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Mercantile Networks, Port Cities, and “Pirate” States: Conflict and Competition in the Indian Ocean World of Trade before the Sixteenth Century

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The prevailing image of the Indian Ocean world of trade before the arrival of western Europeans and Ottomans in the region in the sixteenth century is one of a generally peaceful, conflict-free realm dominated by cosmopolitan traders who moved easily across boundaries of geography, ethnicity, language, and religion. This paper modifies this picture by examining the evidence for conflict and competition between pre-modern maritime polities in the western end of the Indian Ocean. In the fifth/eleventh and sixth/twelfth centuries maritime polities on the islands of Kish in the Persian Gulf and Dahlak in the Red Sea antagonized Aden's supremacy as the region's most frequented entrepot. In the subsequent three centuries, the Ayyubids and Rasulids of Yemen also strove to control maritime routes and networks.L'historiographie en vigueur de l'Océan Indien à l'époque précédant la venue des Ottomans et des Européens au XVIème siècle, décrit une aire commerciale généralement paisible parcourue aisément par des négociants cosmopolites par-delà les obstacles géographiques, ethniques, religieux et linguistiques. Cette contribution modifie cette image par un examen des témoignages des Vème/XIème et VIème/XIIe siècles qui attestent les conflits et rivalités des cités portuaires de Kish en la Golfe de Perse, de Dahlak en la Mer Rouge contestant la suprématie d'Aden, l'entrepôt le plus fréquenté. Durant les trois siècles suivants, les Ayyûbides et Rasûlides du Yémen s'efforcèrent également de contrôler les routes et réseaux maritimes.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University;, Email:


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