From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa

By Vink, Markus | The Historian, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa


Vink, Markus, The Historian


From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa. By Sebouh David Aslanian. (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. xx, 366. $49.95.)

Merchant networks played a vital role both contributing to and benefiting from the process of so-called "first" (Geoffrey Gunn) or "early modern globalization" (Chris Bayly). Building on the works of Edmund Herzig, Sushanik Khachikian, Rudolph Matthee, and others, Sebouh David Aslanian's book is a theoretically informed, multidisciplinary, and revisionist study based on painstaking research in thirty-one archives in a dozen countries and seven languages. He examines the far-flung network, or "protoglobalized space," of the Armenian commercial settlements centered on New Julfa, Isfahan, stretching from London and Amsterdam in the West to China and Manila in the East (including sporadic relations with Acapulco and Mexico City), from its inception in the wake of the forced relocation of some three hundred thousand Armenians by Shah Abbas I and the founding of New Julfa during the Safavid-Ottoman wars of 1603-1605 through its collapse in the decades following 1747 due to the predatory policies of the post-Safavid ruler Nadir Shah.

Aslanian asserts that the New Julfan Armenians are of interest to scholars of international trade and to world historians for at least two reasons. First, they were arguably the only Eurasian community of merchants (but what about, to cite Philip Curtin, the European "militarized trade diaspora"?) to operate simultaneously and successfully across all the major land- and maritime-based empires of the early modern period in four interconnected, overlapping circuits: the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, northwestern Europe, and Russia.

Second, the New Julfan Armenians, with their hybrid and syncretic "transimperial cosmopolitanism," left behind a trail of documents, "a kind of Julfan geniza," serving as a healthy corrective to decades of perceived Eurocentric scholarship by providing unprecedented insights into the inner workings of "an exemplary Indian Ocean community" and helping to reorient our focus "away from the citadels of Lisbon, London, and Amsterdam to local Asian actors in the Indian Ocean" (6, 21).

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