The Global Merchants of Florence: Florentine Patrician Families and Early Modern Capitalism
Brian Brege joins us from Syracuse University. Professor Brege is a historian of early modern Europe and its engagement with the wider world. His research concerns the role of small powers and enterprising individuals in the creation of global capitalism and empire. Professor Brege’s first book, The Empire That Wasn't: The Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s Global Ambitions, traces the ventures of late Renaissance Florentines as they sought knowledge, profit, and power throughout the Americas, the Islamic world, and maritime Asia. In Florence, he will develop his second book manuscript, The Global Merchants of Florence: Florentine Patrician Families and Early Modern Capitalism, and a project on the Florentine world traveler Francesco Carletti.
The Global Merchants of Florence: Florentine Patrician Families and Early Modern Capitalism, traces how the world of Marco Polo, with its subtle negotiation of imperial politics and cultural difference in pursuit of long-distance trade, not only persisted but expanded in the late Renaissance. From the sugar plantations of Brazil and cochineal farms of Mexico to the markets and docks of Lisbon, Macau, and Goa, Florentines merchants and bankers swiftly grasped the possibilities of the first global age. For all the political turmoil in their home city, Florentine elite families flourished overseas. Traditionally, these families and their Europe-spanning business networks have played a starring role in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century stories of capitalism, the Florentine republic, and the Renaissance. With the waning of the Renaissance, the narrative shifts, concentrating on two developments that linked Italy with the dynamism of the Atlantic economies: Spain’s Genoese bankers and the free port of Livorno. Florentine elites are supposed to have quietly retired to their villas and out of history. Instead, this project shows how, in the new era of growing mercantilist empires and chartered trading companies, Florentines patricians capitalized on the flexibility of interlocking family partnerships to fund and facilitate global commerce, developing patterns of entrepreneurship that remain an enduring and important, if often unsung, feature of globalized capitalism.