Tributary World-Ecologies, Part II
The Mediterranean World and the Crisis
Keywords:World-Ecology, Capitalism, Historical Sociology, Mediterranean, Middle Ages
This essay—the second in a two part series—reconceptualizes the High Medieval Mediterranean World as a tributary world-ecology. Area Studies view the High Medieval Mediterranean as a culturally fragmented world, while the Commercialization Theorists only unite these fragments externally through trade relations. In contrast, Marxist Theorists almost exclusively focus on Medieval Europe through production relations. I argue that the High Medieval Mediterranean can be theorized as a tributary world-ecology. I advance two interrelated arguments. First, I underline the socio-ecological similarities and differences between the North Sea (addressed in Part I) and the Mediterranean Worlds. The Mediterranean world-ecology was premised upon the breakdown of world-imperial redistribution mechanisms and localization of peasant exploitation. This was exemplified by the development of iqta’, pronoia and similar land-tenure regimes across the Mediterranean World. The localization peasant exploitation, however, did not result in autarchy, but rather in the formation of a world-market. In fact, novel agrarian relations, coupled with the climatological upturn and technological innovations, led to the growth of surpluses in the hands of the aristocracies. This in turn stimulated artisanal production and revival of trade. Consequently, the Mediterranean World, like the North Sea World, witnessed further geographical integration and economic growth. Second, I emphasize the similarities and differences between the crises of the North Sea and the Mediterranean Worlds. Their socio-ecological relations reached their limits when the climate began to cool and destabilize, and organizational innovations could no longer produce sufficient surpluses. Consequently, both world-ecologies collapsed, finding its clearest expression in the Black Death. In turn, the Mediterranean, just like the end of the Roman period, disintegrated. The Western Mediterranean and the North Seas were integrated on the basis of capitalist productive and commercial networks, resulting in the birth of European capitalist world-ecology. In contrast, the Eastern Mediterranean would be reintegrated on the basis of the tributary networks of the Ottoman World-Empire.
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