copper, quicksilver, coral, Chinese porcelain, Lemnian earth, precious stones, pearls, frankincense, sandalwood, alum, gum arabic, glass trinkets, mirrors, wallpaper, furs.

From England:

Foods: grain, oatmeal, soda, pickled herring, cod and salmon, dried fish.

Textiles: woolen cloth, 'kersies of divers colours', caps.

Luxuries: silver coins, amber, paper, various trinkets, beaten sheets of tin and copper.

Handled mostly by merchant ship was contraband munitions and armaments, iron, steel, bronze, tin, copper, "cole of Newcastle", powder for cannon and arquebus, saltpetre, balls of iron for shot, coarse canvas, fine millstones, and trees and masts for galleys.

Out of the Northern Regions:

Whale blubber, wax, furs, flax, hemp, seal's teeth, timber and cod.


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