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In the eighteenth century a large scale emigration of the most enterprising strata of mainly mercantile Greeks from their homelands in Asia Minor, Greece and the Balkans' area, then under Ottoman rule, resulted in the creation of Greek merchant communities in the most important commercial and financial centers of the Mediterranean and Western Europe.
This Greek diaspora came into being through the political, economic, and social circumstances of the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth century onwards. The gradual enfeeblement of that Empire vis-a-vis its Western allies resulted in a series of diplomatic and military defeats; problems of internal administration and economic performance, deriving, among other things, from the exigencies of Muslim law, allowed the creation of non-Muslim spheres of economic power and political influence. Jews, Armenians and Greeks -- none of them bound by the restrictions of Muslim law on speculation -- came to monopolize the Empire's commercial and financial transactions, and take advantage of an unstable commodity market and constant devaluations of currency. In the course of their activities, they became involved with the international commercial networks that were operating in the Levant, and established close business relations with representatives of the European commercial interests there.
The accumulation of capital, expertise and foreign protection as well as connections within the Ottoman administration, allowed the Greek merchants to play an important role in the Ottoman economy. By the eighteenth century, a rich and industrious Greek middle class of entrepreneurs was operating prominently in all the commercial centers of the Ottoman Empire. To better realize their ambitions some of them emigrated and, once settled abroad, embarked on new international careers. The knowledge of local markets within the Empire and their business connections enabled the Greek merchants to become international leaders in the Levantine trade. From the eighteenth century onwards, Greek enterprises specializing in commerce and trade established business connections with similar enterprises elsewhere, and opened branch offices in the Balkans, the Levant, the Black sea area, and western Europe. There were Greek merchant communities in commercial and financial centers all around the world.
Towards the second half of the nineteenth century; the international economy that had bred the Greek diaspora entered a phase of quick and radical transformation. The industrial revolution rode roughshod over the traditional ways in which the Greek trading firms were conducting business. Those who failed to catch up with the change were gradually forced out of the market. In order to survive, Greek merchants had to become more efficient, adapt, modernize and diversify, and perhaps orient their business towards banking or shipping. In its new role the Greek diaspora remained in existence until the late nineteenth century.
It was during that period of transformation that many of those living abroad moved back to Greece, where in 1833 independence had crowned a long and painful uprising against the Turks. Back in their homeland, the Greek merchant-entrepreneurs became an organic part of the new Greek society now being formed after four hundred years of foreign occupation. Furnished with the experience they had gathered abroad, they invested their capital in Greece mainly in the sectors of banking and finance. Those Greeks that chose to remain abroad were gradually assimilated into their host countries.
The Greeks of Livorno and the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity (1760-1900)
Livorno was one of the principal hubs of Greek trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A duty-free port since the sixteenth century with an important international market economy and facilities for longer-term storage of levantine goods and grains, until the late nineteenth century Livorno enjoyed a strong strategic position with respect to Greek entrepreneurial interests in the Black sea, the Mediterranean, and the North Atlantic. From the late eighteenth century onwards, more and more merchants, manufacturers, and shop-keepers from Greece and Asia Minor came to join the previously fairly insignificant Greek community of Livorno, expanding their activities. Between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the number of Greek commercial houses in Livorno, increased significantly. Prominent Greek merchant families; established themselves in the cosmopolitan Tyrrhennian port, and formed the nucleus of a Greek presence that soon acquired the same status and privileges that, ever since the sixteenth century, had been granted by the Tuscan rulers to other important foreign merchant communities. As the city was undergoing political, economic and social transformation, the Greeks maintained their role as an important element of Livorno's life and economy.(1)
The analysis of the multifaceted dynamic of interrelations and practices of the members of the Greek Orthodox community in Livorno -- their international business, their family and social life -- brought to light a factor that imposed an identity on the members of the Greek community, reflecting its religious, cultural, political and socio-economic concerns. This identity was, on the one hand, a sentiment of affiliation towards values that were determined by religious, geographico-territorial, psychological, historical, and cultural variables: the Orthodox faith and practices, geographical origin, the memory of a common past, Hellenic culture and language. On the other hand, it was an identity of which the expression and the function were determined by the historical context, and operated by means of a number of variables impinging on the shared socio-economic origins and evolution of the Greek merchants, a foreign Catholic society that hosted them, the practices of international commerce they operated prominently, political and economic contingencies, strategies of social ascendancy and integration.
However, this was not a one-way relation. As it was gradually shaped by adoptive practices, the Livornese Greeks' perception of identity also influenced their integration into Livornese society, their business practices and their communal life. In other words, it had a major role in the organization and structure of the community's administration; it inspired loyalties and solidarities that bound together the members of the Greek community; it determined the organization of their international business; and it influenced their marriage choices, kinship relations and their everyday sociability.(2)
A potent symbol of this identity, and a major factor in shaping and preserving the cohesion of the Greek community was the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood founded in Livorno in 1775. The initial purpose of the Confraternita della SS.Trinita -- officially …