Abstract Simon Gundelfinger
Simon Gundelfinger (Universität Hamburg)
Abstract: Production and Trade Patterns in Early Islamic al-Shām
Production and trade in the lands of the early Islamic Empire are topics which are more frequently addressed by archaeologists than by historians. The dearth of literary source material has led scholars to focus mainly on later periods, and most of the few available text-based approaches to early Islamic economy have been challenged for their uncritical treatment of the source material.
So what can written sources actually tell us about early Islamic production and trade? This paper seeks to give a partial answer to this question using the example of the province of al-Shām in the ʿAbbāsid period. In the first part, I will look at the textual evidence for agricultural and industrial production associated with al-Shām in geographical works from the late 9th and 10th century CE. The business of trading these products, however, is only touched in passing by the geographical works.
The second part of this paper thus follows a distant-reading approach, presenting the results of a combined search of the most important commercial centres in al-Shām and a list of generic Arabic terms relating to trade (tijāra, shirāʾ, qāfila, etc.). While the inclusion of a wide range of historical works and biographical dictionaries enables us to discern geographical networks of trade, the sources in question largely fail to inform us about the precise goods being traded, the trading volume, prices, or the risks involved in trade during this period.
To the best of my knowledge, the latter topics are adequately addressed only in manuscripts relating to trade, which are considered in the third part of this paper. While the Levant features strongly in the mainly Egypt-centred manuscripts, information on trade between al-Shām and the eastern parts of the Islamic Empire is clearly underrepresented. Moreover, the great majority of trade-related manuscripts does not date back further than the 11th century CE, a period in which the political and economic landscape of the Islamic Empire had changed considerably. Even though it seems problematic to compare this later material to 9th- and 10th-century data, the trade goods of the 11th century largely conform with the products of al-Shām mentioned in earlier periods. While a comparison of both data sets gives a certain insight into continuity and change of the production in al-Shām, the final analysis will focus on products which are present in both data sets (e.g. fruits, nuts, olive oil, cotton, textiles, indigo, paper).