Essay: George Hourani’s Arab Seafaring

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This is an essay on Arab Seafaring written by George Hourani. In Chapter II, Hourani talks about trade routes under the Arab caliphates and relates the effect of the Islamic expansion. This placed the Arabs on Mediterranean shores and disrupted, to some extent, the unity of the Mediterranean basin during Roman times that had permitted for commerce to run unreservedly across its waters.

In Chapter II, Hourani talks about trade routes under the Arab caliphates and relates the effect of the Islamic expansion. This placed the Arabs on Mediterranean shores and disrupted, to some extent, the unity of the Mediterranean basin during Roman times that had permitted for commerce to run unreservedly across its waters. It also brought the entire Persian Gulf under their authority. With the Red Sea being part of their domain, the Islamic expansion united sailing activities in both spheres, thus abolishing rivalries and bringing both routes under one control. Under the Abbasids, the route to China through the Gulf was very active, and commerce flourished deeply so long as Baghdad was the capital of the Middle East. Freedom of navigation had its negative aspects too: sea raids were aid by uncontested domination of the waterways at the points of departure.

Some of the raids on the Lycian coast during the caliphate of Muawiyah (661-80) might have been to cut down cypress trees for shipbuilding. Next to Lebanon, Anatolia offered the best source of such wood. Had the conqueror of Egypt, Amr Ibn al-As, prevailed, a canal would have been cut to the Mediterranean from Lake Timsah.

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