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Merchants    EN


*Professor, 19 Mayis University, Samsun, Turkey.

With Samsun being situated in a central position, its Anatolian export trade was far superior to that of Trabzon. Samsun was viewed as a city with a high potential and would have been the most important Turkish commercial port in the Black Sea had it not been for the Persian transit commerce, which on the whole gave the lead to Trabzon in the year 1883[1].

It has been noted that, thanks to the piers, there were merchants coming from various cities to the city centre of Samsun. From the verse registers belonging to merchants, who died during their presence in Samsun and were recorded in the Samsun judicial court registers, we can trace the origins of these merchants and the nature of their trade.The transportation of flour, wheat, barley, beans and corn was done through Samsun and its surrounding hinterland, where grain production was common and the main product of cultivation throughout the 19th century. Owing to grain trade, grain merchants came to Samsun from the Sivas, Tokat, Kayseri, Amasya (Merzifon), Chorum and Vezirköprü regions, which were viewed as the granaries located in the hinterland of Samsun[2]. These merchants, who transported the products brought by camel caravans to Istanbul through the port of Samsun, also carried the products brought by foreign merchants to their regions. The grain was carried with mules and camels to Samsun from the region’s hinterland. There were more than 3,000 camels (each having the capacity to carry a 150-200 kg load) and at least 700-800 mules more moving along the pathways of Samsun[3].

The native Turks in 1839 and later the Tartars (driven away from Crimea between 1853-1856) in Samsun[4] acted as merchants, the Armenians as artisans and the Greeks employed themselves as seamen and ship carpenters in the region. The bazaars and warehouses in the towns stocked European goods for consumption in the inland towns and the adjoining villages[5]. In 1836, Samsun had risen in importance from a commercial point of view. Owing to the establishment of the steam communication with Constantinople, and Samsun’s convenient distance from the principal towns in the hinterland, merchants had been induced to make Samsun the shipping port of their choice for their produce, as well as the reception point for their importing goods, instead of operating their trade overland[6]. There was a sudden influx of commerce in Samsun between 1853 and 1856. It was caused solely by the events of the war on the opposite coast of the Crimea. To some degree, the needs in military provisions were covered by Samsun and its hinterland during the war[7].

The real direct trade between Samsun and the British ports was limited to a few commercial products. Indian corn, tobacco and sundries were the main products trading in Samsun in the 1880s. In addition to these, we can mention a few other important exporting goods, that were transferred from the hinterland of Samsun to its ports: opium, tiftick (mohair) and yellow berries were made available in the British markets from 1877-1880, due to the advancement in the port facilities and quays in the town. These products, coming from the hinterland of the Samsun region found their way to Great Britain via Constantinople (Istanbul). Wood from walnut trees, a product foreign to Samsun, was sent directly to Great Britain for the first time in 1882[8]. It can also be argued that the domestic rice and hemp cultivation produced in large quantities even before the 19th century, attracted merchants from farther lands, even Persian merchants with Tabriz as their destination. All these product transports prove that foreign steamers (Russian, British, French, Austrian, Greek etc.) and merchants inevitably passed through Samsun ports on their journey to Trabzon or even as far as Batumi.

The merchants who as a general rule transferred tobacco to foreignmarkets earned a significant income. They gained such a high profit from the tobacco trade, that they belonged to the wealthy class. A great number of these merchants were local people, because tobacco was produced in the area of Samsun and its towns, but later merchants from Kayseri, Amasya and Tokat started arriving in Samsun. As the Tobacco Factory made the trade even more profitable, it accelerated the transition of production in Samsun’s hinterland from grain to tobacco. The tobacco production and its trade changed the economical structure of the city and started bringing significant cultural changes too. The transportation of grain, madder and products of mines, which were state-operated, continued in the hinterland of Samsun. Merchants from Erzurum, Elazıgh, Sivas, Kayseri, Tokat, Amasya, Sinop and Chorum continued to trade commercially valuable products, transferring textile, glassware, machinery, iron and steelproducts brought by foreign merchants, in addition to cigarette and tobacco products to their markets. One of the big problems that merchants faced when they came to the city was that there was not enough warehouses for these products. Moreover, there was not enough shelterfor the merchants, who had to stay at nights in mosques, inns (carriage stations and a big inn named Un-Kapanı (flour store) on the outskirts of the town, from where the big road to Baghdad passed), medreses (pious schools), coffee shops etc.. There were also not enough official or public organizations to take care of their health needs until the 1890s. Although there was a doctor in the military headquarters of Samsun, there didn’t exist an organization to adequately serve these merchants[9]. However, the only service that the incoming merchants could use without any problem were the many baths at a community level.In some ways,the construction of a tobacco warehouse after 1860 for the merchants trading tobacco,,of a guest house within the Tobacco Factory after 1884 and the opening of a two storey hospital with a 30 bed capacity after 1896, were the expressions of the changes brought about in the city centre by the increasing flow of merchants. Following 1884, when the tobacco factory started fully operating, the financial status of the city rapidly advanced and Samsun became witness of the construction of new hotels, warehouses, stores, as well as a banking system at the beginning of the 20th century.


[1] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. II, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 782.

[2] Tradesman Yordan from Kayseria in Samsun, See : Mehmet Coshkun, Samsun Sheriyya Sicil Defteri H.1285-1286 (1868-1869), M.A. Thesis in The University of 19 May, Samsun 1991, p. 148.

[3] Mehmet Yavuz Erler, Osmanlı Devleti’nde Kuraklık ve Kıtlık Olayları (1800-1880), Libra Yayınevi, İstanbul 2010, p.287-288.

[4] Mehmet Yavuz Erler, “Karadenizde Avrupai Bir Kent: Samsun (1865-1875)”, Karadeniz Tarihi Sempozyumu, Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi Yayınları, Vol.I, Trabzon 2007, p. 542.

[5] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 79.

[6] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p.81.

[7] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. I, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 244.

[8] Musa Şaşmaz, Trade Reports of the Trebizond Province on British Documents (1830-1914), Vol. II, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara 2014, p. 708.

[9] Mehmet Yavuz ERLER, “XIX. Yüzyıl Osmanlı Karadeniz Sahil Kalelerinin Yöre Sosyo-Ekonomik Yapısına Olan Katkıları”, International Committee of Pre-Ottoman and Ottoman Studies (CIEPO), Trabzon 2011, p.781.