This article talks about Muslim-christian trade in the middle ages 11th-14th century, also referenced in this answer.

In brief: Trade greatly intensified after the crusaded and was conducted at first by Jewish traders, later Christian traders primarily from Italian city states dominated the scene. At the same time there was trade across the Mediterranean and along its southern by Muslim traders.

Now my question: Could Muslim traders sail to a Christian port in this time? Any port, all the time or some ports some portion of the time?

I know that there was extensive trade in the lower Dnieper area earlier, so Muslim sailors showing up in a Christian port had a precedent. On the other hand, one could expect a more hostile climate towards Muslims in the time of the crusades and later. But this is all conjecture, I'd appreciate facts.

2 Answers 2


Generally speaking, Christian ports were not closed to Muslim traders per se. While Muslim traders were relatively rare outside of Iberia in the Middle Ages, they were not unheard of either. For example, records of taxes on foreign shipping suggests the existence of Islamic traders from the Levant, North Africa, and Muslim Spain in the Christian ports of Southern France and Italy.

[A 1143 registry] from Genoa recorded a charge of 22.5 solidi on boats coming from the Levant, Alexandria, various North African ports ... [In c.a. 1160s] Pisa would impose tolls on ships arriving from Malaga, Almeria, Denia, Valencia, Barcelona, and Mallorca ... [A] 1228 reference from Marseilles, noting that the decima was owed by saracens arriving in the city, shows that Muslim visitors were not unknown ... Benjamin of Tudela also remarked that he had seen merchants form Egypt and Palestine, presumably Muslims or Jews, in Montpellier in the 1160s.

Constable, Olivia Remie. Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain: the Commercial Realignment of the Iberian Peninsula, 900-1500. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Nonetheless, Islamic commerce was largely limited to the Islamic world during this period, and few Muslim merchants ever visited most of Christian Europe.

This apparent lack of interest in commercial expeditions to Europe fits into more general patterns of Islamic commerce. It was characteristic throughout the medieval Mediterranean world to find Jews and Christians trading freely with all regions, whereas Muslim merchants generally restricted their sphere of operation to the dar al-Islam.

- Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, and Manuela Marín, eds. The Legacy of Muslim Spain. Vol. 12. Brill, 1992.

Rather than outright prohibition, Muslim traders were deterred by a complex set of circumstances, not least of which economical. The Christian ports of the Mediterranean simply had less pull to Muslims than vice versa, a situation exacerbated as Christian shipping dominated the regional trade routes.

Few Muslim traders visited Christian markets outside the Iberian Peninsula during the later middle ages ... Economic factors were certainly important, compounding a longstanding imbalance in the desirability of European and Islamic goods with the fact that Christian merchants came to dominate routes across the Mediterranean by the thirteenth century ... There was apparently little to draw Muslim traders to Europe

- Constable, Olivia Remie. Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Moreover, Christian ports lacked suitable amenities for Muslims. This posed social and religious disincentives that discourage visits by Islamic merchants.

[T]here were no fondacos in Latin Europe until the twelfth century, and Muslim merchants would not have found facilities to meet their needs for communal lodging, religious accommodation, legal traditions, and food-ways.

- Constable, Olivia Remie. Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

One notable exception is Iberia. Probably owing to the shared land border there, in the High and Early Middle Ages Al-Andalus merchants appears to have been relatively common visitors to the remnant Christian territory of the north.

Despite Muslim religious sanctions against commercial traffic to non-Muslim lands, northern Spanish sources show Muslim Andalusi merchants trading in Christian markets ... a number of 12th-century Castilian and Aragonese town charters included tariff lists that cited people and goods coming "form the land of the Moors". The 1166 Fuero of Evora, for example, listed "Christian, Jewish, as well as Moorish, merchants and travelers".

- Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, and Manuela Marín, eds. The Legacy of Muslim Spain. Vol. 12. Brill, 1992.

This continued even after the Christian Reconquest. The Spanish coast were the main areas where facilities to accommodate Muslim merchants appeared. Among others, the ports of Valencia, Xativa, and Zaragoza established fondacos that catered to Muslim needs.

[In Aragon and Venice] regulated fondacos did emerge to handle Muslim traffic. These facilities orchestrated a balance between the needs of local governments and merchants, and the requirements of foreign merchants.

- Constable, Olivia Remie. Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

  • I don't understand the economical point you raise: It made economic sense for Venetian traders to trade with the Levant, why not for Levant traders to trade with Venice etc.? Apart from that, interesting and what I wanted to know. Need to lean more about Fondacos!
    – mart
    Sep 16, 2015 at 10:35
  • @mart The centre of gravity of Mediterranean commerce leaned towards the Islamic side. If Southern Europe had relatively less to offer to a Levantine merchant, than the Levant had to offer a Venetian merchant, then it made less sense for the Levantine to risk the journey to Europe.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 16, 2015 at 11:01
  • 1
    But the Venetians would sell goods to a Levantine merchant - in the Levant. The ecomic argument makes sense if the journey is riskier for the Levantine than for the Venetian. Or the Levantine simply underestimated the profit to be made.
    – mart
    Sep 16, 2015 at 11:11
  • @mart No, Europe was relatively poorer and less developed with little to offer. The Venetians would be buying the Levant's goods to ship home and sell in Europe. It doesn't need to be riskier to the Levantine merchant, there's just little reason to bother. It's not like that he couldn't make a profit selling to European merchants in Alexandria. Perhaps he simply has a better grasp of opportunity costs.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 16, 2015 at 11:28
  • 2
    @MediSaif that post-dates the the Middle Ages by over a century...
    – Semaphore
    Sep 16, 2015 at 13:39

The answer is yes and the biggest Christian port that was open to various Medieval Muslim traders would have been Constantinople. The Christian city of Constantinople, for much of the Middle Ages, was the largest and wealthiest Christian city in the world with access to the famed Silk Route to its East, as well being surrounded by many waterways, such as, the Black Sea to its North, the Dardanelles and Mediterranean Sea to its South, and the waterway which the City is located by, the Bosporus, which serves as the midpoint between the above mentioned waterways.

Constantinople would have been an ideal trade market for Muslim Merchants in greater Arabia, Persia and as far east as Uzbekistan via the Silk Route. Though Constantinople was also in close commercial connection with Egypt, especially with the port city of Alexandria whereby the flow of goods from both cities would have been fairly routine. (There may have also been commercial relations between various North African Muslim countries, as well as Medieval Moorish Andalusia with Constantinople).

The 2nd major Christian port city that would have conducted trade with Muslim countries, was Venice. The emergence of Venice's power, was directly attributable to its waterway status which provided the city with an enviable capacity to dominate various trade routes throughout the Mediterranean sea region, thereby eclipsing the commercial power of (the seemingly indomitable) Constantinople during the Late Middle Ages. When Constantinople was in decline, Venice was on the rise, especially in the area of international trade with various Muslim countries during the Late Middle Ages.

(A historical side note: it was Venetian Traders/Pirates who secretly smuggled out the body of Saint Mark from Alexandria, Egypt and subsequently, built the Byzantine influenced, Saint Mark's Cathedral which literally houses the Saint's body, during the height of the Middle Ages).

  • Do you know that these cities would receive Muslim ships, or just trade with Muslims countries?
    – John Dee
    Oct 23, 2017 at 2:26
  • Well, the aforementioned Christian port cities almost certainly traded with various Muslim countries. I am not absolutely certain that cities, such as Constantinople and Venice "received Muslim ships", though I suspect that they probably did allow Muslim Traders into their ports. I do not have hard evidence to prove this, though having read a bit about Medieval Mediterranean trade and to the best of my recollection, I don't think the Byzantines or the Venetians viewed Arab and Persian Muslim Traders with total suspicion or indignation.
    – user26763
    Oct 23, 2017 at 4:47

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