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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

4 - Trade and empire


Introduction: the rise and fall of European mercantilism

At the start of the first millennium, western Europe was the most peripheral region in Eurasia. Like Africa, its exports largely consisted of forest products and slaves, and it had direct economic links with just two other Eurasian regions – eastern Europe and the Islamic world. By contrast, the Islamic world had direct economic contacts with all the regions of the then known world: eastern and western Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the steppe societies of central Asia, and the highly developed civilizations of south Asia, southeast Asia, and east Asia (Findlay and O'Rourke, 2007).

By the eighteenth century, western Europe was no longer a peripheral appendage of the Eurasian landmass, but had become geographically and politically central. It was now in direct contact with all other regions of Eurasia, as well as with sub-Saharan Africa, but more importantly it controlled both North and South America, which were fully integrated into the world economy, importing slaves from Africa, exporting a variety of colonial goods to Europe, and exporting silver both to Europe and to Asia via the Philippines. As for eastern Europe, it was now in direct contact not just with central Asia and the Muslim world, but with east Asia and North America as well, as a result of Russia's Siberian conquests, which would prove to be the most enduring of all the European imperialisms of that time.