City State Genoa Trade Term Paper

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¶ … City State of Genoa (900-1550 AD)

Genoa, a notable city and seaport in Northwestern Italy, boasts of an excellent harbor that was probably in use even before it was occupied by the Greeks in the 4th century BC. The city saw many ups and downs in its eventful early history; it was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 209 BC, rebuilt by the Romans, sacked by Theodoric and the Goths in 538 AD, taken over by the Lombards in 588 AD and sacked again by Rotharis in 670 AD who destroyed its protective walls leaving it vulnerable to another major destruction of the city by the Saracens in 936 AD. (Carden 2-3) Genoa, however, always bounced back from its misfortunes and became one of the three most important maritime Italian City-States in the Middle Ages (the others being Venice and Pisa). This paper traces the history of Genoa during the period 900-1550 by discussing why it became such an important trading center of Europe in the Middle Ages, the kind of trade and commerce conducted by the city-state, the trade routes of the times and Genoa's relationship with other regional and global powers of the time.

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TOPIC: Term Paper on City State Genoa Trade Assignment

The significance of geography is probably important for every city in the world, but it has been singularly vital in determining the fortunes of Genoa. The ideal site for a port offers a protected and safe harbor that has easy access to a hinterland. Genoa has a fair natural harbor located on a harsh coast, which has been improved by the Genoese over the years, by artificial means. It is, however, hemmed in by high mountains of the Alps and the Appenines to the north and access to the interior of the port is not easy and only accessible through high altitude passes. Yet, the site offers the most natural port for the upper Po valley. There is some flat land around Genoa where a limited quantity of food crops can be grown. The average rainfall in the Genoa area (55 inches) is higher than the surrounding coast; hence Genoa had sufficient supplies of fresh water for the ships coming into the harbor in need of fresh water supplies. In addition the coastal currents moving into the port harbor and out of it enabled the sailing ships of the period to move in and out of the harbor with ease. (Epstein 10)

Genoa, therefore, became an important port city mainly as a result of its geography. But while looking to expand its possessions further the city-state faced several constraints. The Alps and Alpennines to the north meant that there was little scope of expansion inland. The area had little mineral resources and limited flat land for agriculture or pasture for animals. Fishing was not a lucrative option due to the sudden drop in the ocean beds from the coastline. Although it had access into Lombardy through a high road, beyond the valleys of Polcevera and Bisagno, lay the greater power of Milan precluding any ambitions of further advancement. It quickly acquired the narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean coast between from Monaco to La Spezia. Now, the only alternative for expansion by Genoa lay in the development of its sea power and acquisition of foreign possessions. (Carden 5-6)

Relations with Foreign Powers

Genoa had achieved a semblance of independence by the year 888 AD when the first consuls in the city-state were elected. There is not much historical material available to tell us about the history of Genoa during the following century. We do know that the Saracens sacked the city in 936 AD when the city was practically defenseless. Immediately thereafter, the Genoese decided to build ships and protective walls around the city for its defense. In 958 AD, the then kings of Italy officially recognized the Commune of Genoa and the city of Genoa started on the path of becoming one of the most prosperous states of Italy. (Thompson 226)

In this period, the Saracens were the natural enemies of the Genoese. This was because they were not just outsiders from Arabia and North Africa; they also followed a radically different religion -- Islam. Both, Muslims and Genoese Christians, considered each other infidels. After having built up her naval powers, Genoa decided to gain control of the two major islands located nearest its territory -- Sardinia and Corsica both of which were repeatedly raided by the Saracens. The Genoese managed to defeat the Saracens at sea and gain control of the islands, by forming an alliance with Pisa; the islands also became a bone of contention between the two former allies leading to a long and bitter rivalry and maritime wars between Genoa and Pisa. At a later stage, Genoa also developed enmity with the Viennese but had a working relationship with the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires and benefited greatly through trade with them.

Early Trading

Genoa was located at the crossroads of the trade route between the Northwestern Europe and the East. This, however, by no means made the rise of Genoa as a major trading center inevitable. After getting the charter of independence in 958 AD, the Genoese managed to build a formidable fleet of boats and were itching to take to the sea to further their fortunes. The Saracens were still a major threat for the Italian coastal cities and had attacked Pisa in 1001 and 1014 and made a serious effort to conquer Sardinia in 1015. (Epstein 22) The Genoa joined forces with the Pisa to prevent the move and launched a joint expedition against the Muslims at Sardinia in 1016. This was manly done to prevent the Muslims from making a permanent foothold in Western Mediterranean that would have threatened the trade of the Genoese and the Pisans that had already started to flourish.

Not much direct record exists of the early years of Genoa's rise as a trading center in the tenth and eleventh century and there is still some mystery about how the Genoese managed to trade with much richer trading partners of the East with so little resources of their own. Epstein believes that the Genoese were mainly cash customers in their trading with the East in the early days. Although Genoa was not a silver producing area itself, it probably had acquired some surplus from its admittedly limited agricultural base and from its early pirating activities. The major items that were imported into Genoa in the early days were grain and salt, both of which were in short supply due to shortage of land in Liguria and Genoa's rugged coast and sharply dropping sea beds. (Epstein 27) Timber, wine, and olive oil that were produced locally were traded for grains, salt, and cheese to markets close to home. Most of the trading to distant ports was done, at least initially, in exchange for cash, i.e., silver.

Genoa's Role in the First Crusade

Genoa participated in the first Crusade of 1097 by supplying a fleet of galleys that transported the crusading armies to the Holy Land. The Genoese played a part in the securing of a number of ports in Syria and Palestine for the Christians as well as the siege and eventual capture of Jerusalem itself. As reward for their services, the Genoese were granted important commercial privileges among the Christian principalities of the East, which helped to kick-start the economy of Genoa and brought about a significant increase in commercial activities by the city-state. When the Genoese fleet returned to Genoa in May 1098, it also brought another reward for Genoese participation in the Crusade-- the bones of Saint John the Baptist, which in time, according to Epstein "became one of the most potent relics in the city." (Epstein 28)

Trade Routes

The main trade routes in the Middle Ages were the ones from Europe to Asia Minor (Turkey), African countries along the Mediterranean coast such as Egypt, Arabia, the Far East, China and India. The main commodities imported into Europe were sugar and cotton, spices, jewels, perfumes, tea, porcelain and fine silks produced in Asia. The Europeans exported lumbar, wheat, and wine to pay for the imported goods. ("A Genoese Trade Route")

Before the sea route to Asia around the tip of Africa, i.e., the Cape of Good Hope was discovered at the end of the fifteenth century by Portuguese explorers Bartholomew Dias and Vasco da Gama, the Italian city-states of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice and their merchants controlled all of the European trade. The goods from Asia, i.e., the far east, India and China were brought to the ports of Genoa and Venice, partly through the sea and partly over land routes that were initially controlled by the Byzantine and Arabs and later by the Ottoman Turks. The Italian merchants had developed trade relations with all these powers and almost all European trade was controlled by them. The agents of Genoese merchants were present in several important trading centers around the world including… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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