Family Ferreira da Fonseca, May & August of 1469

May 14, 1469

Ceuta has under gone many changes in the recent years. Our port city went from Muslim rule to Christian rule under the Portuguese. Since then my family and I have been enjoying life and work. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the Christian and Muslim tension, it is rare that my crew and I ever see anyone from the East coming through.[1]

Although there is tension, I have still seen a great deal of work due to the different voyages.  Since many Spanish, Portuguese and other Europeans are limited trade, the fleets of the Portuguese have expanded else- where.[2] The Portuguese seem to have sailed down the western coast of Africa and further west towards the Atlantic. Recently, my crew and I were unloading one of the Portuguese ships and we came across men of African descent. This is where the Portuguese must have been getting their slaves from.

August 2, 1469

Some weeks have gone by and finally a Portuguese fleet has arrived back from the islands in the west. I noticed that the slaves and horses they left with were no longer on the ship, so I assume they were left to work at the previous destination they sailed to. But as I was unloading this ship I noticed something quite different than all the other times, and it seemed that the Portuguese had obtained gold. The people on the coast must have traded our men gold for horses. If the Portuguese continue to expand their commerce, my family and I will be able to live quite well.

André Ferriera da Fonseca

[1] Greene, Molly. The Mediterranean in History (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 216-234.

[2] Russell Edward, Peter. Prince Henry ‘The Navigatory’ : A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 4-5.


Family ben David, November 1, 1451

Protocol of Moses ben David, notary public for the city of Alexandria , kept for the purpose of accounts , personal business, and all other details related to the job of a notary public within the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Kept for the purpose of providing evidence and facts when disputes arise.

November 1, 1451- Trade within Alexandriais well[1]. The needs for a notary seem to increase with every passing day. I am never lacking in work. On any given day I may record the incoming goods and out going goods of merchant ships, to notarizing marriages of local friends, neighbors, and citizens of Alexandria. I come in contact with people from all walks of life in the city. Thus, giving me much prominence and credibility within the city.  However I fear along with my colleagues, that this might swiftly change. News has come to Alexandria from the east and north that the Ottomans, under the leadership of Mehmet the conqueror, have taken control of much of the eastern Mediterranean and are planning to head north as well. There was much spoken in fear today by the merchants with whom I dealt. They fear that Mehmet will block all outside trade from the “Franks” as he calls those from Venice and Genoa[2], thus destroying their livelihoods. I must admit that this thought weighed heavily on my mind as well. A good portion of my dealings are with merchants and their goings-on. If they are no longer to be allowed in the East, it will greatly effect my business, and make it harder to support my growing family. I currently have a son of eight, and my wife is currently carrying our second child. Merchants will likely have to look towards Sepharad and other western lands. As such they will deal much less in Alexandria in favor of a closer and safer port in the west. However the fear of a loss of business and livelihood is only a small matter among those on my mind. I fear much more that Mehmet will set his eyes on the Mamluk Empire next. It does not seem unlikely that he could at any time lead his Turkic peoples on the attack against Mamluk Empire and claim it as his own. The thought of soldiers burning, pillaging and killing in the city where my family live does not bring peace to my mind. There is little that I could do to protect my family. I am no fighter or soldier, all I could do in such an event would be to pray to Yaweh for protection of my household. If this takeover were to happen, and we survived, it is likely that I and my family will be forced to pay the despicable dhimma in order to continue our practice of the one true religion of Judaism. If we refused would we be imprisoned? I believe that my status as a notary for the city would offer me some protection but how much? Or would we be allowed to leave safely to an area where we would be welcomed? I fear the thought of conversion more than any other , to do so would mean turning my families back on Yaweh , and thus loss of his grace. We can always start our lives over in another city , build a new house, but we could never take back the insult of conversion. This thought shall likely keep me up at night if I cannot find a way to expunge it from my mind.[3]

[1] Clifford Edmund Bosworth, ed., “Alexandria,” in Historic Cities of the Islamic World (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 18-21.

[2] James Theodore Bent, Genoa: How the Republic Rose and Fell (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1881), 88-108.

[3] David Abulafia,ed.,  The Mediterranean in History (Los Angeles: Getty Publications ,2003), 183-234.

The Knights of St. John Today!

We might assume that the various monastic military orders stemming from the era of the Crusades, some of which certainly survived by transforming themselves in the early modern period, must all surely have ceased to exist by now.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For an interesting discussion of the Knights of St. John, an order stemming from the 11th century, click here….

Family Barerra, 1495

Many changes have taken place over the last few years in vilanova maris as well as in Barcelona and I am not certain how I feel about them. Many of my husband’s business acquaintances who are conversos have been taken for questioning. I am almost certain that most of them were not sincere in their conversions and were still practicing Judaism.  Still it saddens me that I will most likely never see them again. They were kind people. Before the marriage of our King and Queen in the year 1469, which resulted in Castile and Aragon uniting, we did not have to worry as much about whether or not our friends were Jews. Although some found our actions suspicious, it was possible for us to do business with the Jewish people and to be friends with them. However, our monarchs are devout catholics and have forced the Jews to convert or be expelled. I also fear that, because my family has done business with conversos, I will be suspected as a supporter of their illegal deeds. Every day I fear that the inquisitors will come and take me or my husband away from our family. I have heard awful stories about what happens to people when they are taken for questioning. I can only hope that they are not true. Additionally worrisome is the fact that my husband also has a few Muslim customers. Recently our King and Queen’s armies defeated the Kingdom of Granada. I am not sure how this will affect my business. It appears that, at least for the time being, things are peaceful with the Muslims. I hope that it stays that way.  Otherwise I am at risk of losing even more customers than I already have if they are expelled as the Jews have been. I pray that I will still have enough business once all the non-Christians are converted or forced to leave.[1]

-Monserrat Barrera, 1495

[1] In addition to the websites that are hyperlinked above The Mediterranean in History, edited by David Abulafua (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003) was consulted when writing this blog.

Family Sanudo, c. 1450-1475

Entries from the ricordanzo of Mario Sanudo…

….On July 31, 1453 the news of the fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453 has just arrived.  It appears that the Ottomans have finally accomplished what many others could not. This is very troublesome to me in the sense that I alone am responsible for the protection of our port city Candie. The Ottoman navy has quickly grown in power and I fear that they will not stop at Constantinople but move on to our allies, the Venetians. Along with the news of the fall of Constantinople came a number of refugees to my shores, mainly a number of painters which I am not totally sure why they decided to arrive; that may be worth asking one.  A decade later my fears came true when the Ottoman-Venetian War erupted resulting in Venice losing the island of Negroponte, which had been under Venetian control for as long as my father and the father of his father can recall. I have begun to prepare my forces for the worst if the Ottomans ever sail south. I am also willing to lend my family members to aid the Venetian forces against the Ottoman threat.

Fortunately they did not reach my defenses but who is to say that they will not in the near future; I grow very weary of the Ottomans.

 ….By 1471 I am no less weary of the Ottomans but I am willing to overlook their activities for this reason: that  trade within my region has reached a peak, making tensions lessen for the time being. The trade of gems and guns coming from the west has also been allowed by the Ottomans who kept the majority of the Byzantine trade system alive. I am also beginning to admire the savvy nature of these Turkish traders and leaders. It actually may prove profitable for  my family if I were to initiate some sort of relations with them before they decided to expand into Crete.

Family Puigcérda, August 7th, 1494

I Ignaci Puigcérda have much to report.  The expulsion of Jews from the the empire has had some effects on the salt trade here on Ibiza. A considerable number of merchants were Jewish, and while Genoese creditors are also financing Aragon and Isabella, they do not seem so interested as to protect these minority merchants working with them. While it is sad to see friends be expulsed, some are converting, but they are under watch by the authorities to make sure they are keeping with the Christian faith. There are even rumors of a Jewish underground movement.[1] May God bless them. One of the unforeseen consequences of these merchants leaving is the increase of acquisitions of other trade materials. For the rest of us that are still trading we have a bit larger share of all the trade going on on the island. Which is a good thing too, considering we just heard news of a man discovering a route to the Orient by sailing west into the Dark Sea.[2] This has hampered some of our overall trade, but we are grateful for our services to still be required by the Genoese and this partnership is better than independent trade. Their convoys have proven to be a blessing against the pirates off the Barbary coast. I fear that with the opening of these new trade routes going west to the Orient that our trade might start slowing here on the island. Perhaps I should think about taking my profits and investing them in one of these ventures, It is worthy of discussion with my friends and my creditor from Genoa. I will bring my son along with me this time, after turning 17 last month he is coming close of age to start understanding finances and business.

[1] Renee Levine Melammed, A Question of Identity: Iberian Conversos in Historical Perspective (New York, New York: Oxford University Press 2004), 141-142.

[2] Johann Georg Kohl, A popular history of the discovery of America from Columbus to Franklin (London: Chapman and Hall, 1865), 45.