Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
Today (apart from Slovenia, which is already a member,) all the countries of the former Yugoslavia are engaged in negotiations on entry to the European Union. These involve, of course, lengthy chapters regarding trade. What is easy to forget is that, despite inevitable ups and downs, the region has always traded with the rest of Europe. In the Middle Ages Dubrovnik, or Ragusa, was the pre-eminent trading city of the region. In his history of the city Robin Harris describes its trade with England, which began in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and peaked in the early sixteenth:
Ragusan ships would arrive in England at Southampton or Margate – the former near the heart of textile production in Hampshire and with the benefit of its double tide, the latter with its deep harbour and convenient proximity to London. They carried wine from Crete, soap for use in the textile industry, olive oil, wax, currents, oriental carpets, cotton and costly Italian fabrics. The Ragusan ships were then reloaded with "broadcloths" and "straights", but above all with prized "kerseys", to be made into garments for well-to-do people in the Balkans. They also carried away tin, pewter vessels, tanned hides and some wool for Italian cloth manufacturers.
Ragusan ships were big says Harris, and trade was "intense and extremely valuable" but, "in the 1540s it was dramatically cut short by international politics":
The long sea-route from Dubrovnik to England could only function profitably in conditions of reasonable security. But a combination of war between England and France in the channel, North African piracy in the Western Mediterranean and fighting between the Spaniards and Turks off Dalmatia made it impossible. Insurance rates accordingly soared. Attempts to shift much of the commerce overland via Antwerp or Hamburg were only partially successful. Moreover, this change deprived the Ragusans of the profits their ships had earned in the carrying trade. By the mid-sixteenth century the previously important Ragusan colony in London had greatly dwindled.
Dubrovnik: A History. Robin Harris. 2006.
[p. 169-70 / Saqi Books]