By the seventeenth century, the Spanish court had developed a well-established practice of gift-giving to foreign representatives. The richness and variety of such gifts pretended to foster the hegemonic and prestigious image of the Catholic king. However, those agents not pertaining to the medieval framework of Christendom posed several challenges: how to compare and commensurate their rank and dignity with European examples? How to adapt (and to what extent) the local system to quite different tastes and cultural backgrounds?
A crucial asset for cross-cultural communication during the early modern period, diplomatic gifts have been traditionally associated with courtly diplomacy and peaceful encounters. However, recent scholarship on this topic has emphasized how gifts can reveal bitter political rivalries and asymmetries of power. Building on this line of inquiry, this article explores the complex roles of gifts in the dynamics of cross-cultural violence on the frontiers of the Iberian empires in Southeast Asia. Through the examination of a wide array of sources, I aim to show how gift-giving turned into one of the multiple factors fueling the violent conflict between Moluccan sultans and Iberian authorities in the region between 1575 and 1606.
This article examines the role of gift exchanges in political relations between the East India Company and the Mughal imperial administration. Focusing on the period 1670–1720, it discusses the items selected for presentation, the occasions at which they changed hands, and the hierarchical relationships expressed and acknowledged through these transactions. It argues that in exchanges both with the central court and with provincial authorities, transfers of valuables in cash and kind between English and Indian actors were embedded in a wider imperial discourse regarding sovereignty and service. By acknowledging the continuum running from courtly engagements to everyday political interactions at local sites of power, a notion of Company diplomacy comes into view that straddled the boundaries between inter-polity relations and intra-imperial solicitation. As such, the case study invites us to rethink our notion of diplomacy as it pertained to relations between the English Company and Mughal state.
Gifts and tribute have become a mainstay of scholarship on early modern diplomacy, particularly in studies of intercultural contacts. While New Diplomatic History has shown that a much wider and more global range of actors participated in shaping diplomatic contacts than was traditionally assumed, we still remain some distance removed from a truly global account of the interactive development of diplomatic norms and practices. This introduction situates the contributions in the special issue on “Gifts and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: Afro-Eurasian Perspectives” within a survey of recent literature. It suggests that future scholarship on early modern diplomacy ought to focus on the ways in which global entanglements affected the structures, norms, and practices of inter-polity relations on a global scale. To achieve such an integrated account, future research will need to draw on an expanded range of voices, languages, concepts, and sources, as well as more concerted scholarly collaborations.