The Absence of
Middle Eastern Consuls
Imagine a Turkish merchant based in Iskenderun around 1680. He has established a partnership with a wealthy person who is funding a commercial venture to Marseille. According to the plan, our traveling merchant will carry silk fabrics on the outbound trip, sell them in Marseille, and use the proceeds to buy woolens. When the woolens are finally sold in Iskenderun, the investing partner will recover his principal, and the profit will be shared. If this scenario appears fanciful, it is because in the seventeenth century few Muslim merchants ventured to the commercial centers of western Europe. Christian pirates and brigands discouraged them from traveling to the West, as did customs agents who preyed on their merchandise.
Within Europe itself, Christian merchants traded only in places with which they had formal security agreements. For instance, the Italians established merchant colonies in northwestern Europe only after obtaining credible guarantees against predation by local authorities—credible because of carefully crafted institutions, including courts with foreign judges and the means to respond collectively.1 The Ottoman capitulations included formal security guarantees for Ottoman merchants venturing to the West. However, the credibility of these guarantees is open to question. In the absence of essential institutions, significant dangers awaited Ottoman visitors on land and at sea.
One danger lay in judicial biases. The decisions of European courts of the time tended to reflect local interests, and in cases pitting local parties against foreigners, the latter were often at a dis