While Spanish traders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were mining the riches of the New World, the Portuguese continued to reap the lucrative Asian trade in spices and luxury items.
Historians have long considered the Portuguese trade the exclusive enterprise of the kings of Portugal and a few privileged aristocrats, with only minimal participation by private merchants. But in fact, argues James C. Boyajian, actual capital investments by private Portuguese merchants were roughly ten times those of the Portuguese crown - and even exceed those of the far larger Dutch East India Company. In Portuguese Trade in Asia under the Habsburgs, Boyajian reassesses the consequences of Portugal's flourishing private trade with Asia, including increased tensions between the growing urban merchant class and the still-dominant landed aristocracy. He also shows how Portuguese-Asian trade formed part of a global trading network that linked not only Europe and Asia but also - for the first time - Asia, West Africa, Brazil, and Spanish America. And he argues that, contrary to previous scholarly opinion, nearly half of the Portuguese-Asian trade was controlled by New Christians - descendants of Iberian Jews forcibly converted to Christianity in the 1490s. Ironically, Boyajian concludes, the vast wealth that flowed into Portugal between 1580 and 1640 did little to enrich the country. Landed aristocrats who controlled the church, the Inquisition, and the royal administration used their position to deny merchants the social standing that would encourage productive investments in Portugal. And by the seventeenth century, the Portuguese-Asian trade itself was doomed - the result, Boyajian argues, not of the much-heralded Dutch economic successes but of Dutch naval blockades that effectively severed Portugal's trading lifeline with Asia.
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1993
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