Bulut M. (2002) Dutch and Ottoman commercial interactions

Bulut, Mehmet (2002) “The Role of the Ottoman and Dutch in the Commercial Integration between the Levant and Atlantic in the Seventeenth Century”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 45/2, 197-230.



Large trade volume and significant bullion transfer testify of the advanced integration between the Ottoman Empire and Europe in the early modern period (p.197). The discovery of the Cape route had gradually weakened the Ottoman position as Europe’s middleman, but by the end of the 16th century it remained significant (p.198). To replace the vanishing fiscal revenues, the Ottoman rulers granted trading privileges (the so-called capitulations) to European nations who were consequently attracted to the Levant ports. But these efforts were unable to limit the Rise of the West of which the commercial integration of the Levant and the Atlantic is a part (p.199).

The capitulations

In 1612, the sultan granted the Dutch their own capitulation, although the first commercial relationship were more ancient as the adoption by the Dutch of the Turkish love for tulip seem to indicate (p.200). Before 1612, the Dutch had to enter the Ottoman ports under French and English flags (p.201). The Dutch capitulations were renewed in 1634 and 1680. In effect, the capitulations were a ‘freedom’ that granted Dutch merchants extraterritoriality on Ottoman soil (p.203). Importantly, it guaranteed the Dutch from the Libyan, Algerian and Tunisian pirates.

The Dutch were free to trade in the Empire and to import bullion without taxes, and only had to pay 2 to 3% custom duty on other imports (instead of 5% for the French and the Venetians; p.204). The Dutch were solely barred from exporting bullion and grain out of the Empire. The sultan also relinquished his rights over testamentary bequeaths and in case of shipwreck (p.205).

The institutions

The Dutch could also appoint an ambassador in Istanbul and consuls in the Levant ports (p.206). “No ship of his nation could leave port without his authorisation, and he resolved disputes and settled suits between members of his nation according to his home country’s laws and traditions. His person, servants, and animals were immune from interference, at his residence, on the road, or at overnight halts; his personal goods were exempt from custom dues.”

Back in Amsterdam, the Levant Directorate organized shipping and trade to the Ottoman Empire. It acted as the representative body of Dutch commerce in the Mediterranean. It was in charge of the diplomatic relations with the Porte and the North African regencies (p.208). For it services, it imposed a 1% duty on commodities shipped to or from the Levant, which was increased to 2% in 1663 (p.209).

Local custom Ottoman official commonly tried to levy duties beyond the 2-3% guaranteed by the capitulations (p.210). The Ottoman administration also regularly imposed avanias (arbitrary payments) that could be avoided by corrupting civil servants. On the other hand, Dutch ship captain often tried to avoid paying what they owed to their consuls by sailing under foreign flags (p.211). As granting one nation’s protection to foreign merchants by allowing them to sail under their flag was a significant source of income for the consuls, there was a stiff competition between European consuls to offer these guaranties. Dutch merchants bitterly complained of the difficulties with the Ottomans this type of practices led to (p.213).

Development of the Dutch trade

The Dutch entered the Mediterranean in force in the 1590s. It is usually assumed that their trade peaked in the 1650s before gradually declining (p.214). Although it seems that the Dutch bulk trade did indeed decreased after the mid-17th century, evidence suggests that the luxury trade went on growing at least until 1675. But there is no doubt that by the end of the 1600s, the French had finally come to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean trade.

Over the 17th century, the composition of Dutch export to the Empire evolved as well and was increasingly made of fabrics while fewer commodities and raw materials were sent to the Levant (p.215). The Dutch trade seem to have been significantly more economical than the English one thanks to larger more efficient ships. If it hadn’t been for England’s protectionist policies, the bulk of the Ottoman trade would have reached the island via Dutch warehouses. Unsurprisingly control of the Levant trade was a major source of conflicts between the two nations as various episodes of the Anglo-Dutch Wars made clear.

The importance of the Levant trade for the Dutch industry cannot be overstated: “Anatolia appeared as the foremost market for this commodity and it was the only source of supply of mohair yarn, the raw material for camlet, which was Leiden’s second most significant product […] during this period.” Proof of this importance, the Dutch Leeuwendaalders ($) became the preferred coin on the Levant markets (p.216).

Market integration

Over the 17th century, Izmir (Smyrna) replaced Aleppo as the most important European entrepot in the Ottoman Empire (p.217). Unlike what happened in the Western Mediterranean, the Ottoman trade thrived after 1600 and the Ottoman state managed to collected great amounts of custom duties in the process. But local manufactures suffered greatly and, by 1700, the Empire exported mostly raw material (p.218). Nevertheless, the Empire was large enough that the European exports managed solely to grab some market shares in some sectors, not to threaten the whole Ottoman industry (p.219).

Proof of the good health of the Dutch trade during the whole 17th century, the Holland’s bullion export increased from $ 600,000 around 1600 to $ 1 million in 1700 (although this growth pales compared to the jump from $ 300,000 to $ 2 million for the Eastern Asian trade; p.220). The Dutch were the most important exporters of bullion to the Levant; in 1677, a single ship brought 200,000 coins in a single trip (p.221).


The European never managed to control Ottoman inland trades, despite numerous effort to install trading posts in Bursa and Ankara to access directly the mohair yarn entrepots. On the other hand, the Dutch successfully managed to control the routes between various European nations and the Levant, in particular in Italy, Spain and Germany. The merchants involved in the Levant trade commonly build major fortunes (p.222).

During the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe became important trading partners. The lack of armed conflict between them was key to these good commercial relationships (p.223).


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