Category Archives: industry

The October 1917 Coup d’Etat

From Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1480-1493:

In the big industrial cities there was a similar process of radicalization in the wake of the Kornilov crisis. The Bolsheviks were the principal beneficiaries of this, winning their first majority in the Petrograd Soviet on 31 August. The Soviets of Riga, Saratov and Moscow fell to them soon afterwards. The rising fortunes of the Bolsheviks were due mainly to the fact that they were the only major political party which stood uncompromisingly for ‘All power to the Soviets’.

This point bears emphasizing, for one of the most basic misconceptions about the October Revolution is that the Bolsheviks were swept to power on a tide of mass support for the Party. They were not. The October insurrection was a coup d’état, actively supported by a small minority of the population, but it took place in the midst of a social revolution, which was focused on the popular ideal of Soviet power. After the Kornilov crisis there was a sudden outpouring of resolutions from factories, villages and army units calling for a Soviet government. But almost without exception they called on all the socialist parties to participate in its establishment, and often showed a marked impatience with their factional disputes.

The real significance of the Kornilov Affair was that it reinforced the popular belief in a ‘counter-revolutionary’ threat against the Soviet—a threat the Bolsheviks would invoke to mobilize the Red Guards and other militants in October. In this sense the Kornilov Affair was a dress rehearsal for the Bolshevik seizure of power. The Bolshevik Military Organization emerged from the underground—where it had been since July—with renewed strength from its participation in the struggle against Kornilov. The Red Guards were also reinforced: 40,000 of them had been armed in the crisis. As Trotsky later wrote, ‘the army that rose against Kornilov was the army-to-be of the October revolution’.

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Japan’s Aircraft Shortages, 1942: Zeros on Oxcarts

From Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2010), Kindle Loc. 3191-3213:

The fallout from Midway affected both services. A planned invasion of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, known as FS Operation, had been scheduled to begin in mid-July but was postponed for two months. Soon after that decision was made, the operation was abandoned altogether. Among the reasons for scrapping it: a newly published report from the Imperial Navy citing several problems in the South Pacific.

The ten-point position paper, submitted by the navy’s Operations Section on July 7, revealed multiple concerns. First, the service frankly admitted that the New Guinea campaign had degraded “into a war of attrition.” Navy leaders also acknowledged that they faced “a huge challenge” in replacing the four hundred plus aircraft lost during the Coral Sea and Midway battles. As of late June, land-based fighter units averaged only 54 percent of their full complement. Reconnaissance units were at 37 percent, medium bombers at 75 percent, and seaplanes at 80 percent. The Tainan Air Group, now divided between Rabaul and Lae, was a prime example. On paper, it had a nominal strength of more than fifty pilots and was allotted forty-five Zeros; but from May through July of 1942, the air group averaged only about twenty combat-worthy fighters. The supply line for replacements was described as “very sluggish,” namely because not enough new aircraft were coming from the factories. The monthly output of all naval aircraft was only slightly ahead of attrition levels, and the navy was particularly disappointed in the slow delivery of fighters—less than ninety aircraft per month in the spring of 1942.

Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet Staff should not have been surprised by the deficiencies. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the majority of its Type 0 fighters at the Nagoya Aircraft Works, a huge factory in the densely crowded port city of Nagoya. The plant had recently been enlarged to more than 1.6 million square feet and boasted a workforce of some thirty thousand people, but for all that, it did not produce complete airplanes.

Due to a combination of industrial congestion and inconceivable shortsightedness, the aircraft factory had been built miles from the nearest airfield. As a result, the plant was restricted to producing subassemblies rather than whole planes. The engine, wings, fuselage, and tail section all had to be transported thirty miles to an airfield big enough for assembly and testing. There were no rail lines available, and the streets of Nagoya were too narrow for large trucks. Horse-drawn wagons had been tried, but their speeds over the narrow, rough roads caused too much damage to the aircraft components. Thus, the Japanese resorted to using primitive oxcarts to haul the subassemblies of their modern fighter to Kagamigahara airfield. It took twenty-four hours for each team of lumbering oxen to cover the thirty miles through the crowded streets. No improvements were made to the roads, which deteriorated as production rates increased and more oxcarts were employed. Determined to build more Zeros, the Imperial Navy contracted with another aircraft manufacturer, Nakajima, whose plant eventually exceeded Mitsubishi’s in monthly production; but even at their highest output, the two factories averaged only 140 fighters per month.

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Problems of Building the World’s Largest Battleships

From “Some Stories Concerning the Construction of Yamato Class Battleships,” by Masataka Chihaya, in The Pacific War Papers: Japanese Documents of World War II, edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (Potomac Books, 2006), pp. 99-100 (paraphrased freely):

The three Yamato-class battleships were launched at three different dockyards: the Musashi at Nagasaki, the Yamato at Kure, and the Shinano at Yokosuka. The Yamato and Shinano had few problems, for they were to float in their docks after completion, but the launch of the Musashi had many problems, as it set new world records.

The hull of the Musashi was eventually launched with great success in 1940 after very careful work, but many problems remained in equipping the battleship after the launch. First, she needed a huge dry dock, which was specially built for her in the Sasebo Naval Yard. Second, she required a large floating crane capable of lifting more than 300 tons in order to emplace her massive guns and armor plating, which often weighed more than 100 tons each. Finally, she required an extra large-sized ship to transport her 18-inch gun turrets from the Kure Naval Arsenal to Nagasaki. For this purpose, the Japanese Navy built the Kashino, specially designed to transport one 18-inch gun turret at a time. The Kashino made several voyages between Kure and Nagasaki, and the Musashi was finally completed nearly on schedule in August 1942.

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Importance of Hiroshima Bay to Japan’s Navy

From “Importance of Japanese Naval Bases in the Homeland,” by Masataka Chihaya (written on 6 January 1947), in The Pacific War Papers: Japanese Documents of World War II, edited by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (Potomac Books, 2006), p. 59 (paraphrased freely):

Peculiar features of the Kure Naval Base were the Naval College, the Submarine School and its huge Naval Yard. I will provide details about the Naval College in a separate report but will outline it here. The Naval College was situated on Etajima, the island opposite Kure, and there was no establishment except the college. Its environment was calm and excellent, and its effect upon the cadets was so remarkable that we cannot neglect it in analyzing Japanese naval tradition.

The width and depth of Hiroshima Bay was so suitable for small-craft maneuvering that the Japanese Navy trained it submarine forces there from the beginning. The Submarine School trained all of the crews of the midget submarines of the type that were deployed in the Pearl Harbor attack, and would have later been deployed in large numbers to defend the homeland.

The Kure Naval Yard was not only the greatest dockyard in Japan, but also the largest arsenal, especially in such heavy industries as the manufacture of steel armor plates and large-caliber guns. The Kure arsenal produced the thickest armor ever made in Japan, and the greatest (18-inch) naval guns ever made, both of which armed the Yamato and the Musashi, the greatest battleships ever made.

Moreover, Kure Naval Base held a substantial portion of the war stocks of ammunition and fuel. Kure was in both reputation and fact the most important naval base in the country.

In addition, it had other particular advantages that Yokosuka and Sasebo both lacked.

1. Kure could accommodate a large fleet, but neighboring Hiroshima Bay also allowed dispersed anchorages that were not so exposed to public view.
2. Its Inland Sea location made Kure less accessible to direct attack by enemy carrier-borne aircraft than Yokosuka and other bases were.
3. The large expanse (Suō-nada) in the western part of the Inland Sea near Hiroshima Bay was the only area where large fleets could maneuver without fear of enemy submarines.

Consequently, Kure Naval Base had been used as a center for fleet operations from the beginning of the Pacific War until the spring of 1945, when Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet annihilated the remainder of the Japanese fleet in Hiroshima Bay.

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Death of Venice’s Stato da Mar, c. 1500

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 5454-5511:

Vasco da Gama returned from India in September 1499, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Republic dispatched an ambassador to the court of Lisbon to investigate; it was not until July 1501 that his report came in. The reality of it fell on the lagoon like a thunderclap. Terrible foreboding gripped the city. For the Venetians, who lived with a particularly intense awareness of physical geography, the implications were obvious. Priuli poured his gloomiest predictions into his diary. It was a marvel, incredible, the most momentous news of the time:

… which will take a greater intelligence than mine to comprehend. At the receipt of this news, the whole city … was dumbfounded, and the wisest thought it was the worst news ever heard. They understood that Venice had ascended to such fame and wealth only through trading by sea, by means of which a large quantity of spices were brought in, which foreigners came from everywhere to buy. From their presence and the trade [Venice] acquired great benefits. Now from this new route, the spices of India will be transported to Lisbon, where Hungarians, Germans, the Flemish, and the French will look to buy, being able to get them at a better price. Because the spices that come to Venice pass through Syria and the sultan’s lands, paying exorbitant taxes at every stage of the way, when they get to Venice the prices have increased so much that something originally worth a ducat costs a ducat seventy or even two. From these obstacles, via the sea route, it will come about that Portugal can give much lower prices.

Cutting out hundreds of small middlemen, snubbing the avaricious, unstable Mamluks, buying in bulk, shipping directly: To Venetian merchants, such advantages were self-evident.

There were countering voices; some pointed out the difficulties of the voyage:

… the king of Portugal could not continue to use the new route to Calicut, since of the thirteen caravels which he had dispatched only six had returned safely; that the losses outweighed the advantages; that few sailors would be prepared to risk their lives on such a long and dangerous voyage.

But Priuli was certain: “From this news, spices of all sorts will decrease enormously in Venice, because the usual buyers, understanding the news, will decline, being reluctant to buy.” He ended with an apology to future readers for having written at such length. “These new facts are of such importance to our city that I have been carried away with anxiety.”

In a visionary flash, Priuli foresaw, and much of Venice with him, the end of a whole system, a paradigm shift: not just Venice, but a whole network of long-distance commerce doomed to decline. All the old trade routes and their burgeoning cities that had flourished since antiquity were suddenly glimpsed as backwaters—Cairo, the Black Sea, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Smyrna, the ports of the Red Sea, and the great cities of the Levant, Constantinople itself—all these threatened to be cut out from the cycles of world trade by oceangoing galleons. The Mediterranean would be bypassed; the Adriatic would no longer be the route to anywhere; important outstations such as Cyprus and Crete would sink into decline.

The Portuguese rubbed this in. The king invited Venetian merchants to buy their spices in Lisbon; they would no longer need to treat with the fickle infidel. Some were tempted, but the Republic had too much invested in the Levant to withdraw easily; their merchants there would be soft targets for the sultan’s wrath if they bought elsewhere. Nor, from the eastern Mediterranean, was sending their own ships to India readily practical. The whole business model of the Venetian state appeared, at a stroke, obsolete.

The effects were felt almost immediately. In 1502, the Beirut galleys brought back only four bales of pepper; prices in Venice steepled; the Germans reduced their purchases; many decamped to Lisbon. In 1502, the Republic dispatched a secret embassy to Cairo to point out the dangers. It was essential to destroy the Portuguese maritime threat now. They offered financial support. They proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But the Mamluk dynasty, hated by its subjects, was also in decline. It proved powerless to see off the intruders. In 1500, the Mamluk chronicler Ibn Iyas recorded an extraordinary event. The balsam gardens outside Cairo, which had existed since remote antiquity, produced an oil with miraculous properties highly prized by the Venetians. Its trade symbolized the centuries-old commercial relationship between Islamic countries and the West. That year, the balsam trees withered away and vanished forever. Seventeen years later, the Ottomans strung up the last Mamluk sultan from a Cairo gate.

Tome Pires, a Portuguese adventurer, gleefully spelled out the implications for Venice. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca on the Malay Peninsula, the market for the produce of the Spice Islands. “Whoever is lord of Malacca,” he wrote, “has his hand on the throat of Venice.” It would be a slow and uneven pressure, but the Portuguese and their successors would eventually squeeze the life out of the Venetian trade with the Orient. The fears that Priuli expressed would in time prove well-founded; and the Ottomans meanwhile would systematically strip away the Stato da Mar.

The classical allusions of de’ Barbari’s map already contain a backward-looking note; they hint at nostalgia, a remaking of the tough, energetic realities of the Stato da Mar into something ornamental. They perhaps reflected structural changes within Venetian society. The recurrent bouts of plague meant that the city’s population was never self-replenishing; it relied on immigrants, and many of those from mainland Italy came without knowledge of the seafaring life. It was already noticeable during the Chioggia crisis that the volunteer citizens had to be given rowing lessons. In 1201, at the time of the adventure of the Fourth Crusade, the majority of Venice’s male population were seafarers; by 1500, they were not. The emotional attachment to the sea, expressed in the Senza, would last until the death of the Republic, but by 1500, Venice was turning increasingly to the land; within four years, it would be engaged in a disastrous Italian war that would again bring enemies to the edge of the lagoon. There was a crisis in shipbuilding, a greater emphasis on industry. The patriotic solidarity that had been the hallmark of Venetian destiny had been seen to fray: A sizable part of the ruling elite had demonstrated that, though still keen to recoup the profits of maritime trade, they were not prepared to fight for the bases and sea-lanes on which it depended. Others, who had made fortunes in the rich fifteenth century, stopped sending their sons to sea as apprentice bowmen. Increasingly, a wealthy man might look to reinvest in estates on the terra firma, to own a country mansion with escutcheons over the door; these were respectable hallmarks of nobility to which all self-made men might aspire.

It was Priuli again, acute and regretful, who caught this impulse and pinpointed the declining glory it seemed to imply. “The Venetians,” he wrote in 1505, “are much more inclined to the Terra Firma, which has become more attractive and pleasing, than to the sea, the ancient root cause of all their glory, wealth, and honor.”

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“New Spain’s Century of Depression”

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 4988-5028:

The imperialism of Philip II’s reign had been based on a Spanish-Atlantic economy, in that it was financed out of the resources of America and of a Castile which itself received regular injections of silver from the silver-mines of the New World. During the last decade of the sixteenth century American silver was still reaching Spain in very large quantities, and the port of Seville had an undeniable air of prosperity; but the comforting appearances masked the beginning of a radical change in the structure of the entire Spanish-Atlantic system.

This change was, in part, a direct result of Spain’s war with the Protestant powers of the north. In the first two decades after the outbreak of the Netherlands revolt, the Dutch had continued to trade with the Iberian peninsula. Spain was dependent on northern and eastern Europe for its supplies of grain, timber, and naval stores, a large proportion of which were transported in Dutch vessels. Irked by Spain’s continuing dependence on the Dutch, and anxious to strike a blow at the Dutch economy, Philip II placed an embargo on Dutch ships in Spanish and Portuguese ports in 1585, and again in 1595. The Dutch appreciated as well as Philip II that any interference with their peninsular trade threatened them with disaster. They needed Spanish silver and colonial produce, just as they also needed the salt of Setúbal for their herring industry. Faced with embargoes on their peninsular trade, they therefore reacted in the only possible way, by going direct to the producing areas for the goods they needed – to the Caribbean and Spanish America. From 1594 they were making regular voyages to the Caribbean; in 1599 they seized the salt island of Araya. This intrusion of the Dutch into the Caribbean disrupted the pearl fisheries of Santa Margarita and dislocated the system of maritime communications between Spain’s colonial possessions. For the first time, Spain found itself heavily on the defensive in the western hemisphere, its overseas monopoly threatened by increasingly audacious Dutch and English attacks.

The presence of northern interlopers in the American seas was a serious danger to the Spanish commercial system; but potentially even more serious was the simultaneous transformation in the character of the American economy. During the 1590s the boom conditions of the preceding decades came to an end. The principal reason for the change of economic climate is to be found in a demographic catastrophe. While the white and the mixed population of the New World had continued to grow, the Indian population of Mexico, scourged by terrible epidemics in 1545–6 and again in 1576–9, had shrunk from some 11,000,000 at the time of the conquest in 1519 to little more than 2,000,000 by the end of the century; and it is probable that a similar fate overtook the native population of Peru. The labour force on which the settlers depended was therefore dramatically reduced. In the absence of any significant technological advance, a contracting labour force meant a contracting economy. The great building projects were abruptly halted; it became increasingly difficult to find labour for the mines, especially as the negroes imported to replace the Indians proved to be vulnerable to the same diseases as those which had wiped out the native population; and the problem of feeding the cities could only be met by a drastic agrarian reorganization, which entailed the creation of vast latifundios where Indian labour could be more effectively exploited than in the dwindling Indian villages.

The century that followed the great Indian epidemic of 1576–9 has been called ‘New Spain’s century of depression’ – a century of economic contraction, during the course of which the New World closed in on itself. During this century it had less to offer Europe: less silver, as it became increasingly expensive to work the mines, and fewer opportunities for the emigrants – the 800 or more men and women who were still arriving in the 1590s in each flota from Seville. At the same time, it also came to require less of Europe – or at least of Spain. European luxury products found themselves competing with the products of the Far East carried to America in the Manila galleon. But much more serious from the point of view of Spain was the establishment in its American possessions of an economy dangerously similar to its own. Mexico had developed a coarse cloth industry, and Peru was now producing grain, wine, and oil. These were exactly the products which had bulked so large in the cargoes from Seville during the preceding decades. In fact, the staple Spanish exports to America were ceasing to be indispensable to the settlers, and in 1597 Spanish merchants found it impossible to dispose of all their goods: the American market, the source of Andalusia’s prosperity, was for the first time overstocked.

From the 1590s, therefore, the economies of Spain and of its American possessions began to move apart, while Dutch and English interlopers were squeezing themselves into a widening gap. It was true that Seville still retained its official monopoly of New World trade, and that Sevillan commerce with America reached an all-time record in 1608, to be followed by a further twelve years in which trade figures, while fluctuating, remained at a high level. But, as an index to national prosperity, the figures are deprived of much of their significance by the fact that the cargoes were increasingly of foreign provenance. The goods which Spain produced were not wanted by America; and the goods that America wanted were not produced by Spain.

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Odessa, a “Russian Chicago”

From Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, by Charles King (W. W. Norton, 2011), pp. 109-112:

Until the 1860s, Odessa was the breadbasket for much of the Western world, feeding a hungry European and, increasingly, global market. Foreign consuls sent breathless dispatches to European capitals about fluctuations in the prices of wheat and barley. Foreign ministers contemplated the effects of diplomatic squabbles on the supply of foodstuffs. Only with the discovery of oil farther to the east, in the Russian Caucasus and the Caspian seaport of Baku, was Odessa’s chief cash export exceeded by that of a rival Russian city.

Odessa’s commercial success lay in its position at the intersection of flatlands and seascape, where the produce of the former could be sent to markets across the latter. But a series of fortunate accidents allowed the city to enhance this natural gift. Talented administrators such as Vorontsov argued for maintaining the freeport status, which was a considerable inducement to foreign and local entrepreneurs. Improvements in the harbor allowed larger ships to enter and lie safely at anchor. The fall-off in plague outbreaks around the Black Sea reduced much of the time that ships, goods, and passengers spent in quarantine. When the Peace of Adrianople was signed between the sultan and tsar in 1829, ending nearly a decade of diplomatic bickering, trade squabbles, and outright war, Russian secured a historic set of concessions from the Ottomans, including an end to the Ottoman practice of boarding and searching Russian merchant ships. The period of relative peace that followed—from the late 1820s to the early 1850s—provided ease of shipping through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits.

The economic results were immense. Grain exports from all the Russian Black Sea ports stood at a yearly average of under two million chetverts (a unit of Russian dry measurement equal to 5.77 U.S. bushels) before 1813, but by the 1860s that figure had risen to over sixteen million chetverts. Over half those exports were coming solely from Odessa. Between the 1840s and 1850s, the annual volume of grain exports to Italian ports more than doubled, while the French were importing ten times as much Odessa grain at the end of that period as at the beginning. After the late 1840s, the easing of restrictive import laws in England the introduction of hardier wheat varieties in Russia opened new markets for Odessa’s produce, well beyond the traditional Mediterranean destinations. By the middle of the century, well over a thousand ships were leaving Odessa each year. The number of British ships sailing into the Black Sea increased sevenfold between the mid-1840s and the early 1850s, with Britain accounting for a third or more of all destinations of vessels exiting the port. Wheat, barley, rye, and other grains filled the holds of long-haul sea vessels flying flags of most major European powers.

Of all these goods, the queen was wheat. Ninety percent of Russian wheat exports flowed out of the empire’s Black Sea ports, and many of the sights, sounds, and smells of Odessa derived from its production and sale. Immense herds of cattle provided manure for fertilizer in the countryside and pulled the thousands of wooden carts that bore the harvested grain from field to storage centers….

Some carters would return north with cloth, wine, or other imported goods offloaded from merchant vessels in the harbor, while others chose to transform their infrastructure into capital. The dried dung could be collected and sold as fuel to poor families, and the animals could then be given up to slaughter for meat and hides. The sweet smoke of burning, grass-rich manure mingled in the air with the reek of tallow vats and the sharp odor of tanneries, the factories that produced the bricks of processed fat and bundles of unworked leather destined for Turkey, Italy, or France.

With hundreds of thousands of head of livestock coming through the city each harvest season, dust and mud were constant features of Odessan life. Choking, white-yellow clouds, stirred up by hooves and swirled about by the prevailing winds, powdered residents like talcum. Rain turned inches of accumulated limestone grime into impassable sloughs….

An open, brick-lined drainage system, about two feet deep, ran alongside the major thoroughfares, crossed by occasional footbridges and wooden planks. But the rivulets they contained—the wastewater runoff and solid offal of houses and hotels, as well as animal dung and mud from the streets—could gag even the toughest pedestrian. The blooms of acacia trees and oleander fought back with their perfume, but it usually took a change in wind direction, blowing off the plains and toward the sea, to unburden the city of its own stench.

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Odessa, a “Russian Cincinnati”

From Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, by Charles King (W. W. Norton, 2011), pp. 107-108:

When foreign travelers ventured across the Eurasian steppe, it was difficult to know which was worse: bouncing along rutted roads in a hired wagon careering along at breakneck speed, or stopping in a fly-blown inn where a meal was little more than moldy bread and rough wine, and one’s bed a straw mat covered by a ragged blanket.

It was all the more surprising, then, when travelers came across a small slice of Germany that had been transplanted to the windy flatlands. Small wooden houses were gathered in neat rows around a plain stone church. Doorposts were painted with simple but elegant flower motifs. Blooming flowerboxes decorated the street-facing windows. A visitor was greeted with a friendly but wary “Guten tag,” and if he asked for onward directions to another village or city, he should be sure to know its name in German rather than in Russian. “How agreeably was I surprised to see the advanced state of agriculture as we travelled southwards,” wrote the wife of a Russian officer not long after Odessa’s founding, “and to find this mighty empire, which, I own, judging from its vast extent, I supposed to be thinly peopled, covered with populous villages and waving corn [wheat].” Germans, especially members of the reclusive Mennonite Christian denomination, had been invited by Catherine the Great to set up farms across New Russia shortly after her acquisition of the territory from the Ottomans. Germans brought agricultural skills that were lacking in a frontier peopled mainly by nomads and Cossacks. In turn, they received land, exemption from military service, and ready outlets for their produce in the burgeoning Russian ports along the Black Sea.

Odessa was founded by foreigners in Russian service, and that heritage reproduced itself generation after generation. Niche industries abounded. If you were a well-to-do merchant, your barber was likely to be an Armenian, your gardener a Bulgarian, your plasterer a Pole, your carriage driver a Russian, and your nursemaid a Ukrainian. “There is nothing national about Odessa,” recalled one visitor disapprovingly. Some could describe it only by analogy—as a Russian Florence, a Russian Naples, a Russian Paris, a Russian Chicago, even a Russian Cincinnati.

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Two Separate Spanish Economies c. 1500

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2149-2165:

Two separate economic systems continued to exist side by side: the Atlantic system of Castile, and the Mediterranean system of the Crown of Aragon. As a result of the expansion of the wool trade and the discovery of America, the first of these was flourishing. The Crown of Aragon’s Mediterranean system, on the other hand, had been gravely impaired by the collapse of Catalonia, although there was some compensation for Catalonia’s losses in the increased economic activity of late fifteenth-century Valencia. Ferdinand’s pacification and reorganization of Catalonia, however, enabled the Principality at the end of the century to recover a little of its lost ground. Catalan fleets began to sail again to Egypt; Catalan merchants appeared once more in North Africa; and, most important of all, a preferential position was obtained for Catalan cloths in the markets of Sicily, Sardinia, and Naples. But it is significant that this recovery represented a return to old markets, rather than the opening up of new ones. The Catalans were excluded from direct commerce with America by the Sevillian monopoly, and they failed, for reasons that are not entirely clear, to break into the Castilian market on a large scale. They may have shown a lack of enterprise, but they also seem to have suffered from discrimination, for as late as 1565 they were arguing that the Union of the Crowns of 1479 made it unreasonable that Catalan merchants should still be treated as aliens in Castilian towns. As a result of this kind of treatment, it is scarcely surprising that Catalonia and the Crown of Aragon as a whole should have continued to look eastwards to the Mediterranean, instead of turning their attention towards the Castilian hinterland and the broad spaces of the Atlantic.

Castile and the Crown of Aragon, nominally united, thus continued to remain apart – in their political systems, their economic systems, and even in their coinage. The inhabitants of the Crown of Aragon reckoned, and continued to reckon, in pounds, shillings, and pence (libras, sueldos, and dineros). The Castilians reckoned in a money of account – the maravedí [named after the Moorish Almoravid dynasty]. At the time of the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella the monetary system in Castile was particularly chaotic.

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Castilian Economy, 1501: All for Wool

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2057-2076:

In spite of the increasingly grave problem of the national food supply, Ferdinand and Isabella adopted no vigorous measures to stimulate corn production. On the contrary, it was in their reign that the long-continuing struggle between sheep and corn was decisively resolved in favour of the sheep. The great expansion of the mediaeval wool trade had revitalized the economic life of Castile, but there inevitably came a point at which further encouragement of Castilian wool production could only be given at the expense of sacrificing agriculture. This point was reached in the reign of the Catholic Kings. The importance of the wool trade to the Castilian economy, and the value to the royal treasury of the servicio y montazgo, the tax paid the Crown by the sheep-farmers, naturally prompted Ferdinand and Isabella to pursue the policies of their predecessors and to take the Mesta under their special protection. As a result, a whole series of ordinances conferred upon it wide privileges and enormous favours, culminating in the famous law of 1501 by which all land on which the migrant flocks had even once been pastured was reserved in perpetuity for pasturage, and could not be put to any other uses by its owner. This meant that great tracts of land in Andalusia and Estremadura were deprived of all chance of agricultural development and subjected to the whim of the sheepowners. The aims of this policy were obvious enough. The wool trade was easily subjected to monopolistic control, and, as a result, it constituted a fruitful source of revenue to a Crown which, since 1484, had found itself in increasing financial difficulties, exacerbated by the flight of Jewish capital. An alliance between Crown and sheepowners was thus mutually beneficial for both: the Mesta, with its 2½ to 3 million sheep, basked in the warm sunshine of royal favours while the Crown, whose control of the Military Orders gave it some of the best pasturing lands in Spain, could draw a regular income from it, and turn to it for special contributions in emergencies.

There were no doubt certain unintended advantages to Castile, in the intense royal encouragement of the wool industry. Sheep-farming requires less labour than arable farming, and the vast extent of the pasture-lands helped to produce a surplus of manpower which made it easier for Castile to raise armies and to colonize the New World. But on the whole the favouring of sheep-farming at the expense of tillage can only appear as a wilful sacrifice of Castile’s long-term requirements to considerations of immediate convenience. It was in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella that agriculture was confirmed in its unhappy position as the Cinderella of the Castilian economy, and the price which was eventually to be paid for this was frighteningly high.

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