chapter  VII
39 Pages

THE OPENING OF THE LAND ROUTES TO CATHAY

For although the thriving merchants of Venice and Genoa and Pisa grew rich upon the Eastern trade, they knew it only at its termini, the ports of the Levant. From China and India merchandise could take two roads to the West. One was a land route across Central Asia, ending upon the shores of the Black Sea, or passing southward to Baghdad. But though the Greeks of Constantinople and Trebizond did an active trade in Eastern merchandise coming by this route, and though Italians were already beginning to frequent the Black Sea ports, it was impossible for them to go further along the trade routes, for all across Central Asia lay the Turks, blocking the road to the East. The other road was a sea road, separated from the Mediterranean by two landvestibules, the vestibule of Persia and Syria, and the vestibule of Egypt. In Palestine and Syria the Christians still held a remnant of the Crusading States, with a valuable row of ports, and by treaty with the sultans at theirbackdoor they were allowed to journey a few miles inland to the busy cities of Aleppo and Damascus. But beyond this, to the great mart of Baghdad, the centre for the whole district, and along the trade routes to the Persian Gulf, they might not go. Here again the Turks stood in their path. In Egypt, too, their galleys came to Alexandria and did a great trade, but by what road the camels brought their loads and where the Nile boats took on board their cargoes, the Frankish merchants did not know, for once more the Turks blocked them. Islam, the hereditary foe of Christendom, lay like a wall between Europe and all the trade routes to the East.