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Traders and exiles, medieval era

Migration A–Z


  1. Daniela Rando

Published Online: 4 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm536

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration

How to Cite

Rando, D. 2013. Traders and exiles, medieval era. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 4 FEB 2013


“There are three kinds of merchants: he who travels, he who stocks, he who exports.” This distinction is made in the Book of Knowledge of the Beauties of Commerce, by Abu al-Fadl Ja'far ibn &Ali from Damascus (9–12th centuries) (2001: 24), the most ancient manual on commercial practice known today. The first type of merchant is a traveller, a kind of migrant, rather elusive in early medieval sources; Christian authors (unlike Muslim ones) regard him with some contempt stemming from their negative judgment on profit-making activities. In a survey of 8th–9th century sources, McCormick found only 19 individual merchants (2007: 242); however, starting from this small number, new archaeological sources and the intersection of data allowed him to retrace an early medieval network of middle and long-distance communications, involving intense movements of goods and traders. The analysis of the “trade-systems” revealed the concentration of merchants in some Italian regions and in the Frankish kingdom, mainly near long rivers (like the Rhine) and sites linked with economies abroad; Franks had commercial contacts in Scandinavia and England, in Slavic territories, and the Bulgarian empire, in Muslim Spain, Italy, and in Byzantium. Side by side with the Frankish empire new “trading worlds” were growing (McCormick 2007: 573): from the North Sea, the Vikings reached Ireland and the Caspian Sea; the Bulgarians exploited the revival of the Danubian and Balkan trade routes, and – most importantly – the widespread economies of the Muslim sphere were rapidly developing. Their “trade explosion” resulted from the interplay of different factors: the expansion characterizing the age of the orthodox caliphs, the northward shift during the Umayyad era, the Abbasid apogee (750), the dislocation from Syria to Iraq, and the 762 (re)foundation of Baghdad, at the crossroad of great fluvial and overland routes (Heck 2006). In the 8th century all these worlds had already started to intersect, establishing interdependence between distant regions and connections between rural and commercial economies of a proto-industrial kind. Within this macroregional frame of overlapping commercial networks, the movements of merchants often intersected.


  • archaeology;
  • immigration;
  • empire;
  • rights;
  • sanctions