Colloque “Crossing Boundaries? ​Trade and Connections on the Medieval Mediterranean”

University of Cambridge (UK), 10-12 avril 2019

Communication d’Ingrid Houssaye Michienzi

“Trade, Credit and Trust. An Examination of the Business Relations of Jewish and Florentine Merchants between the Mediterranean and Saharan Africa (14th-15th centuries)”

Medieval Florentine business records, comprising of account books and copious correspondence, offer a privileged source for the study of Mediterranean trade. In this paper, I will use these extraordinary sources, mostly from the Datini archive in Prato, to investigate the chain of trade from the island of Majorca to Saharan Africa which relied mostly on Jewish merchants established in the island and in some commercial places in North Africa.

The island of Majorca was indeed “the place to be” for merchants who wanted to trade with Africa. Despite a growing context of religious tensions in the island, after the persecutions of Jews of August 1391 which led to an important first contingent of conversos and a massive flow of emigrants to the Maghreb, Christian and Jewish merchants still worked together. The authorities were pressured for increasing social and spatial segregation, but the account books of Florentine merchants settled in the island shows how they were engaged in spectacular commercial collaborations extending over several thousand kilometres. Many rulers on both shores of the Mediterranean have never ceased to ensure that commercial activities run smoothly.

In this paper, I will first focus on the situation in the island of Majorca to explain how Florentine and Jewish merchant were collaborating despite disturbances caused by the social and religious tensions. Then I will examine the different places and people involved in such a long-distance trade, from the island to the Sahara. The sources reveal the fundamental role of these agents who made caravan traffic accessible to European merchants, and agree to show how spaces were built and based on bonds of trust and credit. Thanks to this documentation, it is possible to penetrate into the heart of commercial exchanges and observe how networks, different in their nature and organization, could fit together and articulate.


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