A long distance merchants in the Indian Ocean, in the 12th century

Our today topic is history of india timeline.It was in the late 19 th century that were discovered in the documents Geniza Cairo. This is business correspondence held by Jewish merchants, at least since the 9 thin a room without a window or door, adjacent to the synagogue, with only a crack high in the wall by which these documents had been carelessly thrown away. Why had it been so? It must be known that the Jewish religion forbade, at the time, to destroy any written document containing the name of God. The letters of these merchants almost invariably invoked the Almighty. The only solution was therefore to store them in an inaccessible reserve which, with the help of a dry climate, was to preserve these documents until the present day. And so that you can know a lot today about the life and business of a certain Abraham ben Yiju who lived in the first half of the 12 thcentury, was a great trader between Aden and southern India and a prominent member of the Jewish merchant diaspora in the Indian Ocean. In a very lively book, Stewart Gordon [2008] painted an exciting portrait.

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Our man was born in a Tunisian port around 1100, of a rabbi father, but all his brothers had to marry, like him, the commercial career. At the age of twenty he would have followed the caravans going to Cairo to carry letters of introduction from his father to Jewish merchants in that city. A few years later he was in Aden, where he became acquainted with a certain Madmun ibn Bandar, probably the most influential merchant of the place at that time, whose own correspondence was also found. This businessman had a commercial network from Spain to Ceylon and thus acted both in the Mediterranean and in the western Indian Ocean. On these long distance routes, piracy had become significant and, on the other hand, reefs, winds and storms could easily damage or destroy merchant ships. That is why the concern of the merchants at the time was to reduce their risk by using experienced and reliable seafarers by distributing their cargoes on several vessels in sealed packages bearing the name of the consignee. To mitigate the economic risk, they traded many types of goods in order to protect themselves against unexpected price fluctuations. They also described in their letters, everything they sent so that their partner at destination could scrupulously check the arrivals. The relationship of trust between partners was obviously the very foundation of this trade and its indispensable condition:

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After three years of learning from Madmun, Abraham was sent to Mangalore, on the southwest coast of India, to devote himself to the spice trade, probably with a small start-up capital. Their correspondence, in subsequent years, is filled with market advice, information about other merchants or political events, assessments of their affairs. One learns that Abraham was in cold with his mentor during the year 1138 because the young partner had been eaten away by an Indian merchant who had never delivered to him the already paid cardamom. An attempt was made to threaten the thief with an attack on his reputation, but nothing was done. Obviously Abraham had to endure the loss as evidenced by the dry flow of 300 dinars of his account at Madmun: the balance of power clearly did not favor him. If Aden usually sent nothing but money, Mangalore sent spices back. Luxury goods also circulated: refined dishes, furniture, delicate dishes, paper, intended especially for merchants or their families. The latter was a stakeholder in the commercial alliance: Madmun had thus married the sister of heralter ego cairote and gifts between partners often involved their wife or their children.

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Gordon noted that the freedom of long distance Jewish merchants enjoyed the 12 thcentury contrasts with the rigidity of the guild-led trade in Europe at the same time. Freedom with regard to places or dates of market, price freedom, subjective assessment of quality on the one hand, and strict fixing of prices and qualities, such as places and dates or standards of learning for the other. There is also a difference in the control of political power, which is non-existent in the Indian Ocean, sometimes very tight in Europe. However, India also had its merchant guilds [Thapar, 1984] and China exercised, under the Sung, a genuine police force on foreign merchants. But generally speaking, the freedom to trade seems to have been greater in the Indian Ocean and the merchants seem to have had no political aspirations. The local rulers of the Indian littoral taxed the merchants,

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Abraham ben Yiju did not restrict his commercial links to the Jewish Diaspora. For example, he had regular partnerships with Gujaratis merchants and maintained business relations with his spice suppliers, without moving to production sites. On the other hand, he seems to have himself invested in the production of metal products, receiving, for example, deteriorated dishes coming from Spain and intended to be remelted near Mangalore. Nevertheless, his contacts outside the diaspora were not unanimous: his marriage with an Indian enslaved in her youth was to attract some disapproval and he had the worst difficulties to marry his daughter in a Jewish community conforming to His wishes. In the same way he used for his trade the services of an Indian slave who was to become his agent and traveled to Aden on behalf of his master. Amitav Ghosh [1994] made him, moreover, a character of novel become famous …

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The end of his life was certainly more difficult. He had to take care of the liberation of his brothers and sisters, abducted by the troops of Crusaders who invaded Tunisia in 1148 and totally stripped. He left Mangalore forever in 1149 and, after being robbed by one of his brothers whom he sought to help, he settled in Yemen to continue trading. He would have ended his life near his daughter, married in Tunisia to one of his nephews, which allowed him to maintain his fortune within his family of origin while saving it from misery. Beyond the character, it is undoubtedly a logic of commerce that is now known through the documents of the Geniza [Goitein, 1999], a logic already very old in the 12 thcentury and which had not been without effect on European trade from the early Middle Ages, between 4 th and 8 th century [Norel, 2009, p. 180]. In this sense, the story of Abraham ben Yiju is also a bit like ours …