Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium, September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC


Copyright © 1990 by the author(s).



When one thinks of Ottoman textile trade, the city of Bursa immediately comes to mind. As the Ottoman capital at the end of the fourteenth century/ it was known for its flourishing silk industry which exported fine brocades and velvets to Europe and the East. As it expanded, it fostered a secondary market in which Persian merchants exchanged a large part of the raw silk they carried to supply local weavers for European woolens as well as the Bursa silk fabrics. By the end of the fifteenth century, its fabrics were being exported to northern Europe: both the Russian and Polish courts, for example, commissioned purchases on their behalf.1 But much of the production of Bursa was consumed at home; by the court which formed its own discrete demand in clothing the extensive personnel of the palace, now in Istanbul, and for distribution on ceremonial occasions; and by the wealthy residents who used large quantities of luxury fabrics for both domestic and personal furnishings. This internal dynamic was also true for the international cotton trade which originated in the Anatolian countryside.2

The character of this internal market remains largely unexplored, particularly for Istanbul itself, the destination of textiles both imported and local, luxury and utilitarian, not commissioned for the court but to be used by the residents of the city. To gain an inside view of the market of Istanbul, the following paper presents a survey of the estate inventories of a group of individuals who lived in the imperial city during the sixteenth century. These individuals either died while traveling through the city or were residents whose property was brought to court for evaluation because no heirs were known to exist or as a result of disputes originating from creditors or fractious relatives.

Possessions to which they could lay claim were listed by the Islamic court and accompanied by a fair market value. From these we not only learn the intimate details of their households, their debts and business undertakings, but we can also ascertain their class and ethnic background, the area in which they 1ived, their occupation, or an occupational reference. And from the sum value of their estates we can deduce the socioeconomic level to which they belonged. The estate inventories show us the importance of textiles in the everyday lives of a vast range of individuals. Furthermore, they give us insight into the diversity of taste of the popular market.