Consular authorities in the wider area of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, 1600-1830

George Koutzakiotis

The roots of the consular institution can be traced far back into Antiquity, and can be found among the Greek city-states. This institution, however, will re-emerge in History much later, during the 12th century, with a multitude of variations and names[1]. Its reappearance can be ascribed to the expansion of trade by the western European maritime cities – mainly the Italian – to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, after being given a number of privileges by the Byzantine emperors. Throughout the 17th century, the institution begins to shape its characteristics as we know them today, and develops within the same geographical area thanks to the Capitulations, which the western European states gradually obtained from the Ottoman sultans. In the Aegean Sea, in particular, the densest consular networks were formed after the mid-17th century, making this area a prime field of study concerning the development of this particular institution globally.

The installation of consular authorities created the circumstances for safe trade activity by foreign nationals, and, as an effect, for the establishment of foreign communities of merchants. Consular authorities offered assistance to their fellow nationals who passed through their area of jurisdiction, overlooked merchant colonies (Nations, Nazioni) by their established compatriots, and protected their interests before the local authorities. They also informed the central authorities of their country on economic and political issues in the area of their jurisdiction, and, mainly, on the conditions of trading: qualities, quantities, prices, taxation and product demand, political turmoil and wars, corsairing and piracy, epidemics and natural disasters. Moreover, they informed their supervisors on the existence of antiquities and old manuscripts, and undertook their purchase and transport, thus contributing decisively in the enrichment of archeological collections and libraries in Western Europe. Through these activities, the consular institution became the main mechanism for the development of international economic relations and the cultural osmosis in Europe and the Mediterranean.


The database titled “Consular authorities in the wider area of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, 1600-1830” forms part of the research of the Project “Diplomatic and Consular Networks (17th-19th c.)”, which is implemented in the IHR/ NHRF since 2011. The database goals are:

I. To depict for the first time on a map the area and density of the consular networks that developed gradually in this geographical area from the beginning of the 17th century until 1830, the year when Greece was internationally recognized as independent, being the first nation-state of the area.

II. To collect and present the main bibliography on the older consular authorities which were founded in the same area representing mostly the interests of Venice, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Naples. The example of these states was followed after the middle of the 18th century by other states as well.


The data presented is based solely on published material. Specifically, for the collection of data, the following categories of published works were indexed:

· Detailed indexes of diplomatic and consular archives.

· Editions of diplomatic and consular sources.

· Studies on the history of consulates and trade in the area under study.

· Studies on general or local history, when their information on consular authorities is based on primary sources.

The bibliographical documentation offered contains the main published works. Thus, in cases where the studies published make good use of the material from diplomatic and consular archives and incorporate information from previous literature, it was considered needless to refer to the detailed indexes of the archives and previous studies in the bibliography.

When indexing the relative bibliography, it is easily understood that our knowledge concerning consular authorities in most areas is relatively small. Therefore, the first and last date mentioned do not always represent the incessant functioning of a consular authority during the time in between, especially when this interval extends to many decades. Relatively, it is not certain that the status of consular representation of one state in an area (general consulate, consulate, sub-consulate or consular agency) remains the same during the passing of decades. Actually, in some cases, the historiographical information match neither with the period of function nor with the status of the consular authority. In these cases, the data entered were those found to be the most reliable by the compiler of the database. Finally, when the chronological indications are not exact or when only one indication is accurate, this is always stated in the comments.


During this phase the database covers, as aforementioned, the earlier period until 1830, and includes only the first five states that installed consular authorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the future, the database will be extended to cover the period until 1912, the year of the outburst of the Balkan Wars, and include the states that installed consular authorities in the wider area of the Aegean and Ionian Seas after the mid-18th century. Furthermore, it is scheduled to systematically enter data from the rich unpublished archival material of the consular authorities, and the formation of a prosopographical database of consular authorities.

1 J. ULBERT, Introduction: La fonction consulaire à l'époque moderne: définition, état des connaissances et perspectives de recherche, στο: επιμ. J. ULBERT - G. LE BOUËDEC, La fonction consulaire à l'époque moderne. L'Affirmation d'une institution économique et politique (1500-1800), Rennes 2006,11-16.