Negotiation and mobility in Early Modern Venice: Armenian, Jewish, and Ottoman Turkish merchants and the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia, c.1541-1700
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date15/11/2023
This thesis provides a new analysis of negotiations between foreign merchants and Venice’s board of trade, the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the last two decades, historians have paid increasing attention to mobility and migration in the early modern Mediterranean, many emphasising the cultural fluidity of individuals traversing imperial boundaries between the Venetian and Ottoman Empires. Scholars have investigated how certain trans-imperial subjects also engaged in processes of cultural mediation and boundary-making in these empires. However, scholars have not yet fully understood the legal and bureaucratic structures in Venice which allowed this movement between empires to occur. This study rectifies this discrepancy by uncovering how foreign merchants manipulated and shaped Venetian legal processes to secure their presence and importance in the city. The research is based on rich and numerous archival sources of regulations, merchants’ petitions, letters, and architectural plans from the Venice State Archive and the Museo Correr Library. The thesis pays particular attention to Armenian, Jewish, and Ottoman Turkish merchants, in a broader comparison with German, Greek, Netherlandish, and Safavid Persian merchants. By using a comparative approach, it illustrates patterns and differences in how immigrant communities interacted with Venetian authorities, thus addressing a significant gap in historical scholarship which has so far focussed on individual immigrant groups. Immigrant merchants negotiated with, and were regulated by, the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia. The Venetian Senate established this body in 1507 to encourage overseas trade, which had been declining in Venice. By 1630 the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia had become the preeminent body dealing with international trade and regulated all immigrant mercantile communities in Venice. The first part of this thesis establishes how the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia functioned in Venice’s corporate government bureaucracy. The fragmentary nature of Venice’s governance meant that fierce jurisdictional rivalries existed between the multitude of regulatory bodies. To survive this competition and prove their worth, the Cinque Savii needed to encourage trade, which required them to appease the interests of immigrant merchants. Chapters two and three examine how immigrants used two key tools of legal negotiation - petitions and representatives - to establish their rights and privileges. During these legal processes, immigrant merchants effectively transformed Venetian legal structures from the inside and shaped Venetian economic policies towards mercantile migrants and foreign trade. The final two chapters then analyse how the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia navigated conflicting concerns of piety and pragmatism in their regulation of immigrant spaces and the ways in which immigrant merchants were able to circumvent restrictive measures. This thesis argues that Venice exhibited neither a consistent approach of economic tolerance nor religious hostility to foreign merchants. Rather, economic, cultural, civic, and moral concerns were inextricably linked in the regulation of trade and mobility. Furthermore, this study shifts attention onto detailed negotiation; revealing that immigrant merchants themselves applied pressure to transform the policies of the Venetian government. They achieved this by exploiting the paradoxical position of the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia as both a representative of foreign merchants, and of Venetian authority. A thorough investigation of Venetian government bureaucracy is integral to these findings and this thesis presents the first in-depth analysis of the Cinque Savii alla Mercanzia magistracy in the last century. An understanding of this body, and how political negotiation took place on an everyday, micro-level basis, allows us to form a broader picture of the complex negotiations, political priorities, and personal ambitions which sustained the movement of people, goods, and ideas across the early modern Mediterranean.