Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Smuggling and Illegality in the Past

Smuggling and other forms of illegality were an important part of the early modern economy, concluded the workshop 'Unseen and Immeasurable, the Netherlands and smuggling 1500-1900' which was held at the Institute on 16 October.

The workshop was meant to open a debate on the ways in which past economic activities, that took place outside the established order and out of sight of official bodies, can be investigated. Another purpose was to explore what the implications of these results might be.


The various case studies that were presented showed that illegality,  in both the economy of the Republic as well as in trade and production  in the Asian and Atlantic regions, occupied a central position. This immediately led to the conclusion that it was not enough just to look at smuggling as an illegal commercial activity, but also at the role of illegality in the economy as a whole - illegal production, tax evasion and consumption should also be considered.

Anne Wegener Schleswig (Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) outlined the practices in the Republic that formed the basis of an extensive black market for wine; ranging from illegal imports to the production of imitation wine. She estimated that no tax was paid over half of the wine consumed.

Other case studies revealed similar insights for the Republic, the West Indies and the VOC. Jan Lucassen showed how people on board of the VOC ships, against all rules, took large amounts of silver to Asia to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate.

Matthias van Rossum

Photograph: Alcohol Smuggle, Constantinus Fidelio Coene, 1823. Rijksmuseum Collection



23 October 2014