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The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were a time when the countryside of the province of Damascus enjoyed relative security and stability. There were not many complaints about banditry or marauding troops, and the local ayan were brought to heal in the vezierates of Koprulu Mehmed and his son Fazil Ahmed Pasha. Even the weather cooperated for the most part. However, the rise of the Azms in the 1720's and 30's, while generally promoting the security of the rural areas, also put the countryside under greater pressure, for the Azms created new in-kind levies upon peasant communities. Little research has been conducted on the productive capacity of this region during this period, when political conditions were favorable for production, populations were no longer abandoning their villages en masse, and production for the European market was still modest. My paper will explore the question the agricultural output in this era by focusing on three issues of production: cultivation techniques; estimations of output per feddan for wheat, barley and straw; the inroads of non-comestible cash crops such as cotton in this period. The paper relies on an unusually wide variety of sources to inform its conclusions in these areas. The first section of the paper surveys the mechanics of sowing, tending and harvesting, both for fruits and for grains. Explaining irrigation and crop rotation techniques, my paper will draw primarily on Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi's treatise 'Ilm al-Filaha and on information contained in the fatwas of the Damascene muftis. In order to establish productivity per feddan in the second part of the paper, my analysis pairs information from the Ottoman Tapu Tahrir Defterleri with Damascene court records of goods levied in kind as taxes in the Azm period and the late seventeenth century. Examining the spread of cotton cultivation in the third part of the paper combines the observations of English and Franch merchants with figures and information gleaned from the court records and fatwas. The conclusions are not meant to be precise, but rather helpful estimations for other scholars engaged in comparative studies of early modern political economy, and as a contribution to the knowledge of the history of Syrian political economy in the 'longue duree'.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area
13th-18th Centuries