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Introduction From Merchant Colonies in the Early Modern Period

Introduction From Merchant Colonies in the Early Modern Period

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Published by: Pickering and Chatto on May 17, 2012
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INTRODUCTION
 Victor N. Zakharov, Gelina Harlais and Olga Katsiardi-Hering 
Te purpose o this book is to examine the history o ‘merchant colonies’ andtheir importance in the European international trade in the early modern period(late eenth–eighteenth centuries). raditionally the term ‘merchant colony’has been used in connection with the ormation o European economic empiresas territories under the immediate political control o an empire. Tis book,however, is not about European colonization in overseas territories but aboutoreign merchant colonies or ‘merchant communities’ in Europe established tocarry international and national trade between empires and states.Frederic Mauro denes a merchant community as an association or unit o merchants who shared a similar background and provided each other with anycooperative assistance needed in their oreign environment.
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He then proceedsinto a chronological and systematic distinction o the merchant colonies in two periods: the rst one covers the period o the ourteenth–sixteenth centuriesand the second one rom the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. It is com-monly accepted that European land and seaborne trade has traditionally beenconnected with the establishment o oreign merchants in major European cities where the terms ‘merchant community’ and ‘community o oreign merchants’ were oen synonymous. Te oreign merchant communities were characterizedby solidarity, mutual aid, kinship and a desire to preserve their culture. Tey ‘hada similar international commercial outlook’ as well as ‘su cient capital, creditor connections, and adequate commercial experience’. Moreover, they shared asectarian outlook that interlocked amilies in chains o partnerships and mar-riages.
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Tis kind o attitude and practices are generally attributed to the ‘ethnicminorities o eastern origin’. ‘International business has always implied culturalminorities and the European “miracle” would never have taken place withoutentrepreneurial minorities’, Antony Reid has also written.
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Te signicance o the issue o the merchant colonies is highlighted by theirinfuence on inter-local and world economic development throughout his-tory. Long-distance transnational trade has traditionally been carried out byoreign merchants in the main Eurasian airs and cities. Te oreign merchants
 
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 Merchant Colonies in the Early Modern Period 
 were either western European traders, such as the Italians, French, Spanish,Portuguese, English, Dutch, Germans or Scandinavians, or eastern Europeantraders such as the Russians, or eastern European/‘Levantine’ traders like theGreeks, the Armenians or the Jews who ormed their own merchant coloniesin oreign lands. In current bibliography, these oreign merchants residing indierent countries oen tend to be studied by scholars o their own ethnicity,and, consequently, not only is the comparative perspective lost, but ‘nationalis-tic’ interpretations along the lines o superiority and uniqueness are also quitecommon. Te present collection has made a conscious eort to overcome nar-row national or nationalistic lenses in their articles and examines these oreignmerchants within and beyond the national boundaries.Te term ‘merchant colonies’, which can also be termed ‘communities o oreign merchants’, ‘nations’, ‘ethnic minority merchants’, ‘diaspora merchants’‘conraternities’ or ‘
compagnies
 
characterizes the establishment o groups o merchants o a shared ethnicity in oreign lands and the creation o interna-tional commercial networks in the early modern period. Te unction o themerchant colonies became particularly signicant when oreign trade expansionbecame the most infuential actor in economic growth initially in a numbero European countries and subsequently the world over. Te merchant coloniesincreased turnover, boosted prots and developed various orms o economicactivities (trade companies, banks, insurance companies, etc.) nursing the essen-tial prerequisites or the Industrial Revolution o the eighteenth–nineteenthcenturies and consequently the modern world economy.In the last decade, the upsurge o globalization has stimulated interest inglobal economic history and this trend has drawn greater attention to the his-tory o the eenth–eighteenth-century world trade. Academic interest ocuseslargely on the structure and dynamics o trade and shipping. Additionallyentrepreneurship has attracted a good deal o attention over the last couple o decades, particularly the organization o individual rms and amily companiesincluding their national and international contacts and networks. Scholars o several countries have also touched upon the activities o merchant coloniesand a considerable body o material has already been accumulated. Tere are,however, no comprehensive studies ocusing on the history and unction o mer-chant colonies. What is more, most o the studies o merchant colonies in theearly modern period ocus either on a specic nation, like the Dutch or British,or an ethnic minority, like the Jews or Huguenots, or a specic city-port likeLivorno or London, or a specic geographical region, like western Europe andits overseas territories o the big merchant maritime empires such as the Vene-tian, the Portuguese, the English and Dutch.Essentially this book, rather than ocusing on a specic merchant commu-nity o an ethnic minority in a part o Europe, proposes to bring together the
 
 
 Introduction
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study o the most important merchant colonies o both western and easternEuropeans in the whole o Europe, western and eastern. Tis is considered oneo the main strengths o this volume as the merchant colonies in the Russian,Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, are currently so underrepresented in English-speaking publications.Te distinction o westerners and easterners has long been made by FredericMauro who has indicated ‘large ethnic ormations o eastern origin, which stoodout against the purely European western background’. Equally, Philip Curtin,a pioneer on the subject o trade diasporas, addressed both western Europeansand ‘the ethnic ormations o eastern origin’ trading beyond their territoriesas ‘trade diasporas’.
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Tis book reveals that merchant colonies shared similarorganizations, structures and development in the English, Dutch, French, Ger-man, Russian, Greek and Armenian cases in European cities in the early modern period. Merchant colonies have also been described as ‘trade diasporas’. Teterm coined by Abner Cohen reers to ‘a nation o socially interdependent, butspatially dispersed communities’.
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Philip Curtin in his seminal book examines various groups o trade diasporas that carried international trade transcending national boundaries by orming world-wide networks.
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Historical diasporas, particularly the three classical ones, those o the Armenians, Greeks and Jews,epitomize the resilience o traditional orms o association in certain groups whoor centuries transcended the boundaries o states and empires. In the presentstudy we do not adopt the concept o ‘diaspora’ or two reasons. Firstly, we deal with both western and eastern Europeans and this term does not apply to Eng-lish, Dutch, German, etc. merchant colonies. Secondly, the term ‘diaspora’ hastaken another connotation as it has been used by cultural and postcolonial stud-ies to orm the discipline o diaspora studies with an immense literature; overthirty new groups have ound shelter now under this term.
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Concerning dia-spora people this book ocuses on the trade diasporas o Greeks and Armenians,keeping a comparative perspective with the Jews. Te reason or not including  Jewish merchant colonies in this volume is that Jews were dispersed in all major western and eastern European countries or centuries so they, usually, ormed part o the local societies. Furthermore, Jewish diaspora has been extensivelystudied in the Anglo-Saxon bibliography and also in a comparative perspectiveand in many o the chapters o this volume comparisons with the Jewish mer-chants are drawn (see or example, Chapter 3 by Pierrick Pourchasse, Chapter 4by Ina Baghdiantz McCabe and Chapter 8 by Iannis Carras).
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Te comparative dimension is also another one o the strengths o the pre-sent volume. Most chapters deal with more than one ethnic merchant colony inone or more countries. For example, English merchant colonies are examinedin comparison with the Scottish and the Dutch in the Baltic and Mediterra-nean ports; German and Italian merchant colonies are examined in English

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