Call for Articles: Minorities and Grain Trade in Early Modern Europe

RHN 20/2020 | Call

Business History Special Issue

Guest editors: Luca Andreoni (Independent Scholar), Luca Mocarelli (University of Milan – Bicocca), Giulio Ongaro (University of Milan – Bicocca), and David Do Paço (Sciences Po – Paris)

Deadline for proposal submissions: 30 April 2020


Call for Articles:
Minorities and Grain Trade in Early Modern Europe

In recent years, the economic and social role played by ethnic-religious minorities in early modern Europe, especially in the Mediterranean (Baghdiantz and al. 2005; Harlaftis 2011; Christ and al. 2015; Do Paço 2015; Monge and Muchnik 2019), is at the center of growing historiographical reinterpretation. Looking especially at the role of Jews, and starting with the work of Israel (1985), their economic role has been analyzed by many researchers (Penslar 2001; Karp 2008, 2009; Trivellato 2009; Levine 2010; Reuveni 2011; Hilaire-Pérez, Oliel-Grausz 2013, 2014; Kobrin, Teller 2015; Romani 2017), who stress especially the importance of networks and family ties, their involvement in the credit market and their functions in other fields of commerce. Besides Jews, other minorities (such as Armenians or Greeks) have also played a fundamental role as economic intermediaries in international trade (Grenet 2012; 2016; Fusaro 2012; Aslanian 2014; Trivellato, Halevi, Antunes 2014).

Their enterprises often operated by sea – the best commercial route in early modern times – with private fleets that were sometimes very considerable. Seaports were the areas where Armenians, Greeks and Jewish communities flourished; just think, for the Italian case, of Venice (Davis-Ravid 2001), Trieste (Dubin 1999; Gatti 2008), Livorno (Frattarelli Fischer 2008, Trivellato 2009, Fettah 2017, Tazzara 2017), and Ancona and the other ports of the Papal State (Bonazzoli 1998, Andreoni 2019). What is more, products unloaded from the ships on the seaside moved to the inland cities through navigable rivers and then spread in the inland territories. Remaining in the Italian peninsula, this was in part the role played by the Jewish communities – on the Po River – of Mantua and Ferrara (Graziani Secchieri 2014), again with families with private fleets aiming to connect the Adriatic Sea and the inland areas. Finally, we should not forget that the movement of products and goods often followed the opposite path, from the productive centers (in terms both of agricultural production and manufactural one) of the mainland to the seaports, ready to be sent around Europe and the world.

Even if the economic role played by Armenian, Greek or Jewish communities and enterprises has been examined by many researchers, their importance in the commerce of cereals (wheat, but also rye, oat, barley or maize) has not. Historians interested in Jewish, Greek or Armenian history have not been the only ones to neglect this topic almost entirely; the same is true for research on the grain markets: even if the scholars involved sometimes refer to the presence of Jewish merchants, they do not go deeply into this topic (Bateman 2011; Campbell-Ó Gráda 2011; Dobado-González, García-Hiernaux, Guerrero 2012). However, the grain market seems to have been – and new archival researches seems to confirm this, especially with regard to Jewish merchants – a central field of activity for many enterprises owned and operated by ethnic-religious minorities: the grain trade, after all, formed an international market, connecting areas in Europe quite distant from each other, requiring huge amounts of capital, networks in order to gather intelligence on prices all around Europe, and, finally, ships able to transport substantial amounts of grains. Furthermore, looking specifically at Jewish merchants, it is important to remember that links between Jewish and the grain trade were not restricted to large-scale, long-distance trade and to large Jewish commercial companies. In fact, some research at the local level demonstrate that the grain trade was extremely widespread even among small- and medium-size Jewish moneylenders. The case of Avignon and Contado Venassino (a territory controlled by the Pope, but in French territory, in early modern times), is an example (Moulinas 1981). In this case, we have considerable evidence attesting to the fact that Christian debtors paid back their small loans with wheat. In this way, Jews collected large quantities of grain, contravening all Papal bulls on the matter.

The grain market in the Early Modern period is a perfect field of research for observing and analyzing particular types of merchants and enterprises (such as the “minority” ones): it was a multi-level market, which also featured a high degree of international integration already in the Early Modern period. Some scholars have even proposed that there was an “Early Globalization” before the one that followed the Industrial Revolution (Persson 1999; Bateman 2011, 2012). Moreover, it involved what was perhaps the most important field of economic and business activity in the pre-industrial market, that is food. In fact, in terms both of economic relevance and social-political significance, commerce in grains was characterized by the presence of large amounts of products, capital and intervention and control by public institutions. Finally, it connected important productive areas (such as Southern Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Central-Eastern Europe) and consumption centers (especially the most populous and manufacturing cities from the Po Valley to Northern Europe). Therefore, operating in this field required capital, international commercial networks, means of transport, storage facilities and political connections, and therefore formed a fertile field for the development of “big business”. Because of this characterization of the grain market, merchants from ethnic and religious minorities formed key links between territories and states. Moreover, they were often particularly suitable for operating in it. Researches presented in international conferences (for instance in the meeting of the European Business History Association Conference held in Ancona in 2018), testifies to this. However, we actually still do not know how these enterprises were organized and operated, which were their commercial networks and geographical development.

The aim of the special issue is to present and discuss recent and innovative research on Jewish, Greek, Armenian and other “minority” enterprises involved in grain trade in the period between ca 1400 and 1850, something that may also be done comparatively. The geographical scope of the Issue will be Europe: from the Ottoman Empire to the Italian Peninsula and Spain, from Eastern Europe (especially Poland) to the Baltic area (Low Countries, England, for example). Topics that might be discussed could include:

- The characters and the organization of the enterprises, also in a comparative way, involved in grain trade;

- The degree of specialization of merchants who operated in the grain market, paying particular attention to the minorities like, for instance, Jewish, Armenians, Greeks;

- The role of the Jewish, Greek, Armenian or other minorities grain trade by sea as connection between European (but also non-European) areas;

- The identification of trade routes and commercial points related to this market;

- State legislation and, broadly, the role played by institutions in the regulation and control of the grain trade by the ethnic-religious minorities;

- The relationship between the merchants belonging to the minorities involved in grain trade and the Early Modern State authorities: conflict, collaboration, public recognition in a context of discrimination

- The change in the enterprises according to the changes in public economy in the Early Modern period (especially in relation to the gradual liberalization of the grain market between eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).

Papers proposals should be sent to the guest editors Giulio Ongaro (, Luca Mocarelli (, Luca Andreoni ( and David Do Paço ( before April 30th, 2020.

Contributions should be submitted to Business History via the journal’s ScholarOne system. The system is available under the URL Select the Submit an Article button, and be sure to then select this special issue in the dropdown box. Contributions should be no more than 8,000 words, inclusive of citations and bibliography. The deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2020.



Andreoni (2019), «Una nazione in commercio». Ebrei di Ancona, traffici adriatici e pratiche mercantili in età moderna, prefazione di E. Sori, FrancoAngeli, Milano.

Aslanian (2014), From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa. Berkeley: UC Press.

Baghdiantz McCabe, G. Harlaftis, I. Minoglou (eds.) (2005), Diaspora Entrepreneurial networks. Four Century of History. Berg, Oxford.

V. N. Bateman (2011), “The evolution of markets in early modern Europe, 1350–1800: a study of wheat prices”, The Economic History Review, 64, 2.

V. N. Bateman (2012), Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe, Pickering & Chatto, London.

V. Bonazzoli (1998), Adriatico e Mediterraneo orientale. Una dinastia mercantile ebraica del secondo seicento: I Costantini, Lint, Trieste.

B.M.S. Campbell, C. Ó Gráda, “Harvest Shortfalls, Grain Prices, and Famines in Preindustrial England”, Journal of Economic History, 71, 4.

G. Christ, F.-J. Morche, R. Zaugg, W. Kaiser, S. Burkhardt, A. D. Beihammer (eds.) (2015), Diasporic Groups and Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean (1100-1800), Viella, Rome.

R. Davis, B. Ravid (2001), edited by, The Jews of Early Modern Venice, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London.

D. Do Paço (2015), L'Orient à Vienne au dix-huitième siècle. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

R. Dobado-González, A. García-Hiernaux, D. E. Guerrero (2012), “The Integration of Grain Markets in the Eighteenth Century: Early Rise of Globalization in the West”, Journal of Economic History, 72, 3.

L.C. Dubin (1999), The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste. Absolutist Politics and Enlightenment Culture, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

S. Fettah (2017), Les limites de la cité. Espace, pouvoir et société à Livourne au temps du Port Franc, XVIIe-XIXe siècle, École française de Rome, Rome.

L. Frattarelli Fischer (2008), Vivere fuori dal ghetto. Ebrei a Pisa e Livorno, secoli XVI-XVIII, Zamorani, Torino.

M. Fusaro (2012), “Cooperating mercantile networks in the early modern Mediterranean”, The Economic History Review, 65, 2, pp. 701-718.

C. Gatti (2008), Tra demografia e storia sociale. Gli ebrei di Trieste nel Settecento, Eut, Trieste.

L. Graziani Secchieri (2014), a cura di, Ebrei a Ferrara. Ebrei di Ferrara. Aspetti culturali, economici e sociali della presenza ebraica a Ferrara (secc. XIII-XX), Giuntina, Firenze.

M. Grenet (2012), “A Business Alla Turca? Levant Trade and the Representation of Ottoman Merchants in Eighteenth Century European Commercial Literature”, in M. Rotenberg-Schwartz and T. Czechowski (eds.), Global Economies, Cultural Currencies of the Eighteenth Century. Brooklyn : AMS Press, pp. 37-52.

M. Grenet (2016), La Fabrique communautaire. Les Grecs à Venise, Livourne et Marseille, 1770-1840, École française de Rome et École française d’Athènes, Rome et Athènes.

G. Harlaftis (2011), “International business of Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, 18th Century: Sources, Methods and Interpretive Issues”, in F. Ammannati (ed.), Dove va la storia economica?  Metodi e prospettive, secc. XIII-XVIII - Where is Economic History Going? Methods and Prospects from the 13th to the 18th Centuries. Firenze : Firenze University Press, pp. 389-415.

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J. Israel (1985), European Jewry in the Age of mercantilism, Clarendon press, Oxford.

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J. Karp (2009), An “Economic Turn” in Jewish Studies?, in «AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies», 2009, 2, p. 8-14

R. Kobrin, A. Teller (2015), edited by, Purchasing Power. The Economics of Modern Jewish History, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 1-24.

A. Levine (2010), “Introduction”, in A. Levine, edited by, The Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 3-25.

M. Monge and N. Muchnik (2019), L'Europe des Diasporas, XVIe-XVIIIe siècles. Paris: PUF.

R. Moulinas (1981), Les juifs du Pape en France. Les communautés d’Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin aux XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles, Privat, Paris.

D. Penslar (2001), Shylock’s Children. Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe, University of California Press, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London.

K.G. Persson (1999), Grain Markets in Europe, 1500-1900: Integration and Deregulation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

G. Reuveni (2011). “Prolegomena to an “Economic Turn” in Jewish History”, in G. Reuveni, S. Wobick-Segev, edited by, The Economy in Jewish History: New Perspectives on the Interrelationship between Ethnicity and Economic Life, Berghahn, New York-Oxford, p. 1-20.

M. Romani (2017), a cura di, Storia economica e storia degli ebrei. Istituzioni, capitale sociale e stereotipi (secc. XV-XVIII), Franco Angeli, Milano

C. Tazzara (2017), The Free Port of Livorno and the Transformation of the Mediterranean World, 1574-1790, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

F. Trivellato (2009), The Familiarity of Strangers. The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period, Yale University Press, New Haven.

F. Trivellato, L. Halevi, and Catia Antunes (eds.) (2014), Religion and Trade. Cross-Cultural Exchanges in World History, 1000-1900. Oxford : Oxford University Press.