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Venetian Trading Networks in the Medieval Mediterranean
By Francisco Apellániz
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol.44:2 (2013)
Abstract: To understand the system of business relations within the commercial network of the Republic of Venice, this article adopts a network analysis that differs from a standard narrative based on a privileged subset of actors or relations. It allows us to examine the socially mixed group of entrepreneurs, brokers, and shippers at the heart of Venice’s economic system, as well as the various conditions under which they operated. Venice’s overseas mercantile relations, shaped by the ruling patriciate, were riddled with restrictions upon foreigners and colonial subjects. The Venetian trading community centered in Alexandria from 1418 to 1420 exemplified this far-reaching Venetian system during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It featured a number of lower-rank characters negotiating, flaunting, and frequently breaking the rules, all to the greater profit of the empire.
The Venetian patricians and their commercial allies The nature of the sources has usually led historians to focus on predominant figures, whose family names can be easily noticed in the documents as charge holders and whose family lines and more orthodox careers can be easily reconstructed in the long run. Venice’s overseas trade was undoubtedly in the hands of its patricians (a similar domination may well have applied to other strategic sectors, such as the banking system or the salt monopoly). Scholars stress the importance of Venice’s noble families in the major trading cities of the Middle East; patricians held a large share of Venice’s total investment in spices and oriental goods. Annales-style research on the major trade in spices usually underlines the pre- dominance of noblemen, particularly those belonging to the old nobility (case vecchie), in the main commercial institutions, such as the consulates and their ruling councils.