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Hier die Strukturierung, die ich dafür geschrieben habe:

Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East. A Brief History of the Last 2,000 years. Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), NY, 1995.


The Economy (pp.157-178)

Sources were lost as empires dissolved and were replaced, except for Ottoman Empire, where they were vast and daunting.

This is a tentative outline.



Agriculture was by far the most important form of economic activity.

Middle Eastern agriculture was of two types:

  • river-valley economics
    Nile valley
    Tigris-Euphrates valley
    two rivers of central Asia
  • dependent on rainfall
    Syrian valleys
    Syro-Palestinian coastland
    parts of Iran
    most of Turkey

= more difficult and produced lower yields


Notable feature of the whole region = lack of forests => lack of timber.


Importing timber from:



Southeast Asia (tropical hardwoods)




  • Earliest
    • Barley
    • Millet
    • Some primitive forms of wheat
  • Early Middle Ages
    • Wheat predominated – up till present
  • At some point
    • Rice (from India – spread from Iran –> Iraq –> Syria -> Egypt)

When Arabs conquered the region found it there.


Other food crops

  • leguminous pulses
    • beans
    • peas
    • lentils
    • chickpeas
  • oleaginous plants
    • for food, lighting, toiletries (esp. soap)
    • chief oil-bearing plant was the olive (in some parts a major crop)
    • also oil-seeds
  • sugar cane – Persia ‘sheker’ or ‘qand’ [before that honey]
    • Sugar refined and became a major export to Christian Europe
    • Plantation system
  • Spices
    • From where?
      • Many parts of Middle East
      • Also imported from South and Southeast Asia
      • Over land route to Europe before sea access cancelled that
    • Use?
      • Hot climate / no refrigerators -> preservation throughSalting and pickling -> need spice to make it palatable

Fodder crops

  • Society relying on animals for transport and as meat

Industrial crops

  • For light clothing where leather and wool unsuitable
    • Flax – since antiquity (mummies wrapped in linen)
    • Cotton – seems to have come from East Asia –>
      Persia then farther westward
  • Mulberry- to feed silkworm
  • Dye crops
  • Scent plants
  • Papyrus (from banks of the Nile)
    -> parchment -> paper

Fruits and vegetables

  • Most important fruits
    • Vine
      • grapes
      • wine
    • figs
    • dates – staple in oasis and semi-desert  areas
    • peach
    • apricot both from Persia and beyond
  • vegetables
    • spinach
    • aubergine (eggplant)
    • artichoke
      all still known by their Persian and Arabic names
  • citrus
    • sweet orange
      from India and China brought by Portuguese -> ‘bor†aqal’ or ‘portakal’
    • turunj (Hebrew ‘ethrog’) known since Biblical times = bitter
    • lemons – probably from India (9th c., spread rapidly)
    • limes     – same
      both still known by their Perso-Indian names
      brought by Arabic caravans to Middle East
      and by traders with Crusaders to Europe

American plants (introduced by Portuguese):

  • Tobacco
  • Maize
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

More recent non-Middle Eastern origin

  • Tea – from China and Tibet (appears to have been introduced into Iran by the Mongols) 13th c.
    but didn’t spread
    reintroduced from Russia in the 19th c.
    Reduced dependence on coffee, which they could not grow

Major area of tea-drinking = western Maghreb (since 1700) introduced there by French and British

There they prepared it with mint leaves.

  • Coffee – more widespread and important

Seems to have come from Ethiopia (province Kaffa, where it still grows wild)
14-15th c. -> Yemen -> Sufi shaykhs to stay awake during devotions.

-> to Mecca and from there seems to have dispersed
-> stayed in Middle East

Europeans see it and disparage, people sitting and drinking in public = lazy

Egyptian merchants (losing the spice trade to circumnavigation of Africa) get interested in exporting coffee to Europe.

1st European coffee houses in Vienna after siege.

Became important social centers, because of alcohol prohibition, no public houses (pubs).

Widespread drinking, but clandestine.

Christian monks were tavern-keepers, but there was nothing in the cities to correspond to a tavern.

Complaints: coffee-house and tea-house were suspected of slander and gambling.

Techniques of Cultivation


        • ploughs – simple, wheelless
        • often without a mould-board
        • yoked to:
          – oxen.
          – buffaloes,

but not to horses

River valley cultures not as innovative, because they got 2-3 crops / year with little effort, they weren’t driven to inventiveness.

European ‘gentlemen farmers’ were university trained and applied trained mind to agriculture.
Educated gentlemen in Middle East were not interested in farming.

Combination of intellectual discipline, technical skill, and actual involvement in agriculture was necessary to produce technological improvement.

Apart from irrigation


Rich range and variety of crops

Exchange facilitated by Islamic conquests

Westward movement of:

      • rice
      • sorgum
      • sugar cane
      • cotton
      • watermelon
      • aubergines
      • artichokes
      • oranges
      • bananas

      • fodder
      • fiber crops
      • spices
      • medicinal plants
      • plants used for cosmetics
      • astonishing range of crops, each with subvariants

1400 CE

65 kinds of grapes

36 kinds of pears

28 kinds of figs

16 kinds of apricots

Skill with irrigation – system of dykes and reservoirs and canals
-> preserve and distribute floodwaters of great rivers


    • farmers
    • technocrats
    • bureaucrats
    • centralized irrigation works
    • nucleus of modern bureaucratic state


– reaping with hooks to avoid loss of grain

Crop ground
– either by hand (mortar and pestle)
– or with millstones (operated by slaves or beasts)


Nile – were unnecessary because alluvial deposits sufficed.
elsewhere sometimes lacking –> exhaustion of soil –> erosion
Iraq – erosion accentuated by deposits of salt brought down by the rivers
in good times (peace) they were drained
in bad times (war) they accumulated
In general,
seem to have used biennial system:
cultivating land and
letting it lie fallow in alternate years


Whenever there was a breakdown of civil order, the nomads came out of the desert into the cultivated land, and the result was an extension of the desert at the expense of the sown. (p. 165  4th §)

– the defences that were necessary to keep the desert at bay broke down.

The goat!
– tears out grass with roots, removing topsoil that can be blown away
– eats the bark -> trees die -> plains open to the wind-> removes topsoil

began in late Roman times
was well advanced at time of the Arab invasions (brief recovery)

flight from land due to high taxes

Arabs were traders

    • Conquered -> garrison towns
      • farmers held in low esteem
    • shari’a law primarily concerned with problems of city-dwellers
    • pays little attention to peasants other than payment of taxes.

Worsened by:

Control of agricultural land by military officers with no knowledge of agriculture

Arid lands still supported sheep and goats ->

    • meat
    • – wool
    • – hides
    • yogurt
    • cheese

nomadic herding culture has existed in the region for millennia
– made possible beginning of civilization
– camel nomadism since pre-historic times (!)
– horses
few in ancient Arabia -> steppe grazing -> increased herds (esp. Eurasia)

– farm animals (few)

                 – despite Muslim rule faith did not take root among pork-eating peoples

bred for meat and eggs
innovative techniques (incubation)

using hot ashes of Oxen and Camel-dung placed at the mouth of the oven and changed daily

Europe: stock raising and agriculture are in the same hands

Middle East: They are separate and in conflict – nomad and cultivator
(Cain and Abel)

Nomads invade (from both the north and the south) as soon as civilized lands show weakness


Raw materials for industry come from both Agriculture and stock raising, especially for textiles

Exports :  


 from places

      • muslin from Mosul
      • damask from Damascus

or terms

      • qazz – gauze
      • mukhayyar – mohair
      • taftah – taffeta

kinds of things:

      • tapestries
      • cushions
      • other furnishings
      • and clothing

who uses:

      • peasants – flax and cotton
      • nomads – wool and hides



 In short supply => expensive (imported)



      • stone
      • clay

since pre-historic times:

      • gold
      • silver
      • unalloyed copper
    • Bronze being made in 3rd millennium BCE
    • Tin imported from Cornwall
    • Iron (N.-Armenia, Transcaucasia, eastern Turkey)

Gaining access to the mines of Africa was major reason for expansion.

And slaves, of course

Industrial Techniques – rudimentary

sources of energy

human and animal muscle



      • irrigation
      • grinding corn
      • not for industry


      • to hurl pots of incendiary materials at cities and ships
        before guns they were operated by weights and counter-weights


      • swords
      • daggers
      • shields
      • armour
      • artillery

were produced and traded


absence of:

      • firewood
      • charcoal
      • coal rivers
      • waterfalls
      • petroleum
        only natural seepage, no extraction and use


        • eternal flame
        • explosive mixtures for war


City-dwellers needed:

    • materials for construction
    • furnishings
    • adornment of private and public buildings
    • pots and pans and other utensils
    • soaps and scents and unguents
    • writing materials
      – ink
      – parchment
      – papyrus
      – later, paper


Wheeled vehicles rare

Shortage of wood and metal

-> few roads made for them

Usually pack animals or water


      • Up to 1200 pounds
      • Covers 222 miles per day
      • Travel 17 days without water

Only in dry climates
– sicken and die in moist climate

Donkey or mule

Adequate to transport goods and persons over shorter distances

Water transport

Began very early

-> large scale development of shipbuilding


        • Mediterranean
        • Eastern seas
        • Inland waterways

It cost more to transport wheat 75 miles by land

than to import it from across the Mediterranean



Mostly domestic (at home with family) or small workshop

      • for local needs
      • not for international trade


      • carpets

some industry:

      • flax
      • sugar refining

sometimes state sponsored industrial monopolies

e.g. tiraz = brocade or embroidery

      • worn only by rulers and those they wished to honor
      • became a system of honors and decorations
      • was a guarded monopoly in early times
      • state-owned

or war production

      • warships
      • some types of weapons

some attempts at price-fixing or establishing a ‘fair price’

    • goes back to Diocletian (Roman emperor)
    • seldom successful

or state take-over (monopolization)

    • why tax when you can get the whole profit?


Mamluk sultan of Egypt Barsbay (1422-38 CE)

Carried monopolization to such extremes that it disrupted transit trade

      • Portuguese decide to try and travel around Africa instead

Benefits of commerce:

Blending of traditions and techniques from different regions (especially pottery)

    • Mongol invasions -> east and west Asia under one rule
    • Opening China to Persia (tastes and styles of Far East)

Metals -> coinage -> systems of monetary exchanges

Ultimately a sophisticated system of banking

Circumstances of medieval Islamic world were uniquely favorable to development of

    • long-range,
    • large-scale commerce.

Vast region united under single political and cultural system

North Africa to the Middle East

to borders of India and China

Arabic language provided a

    • subtle
    • rich
    • universal

medium of communication

Ban on usury (interest on loans)

    • Qur’an permits buying and selling
    • Usury is forbidden
    • Taken very seriously
    • Mostly interpreted to mean, ban on any interest, not just on excessive interest

->   devised workarounds:

    • legal devices, so that it becomes a partnership,
    • to allow organizing credit / investment


    • – every year
    • – once in every lifetime
    • – share same rites
    • – contributes to unity and
    • – helps create sense of common identity

local traditions

unity of

  • values
  • standards
  • social customs
  • linguistic unity
    • not just of clerical classes
    • effective means of universal communication
  • “Franks” speak 25 languages


physical, social and intellectual mobility

unparalleled in ancient and medieval times

far-flung network of communication




    • water -> pirates
    • land -> bandits


    • -> narrow range of commodities
    • – high enough price to justify risk

not food

    • cheap
    • transported in bulk

-> costs too high, profits too low -> remains local

long-range commerce:

    • minerals
    • slaves
    • luxury goods

Gold, silver and iron could not be produced locally-> had to be imported, whatever the costs.



Slave trade was result of humanizing effect of Islamic law

Earlier (in other civilizations) slaves were local (criminals and debtors)


In Islam:

    • forbidden to enslave a Muslim
    • -> traffic from beyond borders
    • young female slave, high price -> worth the risk
    • male slaves -> castrated
      • mutilation not permitted
      • do it before they cross the border into Islamic lands

slaves came from three main areas:

    • Europe
    • Eurasian steppe
    • Africa

Sources of European slaves:

  • middle men
  • Turks conquered Balkans and had direct access
  • Pirates, raiding and carrying off whole villages

Separating families

Sources of Eurasian steppe slaves:

‘harvest of the steppes’ –

each year raided villages in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and carry off young

    • sold in cities of Ottoman Empire
    • continued until Russia annexed Crimea in 1783


recruited by capture or purchase in lands north of Black Sea into China and Mongolia

used especially for military purposes

Islamization of Turkish steppe

-> new sources Caucasian lands (Georgia and Circassia) male and female

blocked when Russia conquered Caucasus

Sources of African slaves:

By three main routes:

    • from East Africa – by sea

through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to Iran and Arabia

    • from Sudan by caravan down the Nile valley to Egypt
    • from North Africa northwards across the Sahara to all lands from Morocco to Egypt

Blocked when Europe colonized Africa

Black slaves were used in:

    • mines
    • as domestic servants
    • farming
    • some forms of manufacturing

But medieval Islamic economy was not primarily based on slave labor.


Luxury goods

    • small bulk
    • light weight
    • high cost
    • great value

Textiles, especially:

    • silk
    • silk brocade


    • from southern Arabia and further east
      • used in temples and churches
    • commodity of major importance
    • Islam has no use for it
    • As Islam expands, this trade drops off

Precious stones

    • (light-weight and valuable)


Woods (rare and precious)

Rare animals

By high Middle Ages

  • trade richer and more sophisticated than in European
  • then it reversed

    not because of:

    • arrival of Portuguese in Asia
    • transatlantic voyages of discovery
    • Islam has no naval strength to counter that

non-Muslim Middle East (Byzantine) suffered the same fate (decline)

Some material factors in the decline:

  • mines (exhausted or lost to invaders)
    -> short of money just as Europe is afloat in gold from s. America
  • Black Death affected both
  • Mongol invasions in East and Bedouin in North Africa
    but also:
  • political – increasing dominance of military aristocracies with
    • little concern for commerce
    • little interest in production

Italy took over commerce because they were using more efficient material methods.

Agriculture was no longer producing surpluses – trade, except in sugar and coffee, is just transit.

Technological advances in Europe -> expand -> unify the peoples they are encroaching upon.

Ottoman Empire does have a fleet, but European merchant quietly and peacefully captured the markets.



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