Report on the 2nd Seminar on the History of

Cross-cultural Contacts and Exchanges

Date: January 8, 2000 (Sat)

Place: The Institute of Oriental Culture, The University of Tokyo


Yasuyuki KURIYAMA (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science):

The Political Situation of South Arabia in the 17th Century

(1) Introduction

Purpose of the seminar:

To consider the political situation of Hadramawt and South Arabia in the middle of the 17th Century through the Zaidite Imams' military expedition to Hadramawt. Also, to refer Hadramawt as a port town.

(2) The cause and details of the military expedition to Hadramawt

In 1660, Sanaa's Zaidite Imams dispatched troops in response to the internal strife amongst the Al Kathirs, the family ruling the areas of Hadramawt, al-Shir and Zufar. But when a rebellion in Zufar resulted in the withdrawal of the Imam's troops from Hadramawt, the authority of Imams in the area diminished.

(3) Al-Shihr

At present, al-Shihr is a small fishing port located against a backdrop of precipitous mountains. It flourished during the 12th-13th centuries and was one of the ports on the Indian Ocean route where cargos were reloaded. Al-Shihr's chief products were amber, luban, and aloes wood. In the 17th century, a Baniyan community of about 300 Indian merchants were active in the area. During the period, there was also the presence of damut, or slaves from Ethiopia.

Since Tarim is situated in the interior of Hadramawt, Al-Shihr functioned as a doorway for walis, ulamas, and scholars involved with Tarim.

(4) The military expedition and developments in the South Arabian powers

The military expedition occured when the administration of Zaidite Imams began looking outwards beyond internal affairs. This shift was apparently caused by the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from South Arabian regions. The expedition gave rise to the following:

1) The regions ruled by Zaidite Imams expanded to include important port towns such as Aden and Mukha.

2) Tariff income increased and the maintenance of military forces were facilitated.

3) Exchanges with surrounding countries flourished in response to the participation to the Indian Ocean network.

(5) In lieu of closing

Exchanges and involvement with surrounding countries flourished following the policy changes of the Zaidite Imams Administration. As a result, al-Shihr gained importance as an international trade port.

Prospects for the future

We look to conduct further investigation on the characteristics of the Zaidite Imams Administration in the 16th century.

Work on a detailed study of exchanges conducted within the Indian Ocean network and the Al Kathirs reign of al-Shihr.

Questions raised during the question and answer session following the lecture:

Meaning of the word wali, the actual activities of the Indian merchants, specific examples of the port facilities of al-Shihr.

Katsumi FUKASAWA (The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology)

The Organization of Merchant Communities in French Port Towns of the Early Modern Period: Interregional Connections and International Networks


Ports can be classified into fishing ports, military ports, trade ports, fueling ports, among others, but international trade ports are distinct from the rest in terms of social and economic importance. It was the international trade port that generated the development of French cities in the modern period. The purpose of this report is to consider how the merchants embodying these trade ports had been instrumental in forming interregional connections.

The merchant community was internally stratified and had complex characteristics. Interacting with other social groups such as aristocrats and entrepreneurs (?), their businesses were versatile, and a merchant was often thought of as a "jack-of-all-trades". As a result of this flexible division of labor, merchants gained control of the overall port economy.

The merchant society was established through the absorption of immigrants from a variety of regions both domestic and international, in addition to the hinterlands. This gave the community an interregional and international characteristic from the start. They were able to expand further and reinforce their international trade networks through basing their marriages on professional and religious endogamy. Further study of the merchants trade relationships reveal that the merchant company at the time often adopted multiplex partnerships. This encouraged the participation of other social groups to the trade and enabled the expansion of the international capital supply .

Vocational education and practical training among the merchant groups was also examined. Children who had completed their basic education were often sent as apprentices to trading houses abroad where they learned foreign languages and received occupational education. This custom was a direct result of the international nature of commerce, which in turn was strengthened by the exchange. Thus the merchants' connections were interregional and international, involving material, economic, social and cultural facets. In response to the rapid localization of merchant life resulting from the sedentarization of commerce seen after the later Middle Ages, this establishment of international relations was an effective and inevitable strategy to consolidate the vast human network and international outlook necessary to the merchants.

Questions raised during the Question and Answer Session

Keen piety seen in port towns, the conditions of foreign colonies, the activities of expatriate French merchants, deviations caused by regional factors (e.g. education), centripetal and centrifugal characteristics of merchant networks, the international universality/local particularity of commercial capitalism, relationships between nations and merchants

(By Masashi HANEDA and Katsumi FUKASAWA)