Enforcing contracts for Valencian commerce: the institutional foundations of international trade in the first half of the fifteenth century
By Victor Olcina Pita
Master’s Thesis, University of Leiden, 2016
Abstract: This paper tries to explore how contract enforcement was handled in the cross-religious environment of late medieval Christian Valencia, Muslim Granada and North Africa, given the fact that each religious community has usually been assumed to apply their own set of rules through their own community courts. By following the merchants of Valencia (incidentally also of Mallorca), whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, we find instead a more complex scenario in which both Christian consulates and Muslim Royal courts played a crucial role by adapting their proceedings to the requirements of cross-religious trade. We explode also the role of institutions in supporting the expansion of commerce in early fifteenth century Valencia.
Introduction: In the late fifteenth century, the German traveller Hieronymus Münzer referred to Valencia as the largest and richest city in the Iberian Peninsula, noting the fact that it had even outstripped Barcelona as the head of the Crown of Aragon. Whether this sorpasso actually happened and to what extent is still a matter of discussion, yet this century was no doubt a period of extraordinary economic and commercial development for Valencia.
After the Genoese and the Catalans had opened up the straits of Gibraltar, the city became a suitable port of call for the Mediterranean convoys in their way to the Atlantic, and many foreign merchants settled permanently in the city, attracted both by an institutional environment open to newcomers and a region which was at the same time a sizeable output market and a supplier of specialized agricultural products like rice, oranges and figs. The local merchants typically made use of the Catalan and Italian trading networks to reach out faraway markets, yet around 1400 they were already well settled and even predominant in the areas of Granada, Fez and Tlemcen.
However, the institutional bases of these commercial developments are still wrapped up in mystery. After Barcelona withdrew from southern Spain and Barbaria in the second half of the fourteenth century, no official consular appointments are recorded, and we know little regarding the strategies undertaken by the Valencian merchants to enforce their contracts when trading in these parts.