The basic premise of the book, therefore, adopts a colonialist position with respect to global trade networks, but Krondl does so selfconsciously, occasionally reminding the reader that merchants from China and other areas of Asia bought much more of the spices produced in South and East Asia than did Europeans he suggests that Europe consumed less than 25 percent of the global production of spices in the early modern period; Author: Alison A.
Date: Sept. Publisher: Oxford International Publishers Ltd. Dba Berg Publishers. Its claim to fame was that it held the relics of Saint Mark the Apostle, stolen from a church in Alexandria in the ninth century. Some two hundred years on, though, the city had come of age, and like every medieval city of ambition, it needed a grand church to announce her coming out. For a model, the Venetians turned, as they usually did, to Constantinople. They decided to crib the design from the Church of the Holy Apostles, not least because it had been commissioned by Constantine the Great.
The doge could now boast of a church to rival the one built by a legendary Roman emperor, with bragging rights to relics just as good as any Byzantine church. Much of medieval Venetian culture was in fact stitched together from scraps imported from the East. Venetian law followed the Roman tradition of the Eastern Empire more than it did the legal approach of the mainland.
Taste in clothes, art, and food looked for inspiration to Constantinople. In Venice, Eastern styles of dress—richly brocaded and hanging loose from the shoulders—as well as Greek-inspired icons remained in favor long after the Florentines and Mantuans had turned to tight-fitting, formrevealing outfits and moved on to patronizing the likes of Botticelli and Leonardo. Venetians not only tried to dress like the Byzantines, they aped their eating habits, too. Not that every Eastern culinary innovation was immediately embraced. Some even blamed her arrival for the plague that devastated the city at the time.
This is not as far-out as it sounds, since the plague was, in fact, as much a Byzantine export as forks and perfume. You can see them in a Botticelli painting from the mid-fifteenth century in which two young women delicately hold these tiny forks, and later Venetian banquet depictions are littered with them.
Eleventh-century Venice still had a long way to go to keep up with the Byzantines. At its height, in the reign of the Emperor Justinian — , the imperial capital likely exceeded half a million people some estimates go as high as a million. No city in Europe would reach that figure for more than a thousand years! As late as , when the Venetians were about to ravage their increasingly decrepit former mistress, one of their company was still awed by what he saw: Those who had never seen Constantinople before were enthralled, unable to believe that such a great city could exist in the world.
They gazed at its high walls, the great towers with which it was fortified all around, its great houses, its tall churches more numerous than anyone would believe who did not see them for himself; they contemplated the length and breadth of the city that is sovereign over all others. The city at the gates of the Bosporus had always been a magnet for people from across eastern Europe and western Asia. Byzantine kitchens largely depended on the abundant local fish and produce much as Turkish and Greek cooking does today , but the imperial capital could also count on supplies of grain from far-off Crimea, cheese and wine from the Aegean Islands, and oil from mainland Anatolia.
As far as seasoning goes, garum garos in Greek , the fermented fish sauce so essential to ancient Greek and Latin cuisines, remained in favor here long after western Europe gave it up. The old Roman influence also showed up in a love of herbs, spices, and other exotic seasonings.
The taste for spices, it seems, grew more pronounced over the years. Ancient Roman cooks had mostly limited their use of Asian condiments to black and long pepper Piper nigrum and Piper longum , despite the fact that there was a more or less direct route that delivered spices from South India to Italy. Other aromatics were mainly used medicinally, though priests and embalmers found them handy as well. Tacitus informs us, for example, that after murdering his wife, Poppaea, in 65 C.
This was remarked upon by an early Christian killjoy, Asterius of Amasea, around C. Nowadays the spice merchant seems to be working not for the physician but for the cook! If anything, the curative properties of the Asian exotics only enhanced their prominence in Byzantine cooking. A wide range of spices was used in the kitchens of Constantinople. Mastic, produced from the sap of trees on the island of Chios, was a great favorite used in bread and cakes but also as a kind of chewing gum to freshen breath.
Turks and Greeks still add it to chewing gum to similar effect. Storax and balsam, produced in much the same way in the southern reaches of the Middle East, perfumed soups and wines. Spikenard, an extract of a leafy Himalayan plant, and putchuk, a plant from the highlands of Kashmir, were just two of the many Indian seasonings the debauched ruler mixed into his sauces and soups. He could also turn to black pepper, long pepper, ginger, cassia, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and the equally pricey sugar to arouse those jaded appetites. More likely they were part of a multihued palette of local and imported seasoning.
Perhaps they were not as exotic to the Byzantines, who were in constant contact with the spice-savvy culinary cultures of Persia and Baghdad. When the Byzantine army marched into the Persian palace at Dastagert in , we find out they looted about seventy-five pounds of aloeswood another resinous compound used in cooking , but when it came to the silk, linen, sugar, and ginger they also pilfered, it seems they were not sufficiently impressed to bother noting the quantities.
Spices certainly fetched a good price in Constantinople, but they were assuredly less expensive than in Venice, and vastly less so than in France or England. Was there perhaps less snob appeal to spices because they were relatively affordable here? All the same, in Constantinople, spice dealers made a good living off these exotic roots and berries for well over a thousand years. Some traveled as far west as Burgundy to peddle their wares, and at least one Byzantine merchant was apparently spotted at the court of Ceylon sometime around Typically, though, most of the profits fell in the laps of other middlemen who controlled a network spanning more than eight thousand miles across a continually reconfigured chessboard of shifting nations and inconstant religions.
At the end of that trip, the resident merchants—Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and Jews—exchanged silver and gold for pepper and nutmeg before loading up the waiting dhows. The little ships, once filled, would flit with the autumn winds across the Indian Ocean and into the Red and Arabian seas. Once more, the spices were reloaded, this time onto thousands of camels, which marched like never-ending columns of ants across the dusty plains to deliver their scented booty to their spice-hungry sovereigns in Egyptian Alexandria and Byzantine Trebizond, on the Black Sea.
Then finally came the Mediterranean galleys and Constantinople. After the seventh century, all the overland routes were under Islamic rule, but at least the last leg was run by the Byzantines. But not for long. The Venetians were waiting in the wings. The Genoese and even the Pisans gave them a good run for their money. Still, in the end, the fishermen from the boggy lagoon prevailed. On the arid southern coast, the great city of Alexandria is located at the very western end of the fertile Nile Delta, the outlet of the caravans bringing pepper and other luxury goods up from the Red Sea.
Venice is positioned at the very northwest corner of the Adriatic, the largest gulf of the eastern Mediterranean and just across the Alps from the German-speaking lands. This voyage is easily the most direct path between the spice emporia of the Orient and the silver mines in the heart of Europe. Controlling this route became the dominant foreign policy concern of the rulers of the Republic of Saint Mark from the moment they began to send their galleys out of the Aegean. To safeguard its program, the city gradually expanded its sphere of influence, first by setting down trading colonies in ports along the route, then strong-arming them into protectorates, and finally, especially after , seizing them outright as colonies.
If you travel this route today, you can still see mini-Venices all down the Dalmatian coast, and plenty of Greek towns in the Aegean continue to be overshadowed by the wrecks of Venetian citadels. The merchants who ran the Venetian state often resorted to the techniques they had learned in the salt trade. The Venetian navy was sent to fight Italian city-states just as often as any other interlopers. In particular, the wars with Genoa came almost as regularly as the tides throughout most of the Middle Ages as the two cities wrestled for control of the eastern Mediterranean.
So Bohemian silver might be exchanged for Slavic slaves in the Crimea, who were in turn traded for pepper in Alexandria, which was then bartered for Florentine wool in Venice, from whence it was shipped to Trebizond and sold for ginger, which could be used to buy Apulian grain in the south of Italy and sent on to Venice, where it then fetched a good price in Bohemian silver. All the same, it was the spices that were critical to keeping Venice Inc.
This was widely recognized, and the administration kept tight control of the details of the spice trade. To ensure the safety of the cargo, spices could be transported only in an armed convoy referred to as the muda. The muda had a legal monopoly on spices for some two hundred years, starting in the s. Armed galleys were designed and built in the Arsenale, the massive government shipyard, exclusively for this lucrative trade and were then leased to the highest bidder.
He, in turn, was required to accommodate even small-time merchants at standardized rates. As a result, in , Doge Tomasso Mocenigo estimated that Venetians of all stripes invested some ten million ducats in the spice trade, annually reaping an impressive profit of some four million, and this at a time when government revenues were less than one million! A list of purchases by the Venetians in Damascus in the early fourteen hundreds gives a good idea of what was in demand.
But this long list is a little misleading, since most of these Oriental exotics were traded in minute quantities. The only two commodities that were traded in bulk making up some 50 to 65 percent of the Damascus spice purchases were pepper and ginger. And pepper was king.
In the fifteenth century, Venetians imported some five pounds of pepper for every two pounds of ginger. Moreover, the quantity of black pepper traded was typically more than all the other spices combined. Accordingly, when Venetian doges fretted about keeping their sealanes safe and their ships well provisioned, they were mostly concerned about the flow of the wrinkled black berries from Malabar. Most traders made a perfectly good living buying and selling more mundane commodities, so why the obsession with spices?
The short answer is money. On average, Venetian traders earned a net profit of some 40 percent from spices. The great Florentine bankers of the time were getting half that return on investment. Other merchandise might earn 15 to 20 percent if you were lucky. And although certain commodities, especially grain in times of famine, could occasionally be more lucrative, the market for spices remained nice and steady, fat years and lean.
Moreover, you did not need a huge investment to enter the market. As a young man with limited resources, a twentysomething merchant could get on a boat to Egypt and return with a couple of sacks of pepper and still make it worth his while. To make a similar profit on grain, you would need to invest serious money, hire an entire ship, and fill it with literally tons of wheat.
But spices had something else going for them, a seldom-remarked quality that may explain why pepper, in particular, was the bait that drew so many Venetian galleys to trade with the infidel and later lured the Spanish and the Portuguese to distant oceans. We are so used to nibbling Chilean grapes and chomping on shrimp from Thailand that we may forget how difficult it used to be to transport all but a few specialized commodities over any great distance.
There would have been no demand for Indiangrown pepper in medieval Europe if the dry little berries had not been light enough and sufficiently nonperishable that they could withstand being shipped halfway across the world. For a bale of pepper to get from Quilon to Cologne, it would likely endure months of transportation by ship, camel, and mule, interrupted by many more months of storage in every port along the route—and all this without a noticeable decline of quality.
Imagine trying to ship a sack of mangoes halfway across the world or lugging a crate of china across the Alps. And while Asian spices were never really worth their weight in gold, they were a whole lot lighter for those camels to carry!
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The only other goods that were worth transporting over such a long distance were precious stones and silk. The problem with jewels, though, was that they were relatively pricey even at the point of purchase, and thus, the potential for profit was inevitably smaller. Spices, on the other hand, were a cheap agricultural commodity that was easily obtained by low-skilled foragers in the forest. This explains why princes and businessman could get away with jacking up the price 1, percent between the time the dried condiments left Asia and their arrival at the Adriatic port.
Overseas were alien rulers who wanted to wring ever more revenue from the trade; foreign merchants demanding a fatter slice of the pie; and rivals from Genoa, Barcelona, and Marseilles bidding up the price. Once your cargo was loaded, you had to worry about shipwrecks, pirates, and, once again, the European competitors, who could be worse than the pirates. The merchant who not only wanted to make a profit but also to survive needed to keep one hand on the hilt of his sword as the other reached for his purse.
In some ways, even to characterize the traders aboard Mediterranean galleys strictly as merchants is a little misleading. Rather, imagine highly organized, well-armed gangs prowling the sea, en route from port to port, seizing any opportunity that might present itself.
Throughout most of history, whether a transaction ended up as looting or trade often depended on the strength of the opponent. The Venetians were always calculating whether to haggle or fight, but in either case, it was wise to be well armed if for no other reason than that the threat of harm might result in a better price. While fellow citizens of the Republic were generally considered off-limits for piracy, other Italians were considered fair game, especially if a precious cargo of spices or pearls was suspected on board. The situation on land was not much better, and while all sorts of treaties and legal statutes were supposed to regulate trade in the spice ports, there was always the possibility one side might not like the deal and pull their daggers.
Even once the goods were in hand, they had to be locked up under vigilant guard. The rulers of the Eastern Empire put what resources they had into their navy, which was a strictly military outfit and did not meddle in trade, whereas the large, heavily armed crews of the Venetian ships were not only able to ward off potential attackers, they could attack at will, buying and selling all the while.
Recognizing their naval prowess, Byzantine emperors hired Venetian navies on at least two occasions to fend off Norman incursions. As a reward, Venetians would enjoy tax-free status throughout the empire. The poorly garrisoned coastline of the southern Aegean was a tempting target for the Venetian corsairs as well. Technically, Christians were supposed to sell only nonbelievers into slavery, but this distinction was not always strictly observed. At first, the Venetians took over the export trade from Byzantium to the Adriatic; then, along with the Pisans and Genoans, they began to supply Constantinople itself; and finally, by the time of the First Crusade, Italians were doing most of the shipping inside the empire.
The splendid old dominion of the eastern Caesars was having a tough time of it all around. Central authority had broken down to such an extent that most of the provinces were now run by regional strongmen who seldom bothered to send any tax revenue to the capital. In the East, Seljuk Turks had gradually consumed large chunks of what is now Turkey. By the late eleven hundreds, all that remained of the realm that had once controlled the entire eastern Mediterranean were the Balkans and fragments of coastal Turkey. As the once-great empire wasted away, Venetians moved in to feed off the carcass, swelling, in turn, the purses of the upstart republic.
In , Frankish and Venetian pilgrims, armed for the Fourth Crusade, arrived to deliver the fatal blow. Every campo, every square, every neighborhood, is dominated by a church. Many are still graceful and limber, even though others are increasingly doddery and infirm. The truth is rather more nuanced. As far as the rest of medieval Europe was concerned, the Venetians were always on the verge of apostasy.
They were particularly notorious for cutting deals with the Moor to maintain their trading privileges. The popes regularly excommunicated the entire town—though, admittedly, there was usually a political motive for this. In the Republic of Saint Mark, local clergy were strictly subordinated to the secular authorities.
Here, the slogan was Veneziani, poi Christiani! By the time the Italian city-states became involved in the pepper trade during the waning years of the first millennium, the Mediterranean world was irrevocably split between the Christian North and the Islamic South. They seized Iberia and Sicily. Their mounted horsemen surged deep into France, where they were finally checked by Christian knights at the battle of Poitiers in In the aftermath, there was a more or less stable entente between the faiths for the next three hundred years.
By the early years of the new millennium, however, an increasingly prosperous Europe was emerging from the slumber of the Dark Ages.
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One sign of this was a new imperial religiosity, a widespread desire to push back the borders of Islam. Lacking any navy to speak of, the Frankish knights of western Europe had to charter ships in order to get their men and horses to the Holy Land. Consequently, they turned to the nautically endowed Italian city-states. Genoa offered a measly 13 ships.
Pisa was more generous, providing a flotilla of about vessels. The Venetian authorities took close to a year to sort out the pros and cons of joining the holy war, but when they finally did, their ships were to be the single largest contribution to the Crusader navy. There were certainly many Venetians who were swept up in the religious fervor of the time; nevertheless, there were also a good number who were more calculating in the matter.
When the then-current doge, Vitale Michiel, exhorted his fellow citizens to join the jihad, he did not forget to add that the potential for gain was not merely of the spiritual variety. Under the terms of the deal, the Italian cities were supposed to get one-third of any territory captured in the Holy Land in payment for transport. Though the Italians never got quite as much as the contracts stipulated, they did get enough territory to set up commercial bases across the Levant.
For the Venetians, the Crusades were undoubtedly an enormous strategic as well as financial windfall, whereas, for the rest of Europe, the consequences were ultimately to be more cultural than directly economic or even political.
The Latin knights who disembarked, first in Byzantium and then in the Holy Land, were in for a culture shock. Only when confronted with the plush lodgings and refined cuisine of the East would most of them have realized just how dank and dismal were their drafty donjons and how dull their diet back home. In Constantinople, the great lords of Europe were fed spiced delicacies in the perfumed palace of the emperor, but even lesser souls were exposed to the decadent ways of Byzantium at inns and bathhouses across the great metropolis.
Meanwhile, in the boomtowns of Palestine, common Italian merchants lived better than Burgundian princes. Their salons were decorated with mosaics and marble and decked out with carpets of plush damask.
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Perfumed meats arrived on platters of silver, if not gold. Fresh water ran from taps, carried by the still-standing Roman aqueducts. Chilled wine flavored with the spices of the Orient filled delicate goblets and beakers. Western European pilgrims came to the Holy Land by the thousands. There were those who settled so that they could live a step closer to paradise. Others found God in more earthly rewards. Yet as numerous as they were, the Catholic immigrants remained a tiny minority among the indigenous Syrian Christian and Muslim population.
If all else failed, the necessary help could be purchased at the slave market, though buying women slaves for sex was technically illegal. He who was a Roman or a Frank is here a Galilean or a Palestinian…. We have already forgotten the places where we were born…. Some have taken as his wife not a compatriot but a Syrian or an Armenian, or even a Saracen [that is, Muslim] who has received the grace of baptism. But less conservative palates would surely have thrilled to the new ingredients and flavor combinations.
The local cuisine was closely related to what they had tasted in Byzantium—after all, the region had been a part of the Eastern Roman Empire for centuries—but it must also have echoed the kind of sophisticated food that was dished up in Baghdad and Alexandria. Baghdad, in particular, was the foodie capital of its day, where much like today cookbooks were written as much to be read and discussed as to be utilized for their directions.
At a time when European dukes and counts were satisfied with great, gristly haunches of grilled venison, the connoisseurs of the Arab capital could dine on pasture-raised mutton and tender chicken redolent of imported Asian spices; they could pick and choose among a wide assortment of freshly baked breads and nibble on confections crafted of local fruits and imported sugar.
In Baghdad, a host was judged by the diversity of ingredients and the variety of preparations rather than crude quantity. The Arabic cookbooks of the time give us recipes aromatic with spices layered over a distinctly sweet-and-sour taste. We can infer this from the name given to the central market where Westerners got their takeout. He writes that some Franks—though apparently not the majority—had become acclimated to local customs.
During the course of a social call at the home of a soldier of the original Crusader generation, Usmah was offered lunch. I never eat Frankish dishes, but I have Egyptian women cooks and never eat except their cooking. For they, too, hired couriers to bring snow from the mountains of Lebanon—a two-to three-day run—in order to chill their wine in the heat of summer.
They, too, sprinkled their food with sugar. And apparently, the Crusaders even started to bathe! In imitation of local ways, the Frankish women are known to have gone to the baths three times a week, and it is supposed that men, who were less constricted, might have gone even more often. After all, Muslims ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula well into the twelfth century Islamic Granada held out even longer, until it was conquered in as well as Sicily for more than two hundred years.
Especially in Spain, Christians and Muslims and Jews lived together in relative harmony for centuries. The dominant culture of these western caliphates was naturally Arabic and drew inspiration for its music, literature, and food from Baghdad and points east. The introduction of oranges, lemons, eggplant, and other fruits and vegetables to the West is generally ascribed to Arab intervention.
Pasta as we know it seems to have been invented in Moorish Sicily. Arabic recipes soon insinuated themselves into Italian compilations, while these were, in turn, disseminated north.
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Culinary ideas flowed across Europe in much the way that Gothic art and architecture spread across the continent. In the same way that the Arabic arch was incorporated into Western cathedrals and then transformed into an indigenous art form, the Middle Eastern way with spices was adapted to the European kitchen. John of Salisbury, a twelfth-century English Crusader and scholar, gives us some sense of the new culinary melting pot when he criticizes a dinner he was served at the house of a merchant in the southern Italian province of Apulia.
The Middle East had plenty to teach the Western barbarians about mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and medicine. Most medieval nutritional theory came straight from Arabic writers, who had, in turn, picked up the earlier Greek medical tradition. The scholars in Baghdad, however, altered the old system to suit their taste and culture, giving their dietary advice a distinctly Arab accent. It is no coincidence that medieval dietitians in Bologna and in Paris would suggest the same ingredients expensive Eastern imports such as spices, sugar, dried fruit, citrus, almond milk, and rose water as their Muslim sources.
There was virtually no influence flowing in the opposite direction. After a bare eighty years in control, the Franks were expelled from Jerusalem in , though Europeans managed to hold on to parcels of what is now the coast of Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Turkey until During these almost two hundred years of colonialism and crusade, tens of thousands of Italians, Germans, English, and French had traveled back and forth across the whole Mediterranean. The ex-colonists who returned to Cologne, Bordeaux, and St.
Albans brought with them a remarkably similar idea of what made up sophisticated cuisine. As a consequence, the European gentry would increasingly demand that their pigeon pie be flavored with imported seasonings. And, of course, it was Venice that was best placed to take advantage of this burgeoning need. Most historians do think, though, that there was a steady increase that came with the Crusades. In part, this was because there was just more back-and-forth traffic across the Mediterranean.
Undoubtedly, the demand was also fueled by a contemporary European population explosion. In the Christian West, there were more people and more money to pay for more and more imported pepper. It was no accident that the expansionist Crusader era happened to coincide with one of the most prosperous times Europe would see until the nineteenth century. The twelfth century was an age of broadening horizons and progress in just about every field, from agriculture to mining, from transportation to banking. As a result, feudal lords were able to skim off increasingly greater profits from the multiplying mills, fishponds, breweries, and mines under their control.
And what did they do with their profits? The ruling classes of Europe finally had the time and money to be bored, to need entertainment. You might say that the mounted heirs to the Vandals and Huns had gone soft. Instead of bloody battle, men showed their mettle through relatively genteel jousting, hired poets to compose weepy romances, and lingered over increasingly complex tasting menus. Around the end of the thirteenth century in Milan, the curmudgeonly Galvano Flamma contrasted the honest and simple past with the current prosperity: Life and customs were hard in Lombardy [at the beginning of the century].
Men wore cloaks of leather without any adornments, or clothes of rough wool with no lining. With a few pence, people felt rich. Men longed to have arms and horses. The virgins wore tunics o f pignolato [rough cotton] and petticoats of linen, and on their heads they wore no ornaments at all.
A normal dowry was about ten lire and at the utmost reached one hundred, because the clothes of the woman were ever so simple. There were no fireplaces in the houses. Expenses were cut down to a minimum because in summer people drank little wine and wine-cellars were not kept. At table, knives were not used; husband and wife ate off the same plate, and there was one cup or two at most for the whole family. Candles were not used, and at night one dined by light of glowing torches. One ate cooked turnips, and ate meat only three times a week.
Clothing was frugal. Today, instead, everything is sumptuous. Dress has become precious and rich with superfluity. Men and women bedeck themselves with gold, silver, and pearls. Foreign wines and wines from distant countries are drunk, luxurious dinners are eaten, and cooks are highly valued.
At this point, Italians—or at least, the ones in the up-and-coming merchant republics of Florence, Genoa, and Venice—were more interested in making money than spending it. In early medieval Europe, the fashion makers were to be found at the courts of rich and powerful princes, not in places run by bankers and businessmen. It was the feudal magnates who had to secure their position by spending fortunes to impress potential rivals and awe their underlings.
And mostly, these aristocrats spoke French—or at least, some variant of it. In the thirteenth century, the rulers of England, France, the Low Countries, Naples, and Sicily as well as the Crusader kings of the Holy Land were all part of the French sphere of influence. In fact, the culinary fashion had much in common wherever French was spoken. This was the cuisine partially adapted from the Arabs, with a similar penchant for sweet and sour complemented by a robust addition of spice mixtures.
Specific spices went in and out of vogue, but remarkably, this approach to seasoning, even while it became more artful and incorporated new ingredients, did not go out of style until the seventeenth century. Accordingly, no self-respecting nobleman could make do without a steady supply of spice. The Florentines, Genoans, and Pisans were all well located to be the middlemen in the growing luxury trade precisely because they were in the middle, between Byzantium and the Arabs, and the Catholic kingdoms to the north. But there were other players in the spice trade, too.
Both Marseilles and Barcelona gave the western Italian towns a run for their money. Venice, on the other hand, not only had no competition across the Alps, she was also the closest of the major spice-trading powers to the Oriental ports as well as the silver mines of Germany and Bohemia. As the Germans sent silver down the Brenner Pass, the merchants of Venice sent pepper-laden mules back. The armed convoy system of the muda solved the problem of piracy, but even before this was in place, the Republic was confronted with a more pressing issue.
In Byzantium, the people were increasingly getting fed up with the aggressive tactics of the Adriatic upstart. As a result, Venetian residents were targeted for violence, but what was even worse, the emperor had begun to cozy up to the Genoans. It, too, is a pastiche, though this one of Constantinople. There is, however, at least one significant difference between the design of the gaudy church and the garish casino hotels in the desert. Here, the fragments of the Eastern imperial capital are real, not simulated. And these are just the most obvious. The resulting edifice also sent a different sort of message than the playful desert casinos.
This was dead serious. The motives for the Fourth Crusade and the subsequent looting of Constantinople by Franks and Venetians were an unfortunate, if all too common, collusion among religion, greed, and realpolitik. As such, it foreshadowed the later actions of Portuguese conquistadores in Africa and the Indies. The accounts of the day point out how especially adept the Venetians were at manipulating a holy war to serve their financial goals. The Venetians had long maintained a sizable colony in the Byzantine capital, and though they were nominally subject to imperial law, they largely acted as they pleased.
Eventually, most of the people were recovered, but the spice trade was in shambles, and it became all too evident that the Venetians needed a longer-term solution to the Byzantine problem. The Venetian doge cut a deal with the Crusaders to provide food and transport for their men and horses in exchange for eighty-five thousand marks as well as half the booty derived from the operation.
This was an unusual move for the Venetian executive, though how close to Jerusalem he intended to take his pilgrimage is less than clear. Dandolo came from a long line of Venetian merchants and politicians. While we have little information on the doge before he was elected to the leadership in at the age of eighty! We do know that in his later years, he served as a sort of ambassador in the Middle East. When the flotilla was ready in , only a fraction of the expected Crusaders showed up. In the meanwhile, Constantinople was in the midst of a dynastic squabble that involved fraternal eye-gouging and other unsavory acts.
The emperor was deposed, and in the aftermath, his young son Alexius showed up in Venice, hat in hand. This gave Dandolo and the Crusaders what they had been waiting for all along—a rationale for a profitable detour. From a purely mercenary standpoint, gold-filled Constantinople was a much plumper fruit to pick than the war-ravaged cities of Palestine, and her defenders an easy target when compared to the formidable Muslim battalions in the Holy Land.
Venice could regain her strategic commercial base in the Byzantine capital and secure the spice route; the knights could come home rich. To their credit, some of the pilgrims —most notably, Cistercian monks—refused to take part in this sham crusade, and the pope expressly forbade it. The ensuing rampage was heartrending. Alas, the relics of the holy martyrs were thrown into unclean places! The viciousness experienced in the sieges of Jerusalem, by Christians and Muslims alike, was, if anything, worse, and we can point to all too many equally reprehensible war crimes committed in our own time.
But what made the sack so remarkable was its sheer scale and the coldhearted calculation that went into it. Not only did the city earn a handsome profit in transport fees and a huge windfall in the form of gold, silver, and precious jewels, but the adventure amounted to a vast real estate coup, giving Venice threeeighths of the empire. The spice route was secure.
He was duly thrown into prison and strangled.
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Thereupon a French nobleman grabbed the imperial throne. In , its light was extinguished once and for all by Mehmed the Conqueror when his Turkish troops bombarded the city into subjection. In this engaging, enlightening, and anecdote-filled history, Michael Krondl, a noted chef turned writer and food historian, tells the story of three legendary cities—Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam—and how their single-minded pursuit of spice helped to make and remake the Western diet and set in motion the first great wave of globalization.
Sharing meals and stories with Indian pepper planters, Portuguese sailors, and Venetian foodies, Krondl takes every opportunity to explore the world of long ago and sample its many flavors. No, the taste for spice of a few wealthy Europeans led to great crusades, astonishing feats of bravery, and even wholesale slaughter. As stimulating as it is pleasurable, and filled with surprising insights, The Taste of Conquest offers a fascinating perspective on how, in search of a tastier dish, the world has been transformed.
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