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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2017

The Red Sea in the medieval period


ABSTRACT. The Red Sea had a central place in commercial navigation between the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Chinese Sea. Closed to Western merchants, it was crossed by the Muslim sailors for whom Aydhab was the entry point to Egypt. The author investigates the Karimi who directed the traffic in the Red Sea in 1350, when the Khawajas succeeded them even though the Barsbay sultan in the 15th century sought to monopolize the pepper trade. The arrival of the Portuguese ruined the prosperity of the Red Sea.

RÉSUMÉ. La mer Rouge a une place centrale dans les navigations commerciales entre la Méditerranée, l'océan Indien et la mer de Chine. Fermée aux marchands occidentaux, elle est parcourue par des marins musulmans pour lesquels Aydhab est la porte d'entrée en Égypte. L'auteur s'intéresse aux Karimi qui dirigent le trafic en mer Rouge jusque vers 1350, où ils sont supplantés par les Khawajas, alors que le sultan Barsbay, au XVe siècle, cherche à faire du commerce du poivre un monopole sultanal. L'arrivée des Portugais ruine la prospérité de la mer Rouge.

The Red Sea has historically served as a vital link between the commercial economic zones of the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. In the period between approximately 1000 and 1500, shipping in the Red Sea was conducted mainly by Muslim sailors involved in the transfer of a vast variety of commodities between three continents. Merchant networks in the Red Sea, connecting Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and India, conducted business at times in coordination with, and at other times at odds with, the political powers that ruled the lands surrounding the water. Political authorities in Egypt, the Hijaz, and Yemen attempted to control trade in the Red Sea, with varying degrees of success. The story of shipping in the Red Sea in the medieval period involves the interplay between local, imperial, and trans-regional interests in the economic rewards to be had from a share in a vibrant commercial system. To examine the Red Sea at this time is to consider the local particularities within one node of a much wider economic web that stretched from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean.