Commercial Cosmopolitanism? The case of the firm De Bruijn & Cloots (Lisbon) in the eighteenth century

Càtia Antunes, Susana Münch Miranda, and

Joao Paulo Salvado


The Portuguese maritime expansion and consequent empire building is often perceived as the first moment in Early Modern globalization. One would intuitively expect Portugal and its empire then to continue at least actively participating in the globalization wave of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, albeit not necessarily at the forefront.1 When looking at the outreach, outputs and geographical extent of the Portuguese empire, it can certainly be said to have been a global phenomenon, with that ‘globality’ also being reflected in the international participants involved in exploiting the empire and in redistributing products and rents across differentiated economic and social systems.

It is only, however, when zooming in on the business behaviour of foreign firms operating in Lisbon that we are forced to account for the déviances, asymmetries and resistances that came about with these firms’ participation in the exploitation of Portuguese colonial business.2 Although these firms were certainly participating in a globalized system of exchanges, the commercial system (as in the set of rules, including, but not exclusively, the state institutions and the Portuguese merchant community itself) in which they operated was far from global. On the contrary, as a commercial market place and while embodying the extreme trends of eighteenth-century globalization, Lisbon remained a localized system that resisted change.

This chapter uses eighteenth-century sources for Northern European merchant firms (mostly Dutch) established in Lisbon as a stepping stone for analysing how their mercantile knowledge and ways of conducting business adapted to the workings of the Lisbon market. It is in their capacity to adapt to and find solutions for challenges arising from operating in a system with a specific, albeit radically different, socio-economic logic from that of their place of origin that we will problematize and analyze the cosmopolitan nature of these firms and the cosmopolitan solutions they devised.

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