File:S Pulzone Fernando I de Medicis Uffizi 1590.jpg
Scipione Pulzone (1550–1598), Portrait of Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici (1550–1598), who as Grand Duke of Tuscany issued the „Livornine“ charters in 1591 and 1593. Oil on canvas, 1590.

von Christophe Schellekens


1 Tuscany and the Sephardic diaspora (constellations)
2 Privilege, discrimination and boundaries in a new city (differences)
3 The ambiguous relation between tolerance and commerce (significance)
4 Weiterführende Literatur
5 Zitierempfehlung

Tuscany and the Sephardic diaspora (constellations)

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Livorno was a small village on the coast of Tuscany. In 1421, the republic of Florence had bought the village from regional rival Genoa. However, it only began to develop into a significant trading centre under the first grand dukes of Tuscany over a century later. From 1532 onward, the Medici family family held the newly created title of duke, and subsequently grand duke, of Tuscany, thereby bringing to an end the republican regime that they had dominated over the preceding century. These political developments were accompanied by economic changes. Florentine merchants had maintained a strong presence in the commercial centres of Europe during the late middle ages, but during the sixteenth century their dominance declined.

The new Medici dukes introduced a number of measures to counteract this trend. Among these were the „Livornine“ charters. Issued in 1591 and 1593, these two charters bestowed privileges on foreign merchants who settled in Livorno. The charters were primarily intended to attract Sephardic Jewish merchants. In the late-fifteenth century , decrees expelling Jews from Spain and Portugal had forced members of the Jewish communities in these kingdoms to either convert to Christianity or leave the Iberian Peninsula. Those who converted under duress became known as „New Christians“. In the century following the expulsion, Sephardic Jews settled in various cities throughout the Mediterranean region and in ports in Western Europe. From the late-sixteenth century onward, Livorno made deliberate efforts to attract Sephardic Jews.

Privilege, discrimination and boundaries in a new city (differences)

The „Livornine“ charters and other subsequent measures to attract foreign merchants to Livorno offered numerous benefits to these groups. However, they did not prevent the emergence of various forms of discrimination and segregation in early modern Livorno. The charters offered privileges that were not available to Jews or other minorities in the other Italian commercial centres. The tax exemptions for Sephardic Jews and the general regime of low taxes for foreign merchants that they offered were an important incentive. Venice and Genoa, the older maritime commercial centres on the Italian peninsula, protected the dominant position of their own citizens by having tax regimes that were unfavourable to foreigners, but Livorno adopted the opposite course to attract merchants.

The right to own immovable property and not to be restricted to a ghetto was another unique privilege granted to the Jewish community in the Tuscan port. Venice also became home to a significant Sephardic Jewish community that included merchants, but they could only live in the city’s ghetto. Another benefit granted to the Sephardic Jews in Livorno was the option of gaining citizenship of the grand duchy of Tuscany if they were permanently resident in the city.

Perhaps the greatest privilege granted to the Jewish community were the extensive rights of self-administration and self-governance that the grand duchy extended to the community’s institutions and leaders. Whereas in Jewish communities elsewhere rabbis only had informal authority to monitor and discipline their communities, in Livorno the Tuscan authorities had officially granted them much more extensive powers. Civil disputes between Jews and minor criminal cases were adjudicated by the Jewish community leaders. Additionally, by giving the community leaders the power to decide who could become a member of the Livorno community, the grand duke gave them the power to confer Tuscan citizenship on newcomers.

In addition to Jews, Protestant merchants from the Dutch Republic and from the British Isles were also allowed to settle in Livorno without fear of prosecution for not conforming to the Catholic religion. Furthermore, all these rights were granted to Sephardic Jews on the condition that they would not convert to Christianity while privately practising as Jews. Unlike in Spain or the Southwest of France, pseudo-conversions to Christianity were discouraged in Livorno.

In spite of these rights, which were fairly unique for a Jewish community in early modern Europe, the Jews, Christians of various denominations, and Muslim slaves that made up the population of Livorno did not live together on the basis of equality. Marriage and any form of sexual contact between Jews and Christians was not just taboo, it was forbidden by law. Wealthy Jews were not allowed to employ Christian wet nurses. Children of Jewish families were not allowed to attend Christian schools. And as in cities throughout Europe, Jews were excluded from craft guilds. There is no evidence of Sephardic merchants entering commercial partnerships with local Tuscan merchants. Additionally, the extensive powers that the grand duchy had granted to the institutions and the leadership of the Jewish community meant that the Jews of Livorno were tightly bound to the regulations and boundaries of that community.

The ambiguous relation between tolerance and commerce (significance)

The situation in Livorno in the seventeenth and eighteenth century illuminates the relationship between privilege, tolerance, and the role of commerce. The combination of privilege and discrimination described above has been referred to as „communitarian cosmopolitanism“. In view of the daily co-existence of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants in Livorno, the city can be considered a cosmopolitan centre in early modern Europe. However, that cosmopolitanism was also confined within the boundaries of strong community organisations. This framework highlights the ambiguous relationship between commerce and religious tolerance. The case of the Sephardic Jews of Livorno shows that minorities were in some cases granted privileges and less restrictive living conditions based on the perceived commercial benefits they offered. But it also demonstrates that these improved conditions did not necessarily result in the erosion of boundaries between religious communities over time.

weiterführende Literatur

Lucia Frattarelli-Fisher, Livorno Citta Nuova: 1574–1609, in: Societa e Storia 12 (1989), pp. 873–893.

Stephanie Nadalo, Negotiating Slavery in a Tolerant Frontier: Livorno’s Turkish Bagno (1547–1747), in: Mediaevalia 32 (2011), pp. 275–324.

Corey Tazzara, The Free Port of Livorno and the Transformation of the Mediterranean World, Oxford 2017.

Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period, New Haven, CT, 2009.

Francesca Trivellato, The Port Jews of Livorno and Their Global Networks of Trade in the Early Modern Period, in: Jewish Culture and History 7 (2004), pp. 31–48.


Christophe Schellekens, Livorno, in: Ortstermine. Umgang mit Differenz in Europa, hg. für das Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG) v. Joachim Berger, Irene Dingel und Johannes Paulmann, Mainz 2019. URL:, URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-2019081525.

Dieser Text ist lizensiert unter : CC by-nc-nd 4.0 international – Namensnennung, keine kommerzielle Nutzung, keine Bearbeitung.


Wikimedia Commons, Source/Photographer: