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The Maritime Merchants of Surat: A Long-term Perspective

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In the literature on the early-modern Asian commercial world, the lack of historical longevity of mercantile wealth has been accepted as a major attribute. This paper establishes that some merchant families of Surat did experience longevity and family fortunes were kept up for five or six generations. It analyzes the institutional dimensions of trade and examines the ways in which these merchants articulated commercial strategies to ensure a long span of their family businesses. The paper demonstrates that fortunes were built and sustained primarily through trade and that the association with the European Companies was an important but additional means of achieving commercial affluence. La littérature scientifique traitant du monde commercial asiatique dans la période moderne paraît unanime à constater l'absence de longévité de la richesse fondée sur la pratique du commerce. Or, l'analyse du parcours de quelques familles de négociants de Surat durant cette période témoigne que des fortunes familiales furent conservées sur cinq ou six générations. Les dimensions institutionnelles de ces activités, mais également les stratégies commerciales utilisées par ces familles pour maintenir leur statut, sont examinées. Ces fortunes étaient édifiées et soutenues en premier par la pratique du commerce, l'association avec des compagnies européennes, certes importante, n'étant qu'un moyen complémentaire pour assurer leur prospérité.

Affiliations: 1: History Department, Leiden University


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