1. Genoa and the Black Sea 13rd-14th century
The first Genoese treaties with the Byzantine emperors did not mention the area of the Black Sea as a theater of Italian merchant activity.1 As a result of the Fourth Crusade and the capture of Constantinople Venice was the first to capitalize on the Black Sea waters, having overriden the Byzantine domination by the 13th C. But as early as the time of the Latin empire Genoa also appeared in this region. The time of the early infiltration and exploitation of the Black Sea area by the Genoese sea merchants coincided with the change of trade routes between the East and the West – until then they began from Asia via Bagdad to Egypt and Syria; now they shifted to the southern Black Sea, connecting the state of the and Central Asia with Tabriz and Trebizond (Trabzon). This was one of the reasons for the rapid boom of Genoese trade in this region. The other reasons can be found in the favourable political situation. Genoa received extremely beneficial privileges from Michael VIII Palaiologos, who allowed free and tax exempt trade within the whole territory of Byzantium.2 This was the moment when Genoa was granted the right to its own quarter in Constantinople, on the northern shore of the Golden Horn in Galata (Pera). It became the hub of merchants from Genoa and other Italian republics throughout the late Middle Ages until the late 16th century and continued to be such during the Ottoman Empire. In order to provide favourable conditions for the activity of its merchants Genoa entered into treaties with the rulers of Byzantium, Armenia, Trebizond, the , Bulgaria, Moldova. There is a preserved edict form the Hungarian King Louis the Great (1342-1382) dated 24 July 1349 which allowed the Genoese merchants to transport their goods to Buda.3
2. The Genoese colonies in Pera and Κaffa – center of trade activity in the Black Sea
All trade missions in the Black sea area were governed from Pera during the late 13th c. Another important Genoese trading post became Kaffa – its main colony in the Northern Black Sea coast which partially took over the functions of Pera and of Genoa itself in administrative and fiscal control over smaller . Apart from Kaffa other fortified colonies emerged on the Crimean peninsula in Soldaya (Sudak), Cembalo (Balaklava), Bosporus (Kerch), as well as along the coast of the Sea of Azov – in Tanais at the outflow of the Don, where the Genoese co-existed with the Venetians. Some of these towns were entirely Genoese with fortified fortresses and had their own military garrison, administrative and financial offices and were governed by a consul. In others there was a separate merchant quarter or separate houses of residing merchants. Most significant was the construction building in Kaffa and Soldaya: there an external belt of towered walls and a moat and an internal fortress with administrative buildings and donjon were built as well as a fortified harbour. The Northern Black Sea coast where the region from which the metropolis Genoa, Constantinople and even Western Europe were supplied with grain and wheat, fish, salt in extremely big quantities, fur and leather goods.
The colonies created by the Genoese existed until the establishment of the Ottoman Empire – Kaffa until 1475, Kilia and Maurocastro (Moncastron) – until 1484. Only Pera continued to exist for a longer period of time; it had exterritorial powers and its own government, but the last documents issued from there date back to 1490.
The southern Black Sea coast played also an important part in the Genoese trade. The basic transit centre was Trebizond, which is the capital of the namesake empire of the Grand Komnenoi (1204-1461). There Genoa maintained its own fortified factoria. It traded in raw silk, cotton from Tebriz, Sebasteia (Sivas) and the Caucasus. The route of the caravans with raw silk followed the northern Anatolian land route and from there came to the sea coast. The representatives of the Genoese families Doria and the Zaccaria, who traded in Trebizond, took the monopoly of the trade in alum in the whole Black Sea area and even the Mediterranean. Important ports and hubs of regional trade were Pontoheracleia, Amastris, Sinope (there was a Genoese colony with a and a consul in 1386), and Simisso (that is Samsun, where from the last quarter of the 13th c. existed a Genoese colony with a consul and self-government until the time of sultan Mehmed). A number of less important ports existed along the Southern Black Sea coast: Limnia, Inei (Omnio, Honio), Kerasounta, etc which were not colonies but constituted the main destinations for import of wheat from the northern colonies, since many transactions were conducted there.
Along the Eastern Black Sea coast the main centres were: Tanais (Azov), Matrega (Тmutarakan) on the Taman peninsula, Vati (Batumi), Fasso (Poti), Sevastopol. The Armenian rulers also maintained relations with Genoa and Venice.
3. Trading routes
The Genoese ships crossed the Black Sea directly from its North to its South coast connecting Kaffa with Trebizond, or Tanais with Simisso. In addition to the direct sea routes cabotage or short-distance sailing was also common. The period of boom of Genoese trading and that of the other Italian towns was from the late 13th to the middle 14th century. Particularly strong were the economic connections in the Northern and the Southern Black Sea regions. The accounting books in Kaffa and Pera document the amount of trade dealings.4 After the flourish of Genoese trading followed a period of crisis during the second half of the 14th c., which affected the whole Mediterranean. In 1345 through Genoese ships from Kaffa and Tana, the bubonic plague spread from Central Asia to Constantinople (1347) and throughout Europe (1348) and turned into pandemic. The crisis was at its strongest in the Black Sea region and lead to a drop of 50% in trade dealings and the trade never recovered to its previous size. The wars and rivalry between Venice and Genoa additionally worsened the situation. Genoa was also in war with the rulers of some of the Black Sea states such as the Dobrotitsa in the late 14th century.
The communities of Genoese merchants were located at key points of trade communication between Europe and Asia. The towns of the Crimean peninsula were the outposts of the land routes from mainland Asia. Along the banks of the great Russian rivers the Don, the Volga and the Dnieper the exchange of goods between the North and the South had gone on for centuries. In the 13th-14th c. this meant mainly the traditional production of raw silk from Asia and the Caucasus. Under the rule of the of the Golden Horde emerged the greatest in terms of transactions slave market, and via Kaffa and Sinope slaves were transported to Constantinople and from there to Western Europe. These key trading posts in the late 13th century were in the hands of the Genoese merchants. The situation did not change during the rule of the Tartar khans of the Golden Horde. Namely these contacts with the Tartars made Genoese ships the main supplier of one of the most precious goods – slaves. Several times the Genoese big ships loaded with wheat helped to save from starvation Constantinople, Genoa and other big cities in Western Europe.
Western Black Sea coast also participated actively in the trade since it was closer to Constantinople and connected with the Central and Western Europe through the Danube delta. Ancient land routes of Pontus passed along the western Black Sea Coast which connected the northern steppes with the valleys of the Danube delta, Dobrudja and the débouchés along the roads from Thrace to the sea coast. In this region there were clearly defined centres such as Moncastron at the outflow of the Dniester. From there Genoa stepped into Central Europe via the "Moldovan route". In the Danube delta Genoa took positions in Kilia and Licostomo, maintaining good relations with the Golden Horde.
The second zone was from Dobrudza to Kaliakra with main port Varna but there the Venetians took prime position and settled before the Genoese.
The third part of the Western Black Sea area was formed around the modern day Bourgas Bay with three ports Mesembria (Nessebar), Anchialo and Sozopol also trading ports dating back to the antiquity. In 1351 Genoa captured Sozopol, and in 1404 Genoese ships captured Cape Galata and remained there for a year.
Important information about the length of the voyages was kept in the ship logs of one Genoese galley carrying envoys to Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander (1331-1371): the passage from Constantinople to Nessebar and back was 10 days. The average distance covered for one day was 30-50 km.4. Types of ships
The big galleys were used for the transport of luxury goods and for re-export from Constantinople to Genoa. Genoese sailed the Black Sea with them to Moncastron, but the galleys were used predominately by the Venetians travelling from Trebizond to Тana. The most common types of ships were the galliots (fustas) etc. There were also «round ships», the heavier, round-bottomed ships with larger lift capacity, which were used for the transport of heavy merchandise and raw materials: such were the , the cogs () and the naves (with a capacity of up to 1000 t, they were their biggest ships).5 Smaller ships (barques) were , (Genoa had two types with sails and with rows ), (used in the Danube delta), (built in Kilia). The preferred type by the Genoese was the bastarda, a narrow galley with high decks.6 The Genoese made use of gunpowder quite early: they had introduced bombardi (canons) already in by the 30s of the 14th C.
5. Forms of trade
In Venice the state managed the maritime policy and provided the essentials for the commercial activity. Unlike Venice, Genoa encouraged the private initiative and the incorporation of family entrepreneurial companies – initially only within one family and later on expended with external member (named ). Companies for exploitation of one or another territory called were established. Another form of trade was the negotiated commissions when agents carried out transactions from a distance. Especially strong was crediting and insurance. Genoa started the initiative of banking – was active in Kaffa in the 14th-15th c.7 From 1453 this bank controlled all the possessions in the Black Sea and Genoese with different financial status and other merchants who adopted Genoese citizenship deposited their funds in this bank. Genoa created a special administrative organ the colonies in Crimea, the Officium Gazariae (1313-1314). It was headed by a consul and had an independent status (Liber Gazariae). It catered for the adminstration, funding, provision and even the hiring of draught animals for the caravans.
1. Jacoby, D., «Byzantium, the Italian maritime powers, and the Black Sea before 1204», Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100.2 (2007), pp. 677–699.
2. Papacostea, Ş., La Mer Noire carrefour des grandes routes intercontinentales 1204–1453 (Bucureşti 2006), pp. 47-63.
3. Papacostea, Ş., La Mer Noire carrefour des grandes routes intercontinentales 1204–1453 (Bucureşti 2006), passim.
4. Balard, M., La Romanie génoise, XIIe - début du XVe siècle (Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 235) I-II (Rome-Paris 1978); Brătianu, G., Actes des notaires génois de Pèra et de Caffa de la fin du treizième siècle (1281–1290) (Bucarest 1927); Toniolo, P., Notai genovesi in Oltremare. Atti rogati a Chio da Gregorio Panissaro (1403 – 1405) (Genova 1995).
5. Balard, M., La Méditerranée médiévale. Espaces, itinéraires, comptoirs (Paris 2006), p. 9-10.
6. Atanasiu, A., "Nave veneţiene şi genoveze în bazinul pontic" in O. Cristea (ed.), Marea Neagră. Puteri maritime – Puteri terestre (sec. XIII-XVIII) (Bucuresti 2006), pp. 50-75.
7. Marengo, E., Manfroni, C., και Pessagno, G., Il Banco di San Giorgio. Libro Secondo: Il Palazzo di San Giorgio e le sue dipendenze. La Marina di Genova. San Giorgio e i possedimenti coloniali e di terraferma. (Genova 1911), p. 446-447; Balard, M. La Romanie genoise (XIIe-début du XVe siècle) (Rome – Genova 1978), ΙΙ, p. 550.