Brokering Empire

Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul

E. Natalie Rothman
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Brokering Empire
    Book Description:

    In Brokering Empire, E. Natalie Rothman explores the intersecting worlds of those who regularly traversed the early modern Venetian-Ottoman frontier, including colonial migrants, redeemed slaves, merchants, commercial brokers, religious converts, and diplomatic interpreters. In their sustained interactions across linguistic, religious, and political lines these trans-imperial subjects helped to shape shifting imperial and cultural boundaries, including the emerging distinction between Europe and the Levant.

    Rothman argues that the period from 1570 to 1670 witnessed a gradual transformation in how Ottoman difference was conceived within Venetian institutions. Thanks in part to the activities of trans-imperial subjects, an early emphasis on juridical and commercial criteria gave way to conceptions of difference based on religion and language. Rothman begins her story in Venice's bustling marketplaces, where commercial brokers often defied the state's efforts both to tax foreign merchants and define Venetian citizenship. The story continues in a Venetian charitable institution where converts from Islam and Judaism and their Catholic Venetian patrons negotiated their mutual transformation. The story ends with Venice's diplomatic interpreters, the dragomans, who not only produced and disseminated knowledge about the Ottomans but also created dense networks of kinship and patronage across imperial boundaries. Rothman's new conceptual and empirical framework sheds light on institutional practices for managing juridical, religious, and ethnolinguistic difference in the Mediterranean and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6311-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Note on Usage, Names, and Dates
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    “In Venice, all are foreigners who are not Venetians”—such were the caustic words of Cornelio Frangipane (1508–1588) on concluding a visit to the city sometime in the 1550s.¹ A nobleman, a lawyer, and a poet, Frangipane hailed from the Friuli, one of the most economically deprived and war-ravished Venetian colonies, situated on the Venetian-Habsburg-Ottoman frontier.² His embittered comments notwithstanding, Frangipane was a staunch supporter of the Venetian cause. A few years earlier, in 1545, he presented an official address upon the election of doge Francesco Donà, in which he “exalted the city of Venice for its balanced form...

  9. PART I Mediation

    • 1 Trans-Imperial Subjects as Supplicants and as Brokers
      (pp. 29-60)

      In early August 1573, word reached the Holy Office of a teenage slave named Zorzi who had run away from the house of his patrician master.¹ According to the initial deposition, Zorzi, formerly a Muslim, had been baptized and had received communion and other holy sacraments. But now, having gone into hiding in the attic of a house “where several Turks live,” he had allegedly returned to Islam (“tornato a far Turco”) “having shaved his head and dressed as a Turk in order to go secretly to Turkey.” Five days after Zorzi’s escape, his master, Marcantonio Falier, visited Zorzi’s place...

    • 2 Brokering Commerce or Making Friends?
      (pp. 61-84)

      In 1594, Mano Gumeno, an unlicensed commercial broker of Greek descent active in Venice, signed a partnership contract with two guild-member brokers, Manoli Gardichiotti and Piero Colona.¹ The partnership was ultimately brought to the attention of the state magistracy in charge of supervising brokers, the Provveditori di Comun, which quickly annulled it.² In his hearing, Colona, a Venetian citizen, argued that he had been coerced into the partnership by Gardichiotti but that, once he learned it was illegal, he had kept the partnership inactive. He further urged the authorities to absolve him and condemn only his partners. The magistrates agreed...

  10. PART II Conversion

    • 3 Narrating Transition
      (pp. 87-121)

      Within the field of early modern studies, the religious domain in general and the phenomenon of religious conversion in particular have enjoyed renewed attention over the last decade.¹ For many scholars, the process by which people and groups moved from one confessional group to another seems to hold the key to the shifting nature of personhood, intentionality, and communal membership in the fateful years from the onset of the Reformations to the Enlightenment. The massive intervention of state and ecclesiastical institutions in projects of social disciplining, and the broad process that some historians have dubbed confessionalization, that is “the consolidation...

    • 4 Practicing Conversion
      (pp. 122-162)

      In a pathbreaking study of conversion in the Victorian British Empire, Gauri Viswanathan urges us to see conversion “as an act akin to the forces of modernity in its appeal to personal (rather than collective) choice, will, and action… Conversion posits a severe challenge to the demarcation of identities set by the laws that govern everyday life and practice.”¹ In a similar vein, Lucetta Scaraffia defines early modern Mediterranean “renegades” as the paradigmatic articulators of modern individual identity. Because of their exterior status in both Christian and Muslim communities, she argues, “renegades” had to “produce their own values and norms,...

  11. PART III Translation

    • 5 Making Venetian Dragomans
      (pp. 165-186)

      Whether due to the growing presence of Ottoman merchants in Venice or to the standardization of diplomatic protocol between the two empires, by the early sixteenth century official interpreters to and from Turkish became ubiquitous in the official dealings of Venice with Ottoman subjects. Early documents make little distinction between the services that bilingual secretaries rendered as translators, either in Venice proper or in its maritime colonies, and their occasional work for the Board of Trade as face-to-face interpreters accompanying sojourning merchants and dignitaries. But by the mid-sixteenth century, a distinction had emerged—in practice although not always in terminology—between...

  12. PART IV Articulation

    • 6 Articulating Difference
      (pp. 189-210)

      In chapter 3, I introduce Teodoro Dandolo, the Bukhara-born convertturned-commercial broker who in 1608 failed to secure an appointment as official interpreter of Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and “Indian.” His case raises fundamental questions about the nexus of ethnoreligious and juridical transformation in the trajectories of trans-imperial subjects in early modern Venice. Why was the Board of Trade hesitant to appoint Dandolo as dragoman but quite willing to make him a commercial broker? What differing assumptions about skill and embeddedness in local and inter-imperial networks of patronage and affect characterized the two professions? And how did the two interrelated professions and...

    • 7 Levantines: Genealogies of a Category
      (pp. 211-247)

      In a pathbreaking study over three decades ago, Giorgio Vercellin charted the arc of development of the categories used in the Venetian commercial sphere to refer to Ottoman subjects. According to Vercellin, by the turn of the seventeenth century Venetians distinguished between “Turchi” (“Turks”) and those “di nationi suddite turchesche” (“of nations subject to the Turks”). This distinction, he suggested, gave way to the superordinate category “orientali” (“orientals”) by the later eighteenth century.¹ To the best of my knowledge, Vercellin’s remains the only attempt at a genealogy of categories of Ottoman alterity in early modern Venice (and in Italy, more...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 248-252)

    Suggestive as it may be, Cornelio Frangipane’s embittered comment that “All are foreigners in Venice who aren’t Venetians” holds only a partial truth, even for the Venetian myth-makers. Although the juridical status “Venetian” and its attendant political and economic privileges were carefully guarded by a small minority, the contested category “foreigner” was very unevenly applied to and by the majority of the inhabitants and sojourners of the city and its Mediterranean imperial domains. It is hardly by accident that Frangipane’s circular statement ultimately leaves unanswered the question of how to tell Venetians and foreigners apart. Who designated whom a foreigner,...

  14. Appendixes
    (pp. 253-266)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-314)
  16. Index
    (pp. 315-324)