To the lands of the Sultan of Babylon: The papacy and trade with Muslims during the later Middle Ages

Wednesday 29 May 2013 18.00-19.30

To the lands of the Sultan of Babylon: The papacy and trade with Muslims during the later Middle Ages

This paper will be based on a research project undertaken at the BSR on trade and crusade between Latin merchants, the Church and the Islamic powers of the medieval Mediterranean. In particular, it will focus on a number of petitions for “trade licences” found in the Registra Supplicationum of Pope Clement VI (1342-1352), held in the Vatican Archivio Segreto. These licences were papal privileges granted to merchants – usually Genoese and Venetian, although sometimes from elsewhere – exempting them from the papal ban on trade with the Muslim world. The licences shed considerable light on cross-cultural trade in the Mediterranean, both in terms of how the merchants attempted to overcome boundaries imposed by the Church on trade between different religious groups, and how the Church introduced new boundaries to cross-cultural commerce by legislating which groups could be traded with. Furthermore, these licences help to improve our understanding of the complex interaction between mercantile objectives and religion in the late medieval period, by, for example, demonstrating that merchants were more concerned with their spiritual welfare and the ramifications of illegal trade than has often been presumed, and that the papacy was aware of the need for merchants to have contact with the “infidel”, in contradiction to the commonly-held view of a black-and-white papal perception of the Islamic East. An analysis of the licences in this paper will shed more light on the complex web of religious and economic ties which connected the western Church, Catholic merchants and the Muslim groups of the eastern Mediterranean.

Mike Carr (BSR Rome Fellow)