Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Market integration in the Ottoman Empire (1700-1840)
Pinar Ceylan

Last modified: 2014-05-19


This paper examines price dispersion in the 18th and 19th centuries wheat and copper markets, with a motivation to offer an insight into the domestic commodity market integration in the Ottoman Empire. Over-shadowed for a long time by a historical narrative of long term European growth which considered exogenous dynamics and the advantages of colonialism as the ‘prime-mover’ beyond, regional and interregional trade and market integration are today becoming increasingly privileged subjects in the European economic history. During the last 15 years, a rich literature on the timing and dynamics of domestic and international market integration flourished. Yet, the Ottoman Empire has found almost no place within this literature.

Limited in geographical and chronological scope, this study aims at offering an introduction to the subject, in drawing general trends of integration in the Anatolian markets from the beginning of the 18th century to the mid-19th century. It does so by employing price data drawn from Ottoman probate inventories belonging to Istanbul and the Anatolian towns of Manisa, Trabzon, and Ayntab. Utilizing these historical sources for price history is a novelty of this paper. Wheat prices from secondary sources for two additional cities, Edirne, and Konya are also included.

To test for price convergence I looked at dispersion of all markets together, by imputing the coefficient of variation (standard deviation normalized by mean) in each period of time. Sigma-convergence -statistically significant decrease in standard deviation of prices over the period- is considered to indicate convergence in prices, hence integration.

The results are as follows: During the first half of the 18th century, in both wheat and copper markets, forces of integration were in play, in parallel with the expanding economy. The Ottoman wheat markets increasingly and continuously integrated until 1760s, whereas integration episodes in the copper markets was interrupted by upward shifts in price dispersion. Late 1750s and late 1760s were turning points for respectively, wheat and copper markets. As the Ottoman economy experienced a period of retraction, wheat prices diverged in the following 50 years and copper prices diverged until the mid-1780s. During the 1805-1835, price gaps narrowed down in the wheat, yet widened in copper.

In conclusion, this paper exploring the market integration in the Ottoman realm, is believed to contribute to the growing literature on the subject, by presenting evidence from a non-Western context.