Crafts and Industries


 Lopez notes, that amidst the agents of economic revival of the West from the 10th century onwards, half oriental cities, which never slept: Venice , Amalfi, Salerno , and Bari, occupy the first rank.[1]The same Italian cities, that traded with Islam and imported Islamic trade mechanisms, playing the overwhelming part in the introduction of  Islamic skills in crafts and industry in the Christian West . The inventory of industries further on will highlight this. However, just as with sciences, or other skills, the concourse of skilled Muslims and other Christians who lived under the Muslims was also necessary to this transfer. Hence, the focus, first, on the agents of transfer (the Italians  and Muslim craftsmen), before is seen the passage of some crafts and industries from Islam to the West.

Italian Cities and Muslim Craftsmen  as Agents of Diffusion

 The fundamental reason why the Italian cities were first to convey most crafts and early industries (just as trade mechanisms) to Western Christendom  is simple: they were the most powerful Christian presence on Islamic soil on the economic front. It follows the same pattern observed throughout this work, that each and every region that made contact with Islam was first to change, and it changed in whatever aspect it took from Islam. Lorraine  sought and brought astronomy and mathematics from Islam, and changed precisely in such sciences; Salerno  got the Islamic medical lore, and rose precisely in that field;  when England  borrowed astronomy (through Walcher, Adelard, Petrus) or administration (from Sicily ), these were the very precise subjects it  pioneered; when Cracow focused on astronomy, and its lectures made Islamic astronomy a basic requirement for graduates and masters, it produced a Copernicus; and w hen the Italians , not the French, nor the English, traded with Islam, not the French, nor the English, but the Italians, precisely, witnessed the advances in their trade. And it is absolutely the same with regard to craft and industries. As the Italians were the closest industrial partners to Islam in North Africa, and those who took over Muslim industry and trade in the East following the success of the crusades, it is absolutely no surprise at all, as is going to be shown now, that they were the first to develop crafts and industries in the West, and that they held the ascendancy for centuries to come in the field. The only competition they will encounter at some point will come, not surprisingly, from the nation which was the closest to Islamic industries and crafts: Spain.


The Italian presence in the Islamic land, whether west or east of the Islamic realm, during the Middle Ages, was very powerful. Italian cities held the most extensive Western Christian links in North Africa, as highlighted by De Mas Latrie.[1] The Venetians followed the Pisans and the Genoese, and soon, under the patronage of the pavilions of the great maritime cities, were also involved the small ports of Liguria and Dalmatia, and the rich merchants of Tuscany and Lombardy.[2] Sicilians, Sardinians, like the Venetian, without neglecting Morocco , were, like the Genoese and the Pisans, in continuous business rapport and interest with Tunis and `Oriental Mauritania.’ In Tunis, Bejaia , and El-Mehdia, there was a large Venetian presence, the Venetians even having changing offices, and public writers.[3] The republic of Florence, at the same time as it built its navy, developed its textile and silk industries, and sent consuls and ambassadors.[4] Genoa  and Pisa , as noted above, already had their special representatives, and some impact through these extensive links has already been seen.


It is, however, the place of the Italians  in the East, which is of greater interest in this section. Italian cities were the most important intermediaries between East and West, already preceding the crusades.[5] The `treasures’ which converged on Alexandria by sea and land `from the two Indies, the two Ethiopias, and Arabia'[6]were re-distributed to the Western countries through the representatives, established in that city, of the merchants principally of Venice , Amalfi,  Pisa  and Genoa .[7]It was, however, the crusades (launched in 1095), which were to play a central role in putting the Italians not just in contact with Muslim trade and industry in the East, but in control of such Muslim trade and industries, the Italians simply taking over Muslim crafts and industries as they found them. This take over has its origins in the crusades themselves. A major reason behind the crusades was the great desire of the Italian cities of Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Amalfi to extend their rising commercial power, and capture Islamic wealth for themselves.[8] Once the Normans captured Sicily  from the Muslims (1060-1091), and Muslim rule was partly broken in Spain (1085f), the western Mediterranean was freed for Christian trade; the Italian cities grew richer and stronger, and planned to end Muslim ascendancy in the eastern Mediterranean.[9]They participated greatly with their fleets in the assistance of the crusades, often such fleets playing a decisive part. It was the Genoese ships of the Embriaco brothers which brought the Crusaders provisions and supplies for the war, and it was to Genoese sailors that the chroniclers attribute the success in the capture of Jerusalem.[10] In 1099, the Doge of Venice set out with a fleet to open up a new and profitable trade with all the coast, and to win privileges for his city, by aiding to conquer Caesarea and Arsuf, Haifa, Tyre and Ascalon.[11] From Rhodes came letters in November, 1099, announcing the approach of these important allies; and in the June that followed Godfrey, the crusader leader, made treaty with them.[12]If from the 24th of June until 15th August, the Venetian fleet would aid his army, he promised the Doge a third part of every city taken, and a church and market in every town, and half the spoil, and safety for the crew of any ship wrecked on the coast; an alliance ratified on 18th of July.[13] The Genoese fleet equally played a great part in the taking of Caesarea (1101), Tartus (1102), Acre and Jubail (1104) and Tripoli (1109).[14] Pisa and Venice played further part, too; the Pisan fleet besieging Lattaquieh in 1099,[15] whilst Venice lent its fleet in 1110 against Beirut and Sidon, most particularly;[16]and in 1123, a large Venetian squadron inflicted a severe defeat on the Egyptian fleet, allowing the Crusaders to take Tyre the following year.[17]Then, once conquest was achieved, because of their very nature, or location all along the coast, the Crusader kingdoms would have never lasted without the support of the powerful Italian fleets supplying them with goods and fighting men.[18] 

Although they were gratified for such assistance, Genoa , for instance, having the honour of seeing its deeds engraved in letters of gold in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, the Italians  were never content with that alone. The Genoese assistance earned them a third of the booty, and trading quarters in every town they had helped take.[19]After the capture of Tripoli, the Genoese earned themselves a street in that city, and the whole town of Jebail.[20] Bertram the second count, in 1109, granted the Genoese a third of the port of Tripoli, and the rocks of islands near it, and free trade in the province.[21] The Genoese quarter in Antioch consisted of at least thirty houses, a church and a set of buildings used as warehouses and stores.[22] In helping capture Tyre, the Venetians earned themselves a quarter of the city, and a district of their own in every crusader city.[23] Tyre became in fact the main settlement of the Venetians.[24]A few years later we find the Venetians settling in Tripoli, and later in Jebail.[25]The Pisans owned property in Tripoli towards the close of the century,[26]and were strongly present in Acre.[27]There was also a powerful Pisan colony in Antioch, one of its members (Stephen) best known as a translator.[28] All in all, the whole coastland of Syria  and Palestine, and other major centres of trade, were under Italian control: Genoa in Antioch, Laodicea, Caesarea, Acre, Jafa, Jerusalem, Beirut; Pisa  in Jafa, Laodicea, Tyre, Jerusalem, and Acre; Venice  in Sidon, Tyre, Tripoli, and Jerusalem.[29]


The established Italian colonies in Palestine and Syria  contributed immensely to the transfer to the West of new crafts, techniques, new methods of building, and new ideas in the useful arts.[30]Indeed, the Italians  have now become the owners of industries, which were once in Muslim hands, and the products, and skills and know how of such industries, directly passed under their control. Thus, little surprise if woodwork and metal work, as well as the manufacturing of glasses, which required varied knowledge, which was unknown during the Crusade times, was soon borrowed and spread into Europe.[31]The glass-works of Tyre served as models to those of Venice , and from Syria were in 1277 passed on the secrets of Syrian glass-making to Venice.[32] The finding of glass objects in former crusader castles, such as Montfort, objects which were executed following the traditional enamelling techniques of the Islamic East, but which show purely Western subjects, constitute links with later Venetian work.[33] The diverse crafts, to be seen under arts further down, were also acquired, to the largest measure, in the same manner from the East. When subsequently the local Sicilians lost the skills for sugar manufacturing, Emperor Frederick II  sent to Marshall Ricardo Filangieri (an Italian obviously) in Tyre for the supply of new skills.[34] Even in coinage, with their so called `Tyre Dinars' the Crusaders imitated Muslims from the middle of the 12th century for over a hundred years.[35] 


Other than the Italians , Muslim craftsmen were agents of transfer of many crafts and industrial skills. In conflict, at all times in history, whether during the crusades, or during the Second world War, and even under the harshest foe, i.e the Mongols or Timur Lang,[36] one class is always spared total annihilation: people with practical know how. And so were Muslim craftsmen during the wars between Christianity and Islam. In the midst of war, or following conquest, Muslim craftsmen carried the bulk of transfer of skills from one culture into the other. The skilled Andalusi workforce, for instance, with its well developed industries and sophisticated agriculture, had much to offer to the rural and less technologically developed northern kingdoms, Constable notes.[37] The role of such craftsmen had dramatic repercussions on any part of Western Christendom they were carried to. The transfer of Muslim ceramic experts between Spain and other parts of Western Europe directly led to the rise of Western gold lustre ceramics, for instance.[38] Prior to such transfer, imported pieces from the Islamic land seemed to be located `in some exotic distant land.’[39] All changed, when in the 14th century Muslim experts moved from Malaga (still under Islamic control) to the suburb of Manises (near Valencia ), then under Christian control, and began to produce lustre-ware; `the surrender of this professional secret to a Western land governed by Christians had taken place,’ Schnyder notes.[40] Manises soon developed into a leading centre in the art of lustre faience, so much so, in 1383 its gilded and expertly painted products enjoyed such an excellent reputation that the Franciscan monk Eiximenes, author of a eulogy to Valencia, was able to write that even the Pope, the Cardinals and the Princes of the world were among its admirers.[41]Then from there, the skills spread northwards.  Pottery decorated with the emblems of important Italian, French and Spanish  personalities were to follow;[42] and the golden ceramics from Valencia achieved their widest distribution to the furthest reaches of Europe.[43]And wherever `the brilliant examples of the artistic ability of Valencia arrived, they served as guidelines and ideals, strongly influencing the Italian Majolica art of the 15th Century.[44]After the established relations between Manises and Avignon during the years 1362-64, we hear in 1382-85 of a certain Jehan de Valence who was employed in the service of the Duc de Berry and who produced painted faience tiles in Poitiers and in Bourges (in France).[45]


The superiority of Muslim skills is further substantiated by the fact that everywhere under Christian rule, Muslim craftsmen were keenly sought after. In Spain, as the re-conquest proceeded, Muslims, masters of great skills were allowed to retain their functions and serve the new crown; alongside builders, paper and textile makers, manufacturers of iron, they represented expertise of a diverse sort.[46] Glick notes, that, in general, Christian rulers made concerted efforts to keep Muslim owned industries going, particularly those crafts deemed to be Islamic specialities.[47] Thus, in 1251 Jaime of Aragon allowed the potters of Jativa to practise their craft on the annual payment of a bezant for every oven.[48]The same Jaime encouraged the continuity of the paper industry in Jativa and supported it by forbidding the making of paper by Muslims elsewhere in the kingdom of Valencia , whilst Alfonso X  ordered in 1281 that no pottery works were to be built in Cordoba unless in the Muslim style.[49] Groups of Muslim workers were enticed from their homes by royal or seigniorial privilege and settled en masse elsewhere, to develop particular industries.[50] Muslim craftsmen, dye-masters, boatmen on the Ebro River, leatherworkers, and providers of many kinds of service shared their hamlets and urban quarters.[51] Equally the barons and landlords, in Spain, valued both Muslims’ work ethic and the income it brought, and they tried to protect this investment against church and townsmen.[52] Muslim expertise was so critically needed that when in Murcia Muslim weavers departed en masse, the silk industry was destroyed, and fulling mills had to be converted by new Christian owners to rice husking.[53] Also both Valencian  and Sicilian Muslims served in the respective royal armies as contingents; and both manufactured valued weapons for the Christian armies.[54]Muslim craftsmen of Sicily  under Christian rule contributed to the same spread of crafts and techniques as Muslims did in Spain.  Frederick II  had large numbers of Muslims transported and exiled to Lucera, and they took with them their own arts and crafts.[55] At the fall of Lucera fifty years later, the conquering Angevin transported back to Naples various such Muslims for their service.[56]In the crusader East, European artisans who had settled in the cities of the crusader states were unable to exercise any lasting influence worth mentioning.[57] In the process of sugar production, for instance, the Crusaders found that the Syrians were not just expert at growing sugar; they also mastered the technique of crushing it under presses, extracting the juices, concentrating the substance on fire, then drying it out slowly into sugar.[58] The Crusaders took over the industry, and followed precisely the Muslims system of production, using the same Muslim terminology.[59]At Acre, they used Muslim prisoners in the manufacture of sugar.[60] Large numbers of Eastern Muslims craftsmen, skilled in many other trades, were also carried to Europe by their new crusader masters on their return;[61] and their impact will be particularly obvious in the following chapter on arts and architecture.


It is worth adding another point here, raised by Stock, who points out, that it may be, that Bernard of Tiron, a wandering preacher who died in 1117, founded a house specifically as a haven for craftsmen, but the real model for change came once again from Islam, in which the status of the artisan had changed from that of the slave to that of the free labourer.[62]The artisan scientist, who was considered an aberration in the ancient world, was more a norm in Islam, artisans playing a leading part in the transfer of techniques throughout the highly mobile Muslim world.[63]The importance Muslims granted their craftsmen or instrument makers is also noted by Sarton  `in the extravagant praise' lavished on the instrument maker: Badi al-Astrulabi.[64] Both this attitude to the artisan and his status were eventually transferred to Christendom.[65]Which is also a defining landmark in the rise of industry in the West.

[1] M.L. de Mas Latrie: Traites de paix; op cit.

[2] Ibid. p.84.

[3] Ibid. p.89.

[4] Pagnini: Della decima di Firenze, Vol II, p. 39, 187, etc; in M.L. De Mas Latrie: Traites; pp. 84; also preface; pp. 37; 48-9; etc.

[5] R.S. Lopez in A.R. Lewis: The Moslem expansion in the Mediterranean, A.D. 827-960: pp 23-29; in The Islamic World and the West (A. R. Lewis ed) op cit; p.30.

[6] William of Tyre: Historia, book XIX, in G. Sarton : Introduction; Volume III. p.229.

[7] G. Sarton : Introduction; Volume III. p.229.

[8] W. Durant: The Age of faith, op cit; p.586.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Z. Oldenbourg: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 295.

[11] C.R. Conder: The Latin  Kingdom. Op cit; p. 72.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] R.H.C. Davis: A History of Medieval Europe; Longman; London; 2nd ed; 1988. p. 271.

[15] Z. Oldenbourg: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 295.

[16] R.H. C. Davis: A History; op cit; p. 271.

[17] Z. Oldenbourg: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 295.

[18] Ibid; p. 295-6.

[19] R.H.C. Davis: A History; op cit; p. 271.

[20] Z. Oldenbourg: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 296.

[21] Regesta, nos 55; 84. In C.R. Conder: The Latin  Kingdom; op cit; p. 87.

[22] M. Erbstosser: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 131-2.

[23] Z. Oldenbourg: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 297.

[24] M. Erbstosser: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 131-2.

[25] C.R. Conder: The Latin  Kingdom; op cit; p. 87.

[26] Ibid.

[27] M. Erbstosser: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 131-2.

[28] C.H. Haskins : Studies; op cit.

[29] M. Erbstosser: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 131-2.

[30] C. Singer: East and West in Retrospect; in C.J. Singer et al: History of Technology ; 5 vols; vol 2; Oxford at the Clarendon; 1956; pp 753-77; p. 764.

[31] G. Le Bon: La Civilisation des Arabes;  op cit; p.259.

[32] A. Y. Al-Hassan; D.R. Hill : Islamic Technology; op cit;  p. 33

[33] R.Ettinghausen: Muslim decorative arts and painting, their nature and impact on the medieval West; in Islam and the Medieval West; ed S. Ferber; State University of New York at Binghamton; 1975. pp. 5-26.  p. 19.

[34] Huillard-Breholles, Hist.Dipl. Friderici II; Vol 5; pars 1; p.574. in W.Heyd: Histoire; p. 686.

[35] Ibn al-Qalanisi; Gibb; 48; Ibn Taghribirdi; Nujum; v; 150 in C. Hillenbrand: The Crusades , Islamic Perspectives, op cit;.p.398.

[36] Timur Lang, for instance, when he destroyed Damascus  and mass slaughtered its population only spared the artisans, whom he took to Samarkand his capital. In D. Whitehouse: Glass ; Dictionary of the Middle Ages; op cit; vol 5; pp. 545-8. at p. 547.

[37] O.R. Constable: Trade and Traders; op cit; p. 4.

[38] R. Schnyder: Islamic ceramics: A Source of Inspiration for Medieval European Art; in Islam and the Medieval West; S. Ferber edition; op cit; P. 34 fwd.

[39] Ibid. p.34.

[40] Ibid.

[41] M. Olivar Davdi: La ceramica trecentista en los paises de la corona de Aragon, Barcelona ; 1952; pp. 118 fwd.

[42] A Wilson Frothingham: Lustreware of Spain, New York; 1951;, pp. 15-78.

[43] R. Schnyder: Islamic Ceramics; op cit; P. 34.

[44] Ibid.

[45] M. Olivar Davdi:  La ceramica trecentista; op cit; p. 135 fwd.

[46] N. Smith: A History of Dams , The Chaucer Press, London,1971, p .103.

[47]T.F. Glick: Islamic and Christian Spain; op cit p. 223.

[48]J.F. Riano: South Kensington Museum Art handbooks. The Industrial Arts  in Spain; London; 1879; p. 163.

[49] T.F. Glick: Islamic and Christian Spain; op cit p. 223.

[50] Ibid. p. 224.

[51] R. I. Burns: Muslims in the Thirteenth; op cit; p.65.

[52] Ibid. p.63.

[53] T.F. Glick: Islamic and Christian Spain; p. 223.

[54] R. I. Burns: Muslims in the Thirteenth; op cit; p.101.

[55] A. Lowe: The barrier and the Bridge, G. Bles, London, 1972; p.92.

[56] Ibid.

[57] M. Erbstosser: The Crusades ; op cit; p. 131.

[58] Jacques de Vitry in W. Heyd: Histoire; vol2; op cit; pp. 685-6. 

[59] W. Heyd: Histoire; op cit; vol 2; pp. 685-6.

[60] Michaud-Reinaud: Bibliotheque des croisades; IV; p. 126;  in W. Heyd: Histoire; op cit; pp. 685-6.

[61] J.H. Harvey: `The Origins of Gothic Architecture ,' Antiquaries Journal 48 (1968), pp. 91-4.

[62] B. Stock: Science, Technology, op cit; p. 31.

[63] Ibid. pp. 21 and 31.

[64] G. Sarton : Introduction, op cit, vol 2;  p.13.

[65] B. Stock: Science, op cit, p. 21.

[1] R Lopez: Les influences Orientales; op cit; p. 597.




The Industrial Legacy
 In this outline, mainly due to space considerations, many industries, which could have been seen under different headings, are grouped together under one heading. These include primarily those grouped under earthenware and chemical industries.

Read More »

Textile industries
 Documented evidence of 916 at the monastery of San Vincente of Ovideo shows a considerable amount of Arabic expressions describing textile products and items of clothing. These coincide exactly with the introduction of cotton manufacture for the first time into Europe by the Muslims in both Sicily" , but most of all in Spain under Abd Errahman III (912-961). He, Abd Errahman, also established extensive manufactures of silk and leather. Scott emphasises most particularly the strength and delicacy of texture of the products, and the extraordinary permanence of the dyes employed in the fabrics.

Read More »

 We call porcelain, Sarton explains, that kind of ceramics of which the substance is vitrified and more or less translucent. Porcelain was invented by the Chinese, who were the first to see the advantage of baking ceramics at very high temperatures; in such circumstances certain ceramic wares- a mixture of kaolin and fusible feldspar-would necessarily be vitrified and remain translucent.

Read More »


Glass Industry
 The glass industry thrived in Egypt and Syria. In both countries, lamp shades were made in glass adorned with medallions, inscriptions, or floral designs. Syrian glasses had a far reaching reputation feeding the tastes and the homes of wealthy Western households with glass products of a diversity of shapes and usages.

Read More »


Chemical Industries
 In this particular area, the works of Jabir and Al-Razi, their experimental work above all, set the foundations to many industrial applications we have today. Here, there is no need to go into the pharmaceutical aspect of the matter as this has been considered elsewhere (more can also be found in the works of Levey and Meyerhof)

Read More »


The Paper Industry
 Paper was possibly one of the most important of all accomplishments in the history of humanity, but just like Arabic numerals, this innovation because so ordinary, its true implications have never been adequately seized. Before paper, writing was done on papyrus, skins, and even stones; scarcity of parchment made books extremely costly to produce.

Read More »