Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Chapter 2: Long Distance Trade and Urban Sovereignty: The Competitive Model of the Mediterranean at the Time of the Repubbliche Marinare
Maritime history presents three powerful analogies that can help us understand the patterns of the Asian trade system. In the 14th century in Western and Byzantine Europe, in the 15th century in Germanic and Slavic Europe and in the 17th and 18th centuries in Southeast Asia peculiar economic systems dominated three maritime areas: the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the South China Sea. In terms of infrastructure, each area had a network of largely independent port cities, a specific means of transport (mainly galleys, galleons or high-sea junks), a rough draft of international commercial law for the community and a special relationship with the main territorial state or Empire on which the area depended. The interactions of these port cities – competitive as well as cooperative – resulted in the formation of specific political systems and the emergence of different types of sovereignty. Let us now look at the example of the Mediterranean maritime republics. A handful of port cities – Pisa, Amalfi, Venice, Genoa – as well as some smaller ports such as Bari, Otrante, Ancona and Raguse, long enjoyed de facto autonomy from the different imperial powers around them. The Mediterranean was the scene of their political, economic and military life. As such, they were named the repubbliche marinare, or maritime republics. To varying degrees, each of them inherited from the trading communities of Greece, Egypt or Syria their role of commercial intermediary between Europe and Asia. Of course, it is true that trading republics are not all ports, and trading cities are...
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