In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fiscality

  • Introduction
  • General Works on European State Formation and Fiscal Systems
  • Data Sources
  • Published Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • Spanish Atlantic
  • Portuguese Atlantic
  • British Atlantic
  • Dutch Atlantic
  • French Atlantic
  • Slavery
  • Atlantic Revolutions

Atlantic History Fiscality
Filipa Ribeiro da Silva
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0177


The early modern Atlantic world was a space of circulation and exchange for people, ideas, and commodities. European states and state-sponsored chartered companies involved in the formation of the Atlantic empires tried to impose monopolies over the commerce in this vast region and to create several European “clusters,” the so-called English, French, Dutch, and Iberian Atlantics. The process of state-driven expansion into the Atlantic was closely linked to the process of early modern state formation. Its success depended heavily on the states’ ability to claim and impose their sovereignty over this new Atlantic world and to find new forms of revenue to finance partially the Atlantic enterprise. Taxation both direct and indirect was an important source of revenue for European states, not only to finance the bureaucratic apparatus and war in Europe but also to support the costs of building and maintaining colonies in the Atlantic while waging war at other European states with ambitions overseas. Fiscality is therefore an important component in the study of the early modern Atlantic world. Although the field of Atlantic history has been among the most productive areas of research since the early 1990s, and most of its scholarship has focused on circulation of people and products, terms such as taxation, fiscal systems, and customs agencies, are hard to find. Our knowledge and understanding of early modern European fiscal organization and practices in the Atlantic setting are therefore limited. There is, however, a body of literature (often published outside the realm of Atlantic history) that sheds some light on these subjects. This bibliography provides a brief survey of this scholarship.

General Works on European State Formation and Fiscal Systems

Roughly a century ago, the study of fiscal institutions in the European colonies appears to have been relatively popular among economic historians, political scientists, and social scientists, judging by the number of articles published by the American Economic Association and the Academy of Political Science on the English, Danish, French, and German colonial fiscal systems. Focusing on the 19th century, these articles provide detailed information on the fiscal and financial organization of the European colonies at the time, the customs system, direct and indirect forms of taxation, taxes on imports and exports, ship dues, and harbor and pilot charges. Most of these studies also focus on forms of tax collection and tax farming, their main concern being the relationship between tax revenue, state expenditure, and state deficit. In the course of the 20th century, the study of fiscal institutions in the colonial settings appears, however, to have fallen out of fashion. In recent years, European fiscality at home and overseas has reemerged as an important research topic but mainly among economic and institutional historians interested in the study of European state formation, bureaucratization, and finances during the Early Modern period. Although this scholarship often does not provide direct information on fiscality in the Atlantic, it does give the reader an overview of the rise of the fiscal and military state in Europe and explores the implications of these developments in the broad early modern world. Bonney 1999; Bonney 1995; and Ormrod, et al. 1999 are among the key readings that contextualize the rise of the fiscal states in Europe. Other important contributions for the study of the formation of European states fiscal systems and their transfer and economic impact overseas are Tracy 1990; Tracy 1991; Bordo and Cortés-Conde 2001; and Blockmans, et al. 1996. More recently, the International Institute of Economic History’s Francesco Datini has organized a study week dedicated to “Fiscal Systems in the European Economy from the 13th to the 18th Centuries.” The proceedings (Cavaciocchi 2008) offer readers a glimpse of the most recent scholarship produced on three main topics: comparative evolution of fiscal systems, fiscal policies, and effects of taxation on the economy.

  • Blockmans, Willem Pieter, Jorge Borges de Macedo, and Jean-Phillippe Genêt, eds. The Heritage of the Pre-industrial European State: The Origins of the Modern State in Europe, 13th to 18th Century. Lisbon, Portugal: Arquivos Nacional/Torre do Tombo, 1996.

    This collection of essays provides an overview of the organizational models transferred by Early Modern European states to their overseas empires in a comparative perspective. In the different chapters dedicated to individual states, readers will find information on the home fiscal structures as well as on their transfer and adjustment to the overseas settings.

  • Bonney, Richard J., ed. Economic Systems and State Finance. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

    This collective volume provides a comparative analysis of the development of state finance and fiscal systems in Europe between the 13th and early 19th centuries. The thematic chapter on the burden of fiscal systems might be of special interest for those looking at the rise and organization of fiscality in the Atlantic.

  • Bonney, Richard J., ed. The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe, c. 1200–1815. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198204022.001.0001

    This collection of essays offers an overview on the emergence of the fiscal systems in Europe, highlighting differences, similarities, and commonalities in terms of fiscal structure and processes leading to state formation. England, France, Spain, the Northern Netherlands, the Low Countries, the Swiss confederation, the Papacy, Venice, the Italian city-states, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania are the main case studies analyzed.

  • Bordo, Michael D., and Roberto Cortés-Conde, eds. Transferring Wealth and Power from the Old to the New World: Monetary and Fiscal Institutions in the 17th through the 19th Centuries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    This edited volume offers several articles by renowned scholars in the field of finances and fiscality examining the transfer of fiscal and financial institutions from several European states, including England, the Netherlands, Spain, and France to various colonies in the Americas, such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and New Granada.

  • Cavaciocchi, Simonetta, ed. Fiscal Systems in the European Economy from the 13th to the 18th Centuries. 2 vols. Florence: Firenze University Press, 2008.

    These volumes offer multiple articles on the evolution of European fiscal systems, fiscal policies, and the effects of taxation on the economy. Most of the studies focus on Europe, namely on the Swedish, Polish, German, Dutch, Flemish, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian cases. Some articles also explore fiscality in the Islamic world and the European empires.

  • Ormrod, W. M., Margaret Bonney, and Richard J. Bonney, eds. Crises, Revolutions and Self-Sustained Growth: Essays in European Fiscal History, 1130–1830. Stamford, UK: Shaun Tyas, 1999.

    This collection of essays gives readers a comparative survey of changes implemented to fiscal and financial systems of various European states in periods of crises and the turmoil. For scholars studying fiscality in the Atlantic world, a valuable contribution is the introduction by Ormrod, Bonney, and Bonney in which the authors formulate a new theoretical framework for the analysis of change in fiscal systems.

  • Tracy, James D., ed. The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long-Distance Trade in the Early Modern World, 1350–1750. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511563089

    This edited book focuses on European intercontinental trade in general. However, several essays on Iberian, Dutch, French, and English trade pay attention to the Atlantic and provide information on direct and indirect taxation imposed by states on certain commodities or upon circulation within specific monopoly areas.

  • Tracy, James D., ed. The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350–1750. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511665288

    This collective volume on the relationship between states and their commercial empires contains several articles concerning state intervention in the Atlantic through fiscal policies and practices. Although information is scattered throughout the volume in different chapters, the text can be very helpful for providing a first idea of European states’ policies and priorities for their maritime empires in matters of fiscal and financial ethos and praxis.

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