Muslim absence/ presence in European ports and the Capitulations

By Fariba Zarinebaf
Submitted to Session P3843 (Muslim Subjects and Clients in the Pre-Modern Christian Mediterranean, 2014 Annual Meeting
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There is an ongoing debate among the scholars of the Middle East about the absence of Muslim traders from European ports in the early modern period while an increasing number of European merchants were settling in the ports of Levant. Some scholars have emphasized the lack of interest among Muslim merchants in trading with Europe ( Bernard Lewis) while others (Timur Kuran) have blamed the Islamic institutions ( inheritance laws and vakf) for preventing the accumulation of capital. They have also claimed that the Ottoman- European treaties known as ahdname or Capitulations placed the European traders in an advantageous position vis-a- vis Ottoman merchants. In this paper, I will show that in fact Muslim merchants did become part of the European trading networks as silent partners and a few traded directly with European ports. But European traders preferred to use non- Muslim Ottoman subjects as their agents, dragoman, and brokers partly because Muslims were not tolerated in European ports. In other words, it appears that the plural legal system that the ahdnames created in Ottoman ports was largely absent from European ports even through the origins of the ahdnames was partly Mediterranean. This paper will first examine the context on the negotiation of these treaties and the Ottoman economic vision behind them. I will argue that the Ottoman empire had created an early modern international legal system that allowed for the rise of free trade zones in some of its ports. The ahdnames and berats functioned like commercial charters that pledged European traders temporary exemption from a slew of personal taxes, promised safe conduct, freedom of trade, freedom of religious practice and the protection of property (houses, shops, churches, garden). Did Ottoman traders enjoy the same rights in Europe? The final part of this paper will focus on the bilateral aspects of these treaties, the status of dragoman, and the rise of Ottoman beratli merchants. I will finally examine the legal disputes that European and Ottoman merchants submitted to the Ottoman courts to shed light on the challenges of a plural legal system in Ottoman ports comparing them with the encounters of Ottoman merchants in European ports based on Ottoman archival sources.