Empires of Obligation: Law, Money, and Debt Between England and the Ottoman Empire, 1670-1720

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mikhail, Alan


This dissertation examines the relationship between interstate private credit and domestic public finance in early modern England and the Ottoman Empire. During the 1690s, both the English and Ottoman states developed new institutions for longer-term borrowing and reformed their imperial monetary systems. These synchronized but divergent financial developments present a puzzle that has not been answered by rigidly separate English and Ottoman historiographies. Empires of Obligation follows merchants between England and the Ottoman Empire to understand how both states responded differently to the challenges of global trade and fiscal crisis due to alternative arrangements of debt, power, and empire. As merchants traded between England and the Ottoman Empire, they created a web of obligations that became increasingly intertwined with state institutions. During a fiscal-military crisis in both states, Levant Company merchants in London invested disproportionately in the Bank of England to avoid the risks of wartime trade. In the Ottoman Empire, English merchants were incorporated as fiscal agents into longer-term structures of public debt organized through reciprocal bonds. At the same time, merchants’ interstate shipments of coins and their arbitrage activities challenged each state’s domestic control over money. In England, merchant bureaucrats subordinated a domestic understanding of money to interstate monetary logics culminating in the Great Recoinage of English coins in 1696. Meanwhile England’s Atlantic empire subsisted off foreign coins pegged to their “intrinsic value.” In the English Empire, there was no imperial monetary standard. One year later, the Ottoman state announced a monetary reform intended to oust foreign coins from the empire and replace them with imperial currency. This monetary policy changed as it intersected with new circumstances but succeeded in establishing the Ottoman kuruş as the leading unit of account and means of exchange across the vast eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Employing sources produced at various levels across both empires, Empires of Obligation traces the responses of two states to shared problems and exposes different imperial visions and power structures expressed through monetary hierarchies. Empires of Obligation’s trans-imperial perspective challenges internal descriptions of competitive early modern state formation by uncovering the role of inter-imperial merchants and global monetary flows in both empires’ fiscal operations. Instead of confirming domestic descriptions of the English Financial Revolution, Empires of Obligation shows how hallmarks of English finance were shaped by the increasingly global activities of English merchants. The Ottoman state’s assertive response to fiscal crisis and global monetary flows also deviates from the established view of the Ottoman eighteenth century as a period of decentralized governance presided over by a weak state. Empires of Obligation’s examination of early modern finance across two states in an era of fiscal crisis reveals different institutions of public debt, structures of trade, and models of empire emerging through interstate interactions.

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