The Levantine Merchant Consuls of Aleppo; The Commercial Elites 1750- 1850
The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rise of an elite non-Muslim merchant community in Aleppo benefitted both the Empire and the community’s three component groups: Europeans, Jews from Livorno or Venice, and local Christian Arabs, Armenians and Greeks. The dramatic financial and social ascent of this Levantine society resulted largely from three economic policies energetically pursued by the Porte to spur trade with the Muslim-suspicious West. First, increasingly broad Imperial capitulations granted Europeans and their non-Muslim local protï¿½gï¿½s tax exemptions and the right to adjudicate cases in their consular courts. Later, the Ottomans extended these extra-territoriality privileges to any participating local trader, minority or Muslim. Finally, the Empire inaugurated wide-ranging Tanzimat reforms integrating non-Muslim subjects as fully equal. As a result of these policy shifts, even when the nineteenth-century decline in trade led joint stock companies like the English Levant Company, the French Levant Company and the Dutch VOC to abandon Aleppo, individual European merchants--traditional mediators for Western enterprises and for Muslim traders--could create and expand their family trade networks regionally and could simultaneously serve as European nations’ business representatives and diplomatic consuls. Classic Ottomanists have depicted these Imperial economic decisions as proof of Imperial paralysis, rigidity, and weakness vis-ï¿½-vis the West. But the revisionist view, supported by the archival evidence this dissertation presents, finds that the Porte actively, innovatively, and forcefully enacted these strategies to advance its own international trade and to aid its own traders of any national origin. These far-reaching laws purposively hoisted the status and power of the hybrid Levantine community which could uniquely and usefully bridge East and West by belonging equally to both. As a privileged class, Levantines kept their identity and elevation by fluency in both native and foreign languages and cultures, by establishing clan-based trade networks, and by exclusionary marriage practices. Yet their characteristic cosmopolitanism won them the irreplaceable role as the financial, diplomatic, and cultural link between the Empire and Europe. This connection perpetuated the commercial power of the Porte, in the face of impending Western hegemony, for an impressive period, just as it maintained the Levantine identity until this century.