Winner of the American Association for Italian Studies Book Prize
A new history explores how one of Renaissance Italy’s leading cities maintained its influence in an era of global exploration, trade, and empire.
The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was not an imperial power, but it did harbor global ambitions. After abortive attempts at overseas colonization and direct commercial expansion, as Brian Brege shows, Tuscany followed a different path, one that allowed it to participate in Europe’s new age of empire without establishing an empire of its own. The first history of its kind, Tuscany in the Age of Empire offers a fresh appraisal of one of the foremost cities of the Italian Renaissance, as it sought knowledge, fortune, and power throughout Asia, the Americas, and beyond.
How did Tuscany, which could not compete directly with the growing empires of other European states, establish a global presence? First, Brege shows, Tuscany partnered with larger European powers. The duchy sought to obtain trade rights within their empires and even manage portions of other states’ overseas territories. Second, Tuscans invested in cultural, intellectual, and commercial institutions at home, which attracted the knowledge and wealth generated by Europe’s imperial expansions. Finally, Tuscans built effective coalitions with other regional powers in the Mediterranean and the Islamic world, which secured the duchy’s access to global products and empowered the Tuscan monarchy in foreign affairs.
These strategies allowed Tuscany to punch well above its weight in a world where power was equated with the sort of imperial possessions it lacked. By finding areas of common interest with stronger neighbors and forming alliances with other marginal polities, a small state was able to protect its own security while carving out a space as a diplomatic and intellectual hub in a globalizing Europe.
A ﬁnely conceived and well written book about how a small but ambitious European state went about looking for strategic and commercial opportunities in a world dominated by Imperial Spain.
Tuscany in the Age of Empire offers a wealth of new archival information that helps illuminate how one smaller political power existed within the empires of others and sought to expand its own influence.
Like the Venetians and the Genoese, the Medicis of Tuscany never built a world empire, but they nevertheless engaged with the inter-imperial puzzle of the early modern world on a vast scale. In this ambitious and wide-ranging book, Brege addresses the issue of a ‘global Florence’ by considering the various theaters of Florentine commercial, political, and intellectual involvement across several continents. This is an important book, and one that will be widely cited.
The question of whether Tuscany ever sought to develop an overseas empire has been raised by many scholars obliquely, yet it has never been addressed head on with such a vast range of evidence. The result is a fascinating interrogation of Tuscany’s relationships with the wider world at a time when the Portuguese, Spanish, and Ottoman powers guarded access to the riches of distant lands. Their grip was jealous, but not inexorable, and pockets of opportunity were frequently generated by the disruptive activity of rebels, pirates, merchants, missionaries, and agents.
Tuscany in the Age of Empire is the first book-length treatment of Tuscany as a protagonist in the early modern world of empires, rather than as one of Italy’s regional states. It builds on numerous publications that have re-oriented both the historiography of the Republican and Grand Ducal periods to respond to the rising tide of global history in the profession. The book also draws on unpublished archival and rare-book collections in order to offer a wide-ranging discussion of the manifold links between Tuscany, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and even, to some extent, to the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Drawing upon an evidentiary treasury amassed from repositories in India, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Brege highlights intersections of diplomacy and science, art and commerce, cartography and material culture in the wildly ambitious projects the Tuscan state envisioned and attempted from the 1560s through the 1620s. In the end, Brege’s riveting, forensic analysis offers readers a history fully in the round and, best of all, reveals how Tuscany managed to reinvent itself as a serious global player even as the Renaissance waned.
Brege’s narrative deftly weaves together archival documents and primary sources from around the world to tell the first complete story of the Medici’s global ambitions in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This brilliant ‘connected history’ invites the reader to reconsider the very idea of empire in the early modern period.
- 2022, Winner of the American Association for Italian Studies Book Prize
- 520 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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