The best books on the multi-religious Mediterranean

Brian Catlos Author Of Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad
By Brian Catlos

The Books I Picked & Why

Visions of Deliverance: Moriscos and the Politics of Prophecy in the Early Modern Mediterranean

By Mayte Green-Mercado

Visions of Deliverance: Moriscos and the Politics of Prophecy in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Why this book?

This is a really splendid book and an original approach to the history of the Morisco community of Spain as they struggled for survival and sought to gain either recognition as Spaniards or rehabilitation as Muslim. Mercado uses a range of sources in Latin, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, and Aljamiado, to examine the internal religious life of these forcibly converted Muslims. Her entrée into this world—through the prophecies and predictions, made by Moriscos themselves or as gleaned through the reading of “new” inquisitorial records and through the reaction of the Catholic and royal establishment.

Illuminating a dark corner of sixteenth-century European and Islamic history, Green-Mercado presents both the Old Christians and Moriscos with admirable nuance, while at the same time avoiding both a moralizing or nostalgic approach to the subject. 


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In Good Faith: Arabic Translation and Translators in Early Modern Spain

By Claire M. Gilbert

In Good Faith: Arabic Translation and Translators in Early Modern Spain

Why this book?

Gilbert digs beneath the surface to uncover the hidden history of the people who really made things happen in the Spanish Empire. In Good Faith demonstrates that during the “Morisco century” (1492–1614) the Arabic language remained vital and of crucial importance to Spain’s colonial enterprise despite its official elimination and social marginalization. She focuses on Spanish-Arabic translators who were drawn from among the Morisco elite, and who found agency and accrued benefits for themselves and their families as well as their larger communities, by performing this crucial service for the Spanish Habsburgs.

It is a study that connects the Iberian Peninsula not only to North Africa, but to the broader European, Mediterranean, and Atlantic worlds at the dawn of the age of European colonialism and Orientalism. 


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The Captive Sea: Slavery, Communication, and Commerce in Early Modern Spain and the Mediterranean

By Daniel Hershenzon

The Captive Sea: Slavery, Communication, and Commerce in Early Modern Spain and the Mediterranean

Why this book?

Another intimate view of Mediterranean social history, The Captive Sea: brings to light the way networks of captivity and ransom operating between Hapsburg Spain, Ottoman Algiers, Morocco, and beyond helped shape the Mediterranean as an integrated region in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Hershenzon tracks the interactions of various agents involved in the ransom economy— imperial bureaucrats, clergy, merchants, diplomats, renegades.

Combining a wide-angle frame of geopolitics with the particular cases registered in letters, petitions, Inquisition reports, and other archival sources, he reconstructs some remarkable stories that illustrate the complexity of networks of interaction and circulation: stories of individual captives like Fatima, daughter of an Algerian Janissary (slave soldier), or the connected histories of captives (in some cases of quite modest social station) from both sides of the religious divide, repatriated through the correspondence of wives or mothers back home. 


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That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

By Hannah Barker

That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

Why this book?

That Most Precious Merchandise offers a much needed and evocatively-written reassessment of the experience of slavery in the late medieval Mediterranean. Tracing the networks of the slave trade from the Black Sea to Genoa, Venice, and Cairo, it argues that the Italian maritime powers and the Mamluk sultanate shared a similar approach to slavery. By re-assessing Black Sea slavery from the vantage point of both Italy and Egypt, Barker discerns commonalities in systems and approaches to slavery across cultures—she calls this a common culture of slavery. She presents as the principal themes of the book a series of conceptions and practices of slavery that cut across confessional and cultural lines, upending a number of fundamental paradigms that have shaped, and limited, the scholarly terrain. 


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Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean

By Joshua M. White

Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean

Why this book?

Focusing on the period beginning with 1571’s epic battle of Lepanto and extending through the so-called “Northern Invasion” of the English and the Dutch into the Mediterranean, this book examines the central role piracy played in the emergence of an “Ottoman Mediterranean” as a legal space shaped by multiple, ever-shifting factors. In this wide-ranging and beautifully written study, archival sources spanning both religious and imperial spheres of law become windows onto the astonishing complexity of an early modern Mediterranean in which there were “no hard and fast lines separating Christian and Muslim spheres, but rather a culture of legal pluralism in which merchants, travelers, and seamen took advantage of multiple overlapping jurisdictions.” Evocatively written, blending narrative and analysis, White brings this exciting age to vivid life.


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