Networks and social cohesion in ancient Indian Ocean trade: geography, ethnicity, religion
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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The Indian Ocean is famous for its well-documented Jewish and Islamic trading networks of the medieval and early modern periods. Social networks that eased the challenges of cross-cultural trade have a much longer history in the region, however. The great distances covered by merchants and the seasonality of the monsoons left few alternatives to staying away for prolonged periods of time, and shipwreck, piracy, and the slave trade caused people to end up on coasts far away from home. Networks of merchants developed in the Indian Ocean region that depended on a degree of social cohesion. This article draws up a map of selected merchant communities in the western Indian Ocean, and argues that geographical origin, ethnicity, and religion may have been different ways of establishing the necessary infrastructure of trust.