North Africa and the Balkans: Towards A Connected History of Two Ottoman Regions
Panel II-18, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm
This panel aims to explore the entangled histories of the two Ottoman regions on opposite shores of the Mediterranean: the Ottoman Balkans and the Maghreb. The panel focuses on the time when the Mediterranean was not a “colonial sea” defined by nineteenth-century geo-political configurations that engendered disconnentivities between North Africa and Southeastern Europe. Rather, the panel centers on the eighteenth-century in order to underscore the rich and intimate connections that historically existed between North Africa and the Balkans. Through the Adriatic, one connects historiographies of water and land, hitherto widely separated from each other despite their undoubted human and non-human connection. During the 18th century, the mobility of goods, ideas and people between the Balkans and Maghreb were vital to wider circulations across the Ottoman world. Many of these flows and connections, however, have been obscured by approaching the Balkans and Maghreb primarily in relation to Istanbul. Moving away from this center-periphery perspective, the panel seeks to show how the Ottoman Adriatic and the Maghreb played a joint role in offering a safe harbor to European soldiers, providing critical training for future diplomats, and shaping imperial sovereignty at sea. The three papers reconnect the Maghreb-Balkan connections by way of the Adriatic, and unearth the wide-reaching capabilities of different actors and their networks. They demonstrate how these entangled histories always took place in a negotiating and competing context with imperial metropoles (e.g., Venice, Vienna, Istanbul, Madrid) and other trans-local communities (e.g., Dubrovnik). Depicting a maritime route between Venice and Tripoli via Ulcinj, the first paper shows the circulation of deserters through the Adriatic, comparing this connection to another road from Spain to Oran and Algeria. Paper two focuses on the writings of a Ragusan dragoman (interpreter), who wrote of his journey throughout North Africa in the 1760s before being appointed as a consul to the Ottoman capital. The dragoman’s writings provide a perfect case study to explore the east-east channels of knowledge production across the Mediterranean. The third paper explores how Ulcinj’s trans-local network with Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli defined maritime treaties between Venice, Vienna and Istanbul, thereby becoming one of the main producers of maritoriality in the Mediterranean. For both the trans-local communities and imperial metropoles, maritoriality was about the control of maritime spaces that connected islands and coasts. This control enabled movement between terrestrial and maritime spaces.
During the 18th century, the Adriatic region became a crucial maritime and terrestrial imperial intersection, and represented a space where different trans-local and trans-imperial actors from both shores of the Mediterranean defined what territoriality and maritoriality were. A case in point was the coastal town of Ulcinj/Ülgün, located in Ottoman Albania. Situated in networks that extended to Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers and immersed in persistent maritime activity in the Adriatic and beyond, Ulcinj troubled Venetian, Habsburg, Ottoman and Ragusan authorities. Given the geo-strategical importance of the Adriatic as a connecting sea between Central Europe, Africa and the Ottoman Mediterranean, Venice, Vienna, Istanbul and Ragusa cooperated and competed with Ulcinj’s trans-Adriatic network consisting of sea captains and Janissaries. These actors engaged in the lucrative grain, livestock and timber commerce, and were prone to use physical violence on the sea to defend this trade. Such a behavior pushed the imperial actors to negotiate their zones of maritime mobility and define their legal obligations between themselves. Relying on the correspondence between Venice, Vienna, Dubrovnik and Istanbul, the paper depicts how this trans-Adriatic story of Ulcinj spatially and diplomatically shaped the 18th-century Adriatic and the imperial metropoles. In addition to reconnecting these disconnected histories between the Ottoman Balkans and the Ottoman Maghreb, the paper illustrates that Ulcinj and the broader areas were one of the main producers of maritoriality in the Mediterranean. In doing so, the paper makes an important corrective to the tendency of seeing and analyzing the Adriatic exclusively through the lens of the euro-centric Empires.
By the mid-1760s, soldiers from the Venetian army and oarsmen on Venetian galleys tried to escape their conditions by traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Corfu and then Dulcigno (Ulcinj) in the southern region of present Montenegro. From Ulcinj, Albanian and North African traders, privateers and seamen would bring these fugitives to Tripoli of Barbary (now in Libya) where they could be sold as slaves and where they would sometimes convert to Islam. This road from Venice to Ulcinj and Tripoli is interesting not only to uncover forgotten connections between two major parts of the Ottoman Empire, namely between the Balkans and the eastern part of the Maghreb by the second of the 18th century, but also because it can be compared to yet another road from Spain to Oran and Algeria through which other European soldiers would also escape their military duties. By mapping and comparing these routes—both from the Adriatic sea and through Spain/Oran—the paper highlights new forms of connections and circulations across the Mediterranean by the second half of the 18th century. Related to a research project (SlaveVoices) funded by the European Research Council, this case shows how Ottoman North Africa could represent either a refuge or a deadlock for European soldiers trying to change their lives and how these two so-called peripheries of the Ottoman empire could become major crossroads and gateways for major Mediterranean Empires.
Beginning in the fifteenth century, the vassal state of Dubrovnik (Ragusa) had continuous relations with the Ottoman capital, but it was not until the eighteenth century, however, that a permanent Ragusan consulate was established there. One unique characteristic in the careers of these eighteenth-century Ragusan consuls is the time they spent in North Africa before assuming their post in Istanbul. Sent to confirm trade deals, bolster their language skills, and gain experience in Ottoman administration these dragomen recorded the details about their trips in commissioni and correspondence. This paper focuses on the writings of Giorgio Zurrich who traveled throughout North Africa in the 1760s and was then appointed Ragusan consul in Istanbul from 1773-1783. As a case study, Zurrich’s commissioni and letters offer a way to explore the east-east channels of knowledge production across the Ottoman Mediterranean. In doing so, this paper argues that Zurrich’s experiences across North Africa were seen as critical training for his position in the Ottoman capital. The very act of sending dragomen to North Africa signals the importance placed on the Maghrib as an integral part of the Ottoman Empire by contemporary Ragusans. Furthermore, the commentaries and descriptions found in the diaries shed light on how Ragusans positioned themselves vis-à-vis what scholars still depict as another Ottoman periphery. The paper uses these two lenses to track the ways in which knowledge was produced and refined in North Africa and then brought to use in the imperial center vis-a-vis a European vassal state.