Forced mobility before the sovereign state. Convict flows, composite polities and the business of galley warfare in the Mediterranean (1528-1715)

Postdoctoral project supervised by Andrea Caracausi (Jan 2020-Dec 2021)

Benoît Maréchaux

The project explores the emergence of forced convict mobility in the early modern Mediterranean. It analyzes the flows of prisoners that Genoese galley contractors working for the Spanish empire brought from different areas (such as Lombardy, Catalonia, Lucca, Naples, or Lunigiana) by collaborating with a multiplicity of stakeholders (kingdoms, cities, bishops, feudal lords, the Inquisition, military tribunals, etc.). While the literature on the history of penal transportation has often analyzed the problem from a nation-state point of view and, more specifically, as a colonial phenomenon, this research explores how a constellation of non-state actors and polities organized the transnational flows of convicts in the Mediterranean through different types of agreements, contracts and markets. By developing a new database on prisoners transported to the Genoese galleys, it also aims to reveal the social and demographic impact of forced labor mobility.  By so doing, the project discusses how forced mobility shaped Spanish polycentric empire-building, the business interests of Italian merchant-bankers and shipowners, and dramatic changes in the lives of people forced to move and to commodify their labor power as oarsmen.