Forms of Commercial Representation in the Venetian Trade in the 15th Century
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Forms of Commercial Representation in the Venetian Trade in the 15th Century
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Maria Ryabova 
Affiliation: Lomonosov Moscow State University
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
The article examines the form of business organization that was prevalent in the Venetian Republic in the Late Middle ages and was based on the use of operators often referred to in the English-language studies as the “commission agents” or simply “agents”. It gained popularity as a result of the so-called “Commercial Revolution of the Thirteenth century”, which gave rise to a new type of businessman – the resident or sedentary merchant, who did not travel with his wares, but managed his affairs remotely through a wide network of intermediaries and representatives. The author aims at clarifying the legal nature of the relationship existing between Venetian merchants and the persons authorized to act on their behalf in foreign markets and poses the question of whether it should be described as a contract of agency, i.e. direct representation, or a commission contract, that is a form of indirect representation. In search of answers M. Ryabova turns to the analysis of the business transactions conducted through representatives and recorded in the larger of the two remaining ledgers of the Soranzo fraterna – the account book commonly referred to as the libro real nuovo (1406–1434). Another historical source used is the relatively little-studied notebook containing the accounts of Lorenzo Priuli, who traded on behalf of the Soranzo merchants in Syria between 1409 and 1413; this small manuscript is considered to be the only known surviving example of an accounting report submitted by a so-called “agent” to his “principals”. Particular attention is paid to the voyage (viazo) accounts that were opened in the libro real nuovo in order to register shipments made to the commercial representatives of the firm. The author divides these accounts into two subtypes denoted by the letters “A” and “B” and differing mainly in the nature of their credit entries; she then proceeds to draw up charts depicting two respective cycles of accounts used to record the overseas ventures that were entrusted to the “agents”. The first one (“cycle A”) did not involve personal account of the commercial representative; thus, the contractual relationship was established directly between the Soranzo brothers and their foreign partners, just like it would have been under an agency agreement. In the cycle B, a deal arranged by an “agent” required two separate legal transactions, one of which was concluded between the firm and its commercial representative, and the other – between the latter and the third party; such scheme is, undoubtedly, indicative of indirect representation. The author arrives at the conclusion that in Venice in the first half of the 15th century, there was a marked tendency for direct representation to be legalized, and that the business relationship between merchants and their representatives did in certain cases fit the definition of the agency contract.
Venetian Republic, Late Middle Ages, Venetian archive, forms of business organization, contract of agency, agent, commission agent, the Soranzo fraterna, accounting, account books
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