This paper analyses, with epigraphic and archaeological references, the features of trade and shipping on the western coast of the Black Sea during the ancient period. It starts with the political and military context of Rome’s involvement in the area since the late second century BC, before dealing with the Mithridatic crisis, when the focus of Roman policy moved to the Aegean and the Black Sea. This tense political constellation triggered the development of regional trade, analysed on the basis of relevant sources, with a special attention devoted to Tomis, the largest outlet in the area of the mouths of the Danube. The author contends that excellent relations existed with the commercial centres of Asia Minor, more precisely Bithynia. A veritable maritime line from Nicomedia to Tomis acted as a major route between Asia Minor and the Black Sea – Danubian region. During the Roman age, the commercial and transport patterns established from Hellenistic times were preserved, and they continued to co-exist with those specific to the Roman world.
This paper is a synthetic approach to the history of the Black Sea between 1204 and 1453, when the area served, according to the famous phrase of Romanian historian Gheorghe Brătianu, as the “plaque tournante” of the Euro-Asian trade. After centuries of Byzantine control over its trade and shipping, the prospects of this sea completely and rapidly changed after two historic events that occurred in the thirteenth century: the conquering of the Straits by the Italian maritime republics after 1204, and the territorial expansion of the Mongol Empire. The authors present the international context that allowed the transformation of the Black Sea into the contact area between Mediterranean merchants and Eastern goods that came along the Silk Road, the veritable backbone of this commerce, as well as the continuous conflicts between the regional powers interested to take control of these profitable exchanges: Venice, Genoa, the Golden Horde, the Byzantine Empire, other local
rulers, etc. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Black Sea eventually became once again the economic appendix of the empire that controlled the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.
The paper presents the development of the Black Sea trade after the peace of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), when the Ottomans were forced to allow the trade of Russian flagged ships beyond the Straits of Bosporus and the Dardanelles. During the next two decades, in a strained international context, Russia gradually developed a string of trading centres along the northern coast of the Euxine and encouraged foreign merchants to make full use of this new commercial route. European powers were quick in trying to take advantage of the rich agro-pastoral resources of the Black Sea area, but fruitful exchanges were often interrupted by military issues or the Porte’s reluctance to completely open the Black Sea to international trade and shipping. During a second phase, between the beginnings of the French revolutionary wars and the Peace of Adrianople (1829), Black Sea trade faced similar discontinuities and hindrances and was often interrupted by political and diplomatic problems. But the quasi-permanent war on the continent and the disruption of normal agricultural cycles made Russian grain an important and desired alimentary resource, which Mediterranean and western merchants employed to replenish their exhausted warehouses. After the complete opening of the Black Sea to foreign merchants and ship-owners in 1829, the Black Sea witnessed tremendous growth due to several factors. On the one side, with the Straits turned into an indicator of European balance of power, the Western powers supported a more active presence of their merchants on the Ottoman market, which was completely opened to foreign investments by the commercial treaties concluded with the Porte in 1838. Vast areas of Ottoman territories on the eastern and western coasts of the Black Sea became profitable destinations for European merchants, while the Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia grew to become rivals of Southern Russia in exporting agro-pastoral goods. At the same time, the grain trade of the Russian Empire was oriented towards supplying its southern outlets with the rich harvests of the hinterland, turning the Black Sea into one of the largest grain markets in the world before the Crimean War.