A Connected history of Medieval Mediterranean Diplomacy: The Mamluk Sultanate, Italy and the Crown of Aragon (14th-15th century)
6 full-time (100%) doctoral scholarships in the field of History
The Mediterranean is often seen as a dividing border between two worlds: North and South; Christian and Muslim. This pattern has been mostly influenced and supported by nationalist historiographies, which tended to create borders and accentuate differences between areas that were originally connected. DiplomatiCon-project aims precisely to break free from this one-sided view on the history of the region and to present the first example of History of Diplomacy that truly reflects the late medieval context of interactions and exchanges between the Islamic and Christian worlds. Based on the approaches and methodologies advocated by the New Diplomatic History and Connected History, the project will focus on the three most important actors of the late medieval world — the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo on the Islamic side and the Italian polities as well as the Crown of Aragon on the Christian side— and it will challenge the common narratives of political and cultural antagonism between the two worlds by pointing at the spheres of contact and interaction where an informal type of diplomacy could be performed. This approach will allow to reveal the whole set of actors and agents involved in the diplomatic process, as well as the huge and extended network they built throughout the entire Mediterranean sphere. Finally, it will show how this network facilitated a broad range of cultural transfers among the various participants.
DiplomatiCon is a research project funded by the EOS (Excellence of Science) programme of the F.R.S.-FNRS and the FWO-Flanders. It is a collaboration between UAntwerp (Malika Dekkiche and Iason Jongepier) and ULiège (Frédéric Bauden), with the UniMol, UniBo (Isabella Lazzarini), and the IMF – CSIC (Roser Salicrú I Lluch).
The history of diplomatic contacts of the Italian polities and the Crown of Aragon with the Mamluk sultanate of Cairo has so far concentrated on the history of the trade treaties concluded between the state actors, which are usually presented as competing powers in the Mediterranean basin. Following the trend within the New Diplomatic History, WP2 will switch the focus from these state actors to the various agents working with them in order to rewrite a history of diplomacy on a Mediterranean scale that not only crosses the classical borders set by the various fields of study, but simultaneously highlights the multi-layered structure of diplomacy. Such an approach is facilitated by the DiplomatiCon database that makes available all sources from the various groups studied, and that will allow to identify all agents (Christian and Muslim) who have contributed to the exchanges, all the way from home to destination.
Three relevant cases have been chosen for such analysis. On the one hand, we selected the Venetian case (Profile 1, ULiège/Unibol), and that of the Crown of Aragon (Profile 2, ULiège/Barcelona), both of which represent the continuity in the contacts with the Mamluk Sultanate during the 14th and 15th centuries. On the other hand, another PhD will focus on the broader Italian networks (Profile 3; UA/Unibol).
These extended networks represent a fluid and flexible mosaic of episode and trends and will supposedly best illustrate the evolution of the diplomatic networks over time. The case of the papacy has been excluded from this study as the stakes and modes of interaction were very different in comparison with those of the considered political actors. Diplomatic papal initiatives, however, will be taken into account every time they cross the action of the Italian powers and the Crown of Aragon. Genoa has also been excluded due to their more active role in the Western Mediterranean. Their archives however will be consulted as well, since Genoese agents were also involved in the Eastern trade on the behalf of other actors.
The history of diplomacy that involved the Mamluk sultanate, the Italian polities and the Crown of Aragon is one that has so far been written from state actors’ perspective and therefore has been restricted to the contacts and negotiations taking place in Cairo and, to a lesser extent, Alexandria and Damascus. However, these diplomatic processes already started in the Italian and Iberian home basis and developed along the road. Going against the common assumption of a strict religious and political divide between the Muslim and Christian actors, WP3 “Mapping Diplomacy” will study the various diplomatic spaces created along the way that constituted favourable spheres of contacts and interactions and that allowed an informal kind of diplomacy to be performed by the various agents. Using the shared corpus collected in the DiplomatiCon database, this WP will use all the locations mentioned by the various agents highlighted in WP2 and apply Spatial Analysis (using GIS) to them. This will allow us to map and connect all locations and hubs, to find spatial patterns and influence spheres, and to draw a diplomatic geography and space. More importantly, WP3 aims to understand how those spaces were produced and experienced by the Italian (Profile 4, UA/Unibol) and Iberian (Profile 5, UA/Barcelona) agents themselves, which institutions and structures facilitated those productions and how those spaces were perceived and communicated to a broader audience.
Next to the agents and spaces, WP4 “Translating Culture” will move the focus to the way people actually interacted. The translators and the documentary witnesses of their work will thus be at the centre of the analysis. While they are often mentioned, translators in the medieval period remain quite enigmatic. They are usually known to us through their title of tarjumān or dragoman, but their identities, origins and functions are too often kept silent in official records. Their working methods too still stay rather obscure to us. The Italian and Spanish archives, however, have kept many witnesses of their works, since the Arabic documents are often completed with the translation that was made at the time of the conclusion of the agreement. While some of those documents have been the object of a few studies, scholars have traditionally restricted to issues of language and linguistic features. Even less studied are the so-called brokers, although they have also facilitated contacts beyond the sole practice of language. DiplomatiCon offers a unique opportunity to shed light upon those mysterious figures. (Profile 6, ULiège/Barcelona).