This week’s five books takes you from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.
By Dragoş Cosmescu
Excerpt: This book offers an overview of the Venetian fortifications in the Mediterranean on the three places that, over the centuries, have played a decisive role in the history of the Republic: the islands of Corfu, Crete and Cyprus. In the global strategies of defense of the Venetian state, the city of Corfu, governed uninterruptedly by Venice from 1386 until the fall of the Venetian Republic (1797), is the defensive outpost of the capital, thanks to the geographical location at the mouth of the Adriatic, the stretch of sea which, with due pride, historical maps call the Gulf of Venice. The island of Crete (named Candia in the Venetian documents) belonged to the Serenissima from the early years of the 13th century until the Ottoman conquest of the place in 1669, although some strategic outposts survived under the control of Venice until the beginning of the 18th century. Finally, Cyprus, another large island of the eastern Mediterranean, which belonged to the Republic for a shorter period, between the 15th and 16th centuries, was a place of considerable importance not only from a strategic point of view but given the very special political and institutional arrangements used by the Republic in appropriating it. The present text opens with a discussion on the general aspects of the history of Venice and the military arts and, followed by three chapters dedicated to each of these territories, the volume concludes with a section on the main episodes of war and siege that affected the major strongholds of the three islands, from the siege of Nicosia (1570) to that of Corfu (1716).
By Sharon Farmer
University of Pennsylvania Press
Publisher’s Overview: For more than one hundred years, from the last decade of the thirteenth century to the late fourteenth, Paris was the only western European town north of the Mediterranean basin to produce luxury silk cloth. What was the nature of the Parisian silk industry? How did it get there? And what do the answers to these questions tell us?
According to Sharon Farmer, the key to the manufacture of silk lies not just with the availability and importation of raw materials but with the importation of labor as well. Farmer demonstrates the essential role that skilled Mediterranean immigrants played in the formation of Paris’s population and in its emergence as a major center of luxury production. She highlights the unique opportunities that silk production offered to women and the rise of women entrepreneurs in Paris to the very pinnacles of their profession. The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris illuminates aspects of intercultural and interreligious interactions that took place in silk workshops and in the homes and businesses of Jewish and Italian pawnbrokers.
Drawing on the evidence of tax assessments, aristocratic account books, and guild statutes, Farmer explores the economic and technological contributions that Mediterranean immigrants made to Parisian society, adding new perspectives to our understanding of medieval French history, luxury trade, and gendered work.
By Gary Leiser
Excerpt: We have seen earlier that prostitution was practiced in caravenserais and inns along the major overland trade routes in the regions that we have studied. Frequently located a day’s march apart, these institutions were oases of security, provisioning, lodging, relaxation, and entertainment for travelers, merchants, and caravan conductors, who could be away from home for months or years. The hardships and dangers they faced on the road could be many, including harsh weather, bandits, and marauding armies. Knowing that female comfort awaited them in caravanserais and inns along their routes would certainly have made their journeys easier to bear. Thus it could be said the prostitution in caravanserais and inns provided an incentive to long-distance overland trade.
By Sylvia Albro
Oak Knoll Press
Excerpt: Toward the middle of the fourteenth century, a general increase in prosperity and wealth among merchants, mercenaries, lawyers, notaries, and important church figures led to political and philosophical changes in Italian society. The rise of a humanist philosophy in intellectual and religious circles placed a greater emphasis on the role of the individual and independent initiative in determining one’s future. The ensuing economic impact on the craft industries was that ambitious took precedence over the collective might of the artisan class and influence of communal monasteries.
In Fabriano, these changes and opportunities greatly affected the papermaking industry. When successful communal government was at its peak, the papermaking industry functioned as a collection of many small cottage industries under the organization and control of local guilds with elected representatives. As demand for paper generally increased, the industry expanded, and enterprising merchants acted as middlemen within a wider panorama, contracting simultaneously with many papermakers operating within their local guild structure. The most successful merchants were literate and well-travelled; they established branches in other cities, took new orders there, and expanded their client base.
By Brian Ayers
Publisher’s Blurb: The German Ocean examines archaeological and historical evidence for the development of economies and societies around the North Sea from the beginning of the twelfth century until the mid sixteenth century. It draws in material from Scandinavia to Normandy and from Scotland to the Thames estuary. While largely concerned with the North Sea littoral, when necessary it takes account of adjacent areas such as the Baltic or inland hinterlands.
The North Sea is often perceived as a great divide, divorcing the British Isles from continental Europe. In cultural terms, however, it has always acted more as a lake, supporting communities around its fringes which have frequently had much in common. This is especially true of the medieval period when trade links, fostered in the two centuries prior to 1100, expanded in the 12th and 13th centuries to ensure the development of maritime societies whose material culture was often more remarkable for its similarity across distance than for its diversity.