The course will examine the political phenomenon of thalassocracy (Greek for "sea rule") in a global historical perspective and against a comprehensive philosophical background. The main focus of the course is on the maritime commercial empire of medieval and early modern Venice.
The detailed examination of Venice as an internationally active and militarily mighty trade republic will be framed by the close study of earlier and later commercial sea empires. In particular, the course will examine the Hanseatic League, a North German medieval and early modern alliance of trade cities operative throughout Europe. In addition, the course will feature the trading empire of the Dutch Republic in later modern times with substantial involvement in Asia, the Americas and Africa.
The consideration of the three historical examples will be framed by an analysis of the political, legal and commercial aspects of European colonialist imperialism. Particular attention will devoted to the development of international law ("law of the peoples") in the context of colonial expansionism and competition between colonial powers. In addition, the course will examine the close connection between commercial empires and the republican constitution of the states involved, chiefly among them Venice. As co-curricular features, the course will include site visits in Venice, among them the Palazzo Ducale and the Arsenale.
The course will begin with the ancient Greek colonization of the Mediterranean world in general and with Athens' naval empire in particular (Delian League). From there the course will move to the characteristic combination of republicanism and imperialism in classical Rome. Next the course will consider the rise of medieval and early modern trade republics in Northern Italy and Germany in the political context of "free" cities exempt from princely rule. The dual focus here will be on the Northern German trading alliance of the Hanseatic League and on Venice's maritime empire in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Next the course will move to consider the rise of the Dutch republic as a global commercial power in the wake of Portugal's and Spain's collapse as colonial world powers.
Throughout the course will address the political and philosophical underpinnings of the three case studies of sea empires and overseas empires. To that end, the course first will provide an introduction to classical and neo-classical republicanism, based on the works by the ancient Roman historian Polybius and on the early modern republican political thinker Machiavelli. Next the course will turn to the founding of modern international and maritime law by the Dutch lawyer and legal philosopher Grotius. Finally, the course will consider the modern linkage between commerce and politics as examined by the Swiss-French liberal political thinker Benjamin Constantat the beginning of the 19th century.
Students will acquire historical and philosophical knowledge about the relation between political and commercial society, improve their skills in the analysis of historical and philosophical texts and problems, and enhance their ability to discuss complex theoretical issues in written and spoken academic English.
Teaching and Evaluation Methods
The course will be taught as a seminar with substantial and regular student participation, including formal presentations, moderated discussions and writing assignments. The final grade will be based one third each on active class participation, formal class presentations and a term paper.
General (all texts in modern English translations)
Polybius, The Histories (selections)
Machiavelli, The Discourses on Livy (selections)
Grotius, On the Right of War and Peace (selections)
Constant, On the Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation (selections)
Jan Morris, The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage. London: Penguin, 1990
Monique O'Connell, Men of Empire: Power and Negotiation in Venice's Maritime State. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009
Roger Crowley, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas. London: Penguin, 2013
Dollinger, Philippe, The German Hansa. Translated by D. S. Ault and S. H. Steinberg. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970
Donald J. Harreld (Ed.), A Companion to the Hanseatic League. Amsterdam: Brill, 2015
Jonathan I. Israel, Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989
C. R. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire: 1600-1800. Introd. J. H. Plumb.London: Penguin, 1991
Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995
No previous knowledge required.