The rise and fall of empires in the Islamic Mediterranean (600–1600 ce )

Political change, the economy and material culture

Authored by: Petra M. Sijpesteijn

The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415841306
eBook ISBN: 9781315449005
Adobe ISBN:


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From the 560s ce the influx of various goods from South Asia, Arabia and Africa traded via the Middle East across the Mediterranean into north-western Europe, especially in the areas bordering the Mediterranean, increased in variety and volume. Red garnets, amethyst beads and spices from Sri Lanka and India, incense from Arabia and cowrie shells from the Red Sea, ivory from Africa, as well as fine ceramics, such as North African and Phocaean red slip ware, amphorae and their contents (olive oil and wine from Palestine and Syria), ‘mille fiori’ beads and bronze vessels from Egypt and meerschaum, glass, silver objects, and textiles from the eastern Mediterranean circulated in large quantities, reaching a peak in around 600 ce (Drauschke 2011; Dixneuf 2011; McCormick 2001). These imported goods were found in all social layers and their use was widespread. Most products that originated from further afield seem to have arrived as finished or half-fabricated products, but some jewellery and decorative objects were produced in the Byzantine empire and then traded across the Mediterranean. Conversely, products produced in the Mediterranean found their way to the far extremities of these networks, albeit in much smaller numbers. The intensive trade, often extending over long distances, was the basis for the economic expansion and specialised production in the eastern Mediterranean that continued into the seventh century (Ward-Perkins 2001; Vroom 2014).

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