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  • Genoa and the Sea. Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559-1684
  • Niccolò Capponi
Thomas Allison Kirk . Genoa and the Sea. Policy and Power in an Early Modern Maritime Republic, 1559–1684. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. xv + 276 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. map. bibl. $49.95. ISBN: 0–8018–8083–1.

Of all the important early modern Italian states, Genoa is somewhat of a historiographical Cinderella. While other places — Venice and Florence in particular — have received a great deal of international scholarly attention, until recently historians from Genoa were practically the only ones to take any interest in the city's history. A number of factors have contributed to this, in particular Genoa's close links with Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Since the period of Spanish domination in Italy is still considered one of cultural decadence and economic stagnation — despite some recent attempts by people such as Gianvittorio Signorotto to change this negative picture — Genoese studies have suffered as a consequence. Thomas Allison Kirk has tried to redress this situation by stressing Genoa's economic and political vitality during the period in question. Moreover, professor Kirk's study sheds light on the city's vital role within the Mediterranean, and not as a Habsburg satellite.

Genoa and the Sea can be divided in two distinct parts. After the first introductory chapters, covering nearly a quarter of the book, dealing with Genoa's political, economic, and institutional history up to the second half of the sixteenth century, the remaining roughly 150 pages of the main text explore the city's maritime policy up to the 1680s. The picture that emerges is hardly one of stagnation, since Genoa for the whole of the seventeenth century managed to face with success the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Thanks to an extensive international trading network and its free port, the city was able to hold its own against more powerful states. Admittedly, Genoa failed in its endeavors to establish an oceangoing fleet, and equally unsuccessful were the Genoese's attempts to create a trading company in the manner of the Dutch and the English. Yet the same was true also for other Mediterranean states, Medicean Tuscany being a case in point. The Tuscans were more successful than the Genoese in the creation of a free port of Livorno, but Genoa nevertheless remained a dangerous and aggressive trade competitor: that Leopoldo de Medici, brother of the Grand Duke Ferdinand II, could speak of "those accursed Genoese" is a sufficient testimony to this. Moreover, Genoa prospered through adroit diplomacy, despite being militarily weak. The city nearly fell to a Savoyard-French army in 1625, and managed to survive the onslaught only thanks to the timely intervention of the Spanish. Yet Professor Kirk argues that the Genoese always managed to handle shrewdly their alliance with Spain, slowly detaching themselves from the Habsburgs' embrace once the latter's fortunes started to decline.

As important a contribution as it may be, Genoa and the Sea is not without faults. The author appears to have done some very thorough research, having examined documents in Genoese, Florentine, and Venetian repositories. Yet the Simancas archives are conspicuously absent, a puzzling deficiency considering Genoa's ties with Spain. Professor Kirk has also failed to use the abundant material [End Page 154] present in the Doria-Pamphilij archive in Rome, something that would have greatly enriched his work. Incidentally, a consistent number of documents from these repositories dealing with Genoese matters have been available since 2002, thanks to Rafael Vargas-Hidalgo's edition of the letters of Philip II of Spain to Andrea and Giovanni Andrea Doria. In addition, although Genoa and the Sea has a bibliography updated to 2003, the publications cited in the endnotes do not go beyond the mid-1990s. Absent are the works by, among others, C. Alvarez Nogal, L. Lo Basso, and M. Sirago. As a result, Professor Kirk's book appears somewhat dated from a historiographical point of view, although the author's original research to some extent helps to correct this situation. To be fair, considering how long it can sometimes take...


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