Merchants, Mamluks, and Murder

The Political Economy of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Basra

By Thabit A. J. Abdullah

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in the Social and Economic History of the Middle East
Paperback : 9780791448083, 200 pages, December 2000
Hardcover : 9780791448076, 200 pages, December 2000

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Table of contents

List of Maps, Tables, and Figures


Note on Transliteration

Note on Currency



1. Al-Basrah Al-Fayha'


History up to 1700
Hasan Pasha and the Mamluks
Location and Climate
The City
The People
Administration & Power


2. The Shifting Fortunes of Trade


Customs Duties
The Ships and Their Sailors
Basra's Overall Trade Patterns
Rise: 1724-1774
Boom: 1766-1774
Decline: 1775-1793


3. Networks of Trade


The Maritime Trade with India
The Coffee Trade and the Role of the Omanis
The Regional Trade with the Gulf
The Trade with Southern Persia
The Riverine Trade with Baghdad
The Caravan Trade with Aleppo


4. The Merchants (Tujjar) and Trade


The Risks of Trade
Investment and Wealth
Credit and Contracts
Merchant Communities
The Jewish Merchant
The Armenian Merchants
The Chalabis of Basra


5. The Merchants and Power


The Mamluks and Trade
The Chalabis and the Government
The Cases of Muhammad Agha and Hajji Yusuf
The Jews and the Mamluk Administration
The Armenians and the English
The Case of the Murdered Jew Revisited
The Rebellions of Shaykh and Mustafa Agha
Manesty's Victory and the Beginnings of British Dominance






A historiography of Ottoman Basra, a trade center in the eighteenth century.


Using the case of the murder of a Jewish merchant in 1791 as the backdrop to this study of Ottoman Basra's long-distance trade in the eighteenth century, Thabit A. J. Abdullah takes a novel comparative approach to Middle Eastern and Indian Ocean historiography. He examines three broad interrelated issues, all of which have a direct bearing on the case of the Jewish merchant. First, the overall nature of Basra's trade is examined; second, the book looks at the city's large wholesale merchants, the tujjar; and the third issue deals with the gradual development in Basra of the "soft areas" in Asian economies through which European articulation, followed by incorporation into the capitalist world economy, took place.

Thabit A. J. Abdullah is Assistant Professor of History at York University. He is the editor of Arab and Islamic Studies in Honor of Marsden Jones.


"This is a highly enjoyable, well-written, well-researched work, which is a pleasure to read. " — Journal of Early Modern History

"This work brings to light the extraordinary extent to which Basra and, more generally, southern Iraq were tied to India, both economically and politically. Abdullah's research in Indian archives has broken open a mindset in Ottoman historiography that refused to go beyond the Persian Gulf. In this broader context, the British stake in Basra and Iraq becomes much more comprehensible. " — Jane Hathaway, Ohio State University

"This book brings together a body of information on Basra which has not been compiled to this extent in any other work in the English language. " — Nance F. Kittner, College of St. Joseph

"I am impressed with the very broad compass of the book as well as its personal mapping of some individual merchants' lives and careers. It makes a very strong case for the regionality of Basran trade, and its connectedness with the Indian Ocean, Arabia, and Istanbul in a much understudied period. A terrific amount of secondary literature has been read and incorporated, and the author has made adroit use of archival records of the trading companies of the region. " — Virginia H. Aksan, author of An Ottoman Statesman in War and Peace: Ahmed Resmi Efendi, 1700–1783