This project will analyse historical change in the Mediterranean over the long run. It challenges totalising narratives aiming to “europeanise” Mediterranean history as having led somewhat naturally to European domination in the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead of the one-sided view of institutional and territorial integration as a consequence of the mere diffusion of European institutional models and legal codifications linked to a supposed lex mercatoria rediviva or law merchant in force in all countries and at all times, the specific approach of this project consists in combining concrete local, regional and thematic approaches with a focus on trade as the most widely accepted interaction even in times of sharp conflict, and on commercial and maritime litigation as an indicator for the intensity and changing modes of intercultural exchange. In an actor-centred perspective, we will take into account a variety of individual and institutional actors involved in trade. Their interaction was based on a combination of shared customs, local usages and legal traditions. Addressing competing instances and drawing on different legal resources, they contributed to a reconfiguration of the legal and institutional landscape.
These issues will be investigated through the comparative analysis of commercial litigation and conciliation concerning trade in Mediterranean port cities, with a focus on disputes involving litigants who were not subjects of the local authorities, or whose legal status was linked to their religious identity. The encounters of Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, Protestant merchants and sailors with different legal customs and judicial practices appear as the social sites of legal and cultural creativity. Through the prism of commercial litigation, we will thus achieve a more precise and deeper understanding of the practices of intercultural trade, in a context profoundly shaped by legal pluralism and multiple and overlapping spaces of jurisdiction.
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