Participants & Abstracts

Cross-Confessional Diplomacy and Diplomatic Mediators in the Early Modern Mediterranean World

May 24-27, 2012 at Central European University in Budapest



Günhan Börekçi (İstanbul Şehir University)

Günhan Börekçi is a historian and currently works as a part-time faculty member at the Department of History of the İstanbul Şehir University. After completing his B.A. and M.A. studies at Boğaziçi University, he received his Ph.D. degree in history from the Ohio State University in 2010. His main areas of research and teaching include early modern Ottoman political, dynastic and social history, Islamic/Turkish art and architecture, military history, and comparative world history.

TITLE: On the Agents and Information Networks of Diplomacy in Istanbul in the Early Seventeenth Century

ABSTRACT: Early modern ambassadors, who were resident at or newly dispatched to a foreign sovereign’s capital, often found themselves acting outside the public, institutional domains of diplomacy as they had to rely on different, more personal networks of local informants, bureaucrats, courtiers and power brokers in order to successfully carry out their given missions. Based on hitherto unexplored or underutilized sources from the Ottoman and the Venetian States Archives, the present study aims to elaborate on this problem of agents and information networks of early modern diplomatic practice by focusing on the European ambassadors resident in the Ottoman imperial capital, Istanbul, during the first two decades of the seventeenth century. It first discusses the European ambassadors’ daily encounters, personal interactions and private meetings with the Ottoman sultan’s ruling elite as well as with various local diplomatic mediators and power brokers. Secondly, it underlines the importance of Ottoman and Venetian archival sources in delineating the local information networks of European ambassadors in Istanbul, which were instrumental for the functioning of the cross-confessional diplomacy in the early modern Mediterranean world.


Guillaume Calafat (École française de Rome)

Guillaume Calafat is a research fellow (member) at the École française de Rome (since 2011), a former student and teaching assistant at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (CRHM/EA 127). He is currently writing his PhD dissertation about maritime and commercial litigation in the Mediterranean (1591-1748). He recently published articles focusing on Turkish slaves and traders in Tuscany (1600-1750), and on Ottoman North Africa and European diplomacy.

TITLE: A “Nest of Pirates”? Diplomatic Mediators in 1670s Algiers

ABSTRACT: This paper aims to study the treaties of peace and trade ratified between Christian European States and North African Ottoman Regencies. Based on law of nations, on consular correspondence, diaries and gazettes, it describes the concurrence of diplomatic and political mediators in 1670s Algiers, during the Franco-Dutch War and after. This paper focuses both on French consul Laurent d’Arvieux and Dutch envoy Thomas Hees. An Arab and Ottoman Turkish speaker, d’Arvieux was sent to Algiers by Colbert to defend French interests (of the “Bastion de France”) and to negotiate, with dey Hadji Muhammad and his nephew Baba Hassan, the maintenance of peace between France and Algiers. The relations between d’Arvieux and Algerian “Powers” turned sour and I will analyse the several points of disagreement, trying to show that they cannot be understood according to a so-called cultural or legal “incommensurability.” The stay of d’Arvieux in Algiers will be compared with Thomas Hees’ journey in Algiers, who managed, with the assistance of a Jewish middleman, Jacob de Paz, to conclude a treaty of peace and trade with the local “Powers.” A third European emissary will be also scrutinized to understand the stakes of Algerian and Ottoman diplomacy, namely the English consul Samuel Martin, who met both d’Arvieux and Hees. Those French, Dutch and English negotiations in Algiers reveal the crucial importance of North Africa in the early modern Mediterranean diplomacy.


Jocelyne Dakhlia (École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

Jocelyne Dakhlia is Professor at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Center for Historical Studies), in Paris. In 1998 she has published a book on the Mediterranean Lingua Franca, Lingua franca. Histoire d’une langue métisse en Méditerranée (Arles, Actes Sud, 2008). She is currently editing with B. Vincent and W. Kaiser the two volumes of a collection, Les Musulmans dans l'histoire de l'Europe . Une intégration invisible (Albin Michel, 2011) and Les Musulmans dans l'histoire de l'Europe, Passages et contacts en Méditerranée (forthcoming, October 2012). She is currently working on the history of despotism and the Harem in Morocco from the 16th to the 19th century. She has also recently published Tunisie. Le pays sans bruit  (Arles, Actes Sud, 2011).

TITLE: The question of mediation and defining cultural difference in diplomatic relations: Islamic embassies in Western Europe in the early modern period

ABSTRACT: What is diplomatic contact, and what modalities of same and other does it call into play? To what degree did diplomatic relations intrinsically imply the staging or dramatizing of what may well have been fictional difference, and what was the real role of the swarm of mediators that are today’s historians’ preferred focus of attention? My main question is: Is a cultural continuum from one society to the other possible, a continuum that might be revealed in the course of diplomatic interaction but above all did not pertain exclusively to diplomatic agents? In the productive, legitimate reassessment of the role of mediators and other intermediaries currently under way, may we not have marginalized the ambassadors and official envoys themselves, assigning them to a sort of functional neutrality? For if we say that official agents needed intermediaries, were dependent on mediators, that mediators were crucial if there was to be any contact at all, that suggests we think of official agents as impotent to act on their own in a foreign society, establish contact directly, as if they were frozen in their own cultural categories and cultural otherness. This explains the recurring theme of cultural misunderstanding, of a sort that may become useful, productive misunderstanding. Political distance and even political opposition and patent conflict do not necessarily, in and of themselves, imply cultural distance, though in such situations there is a tendency to see one's interlocutor as barbarian. ... On the basis of these questions, and looking at the case of Islamic embassies to Western Europe, particularly Moroccan embassies, I shall try to identify, if only roughly, a few components of the grammar of same and other operative in such situations, trying to see how relevant “mediation” was to those contacts and what meaning it had in them.


Maartje van Gelder (University of Amsterdam)

Maartje van Gelder is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Amsterdam. Her work concentrates on 16th- and 17th-century Europe and the Mediterranean, with a particular interest in diplomats, renegades and traders who cross and mediate early modern boundaries. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Amsterdam in 2007. Her first book Trading places. The Netherlandish in early modern Venice was published with Brill in 2009. She is currently working on a project, funded by the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research, that studies the way diplomatic theory and practice adapted to the political and religious divisions of the 16th and 17th century.

TITLE: Switching sides? Renegades as mediators in seventeenth-century Dutch diplomacy with North Africa

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the role of Dutch converts to Islam as diplomatic mediators for the Dutch state. The diplomatic theorist Abraham de Wicquefort briefly discusses renegades as official representatives of Islamic states in his comprehensive L'ambassadeur et ses fonctions (1680). De Wicquefort expresses amazement how - having changed religion and switched political allegiance - renegades, when sent back to their countries of origin on missions for their Muslim rulers, were officially recognized as diplomats. The renegades’ services to Islamic states are well known, yet form only one half of the story. Converts to Islam also positioned themselves as diplomatic mediators in the service of Christian states. Letters written by Dutch renegades to the States General show how these converts advertised themselves as reliable mediators in Dutch – North African diplomatic relations. Some, signing with their Islamic name, even asked to be appointed as Dutch official representatives. Combining these letters with diplomatic correspondence, journals and travel descriptions, this paper will explore the role of Dutch renegades as cross-confessional diplomatic mediators. How did they represent themselves to the Dutch state? How did the States General and its official diplomatic representatives react? And what can these examples tell us about the way these renegades were embedded in both North African and Dutch power structures?


John-Paul Ghobrial (University of Cambridge)

TITLE: Men Made of Paper: Eastern Christians in the Early Modern Mediterranean World

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the role played by Eastern Christians in the circulation of knowledge about the Islamic world in early modern Europe. When we cast our eyes across the horizons of the early modern world, we begin to find such men hiding out everywhere, in France, Italy, England, Russia, and even the Americas. Scattered across major urban centres, Eastern Christians eked out a living for themselves as library cataloguers, print-shop correctors, ad hoc translators, and much more. They lived under westernized names that obscured their origins, and they were armed with stacks of passports and official documents—or documents that looked official. We still know very little about the lives of these men, not least because scholars are only beginning to discover their ‘ghosts’ in European and Middle Eastern archives. What is certain is that these individuals cultivated a web of diplomatic, scholarly, and ecclesiastical contacts spanning Europe and the Ottoman world, and they used their unique positions to act as informants about the East to captive audiences in Europe. The stories of these Christian subjects of the sultan have long been scattered in the dusty corners of libraries in ancient monasteries in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. Drawing on these unpublished and neglected writings (diaries, letters, testaments of faith, colophons, and even inscriptions), this paper will explore the importance of a single category of mediators to the wider questions and themes of the workshop. If one can speak of ‘encounters’ between Europe and Islam in this period, Eastern Christians were some of the most important human faces at the ‘front-lines’ of this encounter.


Tobias Graf (Heidelberg University)

Tobias Graf is currently writing his doctoral dissertation on so-called renegades in the Ottoman Empire in the period c. 1580-1610 at Heidelberg University, where he is an associate member of the interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context". He holds a BA in history and an MPhil in Early Modern History from the University of Cambridge. In the future he hopes to undertake further research into the Austrian Habsburgs' intelligence activities, especially in the context of the military frontier with the Ottoman Empire.

TITLE: Renegades and the ‘Secret World’

ABSTRACT: In recent years, so-called renegades in the Ottoman Empire have received a considerable degree of scholarly attention. Yet thus far, despite its almost exclusive focus on the Mediterranean and the North African corsairing milieu, Les chrètiens d’Allah published in 1989 by Bartolomé and Lucile Bennassar remains the only systematic study of the renegade phenomenon. Taking its starting point from Austrian diplomatic and military documents, my doctoral thesis seeks to shed light on the roles which renegades played within the military-administrative elite and in the exchange of knowledge and information between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe in the period c. 1580-1610. One area of particular interest in this context is the so-called ‘secret world’. My presentation for the workshop will examine the involvement of renegades in secret diplomacy and intelligence. To what extent did renegades facilitate – or hinder – diplomatic negotiations? Did they provide informal channels of communication and, if so, what impact did these have? How did renegades contribute to Ottoman efforts at gathering and interpreting intelligence? To what extent did renegades, as the example of Fatma Hatun/Beatrice Michiel, suggests, provide valuable services to Christian European states? And finally, how important was their contribution relative to other groups?


Mathieu Grenet (Washington University in St. Louis)

Mathieu Grenet is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program “Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry” at Washington University in Saint Louis, USA. A former Research Fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, at Columbia University (2010-11), he recently completed a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy (2010). His dissertation dealt with the comparison of three communities of the Greek diaspora – namely those in Venice, Livorno and Marseille – between the 1770s and the 1830s. He has published several articles on this issue, and is currently working on a new research project on “In Others' Words: Foreigners, Languages and Interpreters of "Oriental Languages" in the Early Modern Mediterranean”.

TITLE: Their Masters' Voices? Muslim Envoys and Interpreters of "Oriental Languages" in France and Italy, c. 1750-c.1825

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the role played by interpreters of “Oriental languages” in the diplomatic exchanges across the Early Modern Mediterranean. While the dragomans have become familiar figures to most historians working on this period and space, work remains to be done on the linguistic brokers in the service of Muslim envoys to Europe. To be sure, this practice of sending envoys rather than maintaining permanent representatives itself constitutes a distinctive feature of these exchanges, and they have long been viewed as the sign of some incapacity to adopt the diplomatic uses and codes that prevailed in Europe from the 17th century onward. Yet, the intensification of these contacts in the second half of the 18th century speaks to much more than the usual patterns of “dependence” and “decline” that have long underlaid much of the historical analysis on the issue. Focusing on a series of diplomatic missions from the the “Barbary States” to France and Italy, this paper intends to bring to light the intense diplomatic activity displayed by Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, in a double context of increased commercial relations with Western powers and of rising autonomy vis-à-vis the Ottoman supervision. Central to the argument will be the role played by interpreters of “Oriental languages” in these diplomatic missions. A number of characteristic features are worth mentioning here, starting from the very low level of professionalization of these linguistic brokers, as well as the fact that most of them belonged to non-Muslim minorities of the Ottoman Empire, and that they rarely formed part of the envoy's escort, but were rather directly hired in Europe. Despite what appears to be a highly informal course of action, interpreters of “Oriental languages” often worked in close contact with the envoys of the Barbary States, and eventually enjoyed a far higher reputation than their fellow dragomans working in the Levant. The study of these interpreters, however, shall not limit itself to the sole performance of linguistic brokerage, but will explore as well the role they played in the “cultural translation” at stake between the worlds in presence.


Tijana Krstic (Central European University)

TITLE: Mediating the Mediators: Moriscos in Ottoman and Western Diplomatic Sources from Istanbul, 1570s-1620s

ABSTRACT: This paper will look at the collective profile of a group that played an important role in diplomatic history of the early modern Mediterranean, both as subjects and as agents of cross-confessional diplomatic encounter: the nuevos convertidos da moros or “Moriscos,” descendants of the medieval Iberian Muslims who were heavily persecuted since the early 1500s, forcibly converted to Christianity, and finally expelled from Habsburg Spain in 1609. The context for the paper will be the Moriscos’ little researched post-exile experience in Ottoman Istanbul, especially in the early 1610s and 1620s, when they settled in Galata neighborhood and assumed a contentious role in both local and international cross-confessional politics. Using Ottoman, Venetian, French, Dutch and English diplomatic dispatches from the early 1600s, the paper will investigate the following questions: How are Moriscos in Istanbul represented by particular diplomatic representatives in their dispatches and why? How did the Moriscos’ arrival affect the diplomatic milieu in Istanbul? What kind of diplomatic networks involving Moriscos came into existence and what was being mediated through them? How did the Moriscos’ trans-imperial and trans-confessional loyalties play out in the diplomatic encounters in and beyond Istanbul?


Natividad Planas (Université Blaise-Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand)

Social and political history in cross-confessional context is at the center of my work. After defending a thesis on the social and politic dynamics of Balearic Islands as a Mediterranean frontier, at the European University Institute (2000), I started exploring the topic in a larger context. Les sociétés de frontière de la Méditerranée à l’Atlantique (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle) published in Madrid by the Casa de Velázquez in 2011 is the result of a collaborating project with scholars working on Mediterranean and Atlantic issues. I have been a member of Transméditerranée (working group lead by Jocelyne Dakhlia, EHESS, Paris) since 2006. Recently, I started working on cross-confessional diplomacy in studying the alliance between Spain and Maghrebian rebels fighting against Ottomans at the beginning of seventeenth century. Focusing on the agency of political actors of margins, diplomatic envoys and self-appointed spies, I explore the making of Christian and Muslim connections at the edge of Spanish Empire.

TITLE: A World Upside Down? The Christian Slaves of Algier between the Lord of Koukou and the King of Spain, early 1600s

ABSTRACT: Was political negotiation possible without mediators in cross-confessional diplomatic encounters? In august 1603, the « Christians of Algiers » (a large group of slaves and captives of Algiers, on which the sources give very scarce information) gathered the amount of ransom for one of them, to liberate and send him to the King of Spain, Philip the IIIrd as an emissary. Their aim was to convince the sovereign of the strongest empire of the world to help a Muslim lord (named the « King of Koukou » by the Spanish sources) who was a rebel leader at war against the Ottomans. Two months before, the official negotiator of the Spanish king, in charge of negotiations for a military project against Algiers with those rebels, had been killed by the janissaries. Focusing on the agency of informal mediators, in my paper I will show that political communication between Islamdom and Christendom was, most of the time, carried out by common people (sailors, captives, merchants, religious brokers for the redemption of captives), temporarily in charge of an official mission or, very often, self-appointed spies. This widely-accepted behavior of acting without commitment is certainly the basis on which the decision of the « Christians of Algiers » to send a kind of « deputy » to the king of Spain was made. But, the Spanish documentation dealing with this case permits one to analyze the strong link that connects Christian captives to the king of Koukou. The protection he offered to all those escaping captivity who reached his domains strengthened the loyalty of the captives to this Muslim lord. The paper will examine this interesting case from the perspective of the theory of empire and also engage with the literature on the history of emotions.


Mía J. Rodríguez-Salgado (London School of Economics and Political Sciences)

Professor Mía J Rodríguez‑Salgado is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics. Her research has focused primarily on international relations during the reigns of Charles V and Philip II. Their interactions with the Ottoman Turks and North African states has always been an integral element of her work. It was included in her book, The Changing Face of Empire. Charles V, Philip II and Habsburg Authority (1551‑1559) (Cambridge University Press, 1988, reprint 2008; translated into Spanish in 1992 and Italian in 1994) and is the subject of her book: Felipe II. El Paladin de la Cristiandad y la Paz con el Turco, (Colección Síntesis XI, Valladolid, 2004). She has published a number of articles on the subject, including: 'Carolus Africanus: Carlos V y el Turco' in: J. Martínez Millán (ed) Carlos V y la quiebra del humanismo político en Europa, 1530‑1558 (Madrid 2000), 'La Cruzada sin cruzado. Carlos V y el Turco a principios del reinado' in: G. Galasso (ed), Carlos V, Napoli e il Mediterraneo (Naples, 2001), and most recently, "El león animoso entre las balas". Los dos cercos de Orán a mediados del siglo XVI', in: M.A. de Bunes Ibarra & B. Alonso Acero (eds.) Orán. Historia de la Corte Chica (Madrid, 2011). If anyone would like photocopies or PDF files of these (or any other of her articles), please send her an email at: M.J.Rodriguez‑ and she will send them on her return to London in June.

TITLE: From the ridiculous to the sublime: contacts and diplomacy between the Spanish Monarchy and the Ottoman empire in the 1570s and 1580s

ABSTRACT: The ‘peace’ between Philip II and Murad III has been considered of utmost importance and even credited with causing the decline of these empires. Yet, when Fernand Braudel attempted to investigate it, he was confounded by the partial evidence and the nature of the negotiations. There appeared to be a bewildering collection of disreputable figures involved, and few of the processes or materials normally associated with diplomacy. There is still no agreed date for this event, nor sufficient details about the process to allow for a balanced, historical assessment. This paper will reconstruct the extraordinary events that led to a series of agreements between the Spanish Monarchy and the Ottoman empire, piecing together the tortuous process. It will identify the key figures involved, and thus prove the crucial role played by renegades, rabbis, dragomans, spies, merchants of captives and captives in these negotiations. It will examine how these individuals and their informal networks interacted with the formal structures of government and diplomacy. It will consider the most serious problems encountered during the negotiations, such as language, rituals, status and honour, and assess whether they led to the failure of diplomatic exchanges. Finally, it will engage with the notion of exceptionalism: was the peace doomed because of religious and cultural differences? It will argue that diplomacy between the Ottoman empire and the Christian states may look different, but was not radically different from diplomacy between Christian states.


E. Natalie Rothman (University of Toronto

TITLE: What do Mediators Mediate? Dragomans, Documentation, and Diplomacy in the Early Modern Mediterranean

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the trans-imperial personnel and practices that shaped Venetian-Ottoman diplomatic relations in the seventeenth century. By combining prosopographical study of the kinship and social networks of dragomans (diplomatic interpreters) with an in-depth exploration of the texts and images they produced, the paper aims to specify the modalities of knowledge production unique to this cadre, and to assess its enduring impact on late-Renaissance Mediterranean diplomacy and the Ottomanist discourse of a nascent Republic of Letters. Specifically, the paper seeks to define “the dragomans’ perspective”- a set of distancing mechanisms and claims to intimate knowledge of the Ottomans - as it emerges from the so-called “Documenti Turchi” of the Venetian bailo in Istanbul. This collection of Ottoman official records with facing Italian translations spans the period 1589-1785. It thus allows us to assess the role of dragomans’ evolving practices of collation, translation, and textual circulation in commensurating Ottoman and Italianate political forms and to provide a tentative periodization of changes in early modern European understandings of Ottoman society, politics, history, and religion.


Baki Tezcan (University of California, Davis)

Baki Tezcan is associate professor of history, and religious studies, at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (2010).

TITLE: Ibrahim Müteferrika’s Apology for Islam

ABSTRACT: Even though referred to often in scholarship on Ibrahim Müteferrika, the founder of the first printing press in the Islamic World that published books primarily for Muslims, his Apology for Islam (originally untitled, mostly known as Risale-i İslamiyye, ca. 1710) has rarely been analyzed in detail. This paper focuses on the text of the Apology, making an attempt, among other things, to decipher its Biblical quotations in Latin (written in Arabic letters), with a view to develop a more informed answer to the question of his confession – Protestant or Unitarian – before he converted to Islam, which has a certain bearing on the circumstances of his conversion – voluntary or forced. Taking a step back from Ibrahim’s case, the paper will also approach certain examples of the Apology genre as a conversion narrative of sorts, trying to shed some light on the world of those who crossed confessions.


Joshua Michael White (University of Michigan)

Joshua Michael White studies the social, legal, and diplomatic history of the early modern Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean. He recently completed his Ph.D. in History at the University of Michigan (2012). His dissertation, entitled "Catch and Release: Piracy, Slavery, and Law in the Early Modern Ottoman Mediterranean," is a study of the Ottoman legal and administrative response to piracy and amphibious slave‑raiding in the late sixteenth and seventeenth‑century eastern half of the Mediterranean basin. He begins an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia in August, 2012.

TITLE: Fatwa Diplomacy: The Ottoman Şeyhülislam as Trans-imperial Intermediary

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the role of the şeyhülislam, the mufti of Istanbul and the head of the Ottoman religious-legal hierarchy, as a diplomatic intermediary between the Ottoman Empire, Venice, and North Africa, introducing the concept of “fatwa diplomacy” and focusing on the tenure of Zekeriyyazade Yahya Efendi (d. 1644). Anyone of any confession, irrespective of subjecthood, could request a fatwa (Ott. fetva), a non-binding legal opinion from the şeyhülislam. From the late sixteenth century, this openness to all-comers led to the representatives of foreign powers cultivating close ties with the şeyhülislam, petitioning him for fatwas that would support their diplomatic goals and sometimes negotiating with him directly for his personal intercession on important matters. Such was the case in 1624-6, when Venetian representatives obtained fatwas and personal letters from Zekeriyyazade Yahya Efendi supporting their demands that Venetian captives taken near Corfu by a coalition of pirates from Tunis and Nova be returned in accordance with Ottoman-Venetian peace treaties. The Ottoman government also engaged in fatwa diplomacy, as in 1628, when it acquired and dispatched fatwas to de facto independent Algiers and Tunis to try to end a war between them. With connections spanning the Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean, the role of the şeyhülislam as a semi-independent locus for interconfessional and transimperial negotiation and diplomacy demands investigation. This paper discusses how fatwa diplomacy worked in practice and how the legitimacy and Islamic bona fides of the şeyhülislam were harnessed to give Islamic legal sanction to pragmatic political and diplomatic decisions.