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The Crusades and Mediterranean trade

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Crusades.

Trans-Mediterranean commerce did not begin with the Crusades, but they did cause a reconfiguration of maritime trade.

In the early 12th century, as a result of the crusades, several ports on the Syrian coast came under Latin control. This encouraged merchants from Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi, but also Marseilles and Barcelona to settle there.

At the same time, merchants from these European cities continued to set up business in various oriental ports, notably in Egypt, the Maghreb and Constantinople.

Navigation at the time was mainly coastal, with ships sailing from port to port without actually crossing the sea. It was therefore crucial to have as many staging posts as possible along these navigation routes.

As a result, these merchant communities competed fiercely to obtain both legal and fiscal privileges from the local powers to protect and support their commercial activities.

The ports of the East were the hub of global trade. Latin merchants came to trade gold and slaves from sub-Saharan Africa and spices and silk from Asia.

They sold wood, iron, salt, cloth and weapons, despite repeated papal bans.

In 1204, the Fourth Crusade led to the Latin conquest of the Byzantine Empire. Venice acquired vast territories, which allowed it to consolidate its trade network. At the end of the century, Venice also asserted its authority over the island of Cyprus. Little by little, the city built up a maritime empire, securing it a key position in Mediterranean trade.

The Genoese, meanwhile, focused on the Black Sea. They created numerous trading posts along its coasts and thus obtained a monopoly on the trade in goods through this maritime space.

While crusader successes often helped Christian merchants, it is striking to note that defeats were barely a hindrance to them. The merchants knew how to adapt and the new powers such as the Ayyubids, then the Mamluks and the Ottomans, needed them too much to expel them.

Through their constant trading, merchants helped make the medieval Mediterranean a vibrant and dynamic world.