Commercial conflict resolution across the religious divide in the thirteenth-century Mediterranean
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Bruce, Travis. 2015. Commercial conflict resolution across the religious divide in the thirteenth-century Mediterranean. Mediterranean Historical Review, vol. 30:no. 1:pp 19-38
Commercial conflict resolution in the medieval Mediterranean has been treated by a number of scholars in recent years, notably through the use of documents from the Cairo Geniza and the archives of the Italian port of Genoa. Recent research on this subject, and more specifically on contract enforcement, has focused on contract reinforcement within the Mediterranean Jewish community, largely because of the sources available. Parallels drawn with medieval Italian mechanisms of conflict resolution emphasize differences between public- vs. private-order responses, that is, the reliance on personalized groups in the Islamic world rather than on public institutions typical of the Italian port-cities. These studies do not, however, examine how commercial conflicts were resolved across religious and political lines, despite the growing role of Italian merchants in the trade networks of Islamic North Africa, a role that inevitably led to trade disputes and occasional uncollected payments. Through close textual analysis of 14 Latin and Arabic letters exchanged between Islamic Almohad Tunis and Christian Italian Pisa, this article explores how Almohad commercial agents and governmental authorities sought to maintain positive trade relations across the religious divide while protecting the interests of their own clients and citizens when disputes arose over commercial payments and debt collection. Rather than relying on commercial conflict resolution methods specific to one culture or the other, these documents reveal a middle ground of borrowed vocabulary and procedures. Through these letters, Almohad merchants and officials attempted to negotiate through the bonds of personal trust and reputation established with their Italian counterparts. However, they also appealed to Italian sensibilities with hybridized methods recognizable by the legal and public institutions of both cultures.
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