Richard T. Mortel

Keywords: Mamluke, Mecca, Arabia, Prices


Despite the existence of primary sources, the political and socioeconomic history of western Arabia in the medieval period is still unknown. This article aims to fill in the lacunae by utilizing details regarding the prices of foodstuffs and grain prices at Mecca during the Mamluke period to clarify some aspects of the economic history of the city. The information relating principally to the prices of grain and other foodstuffs at Mecca in the Mamluke period presented in this article will facilitate the determination of a clear picture concerning the economic conditions of the city. According to documented evidence in this article, agricultural activities were carried on to a limited degree in the vicinity of Mecca. Since this production did not meet the needs of the city, most of the basic commodities, primarily wheat, had to be imported. On observation of the price fluctuations of these commodities, the situation discloses the apparent absence of a model, the frequent price changes and the reason for the high price levels. In addition to the commercial and climatic conditions, the political conditions in the region from which foodstuffs were imported to the Hijaz and Mecca also influenced the market prices in the Holy City. The dependency of Mecca on foreign resources is important from the point of view of the relations of the city with its neighbors like the Yemeni Rasulides and Egyptian Mamlukes, because Yemen and especially Egypt were the principal regions from which foodstuffs were exported to the Hijaz. When this dependency is considered in the context of the breakdown of order in the emirate of Mecca in the A.D. 14th/H. 8th century and the gradual increase at the end of this century of interest by the Mamlukes in the Red Sea trade, the Mamluke annexation of Mecca in the early A.D. fifteenth/H. 9th century is more easily comprehended.