The Mongols and the Black Sea Trade in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries


The inclusion of the Black Sea basin into the long-distance trade network – with its two axes of the Silk Road through the Golden Horde (Urgench-Sarai-Tana/Caffa) and the Spice Road through the Ilkhanate (Ormuz-Tabriz-Trebizond) – was the two Mongol states’ most important contribution to making the sea a “crossroads of international commerce”.
The closest recorded working relationship between European and Asian powers in the medieval period, achieved by the joint efforts of the Chinggisid rulers and the Italian merchant republics, was not realised via the usual geographic channels of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Fertile Crescent, but rather by roundabout routes to the Black Sea. Thus at the same time as the sea fulfilled its function as a crossroads of long-distance Eurasian trade, it was also a bypass.
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Biographical Note

Virgil Ciocîltan, Ph.D. (1998), is researcher at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy (Institutul de Istorie 'N. Iorga' al Academiei Române) in Bucharest. He has published monographs and many articles on the history of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea in the Middle Ages.

Review Quotes

“...Ciocîltan distils with enviable dexterity material from a great many primary sources in Arabic, Persian, Latin, Italian, and a wide range of secondary literature, a significant proportion of it in Romanian and hence largely inaccessible to Western European readers. His insights into the economic policies of Mongol rulers (and their failures) are well sustained; and his reconstructions of the many episodes that our sources merely seem to obfuscate – particularly in the context of the Horde’s relations with the Genoese and Venetians – are consistently persuasive... We have good reason to be grateful that the author’s thesis has at last appeared in print in English.”
Peter Jackson, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 77 / Issue 01 / February 2014, pp.244 - 246

“Bubbling with fascinating detail and sustained by solid scholarship, Ciociltan’s work has an important place in the literature on the Black Sea under Mongol rule, medieval Mediterranean history, and indeed world history. That it can be appreciated by a specialist as well as the general reader is an additional merit.”
Nicola Di Cosmo, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 19 (2012), pp. 303-305

"…the extensive footnoting displays the author’s knowledge of numerous languages and his study’s thorough grounding in the primary source ….this English translation of Ciociltan’s monograph is a welcome addition to the study of the Mongol-Tatars in the western Eurasian steppe area and to our appreciation of the importance of trade for the Mongol empire."
Donald Ostrowski, Slavic Review, Vol. 73, No. 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 191-192

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ... vii
List of Maps ... ix

1 Preliminary Remarks ... 1
1.1 The Mongols and Trade ... 2
1.1.1 Sources and Historiographical Concepts ... 3
1.1.2 The Khan and the Merchants: A Symbiotic Relationship ... 8
1.1.3 The Silk Road as the Spine of Eurasian Commerce ... 20
1.1.4 The Nomads and the Silk Road ... 23
1.2 The Mongols and the Black Sea ... 30
1.2.1 Continental Possessions, Maritime Horizons ... 30
1.2.2 Expansion and Blockade ... 32
1.2.3 The Black Sea—A Crossroads of Eurasian Trade ... 34

2 The Mongol Expansion and the Eurasian Commercial Axes ... 37
2.1 The Silk Road as a Channel for Expansion ... 37
2.1.1 Chinggis Khan and the Silk Road ... 37
2.1.2 The Silk Road Under the Protectorate of the Golden Horde ... 42
2.2 The Spice Road: Assault on the Fertile Crescent ... 55
2.2.1 The Last Pan-Mongol Campaign to the West: Half a Victory ... 55
2.2.2 The Ilkhanate—Chief Benefijiciary of Western Asian Expansion ... 58

3 The Disintegration of the Empire: Intra- and Extra-Mongol Commercial Rivalries ... 61
3.1 The Jochid-Ilkhanid Struggle for Tabriz ... 61
3.2 Cilician Armenia in the Ilkhanid-Mamluk Struggle for the Fertile Crescent ... 68
3.3 Political Consequences: The Sarai-Cairo-Tabriz Triangle ... 88
3.3.1 The Sarai-Cairo Axis and its Allies ... 89
3.3.2 The Ilkhanid-Genoese Alliance ... 95
3.4 The Commercial Implications: Connecting the Black Sea to the Eurasian Trade Network ... 95
3.4.1 The Jochid Branch: Urgench-Sarai-Tana/Cafffa ... 96
3.4.2 The Ilkhanid Branch: Tabriz-Trebizond ... 114

4 The Golden Horde and the Black Sea ... 141
4.1 The Origin of the Golden Horde’s Black Sea Policy ... 141
4.1.1 The Cumans and the Black Sea Trade ... 141
4.1.2 Batu: Black Sea Trade in the Shadow of Tabriz ... 144
4.1.3 Berke and the Loss of Tabriz: The Basis of the Golden Horde’s Black Sea Policy ... 148
4.2 Cooperation and Confrontation with the Italian Merchant Republics ... 150
4.2.1 The Beginnings ... 152
4.2.2 Noghai and Toqta, the Genoese and Venetians: The Battle for the Black Sea Trade ... 157
4.2.3 Toqta: Cooperation and Rupture ... 163
4.2.4 Ozbek: Cooperation Reaches Its Peak ... 173
4.2.5 Janibek: The Great Rupture ... 199
4.2.6 Berdibek and Mamai: The Low Point ... 219
4.2.7 Toqtamish: A Brief Revival ... 225
4.3 The Problem of the Straits and the Tartar Solution ... 241
4.3.1 The Battle for the Straits and for the Seljuk Sultanate ... 241
4.3.2 A Guardian of the Straits: The Khanate of the Lower Danube ... 248
4.3.3 Tartar Policy Between the Carpathians and the Straits After the End of Noghai’s Khanate ... 259

5 Conclusion: The Black Sea, Crossroads and Bypass of Eurasian Trade ... 281

The Main Chinggisid Rulers ... 283

Bibliography ... 285
Index ... 301


All those interested in the history of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea in the Middle Ages.


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