In this panel the character and function of Italian merchant communities in several early modern port cities are discussed in order to explore the idea of 'Italian merchant diaspora' and its role in the expansion of the European economic system.
In his contribution to Einaudi's series Storia d'Italia, Fernand Braudel famously introduced the concept of 'the Italy outside Italy', thereby referring to the cultural, political, and economic role Italy played on the European stage. The chapter focuses on the Renaissance period, which reflects a more general concern within historical literature on Italy on the time of 'Italian greatness', but hardly deals with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, some recent studies have suggested that, although Italian merchants were no longer the leading commercial group of Europe, Italy's role in international commerce was not finished by the seventeenth century. Rather, Italian mercantile and banking networks adapted to the new situation by cooperating more with foreigners and operating within other empires. In this process, communities of Italian merchants living outside Italy constituted a vital link between the commercial systems of Italy and those of their host countries. Their presence in important port cities such as Lisbon, Cadiz, or Amsterdam facilitated the circulation of goods, knowledge, and credit between the shores of Europe and the America's. In this panel the characteristics these groups of merchants and the role they played in the development of the European commercial system are explored further. How can the groups of Italian merchants living and working outside Italy be characterized? What was their role in the expansion of the European economic system? What was their relationship with their place of origin? Would it make sense to speak of an 'Italian merchant diaspora'?