When trade was more exciting

From an account of a late 17th-century side trip by some English merchants to the ruins of Palmyra (with some paragraph breaks added; they didn't use them much!):
July 23. we rose by One in the Morning, and Travelling most East, we came to a large Plain, where we saw before us, on a high Mountain, a great Castle, call'd by the Arabs Anture. When we had travelled two or three Hours in this Plain, we espied an Arab driving towards us a Camel, with his Launce, so fast, that he came on a round Gallop, and we supposed him sent as a Spy: being come up to us, he told us he was of Tadmor [Palmyra], and that his Prince, the Emir Melkam, had that Day made Friendship with Hamet Shideed another Prince, and that together they had four hundred Men; so he kept us Company an Hour or two, and enquired of our Muletters if we were not Turks disguised, with intent to seize on Melkam; for we travelled with a Bandiero, the Impress being a Hanjarr or Turkish Dagger, and a Half-Moon. We told him we were Franks, which he could hardly believe, wondering that we travelled thus in the Desart, only out of Curiosity.
Being come near to Tadmor, he went a little before us, and on a sudden run full speed towards the Ruins, we not endeavouring to hinder him. Our Guide told us he was gone to acquaint the Arabs who we were, and that we ought to suspect and prepare for the worst; so we dismounted twenty of our Servants, each having a long Gun, and Pistols at his Girdle, and placed them abreast before us: we following at a little distance behind, on Horse-back, with Carbines and Pistols. In this order we proceeded, and came to a most stately Aqueduct, which runs under Ground in a direct passage five Miles, and is covered with an Arch of Bastard Marble all the Way, and a Path on both sides the Channel for two Persons to walk abreast; the Channel it self being about an English Yard in breadth, and 3/4 of a Yard in depth. At 20 Yards distance all the way are Ventiducts for the Air to pass, and the holes are surrounded with small Mounts of Earth to keep the Sand and Dust from falling down. We marched close by these Mounts, which might serve us for Defence, expecting every moment that the Arabs would come to Assail us, having the disadvantage of Sun and Wind in our Faces: wherefore we Traveled hard to gain an Eminence where we might Post our selves advantagiously, and stop and repose a little, to consider what we had to do.
The Arabs finding us to come on with this Order and Resolution, thought not fit to adventure on us, so we gained the Hill, from whence we might discern these vast and noble Ruins, having a Plain like a Sea for greatness to the Southwards of it. Here having refresh'd our Men, we fetch'd a little Compass and descended by the foot of a Mountain, on which stands a great Castle, but uninhabited. Here two Arabs came to us with Lances, one being Chiah to Melkam, and we sent two to meet them; they gave the Salam alika, and ours returned the Alica salam, and advancing to our Company, told us the Emir had understood of our coming, and had sent them to acquaint us that he was our Friend, and that all the Country was ours. We sent back with them our Janizary and a Servant to visit the Prince in his Tents, which were in a Garden.
In the mean time we dismounted at a watering Place amidst the Ruins, but did not unload till our Janizary and Servant returned with the Emir's Tescarr, assuring us of Friendship and Protection, a Writing which the Arabs were never known to violate before. With them came also one that belonged to the Sheck, of the Town, for whom we had Letters from Useffe Aga the [Emeer] of Aleppo. He desired us for greater Security to pitch our Tents under the Town Walls, which is in the Ruins of a great Palace, the Wall yet standing very high, the Town within but small, and the Houses excepting two or three no better than Hog-sties. So we pitched in a deep Sandy Ground where we found it exceeding hot. Here we waited till three of the Clock without eating any thing, expecting the Sheck should have presented us according to the usual Custom of the Turks to their Friends, and have given some answer to the Letters we brought him; but on the contrary we found by the gesture of the People, that we had Reason to suspect them.
Hereupon two of our Company believing that the want of a present to the Emir was the cause thereof resolved to adventure to give him a Visit, and taking the Janizary and one Servant, they carried him a Present of two pieces of Red Cloath, and four of Green, and several other things: Being come he welcomed them into his Tent, and placed the one on his right Hand and the other on his left. Melkam was a young Man, not above Five and Twenty, and well Featur'd, and a most Excellent Horse-man; Hamet Shideed, the other Prince, was more elderly, as about forty Years of Age, and was not in the Tent, but sat under a Palm-Tree near it. He treated them with Coffee, Camel's-flesh and Dates, and enquired of their Journey, and the Cause of their coming: They told him 'twas only Curiosity to see those Ruins; he said that formerly Solomon Ibnel Doud Built a City in that Place, which being destroyed, was Built again by a strange People, and he believed, that we understanding the Writing on the Pillars, came to seek after Treasure, he having but six Moons before found a Pot of Corra Crusses.
After this he went out of the Tent, leaving them smoaking Tobacco, to the Janizary and Servant, and told them, that never till that Day any Franks had been at that Place, and that now we knew the way through the Desert, we might inform the Turks to their Ruin and Destruction, so that 'twould be convenient for them to destroy us all: But that we coming as Friends, he would only have 4000 Dollars as a Present, else he would hang them and the two Franks up, and go fight the rest. This Message being brought them, they wish'd they had excus'd themselves from this Embassy, and answered, they could say nothing to that Demand, not knowing our Minds, but if he would permit them to go and speak with the rest, they would return an Answer. Hearing this, he threatned present Death, but at length gave leave to our Janizary to carry us a Letter from them, wherein they shewed the danger they were in, and earnestly entreated us to redeem them, the Price set on them being 2000 Dollars, one half in Mony, the other half in Goods, as Swords, Cloaths, Tents, &c. which the Emir promised to estimate at their Worth.
This Letter amazed us mightily, and a little before it arrived, we understanding a little, and fearing more ill Treatment to our Friends, were getting ready to free them or die with them. The Garden where Melkam lay, was about half a Mile from the Tents, full of Palm-Trees, and had no Walls, but loose Stones piled up Breast high about them, so we designed to have gone suddenly and given two or three Volleys on them, e'er they could get to Horse; and the Arab know not how to Fight on Foot. And though they bragg'd they had 400 Men, we supposed 200 might be the most, and they not all Lances. But on receipt of this Letter, and the Servants telling us that they would certainly be cut off, if we endeavoured their Rescue, we began to examin what Moneys we had, Cloaths and other Trade, and found we could not near make up that Sum. In this Confusion came two Arabs to receive the things, and immediately Word was brought that the Emir would come and Visit us; we sent him Word, that if he came with more than two followers, we would not admit him: so he came with 2 Servants only; and in conclusion, we made him up in Money and Goods to the Value of 1500 Dollars. He valuing our Things as we pleased; his Design being not so much to compleat the Sum, as to take from us all we had.
After this, about Sun Set, he returned us our two Friends, when the Sheck of the Town invited us to Lodge within the Town; which we found afterwards was with a design to have forced something from us: But we giving him to understand that the Emir had taken all already, and had left us only our Arms and the Cloaths on our Backs; which if they would have, they must Fight for: That Resolution daunted them, and away they went, promising us Barley for our Horses in the Morning. We kept good watch in the Night, and when Day broke, we began to consider how to clear our selves; we expected the Barly till Nine in the Morning, when it came, and the Emir himself came and gave us the good Morrow: We feared least they should pretend to stop some of us in the Gate-way, so we placed six of our Company to secure the Passage, 'till all the rest were got out, under pretence of taking an Inscription that was over the Gate. Being all got clear, we returned by the same way we came and arrived at Aleppo July 29. in the Morning.
This Melkam told us, That if we had not submitted our selves to his Demands, he was resolved to Fight us after this Method: Loading 50 Camels with Baggs of Sand, and making small holes in the Baggs for the Sand to drop out, he would drive these Camels abreast upon us before the Wind, that the Sand might blow in our Eyes, and we spending our Bullets on the Camels, might so be easily overthrown; we answered, that we believed he would not venture his Camels and Horses to such a Combat. He wondered extreamly when we talk'd of Shooting Birds flying, and Hares running.
This and other the like Violences used by this Arab Prince, made the Bassa of Aleppo resolve to destroy him; and not long after he cajolled him with the Hopes of being made King of the Arabs, and to draw him near the City, he veiled and caressed some of his Followers: Which having its effect; the Bassa surprized him in his Tents by Night, and soon after he was put to Death: This those People were willing to believe the effect of their so abusing the English, and might much contribute to the Security and good Usage they found, that went the second time on this Expedition.


Grim said...

That does sound interesting. Sounds like a pretty competent band.

Texan99 said...

I thought you would like them! I especially liked the part about how "we understanding a little, and fearing more ill Treatment to our Friends, were getting ready to free them or die with them."

Cass said...

If you want a really great read about medieval-era trade and finance, it's hard to beat the House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett. Any of the books in the series would make my all time favorites list.


Grim said...

I'll look at that.