Jews and New Christians in the Making of the Atlantic World in the 16th–17th Centuries

A Survey


Amsterdam Jews appeared up to the mid-17th century as Braudelian “great Jewish merchants.” However, the New Christians, heretic judaizantes in the eyes of the Inquisition, dispersed around the world group sui generis, were equally crucial. Their religious identities were fluid, but at the same time they and the “new Jews” from Amsterdam formed a part of economic modernity epitomized by the rebellious Netherlands and the developing Atlantic economy. At the height of their influence they played a pivotal, albeit controversial, role in the rising slave trade. The disappearance of New Christians in Latin America had to be contextualised with inquisitorial persecutions and growing competition in mind.

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Henryk Szlajfer is Professor Emeritus at the Polish Academy of Sciences and Warsaw University. He has published on Latin American economic history, including Economic Nationalism and Globalization: Lessons from Latin America and Central Europe (Brill, 2012). He also co-edited Western Europe, Eastern Europe and World Development 13th–18th Centuries: Collection of Essays of Marian Małowist (Brill, 2010).


List of Maps

1Terminology as Differentiation

2‘The Portuguese’

3Sombart’s Fantasies: Jews, the Netherlands, and the Colonisation of the New World

4More about the New Christians

5The Iberian Atlantic: an Overview

6Back to Long-Distance Trade: Networks

7Brazilian Sugar and the New Christians: Networks and Production

8Brazilian Sugar and the New Christians: Trade

9The First Slaves: Context

10Portuguese asientos, Time of the New Christians

11In Spanish America: from Buenos Aires to the Stake

Conclusion: Tempo dos Flamengos – the Amsterdam Jews in the Nieuw-Holland



All those interested in the role that New Christians and Jews played in fostering the network-based Atlantic economy until the mid-17th century. The thorny issue of their involvement in the slave trade is critically examined. The disappearance of New Christians is contextualised with inquisitorial persecutions in mind.
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