Vol. 24 (2021): Cromohs
Historiographic Essays

Studying Trade and Local Economies in Early Islamicate Societies: Responses to the ‘Long-Divergence’ Debate from Islamic History

Cecilia Palombo
Leiden University
Cover image: Alcázar Palace, Seville: the Salón de Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors). Watercolour, attributed to E.S., ninetheenth century. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain
Published June 8, 2022
  • Early Islamic History,
  • Trade,
  • Historiography
How to Cite
Palombo, C. (2022). Studying Trade and Local Economies in Early Islamicate Societies. Cromohs - Cyber Review of Modern Historiography, 24, 161 - 181. https://doi.org/10.36253/cromohs-13571


The history of trade has been used in many studies comparing different economic and political trajectories, based on the theory of a long-in-the-making "divergence" between the Middle East and the West, and tying together historical and political analyses of growth and development. Recent responses raised from within scholarship on early Islamic history contribute to upsetting the theory's premises. In recent years scholars have produced new studies on early Islamicate documents, social practices, and economies, creating the premises for more complex comparisons between late-antique and medieval institutions on a global yet interconnected scale. The debate has pushed some historians to explore different kinds of connections, for example, by focusing more on local contexts and regional trade patterns. These specialised studies, in turn, may help historians in other fields to better situate the history of Islamic institutions into discrete political and geographic contexts when assessing questions of continuity and rupture.


The author wrote this literature review after organising an international workshop on the subject of ‘trade in and across the early Islamicate Middle East’ (Leiden University, 3-4 June 2021) in the context of the project "Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600–1000)," funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement n. 683194.