• Banking and Finance in Historical Perspective
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36. Jahrgang | Jahr 2010 | Heft 2


Miszelle: Seite 151–165

Claudio Marsilio
"Four times a year for so many years"
The Italian Exchange Fairs during the XVIth–XVIIth Centuries
The Genoese fairs inherited the features of a time-honoured institution which improved itself through the subsequent stages of Geneva, Lyon Piacenza and finally Novi. This economic and financial institution reached its zenith between the end of the XVIth Century and the beginning of the XVIIth Century; starting from 1580 almost all European International transactions were settled right in Piacenza fairs of exchange every three months. During the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries the Genoese bankers offered many financial services all around Europe at such high levels that not many competitors were able to contrast them. This paper aims to show that their success was due to their preminent role in financing the Spanish Monarchy from the first loans of the XVIth Century – the asiento – to, at least, the last years of the XVIIth Century. At 'Bisenzone', Genoese bankers raised money for these loans from a variety of sources reducing the risks of lending and funded the king's long-term obligations via short term loans. The prime mover of the Genoese exchange fairs was – more than International commerce – the huge volume of transactions generated by the Spanish Crown's public debt and the financial speculations of the most influential European financial operators (Genoese and Florentine above all). Piacenza and later on Novi became the main operating market where an increasing number of operators coming from all the European trading markets were gathered together and where the volume of transactions multiplied. In 1621, the Genoese bankers decided in a high-ended manner to transfer the seat of the fair to Novi, on the territory of their independent Republic, producing a long lasting rupture in the Italian bankers' network. The exchange fairs of Novi created an efficient financial network under Genoese control and permitted arbitrage among the other northern Italian financial markets (Piacenza, Verona, Bolzano). Undoubtedly Genoese fairs' network resulted an excellent mechanism to process and manage the financial information and an efficient system to transfer precious metals to different creditors all over Europe.

In its early times the fair, whose medieval origins are certain, gave rise to a very large circuit where goods were exchanged and several events of international significance – such as the fair of Champagne – were held. These exhibitions acquired their modern features only after the seat of the fair was transferred to Lyon in the XVIth Century; here they became progressively specialized until trade in goods and money neatly separated into fairs of goods, such as the well-known ones of Champagne, and exchange fairs (trading exclusively credit instruments).