In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War and Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Atlantic History War and Trade
Silvia Marzagalli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0243


War, as organized and collective phenomenon sanctioned by a political ruler as opposed to private forms of violence, was an essential feature in the configuration of the Atlantic world in the Early Modern period. Ultimately, conflicting interests among states led to the emergence of the Atlantic as an international regulated space of interactions, which provided a favorable context to thriving transatlantic trades. Such trades were framed by imperial rules. Although transatlantic trade was never confined within hermetic imperial boundaries, warfare was a major factor of disruption of state-controlled trade flows. It also contributed to redefine the boundaries of sovereignty and thus of long-term trade relations. Conflicts represented a considerable risk for belligerents’ ships, as they were liable to seizure as enemy’s property. Consequently, a declaration of war stimulated belligerents’ predatory activities on shipping and trade. To avoid it, states organized naval protections, and merchants recurred to neutral carriers, an element that considerably increased the porous nature of empires. Whereas warfare impacted trade, the growing economic relevance of transatlantic trade flows, in turn, increased tensions between European powers. The colonial dimension affected the goals and the modalities of warfare. Belligerents increasingly aimed at securing their maritime access to resources and at protecting their commercial interests and maritime routes. Economic interests in the Atlantic world pushed toward a more efficient organization of navies and contributed to shape the military revolution, a concept historians use to link the technological military evolution with the rise of European states. The phenomenon marked not only the ways war was conducted on land and at sea but also the nature of relations between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Markets, economies, political institutions, and societies on the three continents boarding the Atlantic Ocean were affected by the struggles to access transatlantic markets and trades. This article conceives of the Atlantic as a route for circulations of goods between the continents bordering the ocean. Trade and warfare are examined in their mutual interrelations—strictly naval and military issues—and narratives of conflicts in which trade issues are not explicitly included are excluded. Similarly, there are excellent references on trade that are not mentioned because their authors did not place warfare as a major variable of analysis. Finally, this bibliography does not take into account studies on warfare in each of the countries or each of the continents around the Atlantic Ocean even if they might imply some considerations on their impact on the country’s economy and trade. The references have been grouped under three main headings—Navies, Merchants and Shipowners in Times of War, and Colonial Struggles—although the very nature of the phenomena implies constant interconnections.

General Overviews

Although war and trade are linked in many different ways, there are a surprisingly scant number of references specifically dealing with the two elements in Atlantic context. Findlay and O’Rourke 2007 and Coppolaro and McKenzie 2013 offer excellent introductions to the many facets of the complex relations between war, trade, and economies, but they cover a much broader space than the Atlantic and a much larger chronology than the centuries from Columbus to the independence of Latin America in which Atlantic history is generally framed. Marnot and Marzagalli 2006 focuses on the Atlantic economy and questions explicitly the relations between war and trade but without any attempt to cover the entire subject; Africa is, for instance, entirely absent from the case studies in this conference book. Recent handbooks on the Atlantic world such as Morgan and Greene 2009 and Canny and Morgan 2011, do not specifically address the relations between war and trade, although they provide useful chapters and elements on both issues. Black 2007 provides a valuable contribution on warfare that takes trade into account, whereas Davis 1973 offers an analysis of trade that includes warfare in the narrative. Finally, Hont 2005 analyzes the fundamental importance of trade in 18th-century interstate relations and conflict.

  • Black, Jeremy. European Warfare in a Global Context, 1660–1815. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Examines European warfare in a wider frame, including the Atlantic and Asia. The author includes maritime trade and naval operations in his analysis and assesses the importance of trade issues for belligerents.

  • Canny, Nicholas, and Philip Morgan, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World, c. 1450–c. 1820. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199210879.001.0001

    Although warfare and trade are discussed in two separate chapters, war and trade are ubiquitous in many of the chapters on the different Atlantic empires.

  • Coppolaro, Lucia, and Francine McKenzie, eds. Global History of Trade and Conflict since 1500. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137326836

    Beside the two remarkable chapters (out of nine) dealing specifically with the late Early Modern Atlantic world, the introduction and the global philosophy of this book are also helpful to conceive the relation of war and trade in a global context.

  • Davis, Ralph. The Rise of the Atlantic Economies. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973.

    A pioneer study on the growth of western Europe as a result of its connections to the Atlantic trades from the late 15th to the late 18th century, which integrates wars in the narrative.

  • Findlay, Ronald, and Kevin H. O’Rourke. Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. Princeton Economic History of the Western World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    A worldwide synthesis on trade over 1,000 years, conceptualizing the dependence of world trade on war and peace. Chapters 4 to 7 cover the Early Modern Atlantic world.

  • Hont, Istvan. Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

    A key work for understanding interstate rivalry and its economic consequences in 18th-century debates and thought, on the basis of contemporaries’ perceptions of the importance of trade.

  • Marnot, Bruno, and Silvia Marzagalli, eds. Guerre et économie dans l’espace atlantique du XVIe au XXe siècle. Pessac, France: Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2006.

    A collection of twenty-one conference papers dealing with different aspects of wartime trades and economic strategies and war impacts on ports and regions, mainly in the Early Modern period. Focus is mainly European.

  • Morgan, Philip D., and Jack P. Greene, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Excellent critical introduction to Atlantic history. Warfare and trade are explored among others in regard to fur trade with indigenous people and imperial struggles.

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