Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.36

Claudia Moatti, Wolfgang Kaiser, Gens de passage en Méditerranée de l'Antiquité à l'époque moderne. Procédures de contrôle et d'identification. L'Atelier Méditerranéen.   Paris:  Maisonneuve & Larose, 2007.  Pp. 512.  ISBN 978-2-7068-1993-3.  €29.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Luca Fezzi (
Word count: 2976 words

Some historical subjects recommend a comparative discussion. When approached with a serious scientific interest for documents, they produce studies with a clear and interdisciplinary value. This is the case with this volume, which collects 23 papers arising from the research project La Mobilité des personnes en Méditerranée de l'Antiquité à l'époque moderne. Procédures de contrôle et documents d'identification and discussed during two international conferences (Aix en Provence, Maison Méditérranéenne des Sciences Humaines, 23-24/05/2003, and Naples, Istituto Suor Orsola Benincasa, 2-4/12/2004). The width of the research field, the number and diversity of case studies, as well as a constant attention to the purpose of the global project, constitute the strength of the work. All papers are alert to more general theoretical issues, and at the same time provide interesting, well-chosen case studies, which help to form a general theoretical picture.

The introduction, written by Claudia Moatti and Wolfgang Kaiser, underlines the complex aim of the project: "réfléchir à ce que fut la liberté des hommes sur les routes maritimes et terrestres avant la constitution des États-nations". Nation-states, in fact, clearly define the term 'frontier', 'citizen' and 'stranger', and produce unified identification documents. In spite of strong locally observable differences, a high degree of continuity in the Mediterranean area justifies a comparative approach. Mobility and circulation in the Mediterranean area, are, in fact, constant; moreover, the actions of entering a new place, being identified and staying are always the result of overcoming official and unofficial barriers. On the other hand, reception policies and methods of control before the rise of nation-states, differ depending on time and place. Investigating the 'categories' involved in such a large field forces the viewer to move away from prepackaged notions. It also implies following the different processes of the states' evolution, with particular attention to 'continuities' and 'breaks', where the use of the same term is not necessarily an unquestionable proof of 'continuity'. In a historical approach, identity markers, proofs, testimonies, forgeries, as well as cultural and legal categories, have to be accurately considered.

The first section of part one (Le contrôle des gens de passage) investigates the control strategies of temporary fluxes. Chronology goes from the sixth century BC to the eighteenth century AD; case studies are ancient Athens, imperial Rome, the Ottoman Empire, the Western Sephardic Diaspora (Mediterranean and Atlantic areas) and the Provencal harbours.

The opening paper, by Vincent Milliot ("La mobilité des personnes: un laboratoire du contrôle social") underlines, from an historical and cultural point of view, the mobile character of ancient society. In view of this phenomenon, the author stresses the importance of investigating institutional and social mechanisms, of evaluating differences in times and places, and of assessing the role which this mobility played in the changing of bureaucracy or society. Control of strangers was not necessarily a symptom of fear: behaviours usually depend on law, technology and bureaucracy.

The analysis starts, appropriately, with the Greek polis. Alain Bresson ("L'entrée dans les ports en Grèce ancienne: le cadre juridique") focuses on foreigner reception tactics in Athens. Far from the literary model of Odyssey, where all the combinations of hospitality or non-hospitality are contemplated, the polis, with its principles of endogamy, a permanent state of war with neighbours, and its financial needs, was a different reality. Enemies had to be interdicted, commerce had to be controlled and, of course, taxed; at the harbours, every foreigner had to declare nationality, place of departure and place of arrival. Also exits were controlled because of enrolment needs and in order to prevent the flight of slaves. Only personal privileges could make the procedure easier.

Imperial Rome was more open to strangers. Claudia Moatti ("Le contrôle des gens de passage à Rome aux trois premiers siècles de notre ère") stresses how Roman institutions allowed foreigners to establish close relations with citizens. At the same time, the author states that it is very difficult to identify and analyse reception strategies. Moatti notices that the Augustan organisation of Rome (regiones and vici) introduced a system of face-to-face control, made easier by guards at the gates of the city. Prohibitions and limitations, as well as expulsions, were often left to the officers' judgment of individual cases, but reception remained a must. Only the inutiles were strongly and presumptively obstructed.

The Ottoman world had other peculiarities. Nelly Hanna ("Les réseaux dans le monde ottoman aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles: le migrant et l'étranger") argues that the lack of archives until the nineteenth century leaves us with ulema biographies and registers of religious courts as the only evidence for mobility phenomena. From a legal point of view, Hanna underlines the lack of differentiation in status between the permanent resident and the traveller passing through. Reasons could be various--the cosmopolitan nature of big centres, the absence of municipal institutions and the importance of pilgrimages. Surveillance was brought about by different reasons, such as the constant need for land labourers and the taxation for non-Muslims and Europeans. The control of travellers passing through was more a social phenomenon than an institutional one.

The Western Sephardic Diaspora in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic areas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a single but at the same time widespread phenomenon, is an interesting laboratory for a comparative approach. Évelyne Oliel-Grausz's careful analysis ("Modalités d'accueil et de contrôle des passants et migrants dans la diaspora séfarade d'Occident. XVIIe - XVIIIe siècles") raises questions about identification and documents: in the author's view, it remains difficult to distinguish between passage, migration and permanent settlement. The Diaspora communities themselves had a role in keeping in charge of the newcomers.

As Moatti and Kaiser observed in the introduction, control methods changed deeply with the formation of nation-states. Gilbert Buti ("Contrôles sanitaire et militaire dans les ports provençaux au XVIIIe siècle") sees in the Provencal harbours a model of the new structures built in France after Richelieu. As part of a global project, the innovation's aims were to fight the contagions and to ensure a sufficient number of conscripts for the Navy. This plan prompted the creation of districts, offices and constraining centres for care and insulation. Documents with sanitary and anthropometric data became very important: forgers were punished with death.

The second section of part one investigates the reception policies adopted by institutions. Chronology goes from the second century BC to the nineteenth century, case studies being Delos, Palermo and Draguignan, the Italian states, Aleppo, and Cairo.

In third century BC, when Romans settled in the Greek cities, a sudden change occurred in the epigraphic records for foreign residents. Élodie Bauzon ("L'enregistrement des Italiens et des Romains de passage ou résidents dans les cités grecques. IIe-Ier siècles av. J.-C.") follows this development, in particular focusing on the rich corpus of inscriptions at Delos. The author suggests that different kinds of registers were used for the control of people, but a problem remains: was it the Greek city that adapted itself to the changes, or was it Rome that enforced a new policy?

In some cases, reception of selected people was strongly helped by the local institutions. Henri Bresc ("L'étranger privilégié dans les politiques municipales: Palerme [1311-1410] et Draguignan [1370-1440]") reflects on two clear cases. In Palermo, after a series of epidemics, and in Draguignan, during the building of the town, men represented a precious capital, so immigration was promoted through the granting of a series of privileges. The author also observes that in the Mediterranean cities, at the end of the Middle Ages, strangers were seldom mentioned in the registers of municipal deliberations. They appear more frequently subsequent to their obtaining citizenship.

Miserabili were a very widespread category, legally used in Italian states during the medieval and early modern periods. Simona Cerutti ("Les 'misérables' en droit italien au XVIIIe siècle") analyses the composite nature of this group (poor people, orphans, widows, pilgrims, but also soldiers and merchants) and the institutional policies of help and reception. The author points out the conceptual connection between 'the poor' and 'the stranger'. Miserabili, from a legal point of view, were all those who were weak, who had lost status and, above all, those who had no political ties with the rest of the citizens: it was in the first place isolation that made them needy.

What about the status of Europeans in the Ottoman Empire? Stefan Knost ("Les 'Francs' à Alep [Syrie], leur statut juridique et leur interaction avec les institutions locales [XVIIe-XIXe siècle]") focuses on the case of Europeans residing in Aleppo. The choice is due to the city's great commercial importance. The registers of the courts show the privileges of European states, such as the possibility to integrate their citizens in the aman concept and to create national groups with regular ambassadors and consuls. Rules were flexible; Europeans and Ottomans alike aimed to facilitate commerce.

The cosmopolitan city of Cairo is a very interesting case. André Raymond ("Les commerçants ottomans 'étrangers' au Caire au XVIIIe siècle") studies its composition and its reception strategies in 1798. Out of the 250,000 inhabitants, 30,000-35,000 came from other provinces of the Empire, plus about 30.000 pilgrims per year. The main 'nationalities' were Palestinians, Syrians, Maghrebians, Turks and Syrian Christians. Organised in groups, they reacted differently according to languages (Turks had more problems than anyone else) and religious affiliation (the Syrian Christians wanted to be considered a separate community, while the authorities preferred to treat them as 'protected', in the same way as Copts and Jews).

The first section of the second part (Identifications et falsifications) investigates the complex problem of proving identity. Chronology goes from the first century BC to the eighteenth century. Case studies are Roman soldiers, merchants in Medieval Italy, Spanish emigrates in the Americas, the ransom of citizens, the Freemasonry lodges in the Mediterranean area, and the border between the State of the Church and the Kingdom of Naples.

The opening paper, by Béatrice Fraenkel ("Preuves et épreuves de l'identification"), points out the variety of aspects connected to identification, from semeiotics to philosophy. Identification can stand as a particular category, depending on both the observer and the observed and aiming at a passage of status. The practical side of the problem can be seen as one and the same at all times. Appearances, declarations, symbols and documents mingle together, changing their importance from time to time: in particular, during the nineteenth century, the focus of the attention shifted from individuals to documents. In any case, the author states how difficult it is to evaluate the existence of an 'ideal model': 'negative' clues, the weakness of the 'written chain' and changes in technology have made, case after case, the real difference.

Did the Roman Empire have ways to control the identity of the young conscripts? Pierre Cosme ("Le soldat romain entre identification et camouflage") reflects about this huge problem. In fact, before the first century BC, all citizens had the duty to enlist, but, when levy became voluntary, centralised practices were bound to fail. In a context of mobility, the volunteer had to prove his status. Lead badges and written documents with biometrical data became important, especially in view of the danger of recruits deserting after receiving advance pay.

How were the movements of merchants and bankers monitored? Reinhold C. Mueller ("Merchants and their Merchandise: Identity and Identification in Medieval Italy") underlines the 'traceability' of these two groups of travellers, although the evidence (letters, goods or clients) is often problematic. Creditors were in some cases registered with a physiognomic description, while handwriting was the best clue for verifying the genuineness of the letters. Citizens did not have to identify themselves, but to prove their rights or privileges: physiognomic descriptions, for this purpose, were not necessary. Around 1500, however, it became common practice to register persons of lower social status by their physical traits.

Emigration to the New World was certainly a great opportunity for change of identity. Gregorio Salinero ("Sous le régime des licences royales. L'identité des migrants espagnols vers les Indes. XVIe-XVIIe siècles") investigates how Spain protected entry into its Hispanic and American domains. From 1501 onwards, specific laws aimed to control the circulation of individuals, issuing licenses which had the function of passports, certificates of residence and licenses to work. However, written documents did not necessarily stop frauds. More generally, practical problems of identification undermined the legislation aiming to limit departures.

Ransoming a citizen from some Mediterranean areas was quite a task: how could one be sure to recognize the right person? Wolfgang Kaiser ("Vérifier les histoires, localiser les personnes. L'identification comme processus de communication en Méditerranée. XVIe-XVIIe siècles") points out the problems facing the institutions appointed for ransom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Identification in fact was very important, mainly for financial reasons: the captives and their relatives had to contribute to the ransom. The Roman Arciconfraternita del Gonfalone, during the mission to Algiers (1584-1589), focussed on physiognomic characteristics as well as the topographical and social positioning of captives. However, self-declaration and plausibility of the captive's account remained fundamental.

In the eighteenth century, Freemasonry lodges cropped up in an amazingly rapid way throughout the whole of the Mediterranean basin. Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire ("Correspondances, passeports et signalements maçonniques: un dispositif original de reconnaissance fraternelle et de gestion de la mobilité en Méditerranée au XVIIIe siècle") follows the phenomenon and its implications for identification practices. Responsible for the development were traders, diplomats, rich amateurs, ship-owners and ship-captains. Circulation of ideas and men, as well as the project of the Universal Republic of the Freemasons (Joseph de Maistre), contributed to the growing importance of written documents.

Marco Meriggi ("Come procurarsi un passaporto: il caso di Napoli a metà Settecento") analyses the problem of identification at the border between the Pontifical State and the Kingdom of Naples in the mid-eighteenth century. Comparing two registers--the first compiled in the fifties, the second ten years later--the author detects a change in registration technique, which proves the growth of state power but also the survival of the old territorial and social categories.

The second section of part two is dedicated to identity changes and forgeries. Chronology goes from the fourth to the twentieth century. Case studies are Byzantine monasticism, early modern Maghreb, the Ottoman Empire, the situation in France between Louis XIV and Napoleon I, and the story of a vagrant in Italy.

Religious calling was another important opportunity for change of identity. Vincent Déroche ("L'entrée en religion à l'époque protobyzantine: changement de nom, contrôle de l'identité"), studying literary texts, shows that monastic callings were accompanied by a general aversion to control identity and legitimacy: monasticism, in the East, was not subject to strict controls by the local ecclesiastical authorities.

Imposture and false identity were common in early modern Islamic Maghreb. Jocelyne Dakhlia ("Ligne de fuite. Impostures et reconstructions identitaires en Méditerranée musulmane à l'époque moderne") studies this interesting phenomenon, arguing that, in Mediterranean Muslim societies, the suspicion "appliqué aux renégats ... s'inscrit, en réalité, dans un schème beaucoup plus général de mise en doute de l'identité de l'autre, en des contexts très differents, infinement plus larges que la seule 'Méditerranée des captifs'" (pp. 427-428). Imposture, with its various aims, was more frequent than it is normally assumed to have been.

The Ottoman Empire, during the eighteenth century, was visited by a variety of different people; of course some of them, for different reasons, tried to forge their identity. Marie-Carmen Smyrnelis ("Identités inventées dans l'Empire ottoman au XVIIIe siècle") studies this situation, detailing the subterfuges which were used to deceive authorities. From the very beginning of the nineteenth century, and especially during its second half, identification processes started to change, trying to fix identities.

Identification methods in France, between the reigns of Louis XIV and Napoleon I, were well enforced. Vincent Denis and Vincent Milliot ("De l'idéal de transparence à la réalité de la fraude: la police et l'identification des personnes en France, de l'Ancien Régime à l'époque napoléonienne") study the evolution of the system. The massive use of writing, in the form of standardised certificates and centralisation of data used under the responsibility of specialised agents, generated resistance and compromise, as well as forgery attempts. On the other hand, the variety of techniques adopted was such that they came to constitute a real 'Science of the State'.

The story of a single life can be very significant. Ilsen About ("Histoire d'un vagabond, les vies de Rodolfo Kreinitz. La police d'identification dans l'Italie des années 1910") relies on legal documents to reconstruct the story of an individual's resistance to the increased identification techniques in Italy during the 1910's, as implemented by the School of scientific police which was established in Rome in 1902. The Kreinitz story reveals a deep change both in European mobility and in bureaucratic practices, the latter being supported by a reform of the police systems, by information databases, by communications and by an increasing criminalisation of migrant populations.

The book offers, in its various aspects, a very rich starting point for an evaluation of the mobility phenomenon in the Mediterranean area, which has always been an area of commerce and exchange. And yet, even there freedom had its constraints, which varied depending on location and period: changes and continuities, the relations between north and south, cultures, empires, states, cities, communities and individuals, as well as truth, appearance and falsehood are all factors contributing to the complexity of the picture.

Moreover, the 'topicality' of a subject always constitutes a real challenge for the historian. In this case, the seriousness of the analysis and the firm choice to avoid easy 'topicalisations' raises serious questions and imposes a serious intellectual duty on the reader. We are asked to think about a complex and diverse past while living in an era in which the concepts of mobility and reception are both interesting and crucial. The successful approach of this book makes this reviewer hope that the research group will continue its studies in the same direction.

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