International Journal of Middle East Studies


Willem Floor  1 and Patrick Clawson 


Safavid Iran's foreign trade is usually described as the highly profitable export of silk to Europe. That is at best an incomplete description. One problem is that it focuses on only one side of the trade (exports) rather than looking at both sides. Taken to its extreme, the usual story could make Iranians look like mad mercantilists determined to export without thinking much about what they got in return, while Europeans could look like crazed consumers so eager for Iranian silk that they would buy without thinking about the bill. At the very least, an account of trade should examine what is going in each direction, not just at what one side exports and the other side imports. That is one major lacuna of the usual story. Another is that it concentrates on Iranian–European trade without as much attention to Iranian trade with other areas. Safavid Iran's trade with Europe can be understood only in the context of its overall trade, for only in that context can we know whether Europe was an important market or an incidental one.


1 Willem Floor is with the World Bank, Washington, D.C., USA; e-mail: Patrick Clawson is the Director for Research, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C. 20036, USA; e-mail: