Suez and Silk: How an Account of a 1554 Naval Battle Illuminates the Iberian Maritime Economic System

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Three handwritten letters from 1554 reveal the early-modern Spanish Empire’s maritime economic system. Iberians and Ottomans defended commercial interests in naval battles for Aden, Masqat, Hormuz, and Goa. These letters provide incidental information for a social history of seafaring: tribes’ names (nautaques), coastal uprisings, forced acculturation, unpaid soldiers, viceroy noncompliance, ship locations, winter ports, wind/tide patterns, naval officers, vessel types, military weaponry, enemy-ship capture tactics, colonists’ dietary habits. I focus on references to social entities as components of the maritime economic system that expanded Asian silk trade through Suez, displaced established Spanish silk producers (Moriscos), and spread the silk-raising industry to Mexico.

Synchronic analysis shows Suez and silk as parts of Spanish maritime economics

Spanish silk workers’ displacement is connected to Asian silk trade and its expansion

Tordesillas (1494) revised illustrates Spanish presence in Indian Ocean commerce

Letters stress social diversity in maritime activity and encourage archival research




Salih Ozbaran, Two Letters of Dom Alvaro de Noronha from the Hormuz-Turkish Activities along the Coast of Arabia: 1550–1552, (Istambul: Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Dergisi, 1978).


Michael N. Pearson, The Indian Ocean (New York: Routledge, 2003). Michael N. Pearson, The World of the Indian Ocean 1500–1800: Studies in Economic, Social, and Cultural History (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2005). Om Prakash, European Commercial Expansion in Early Modern Asia (Brookfield, Vermont: Varorium, 1997). Holden Furber, Sinnappah Arasaratnam, and Kenneth McPherson, Maritime India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Shirin Moosvi, “The Indian Economic Experience 1600–1900: A Quantitative Study,” in The Making of History: Essays Presented to Irfan Habib, ed. by K.N. Panikkar, Terence J. Byres, and Utsa Patnaik. (London: Anthem, 2002), 328–359. Ali Daud, Invoking the Past: the uses of history in South Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).


Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500–1700: A Political and Economic History (London: Longman, 1993). Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Of Imārāt and Tijārāt: Asian Markets and State Power in the Western Indian Ocean, 1400 to 1750,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 37, no.4 (Oct. 1995), 750–780.


Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Merchant Networks in the Early Modern World (Brookfield, VT: Varorium, 1996). Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Money and the Market in India, 1100–1700 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500–1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).


Alejandro Correa de Franca, Historia de la muy noble y fidelíssima ciudad de Ceuta (Ceuta: Consejería de Educación y Cultura, 1999).


John Elliott, Imperial Spain (New York: Penguin, 1963), 56–57, 199.


John Elliott, Imperial Spain (New York: Penguin, 1963), 187.


John Elliott, Imperial Spain (New York: Penguin, 1963), 237.


Woodrow Wilson Borah, Silk Raising in Colonial Mexico (Berkeley: UC Press, 1943), 91.


John Elliott, Imperial Spain (New York: Penguin, 1963), 202.


Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Historia de los Moriscos: Vida y Tragedia de una minoría (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1984), 121.


Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Historia de los Moriscos: Vida y Tragedia de una minoría (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1984), 225–226.


David Nicolle, The Janissaries (London: Osprey, 1995), 36.


Sushil Chaudhury, Les Arméniens dans le commerce asiatique au début de l’ére modern (Paris: Maison des Sciences de l’homme, 2007), 229. Gaspar Correa and Rodrigo José de Lima Felner, Lendas da India (Lisbon: Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa: Imprenta da Universidade, 1922), 792–799.


Sushil Chaudhury, Les Arméniens dans le commerce asiatique au début de l’ére modern (Paris: Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2007), 229.


Sidi ʿAli Reis, The Travels and Adventures of the Turkish Admiral Sidi ‘Ali Reis’ in India, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Persia (1553–1556) (London: Luzac, 1899). Also see Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont, Le miroir des pays (Paris: Sindbad, 1999), 55.


Luis de Matos, Images do Oriente no seculo XVI: reproduçao do códice portugués da Biblioteca casanatense (Lisboa: Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 1985), Plate XXI.



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