Merchant capital, taxation and urbanisation: The city of Ani in the global long thirteenth century

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This article addresses the themes of urban agency and state-centrism by analysing the agency of merchant capital and taxation in processes of urbanisation. The case study is the city of Ani, a now abandoned site in central south Caucasia straddling the Turkish-Armenian border, in the long thirteenth century c.1200-1350. This global-historical conjuncture is defined by the height of the medieval Commercial Revolution and its central Eurasian expression, the Silk Road. By 1200 Ani had developed as a thriving commercial centre for over two hundred years, with merchants coming to dominate the political economy in the city and its environs. By the mid-fourteenth century, however, this wealthy commercial class was no longer in evidence, with Ani’s urbanising process fundamentally transformed, beginning a rapid deurbanisation. Utilising contemporary theories of (de)urbanisation found in Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima, this article first outlines Ani’s development up to 1200, focusing on the role of interregional and intercontinental commerce, and the urban elite’s rising dominance in landholding. Having established the mercantile and rentier regime of accumulation on which Ani’s development depended, we turn to the period of Zakarian-Mkhargrdzeli rule under the Georgian kingdom c.1200-1236, finding a wealthy commercial class hegemonic in the city’s political regime as well as the regime of accumulation. The final section, then, details the urban elite’s fortunes under Mongol Eurasian hegemony, and particularly the effects of drastically increased taxation in this political realisation of the medieval Silk Road. Ultimately the story of Ani in the global long thirteenth century forms a crucial case study for the combined agency of taxation and capital in urbanisation, both beneath and within the level of the state system, speaking to their contradictory symbiosis. At the same time, the city as a site of accumulation forms a crucial bridge in the Armenian merchant bourgeoisie’s trajectory from the medieval Commercial Revolution into the coalescence of capitalist modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-116
JournalMedieval Worlds
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Armenia/Armenians
  • capitalism
  • cities
  • Commercial Revolution
  • Georgia/Georgians
  • epigraphy
  • Ilkhanate
  • merchants
  • Mongols
  • political economy
  • Silk Road
  • states
  • taxation
  • world systems


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