Letter: CUL Or.1080 5.6

Letter CUL Or.1080 5.6


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In PGP since 2020


Letter in Hebrew (peppered with Arabic, Turkish, and Italian), addressed to two unnamed merchants (one the uncle of the writer), written almost certainly in Alexandria in the mid-16th-century. The writer reports on the violent reception of European ships in the port of Alexandria, acts taken in retaliation for the commandeering of an Egyptian merchant ship in Messina (Sicily). "This very morning the Cavus Bashi arrived and boarded the Venetian galleon that arrived from Crete ("Candia"). He took the sailors prisoner with their captain, and is now bringing them to Fustat/Cairo with 30 janissaries from the tower [their barracks in Alexandria?]. If Andrea di Orio had come with his ships, or Cicala the privateer (ha-sholel) with his ship, they would not have treated them thus." The Alexandrian authorities apparently cut the anchors of multiple other European ships and damaged the docks (? האסקאלה = escala, from Italian), causing frenzy and terror among the capains (patrones) to be separated from their ships which are now loose at sea. The writer insists that a Venetian ship coming from Crete and carrying the flag ("banderia") of San Marcos (called עון מארקו = Sin Marcos, to avoid using the word San) does not engage in acts of piracy and should not be treated thus. The reason is that ʿAlī Numayr al-Rashīdī arrived last week with a letter for the governor (sanjak), informing him that his ship had been commandeered in Messina, even after he had received a promise of safe passage (al-amān). The writer strongly suggests that the recipients approach the consul, who should write immediately to Messina and command ʿAli Numayr's ship to be restored, otherwise the Basha will know how to treat these Venetian prisoners, and the situation will be terrible for all further ships arriving from Messina. There are two or three Florentine captains who are now desperate to get out of Alexandria since their business is in Messina. However, the recipients should not repeat exactly what ʿAli Numayr said to the consul or to the other merchants, because he was lying. There was no promise of safe passage at all. Rather, the Muslims accidentally docked somewhere in the territory of Syracuse in the dead of night, thinking they were in al-Mahdiyya (Tunisia). When the bells (ha-campanacci) started ringing in the morning, they realized they were in a Christian port and scrambled to escape. Their ship foundered on some rocks, and they were taken captive by a few small boats from the tower of Syracuse. All this is known because a ship arrived in Alexandria with 20 Messinan prisoners, who recounted that the ship was taken in Syracuse, not Messina. The writer appeals to the recipients to act quickly to solve this problem and to send him word. He has detained two ships that were about to depart from Abu Qir for Crete, until he hears word, because he does not want word of these events to reach Europe and deter the usual trading ships from coming to Alexandria this year. The writer then transitions into business matters, mentioning intelligence he has received in a letter from Messer Giacomo and in a letter to someone named Aran. The addressees are to buy as much pepper as they can, for the ships coming from Livorno and Messina are not expected to have much. Likewise with ginger: the fresh ginger has all been sold in Europe, so the arriving ships are going to want more, but they will only want it fresh—it must not be rotten at all. The writer also mentions spices, flax, and skins. No ships from France are expected this year, but the ships from Livorno and Messina will purchase goods to send them on to France. "I have told you many times that Cassia fistula (khiyār shanbar) is in high demand in all of Europe, but you have not listened." The writer then mentions the addressee's partnership with Moshe b. Shoshan. Walnuts are in high demand in Venice. The writer has been dealing with a merchant from Ragusa (Dubrovnik) who tells him that after these events in Alexandria, even if he were to receive the weight of all his merchandise in gold, he would not come back to Alexandria, and no European merchant will want to come again after this; all those in Alexandria at present are intending to leave. This Ragusan intended to come and live there for 3 years, but he now plans to get out. The writer concludes by urging the addressees to act quickly, and to remember to buy up lots of fresh ginger and flax. Information mostly from Avraham David's edition and notes. ASE.

CUL Or.1080 5.6 1r



CUL Or.1080 5.6 1v

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