The Ottoman Empire, established at the end of 13th century, was one of the largest and most powerful empires of the world. From the 14th century till the early 20th century, most of the Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southeastern Europe were under the control of the Ottomans. The Empire became the most powerful under the rule of Sultan Suleiman, also called Suleiman the Magnificent, during the 16th and 17th century.
At the height of their power, the Ottomans controlled all the major trade routes between Asia and Europe. Due to the empire’s unique geography, sea trade played an important part in the empire’s economy. Most of the trade, both international and domestic, used to take place via sea trade routes. Until the 1780s, the Ottomans dominated the eastern and western Mediterranean, Red Sea, Black Sea, and part of the Persian Gulf.
During the 18th century, the Ottomans maintained a balanced trade relationship with Europe. They mainly exported raw material to Europe. It mainly included precious silk, wool, dyes, cotton and dry fruits. Silk was particularly in high demand in Europe, in the first half of the century. However, Italians gave the Ottomans tough competition, in the latter half of the century, the demand of Ottoman silk gradually decreased in Europe. According to an estimate, the export of silk had decreased in the Ottoman Empire by 77% from 1701 to 1761.
Major Ottoman imports from Europe, in the 18th century, mainly included manufactured products and colonial re-exports, such as coffee, sugar, cochineal, paper, etc. France was the biggest trading partner of the Empire and was followed by England and Netherlands. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and European countries had signed multiple trade agreements due to which the Europeans enjoyed the status of extra-territoriality in the ports of the Ottoman Empire. Jewish and Greek brokers controlled the relationships between the local merchants and European traders.
It has been estimated that the trade between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire was around £110M during late 1780s.
The Ottomans used to import spices, cloth and indigo (a dye that was highly important for the empire’s textile industry) from India, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Other imports from India included precious stones, perfumes and pharmaceuticals.
Domestic trade was also flourishing during the 18th century and it mainly took place through the Red Sea and the Black Sea.
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