The Portuguese Jews and Modern Capitalism.
Trading, Insurance, Banking, Business, and Economic Thought in Amsterdam
from earlier 16th to the first decades of 20th centuries.
Universidade de Aveiro (Portugal)
The Portuguese Jewish contribution to modern capitalism calls our attention to a
few scholars in the past century, who dwelt with the “Jewish Question” 1 . Behind it
stands an old controversy about the rise of capitalism, its understanding and chronology,
as well as its issues.
However, the main questions of this controversy are still relevant today.
How significant was the Portuguese Jewish contribution to modern capitalism?
What was its foundation?
To what extent did some Portuguese Jewish families, such as Mendes or Nassi,
Spinoza, Nunes da Costa, Vega, Pinto or Teixeira de Mattos, contribute to the growth of
capitalism, its entrepreneurial and institutional changes?
It has been reported from Antiquity and Modern Age diaspora, that Jews had
almost always assumed a dominant rôle in business. This polemic seems to be focused
in many passages of the Hebrew Bible, concerning usury or the money- lending among
the Jews and non-Jews 2 .
During the Middle Ages, the scholastic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church
condemned the Jewish livelihood, because the Roman Catholic institutions were much
more concerned with usury, just price, and guilds, rather than with the capitalist economics of profit, enterprise, and money market.
The Jewish families of merchants, among the Christian families, have been
documented as the first to develop trading, accounting and credit techniques, insurance,
banking, finance, and money- lending 3 .
Together or separate in ghettos, Jewish and Christian families started early
capitalism with large scale trade.
* I would like to acknowledge the comments made by Joaquim da Costa Leite and João César das Neves
on a previous version.
The Leitmotiv was given by Bruno Bauer’s articles «Die Judenfrage» [The Jewish Question] and «Die
Fähigkeit der heutigen Juden und Christen, frei zu werden» [The aptness of now existing Jews and Christians to become free], issued in 1842, and published then in 1843. Karl Marx criticised him with Zur
Judenfrage [To the Jewish Question], two articles published in Deutsch-französische Jahrbuch [German-French Annals], 1-2, Paris: 1844, pp. 182-214. See: ARENDT, Hannah, La tradition cachée: le Juif comme paria, pp. 11-37.
«You shall not charge interest to your countrymen [brothers]: interest on money, food, or anything that
may be loaned at interest. You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countryman [brother] you
shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land
which you are about to enter to possess.» (Deut. 23, 19-21)
For the sources see in the Bibliography: LE GOFF, Jacques; NOONAN Jr., John T.; POLIAKOV, Léon;
ROOVER, Raymond de; VLAEMMINCK, Joseph H.
In this historical process we take notice of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish
communities. Most of them have followed not only the rise and growth of capitalism,
but the failure of many entrepreneurships taking over all European empires and NationStates.
Again, does it mean that we can turn to the Bible, to find a justification of
maximisation of personal gain in business?
Indeed we can argue this justification and controversy on a biblical basis. An
understanding of religious doctrine can put ethical issues, concerning economic relations, in a historical and philosophical context. Religious ethics, or economic ethics, is a
push factor. Economic values and ethical values are connected. These values affect the
subjects, beliefs and attitudes. Therefore the Portuguese Jews contributed with their attitudes and ethics, to the growth of capitalism, its entrepreneurial and institutional
We take also into consideration that trade was the object of accounting and
domestic economy practices. The capitalistic ethos is based on mutual trust, free enterprise and shared responsibility. It legitimises business in all and there is a biblical support for it through ascesis and one’s calling as the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation were brought up to evidence.
The historical and economical matter is that the rise and the growth of capitalism
has since then been linked to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries
by many scholars, particularly by Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, Richard Tawney and
Trevor-Roper. A Roman Catholic counterview is drawn by Amintore Fanfani, and recently by Michael Novak. Werner Sombart increased the values of the Jews and Judaism4 .
All these perspectives overstated and neglected the rôle of Jews as a minority,
especially the Portuguese merchant Jews, stockholders, bankers, brokers, middlemen,
advisers, physicians, essayists or litterati.
4. Pedro de Santarém
The Jewish capitalistic ethos is not based on agriculture, although we found
some references in historical mediaeval documentation which states the investment of a
few rich Portuguese Jewish families in land business, as the Navarro, Romeiro, Negro
and Abravanel. Their main activities were indeed more commercial and urban,
grounded in workmanship, trading, insurance, banking and stock- market rather than
lease, fruit, olive plantations, olive-oil production, winegrowing, rye, corn, barley,
honey, wax and sheep cattle 5 .
For the sources see in the Bibliography: NOVAK, Michael; SOMBART, Werner; TAWNEY, R. H.;
For the sources see in the Bibliography: AZEVEDO, J. Lúcio; BARROS, H. Gama; GONÇALVES,
Iria; MERÊA, Paulo; RAU, Virgínia; TAVARES, M. J. P. Ferro.
Since the 13th century they took part in insurance. Already in the second half of
the 16th Pedro de Santarém, or Santerna, a factor and broker in Florence, Pisa and
Livorno, may be considered the first Portuguese Jewish author to write on insurance 6 .
5. Mendes, or Nassi
In the earlier 16th century, the Mendes banking and trading house took the lease
of royal monopoly of spices trade between Lisbon and the Spanish Low Countries, with
connections to England, the Italian Nation-States and the Turkish-Ottoman Empire. The
Mendes families were in business concurrence with the German Fugger’s, the Italian
Lomellini, among others. In order to be succeeded, they formed a partnership with the
Affaitadi, from Cremona, to trade in spices, sugar and sugar-cane syrup from Madeira
Island, textile dye-stuffs, wine, olive-oil, cotton, redwood from Brazil, ivory, dried fruit,
but also to handle pearls and jewels, and importing German silver for coinage.
The Mendes family left earlier Lisbon, then Antwerp and were persecuted
throughout Europe. They traded in jewels, in spices, but also in bills of exchange ordered to the Portuguese Crown, the Spanish Habsburgs and Henry VIII of England
(ruled 1491-1547) 7 . The legend speeks about Doña Gracia Nassi (c.1510-c.1569), and
her old nephew Juan Miquez, or Joseph Nassi (c. 1520-1579), who managed the firm
Herdeiros [hinheritors of] de Francisco e Diogo Henriques, with commercial and finance interests in London, Lyons, Venice, Ferrara, Ancona, Ragusa [Dubrovnik], Salonica and Istanbul, where they fled to, before they settled nearby in Tiberias, in the Holy
Land, and established a silk raising colony8 .
6. Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) considered money as compendium of all things, a
real value that covers any other value 9 .
If the pathos of Jewish wealth is to be found in the Holy Scripture, this statement
sounds polemic, because we are dealing with different meaning of “value”: there is an
economic value as well as an ethic value.
Jewish relations with God, through their tradition and religious faith, and with
money activities are so closely knitted, that such a meaning becomes clear to us. The
Spinoza family may serve as an example.
See: AMZALAK, M. B., Os seguros segundo Pedro de Santarém, Santerna, jurisconsulto português do
século XVI (1917), pp. 10; 24-26; 29-31; 34-38; CASTRO, Armando de, «Seguros», in Dicionário Ilustrado da História de Portugal, sob coord. de José Costa Pereira, vol. 2, pp. 218-219; FERREIRA, David,
«Seguros», in Dicionário de História de Portugal, sob dir. de Joel Serrão, vol. VI, p. 521; JEANNIN,
Pierre, Les Marchands au XVI siècle, pp. 128-130; MARQUES, A. H. de Oliveira, Para a História dos
Seguros em Portugal. Notas de documentos (1977), pp. 16; 63; 68-76; SOMBART, Werner, Der moderne
Kapitalismus, vol. 2, Part I, III Section, Chap. 22, p. 308.
See: DENUCÉ, Jean, Inventaire des Affaitadi Banquiers Italiens en Anvers de l’année 1568, pp. 847
and followings.
See: BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, p. 34; DÍAZ-MAS, Paloma, Los Sefardíes. Historia, Lengua y Cultura, p. 61; Fr.
PANTALEÃO DE AVEIRO, Itinerário da Terra Sancta e suas particularidades, issued in Lisbon, 1593,
reed. 1927, pp. 471-473; ROTH, Cecil, Doña Gracia Nasi, p. 225; ROTH, Cecil, History of the Jews in
Venice, p. 86.
«Il est vrai que l’argent leur a apporté un résumé (compendium) de toutes choses (…)». — SPINOZA,
Baruch, L’Éthique, IV, Appendice, Ch. XXVIII, in Œuvres complètes, p. 560.
The Spinoza family was certainly not one of the richest in all of Amsterdam. But
the idea of poverty in this case is not confirmed. When the United Provinces of the
Netherlands declined and gradually lost their power in trading, the Portuguese Jewish
communities diminished, emigrated, and went through several economic troubles (see:
Table 1 ).
Table 1: Some figures from the Jewish Census in Amsterdam, including Portuguese and German-Polish Jewish individuals, based upon records from Wagenaar, published between 1792 and 1805
aproximate number of
Sephardic Jews
Aschkenazim Jews
the total Jewish population was about 24.000
General Population
Legend: (*) means “not registered”.
Main Sources: Wagenaar’s records, published between 1792 and 1805, according to Wolff’s notes, apud BLOOM, Herbert I., The
Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, pp. 31-32, note 139, p. 32.
It is possible that Baruch Spinoza managed his father’s commercial house Bento
y Gabri- el de Spinoza between March 1654 and July 1656. This period comprehends
two important events: Spinoza’s father’s death and Spinoza’s herem from the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue.
Besides this, Spinoza kept the import-export activities of his father until October, 1664.
What kind of business was this?
Michael de Spinoza, the father of the Portuguese Jewish Philosopher, handled
with jewels and made his investments in merchant marine, i.e. on sea trade with the
West Indies.
Does it mean that Spinoza’s ethic approved business as a way of life?
No, we cannot substantiate it. Spinoza was not very concerned with his
philosophical thought to economic matters as such.
But he did consider wealth, pleasure and honours as economic and moral val10
ues . Moreover, if money has a contradictory meaning, it is because human beings’
nature is also contradictory.
«Car ce qui nous occupe le plus souvent dans la vie et ce que les hommes, comme on peut le conclure
de leurs actes, estiment comme le souverain bien, peut se ramener à ces trois choses : la richesse, les hon-
7. Nunes da Costa
Most of the Portuguese Jewish economic and financial activities took place during the Mercantilism doctrine period.
In the diplomatic missions and correspondence of the Portuguese Jesuit António
Vieira he referred to the Portuguese Jewish communities established in Rouen, Nantes,
Paris, but also in The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and in Hamburg.
Vieira had met them twice: during his first mission, which took place between
February and April, 1646, and during his second mission, from September 1647 to November 1648. André Henriques, Bento Osório and the family Nunes da Costa were at
that time the main diplomatic and finance advisers of the Portuguese Crown.
Vieira’s affaire was very complicated. He was in charge of diplomatic missions,
seeking alliances with France, Holland, Sweden, England and the Pope in Rome, as well
as of commercial and military treaties. He was not successful, because he could not give
guarantees to those Portuguese Jewish communities leaders that the Portuguese Inquisition and the Crown would review their policies towards this minority in confessional
The Nunes da Costa families were established both in Hamburg, The Hague and
in Amsterdam. They were dip lomatic agents [chargé d’affaires] appointed to the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns, merchants, bankers and stockholders, trading in spices and
corn from the Baltic Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea and Levantine markets.
Their main trade consisted in shipment of sugar from the Portuguese Islands in the Atlantic via Amsterdam to Danzig [Gdañsk], salt from Portugal and from Tripoli, in
Libya 11 , to be sold in Genoa and Holland, jewels, pearls and diamonds12 , commerce
with the Morocco, Alger and Tunis, to supply them with weapons 13 , and Levantine
Trade 14 .
The patriarch of this family was Duarte Nunes da Costa (1587-1665), who had
settled in Pisa and Florence, before moving to Amsterdam, Glückstadt and Hamburg.
His son, Jerónimo Nunes da Costa (…-1697), was one of those who founded the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue in Amsterdam15 , and contributed then with 800 Dutch Guilders 16 . He is also mentioned as a shareholder in the Portuguese Sea Trade Company with
Brazil [Companhia do Comércio do Brasil] (1649-1720) 17 . The grand-son, Manoel
neurs, et le plaisir sensuel.» — SPINOZA, Baruch, Traité de la Réforme de l’Entendement, in Œuvres
complètes, p. 103.
BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, p. 98.
See: BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, note 35, p. 41; FABIÃO, Luís Crespo, «Subsídios para a história dos chamados
“Judeus Portugueses” na indústria dos diamantes em Amsterdão nos séculos XVII e XVIII», in Separata
da Revista da Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa, III série, n.º 15, 1973, nota 111, p. 496; Apêndice b), p.
BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, note 20, p. 77.
Idem, note 55, p. 80.
NOGUEIRA, A. de Vasconcelos, «Memória da diáspora hispano-portuguesa em Amsterdão: elementos
de bibliografia», in Separata da Revista da Universidade de Aveiro * Letras, n.º 16, 1999, pp. 183-186.
MENDES, David Franco, Memorias do estabelecimento e progresso dos Judeos Portuguezes e Espanhoes nesta famosa cidade de Amsterdam, etc., p. 27.
See: «Companhias comerciais», in Dicionário de História de Portugal, vol. II, pp. 125-126; ISRAEL,
Jonathan I., La Judería Europea en la era del mercantilismo (1550-1750), pp. 136; 168; P.e VIEIRA, An-
Nunes da Costa, maintained the diplomatic career and kept the family business of his
ancestors far into the late 18th century.
8. Joseph de la Vega
Joseph de la Vega (c.1650-1692) was for certain the first Portuguese Jewish author to describe the practices of stock-exchange in earlier Amsterdam, with “puts”,
“calls”, pools, and manipulations of all sorts, due to the fact that he was a share-broker18 . The Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam had much to do with the establishment of the
stock- market and the stock-exchange, with speculation in stocks in a city that was the
European leading financial centre.
His essay, however, is entitled sounding Confusión de Confusiones [Confusion
of Confusions], and was published in 1688. Vega wrote it in Spanish, cast in dialogue
form among a philosopher, a merchant, and a shareholder, in an affected style, with
biblical, mythological, classical poetry writings, concerned with business and stock-exchange. It pursued moral, if not philosophical objectives, to instruct other family members 19 , who had interests in Amsterdam’s stock- market and stock-exchange, as his two
brothers in London, David and Rafael, who were brokers too 20 . There are only a halfdozen copies of the original, in public libraries and private collections. Most of them are
in Amsterdam, one in the Kress Library at the Harvard University, and one in Madrid.
Vega’s essay remained almost unknown. Richard Ehrenberg, or before him, perhaps,
Etienne Laspeyres, were the first scholars interested in economic history, who called
attention to it 21 . Henry Méchoulin also refered to Sarfatti de Pina, as an original author,
and maybe the first to describe stock-market practices as long time before Vega, in his
essay Soulagement pour les marchands de reduction de change [Relief to the Merchants
on Rate of Exchange] (Amsterdam, 1663) 22 . Among the Portuguese Scholars, it was
Moses Amzalak who summarized Vega’s essay and put its ideas in evidence.
Don Joseph de la Vega stressed that he had thr ee motives for writing the book:
first, it was a matter of pleasure; second, a good reason to describe business as an honest
and most useful way of living; lastly, to warn others against bad business, and speculation.
The aim was also ethical. There was a rational purpose in the brokerage, in the
stock-exchange business. Indeed, trade and speculation in goods was not a new deal in
Amsterdam. The “actie” or share seems to have come into general use in 1606. At the
beginning the “paerten”, or “partieen”, aga in, “partijen”, i.e. participation in the shipping business and trade companies, was right from initial payment. Each owner of
shares could, by payment of a fee, transfer its holdings to another holder. The merchants
tónio, Cartas, tomo II, [letter] CLII to the Queen of England Catherine of Braganza (ruled 1660-1685),
from Rome Dec. 21st, 1669, p. 285.
[Merchant] «It is possible that I shall become a holder of shares and shall deal [in shares] in an honest
way, but I am very sure that I shall never become a speculator.» — VEGA, Joseph de la, Confusion de
Confusiones (1688), Portions Descriptive of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, n.º 13, The Kress Library of
Business and Economics, p. 42.
[Shareholder] «I advise you well just because of my misfortune.» — Idem, op. cit., p. 41.
See: TORRENTE FORTUÑO, Jose Antonio, La Bolsa en Jose de la Vega Confusión de Confusiones –
Amsterdam, 1688, pp. 27-28.
See: «Sources of Data utilized in the Foregoing», in Joseph de la Vega, Confusion de Confusiones
(1688), n.º 13, the Kress Library of Business and Economics, Cambridge (Massachusetts), p. XXI.
See: MÉCHOULIN, Henry, Amsterdam au temps de Spinoza. Argent et liberté, p. 172.
built the Amsterdam stock-exchange building in 1611. And later on, in the course of the
1680’s, when Vega wrote this book on stock-exchange, trading in stock had increased
considerably. Van Holy’s 23 effort to reduce speculation consisted in that all sales of
stocks be registered and taxed. He also published a pamphlet against the PortugueseJews who made business with Ducaton shares or Ducaton speculation24 .
Vega considered this measure unfair, since everyone was involved in the speculation. Many impoverished Jews and non-Jews, common people, speculated in Ducaton
shares, which began in 1683. The profits on the stock-exchange were their way of living25 .
Summarizing, Joseph de la Vega dealt with the beginnings of the stock-exchange in Amsterdam26 . He gave advice for a successful speculation, exp lained various
transactions, and the rules of the game 27 . He talked about the contracts or kinds of dealings in shares, the time of delivery, the place of transference of the shares, the “coffy-huisen” or coffee- houses, where the brokers (sworn or free brokers; the “bulls” and the
“bears”) discussed affaires, and their emotions.
He characterised the people engaged in this business as: the princes, capitalists
or financiers, whose interest lay not in the sale of shares or stocks but in the revenues or
dividends. They lived on the interest and seldom visited the stock-exchange building themselves. The orders were usually given to the brokers. The merchants, who sold or bought shares against cash also used to give their orders to brokers.
At last, the gamblers, the professional speculators, and common people went to the exchange building daily to avoid brokerage fees and to make quick gains.
In conclusion, people of all classes spent their profits on cards, dice, wine, banquets, gifts, ladies, and luxury. But a few were in the business «simply for the reason of
providing decently for their families.» 28
Joseph de la Vega was perhaps a “bull” 29 , and failed as a broker or financier adviser and stockholder in 1688. He called it the year of “confusion”, the “confusion of
confusions”, the “labyrinth of labyrinths”, the “terror of terrors”, because the speculators realized that the liquidation had to be complete on the 1st of September, 1688, and it
was not. What had happened? A “crash”.
A list of the notary records (see: Table 2) states the participation of Portuguese
Jews as shareholders of the Dutch East India Company [Vereenigde Oost Indische
Nicolaas Muys van Holy, an Amsterdam lawyer.
This kind of speculation was in ordinary stock shares. It was too hazardous for the common people,
because they dealt in small shares, and they risked only a Ducaton, i.e. 3 Dutch Guilders for each point
instead 30 Dutch Guilders for every point. [Shareholder] «The pleasure in this gamble has grown to such
an extent that people who cannot gamble a Ducaton per point risk a Stuiver, and those to whom a Stuiver
is too much, risk a still smaller coin.» — VEGA, Joseph de la, Confusion de Confusiones (1688), Portions
Descriptive of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, n.º 13, The Kress Library of Business and Economics, p.
[Shareholder] «What makes me especially sad is the sudden end of the Ducaton speculation, on which
so many decent people and so many men with small means subsisted.» — Idem, op. cit., p. 41.
[Shareholder] «The best and most agreeable aspect of the new business is that one can become rich
without risk.» — Idem, op. cit., p. 3.
Vega’s precepts or principles in speculation were: «“Never give anyone the advice to buy or sell
shares”, because, where perspicacity is weakened, the most benevolent piece of advice can turn out
badly.»; “Take ever gain without showing remorse about mined profits”; “Profits on the exchange are the
treasures of goblins”; «“Who ever wishes to win in this game must have patience and money”, since the
values are so little constant and the rumours so little founded on truth.» — Idem, op. cit., p. 10.
Idem, op. cit., p. 29.
[Shareholder] «I advise you to speculate for a rise and not for a fall.» — Idem, op. cit., p. 41.
Compagnie] (1602-1795), and of the West Indies Company [West Indische Compagnie]
(1621-1781), for the different accounting periods from1602 to 1682. The figures of their
real values are in Dutch currency, i.e. Guilders.
The amount indicated for Michel Lopez Fernandez* is supposed to belong to a
certain Portuguese Jew in Florence, named Simon Henriques. Eiomar, or Guiomar Henriques** is supposed to be the widow of a certain Henriques. Abraham Alewijn*** and
Jeronimias Noiret*** have uncertain Jewishness.
Dutch economic prosperity benefited from the Portuguese Jews, the nexus trade
routes of Europe, and the route to the East-and West Indies. Even Spain and Portugal
depended on Dutch trade, concerning grain and shipyards.
The Portuguese Jewish private bankers met the Dutch need for credit. They acted
as brokers in financial transactions too.
Table 2: Portuguese Jews as shareholders of the Dutch Companies for the years 1602-1682
Michel Lopez
Diego Dias
Miguel & Francisco Mendes
Duarte Nunes da
Diogo Fernandes
Eiomar or Guiomar
Francisco Vaz de
Francisco Mendes de
Duarte Rodrigues
Jerónimo Rodrigues
Fernando Aires
Bento [David]
Duarte de
Branca de
Jerónimo Rodrigo de
Simão Rodrigo de
António Nunes
Gaspar Nunes
Isaac de
Jeronimus Nunes da
Jacob d'el
Isaac Jan
Johacob de
Jacob & Moses Nunes
Simon & Louis Rodrigues de
António Lopes
Jacob Nunez
David de
REAL VALUE (Guilders)
Legend: (*) means “no amount mentioned”.
Main sources: WAETJIAN, Hermann, Das Judentum und die Anfänge der moderne Kolonisation [Judaism and the Beginning of Modern Settlement], Berlin: 1914, p. 9 ff, apud BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
«East India Company», note 9, p. 118; note 11, p. 119; p. 126; WAE TJIAN, Hermann, op. cit., apud AZEVEDO, J. Lúcio de, in P.e VIEIRA, António,
Cartas , coordenadas e anotadas por J. Lúcio de Azevedo, 3 tomos, tomo I, «Apêndice. Notas adicionais», p. 573.
9. Isaac de Pinto
Isaac de Pinto (1717-1787) is not a philosopher like Spinoza, not even a man
devoted to literature, as Vega was, but he is perhaps the most known of Portuguese
Jewish authors who was much more concerned with economic essays and political correspondence.
Indeed Pinto wrote some essays in French, on consumption, credit, flow, and on
luxury too 30 , which justified the comment of Karl Marx31 , when he compared Pinto’s
mode to Pindar’s, the lyric poet of ancient Greece, a master of choral odes celebrating
victories achieved, just because Marx reproved Pinto’s apology of capitalism and liberalism on economics 32 .
We do not know his biography in detail, but it is known that Pinto was rich and
very diligent in policy. He took part in the peace negotiations between France, England
and the Netherlands occurred in 1748-1749. He sponsored the election of William IV,
Prince of Orange and Nassau (ruled 1711-1751), the first Dutch stadholder of all seven
provinces, to the directory of the Dutch Companies. Pinto himself was a shareholder
and member of the directory of the West Indies Company in 1750. According to Wijler,
in August 28, 1747, Pinto’s family members loaned 600.000 Ducth Guilders to the
Stadholder with an interest of 4% or 4 ½ % (per cent), and loaned to the House of
Commons of Great Britain for the service of the year 1759 a sum of £ 6.600,000 pounds
sterling 33 . His lawful attorney was Joseph Salvador in London, and the institution was
the Bank of England.
Isaac de Pinto entered into controversy with Voltaire (1694-1778) on Jewish
issues, and also with Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), against the spirit of the American
Revolution. He remained more conservative and linked to the British interests on North-American colonies.
In economics, Pinto criticised fisiocratism and mercantilism as capitalistic doctrines, and assumed the benefits of a policy oriented to public debt, consumption, credit
and flow.
The historical ascendancy of the Spanish Low Countries economy laid in
agriculture, grain production, textiles, sugar refineries, fishing, shipping industries,
Their essays were translated in English:
An Essay on Luxury, in -8º, London, 1766.
On Card Playing. Letter from Mons. De Pinto to Mons. Diderot. With a translation from the
original and observations by the translator. 1768.
Essays on Circulation and Credit, translated by the Rev. S. Baggs, M.A., in –4º, London, 1774.
Letters on the American Troubles, translated from the French, in-8º, London, 1776.
«Ungleich naiver Pinto, der Pindar der Amsterdamer Börse: “Der Handel ist ein Spiel” (...)».
[«Unmatchable naïve, Pinto, the Pindar from Amsterdam stock-exchange: “The Trade is like a Game”
(…)»] — MARX, Karl, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, Book I, Section II, Chap. 14, in
MEW, vol. 23, note 4, p. 165.
«Le commerce est un jeu; & ce n’est pas avec des gueux qu’on peut gagner.» — PINTO, Isaac de,
«Lettre sur la jalousie du commerce», in Traité de la circulation et du crédit, etc., p. 231.
«Or, il est curieux de constater que, du temps de Pinto, la guerre fut cause de l’énorme accroissement
de la dette anglaise. Cette dette était en 1755 de 72 millions de liv. st.; en 1763, après la guerre de Sept
Ans, elle atteiguit 132 millions et avait donc presque doublé.» — WIJLER, J. S., Isaac de Pinto, sa vie et
ses œuvres, p. 68; see also: p. 16; note 1, p. 22; Appendice C, p. 108.
fairs, manufactured goods, in sum: commercial import and export. The Portuguese Jews
developed large-scale trade and banking operations.
The English navigation acts defended English commercial interests against the
Dutch. Dutch shippers, and the Portuguese Jews, were forbidden from acting as middlemen in English trade both in Europe and overseas. Increasing competition abroad
and commercial rivalry from England and France, justified fisiocratism and mercantilism. Such economic policies were directed against the Dutch monopoly in long-distance
Table 3 put highlights not only numbers and a checklist of each male Jew’s main
occupation, whose yearly income was about 800 Dutch Guilders or more, in Amsterdam, for the year 1743, but also the fact that Dutch industry generally remained at the
level of handicraft production, sometimes including machinery.
Table 3: Numbers and a checklist of the Jewish main occupation, profession, or trade of each male,
whose yearly income was about 800 Dutch Guilders or more, in Amsterdam, for the year 1743
living on their income from interest on capital
clothing merchants
cotton merchants
tea merchants
tobacco merchants
bamboo merchant
merchant in cottonthreat
owners of tobacco stores
owners of clothing stores
owners of cotton good stores
owners of textile stores
owners of carpet and rug stores
owners of lace stores
owner of China store
owners of cheese stores
owners of coffee shops
wine cellar proprietors
unsworn brokers ("beunhazen")
money changers
commission agents
shipping broker
tobacco brokers
diamond polishers
lacquer worker
medical doctors
ritual butcher
Main sources: VAZ DIAS, “Vermogestoestand”, VA, VIII, July 17, 1931, pp. 242 ff. apud BLOOM, Herbert I., The Economic Activities
of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries , pp. 70-71.
The Dutch economy was severely affected during the 18th century, as well as the
Portuguese Jews wealth. The economic burden of the conflicts and wars caused the
Dutch population, among them in particular the Portuguese Jews, to become the most
heavily taxed.
Just because the rôle of Dutch agriculture was secondary, taxes were imposed on
long-distance trade. As competition abroad and overseas became stiffer, the rate of
taxation could not be safely increased, and the burden fell on the consumer (see: Table
4 ). Many Portuguese Jewish firms ruined, because they were simply burdened by unusually high taxes.
Table 4: Figures of the annual incomes of the Portuguese taxable Jewish individuals in Dutch currency (Guilders) for the year 1743. The total annual income was estimated at 838.500 Guilders.
Last Name
First Name
Annual Income
Mozes de
Isak da Veiga
MATTOS Jacques Teixeira de
David de
living of his income
van Josef de
living on income
Josef de
Isak de
David Mendes da
David Levi
Main Sources: VAZ DIAS, “Vermogenstoestand”, VA, VIII, July 17, 1931, pp. 242 ff. and July 24, 1931, pp. 262 ff. apud BLOOM,
Herbert I., The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, «Decline», p. 212.
10. The brothers Teixeira de Mattos
In the essay of Joseph de la Vega on Amsterdam’s stock-exchange we do not
find any quotation regarding the brothers Teixeira de Mattos, despite the fact that both
families were Portuguese Jewish merchants and among them we found members who
were stockholders and brokers. Vega only mentioned the merchant Teixeira in connection to the Portuguese Jewish literary academies in Amsterdam, i.e. the Academia de los
Sitibundos (1676) and Academia de los Floridos (1685).
However, these brothers Teixeira de Mattos settled mainly in Hamburg and Altona, where they managed their business.
What kind of business did they manage?
Business as business, but they also managed as bankers and advisers to the
Swedish Crown, in particular, to the Queen Christina (ruled 1644-1654), who later abdicated, converted to Roman Catholicism, and went to Rome. The Portuguese Jesuit
Priest António Vieira was her preacher.
They kept their network in Amsterdam too. Being a firm of brokerage, they were
active from 1822 to 1931.
The patriarch, and founder, was Samuel Teixeira de Mattos (1791-1865). He
managed the firm, and later on, he admitted into business their children Joseph Henri
and Isaac Eduard, after January 1st , 1852. The firm was then appointed as Les Frères
Teixeira. The French appointment may suggest eventual connections or interests on
French stock- market or stock-exchange market, where other Portuguese Jews made
business too.
However, the frame and leadership of the Portuguese Jewish brokerage in stock-exchange markets and insurance changed. In the 1800s, most of them lost their markets. The ranking was taken by the German Jewish firms: the Jackobson, Lippman,
Rosenthal & Co., the Hollander & Lehren, the Lissa & Kahn, the Werthheimer &
Gompertz, the Becker & Fuld, and the Louis Korijn & Co.
The very few concurrent Portuguese Jewish firms of brokerage that resisted,
were connected to such families: De Pinto, Boas De Lima & Co., S. & D. Saportas,
Mendes de Leon, and Mendes da Costa. After the 1830s their branch was financial
transactions, and the S. & J. Teixeira de Mattos, for instance, was also specialized in
Spanish issues.
Once the Dutch trading had declined after its Golden Age period (1609-1713),
because it did not match neither the French nor the English competitors, the Portuguese
Jewish communities lost their status and impoverished (see: Table 1). Many had therefore emigrated. They continued to live under their own laws and rabinnic leadership.
Although some Jews were successful in banking and brokerage, they were no longer
competitive. Their institutions failed. The Portuguese language was no longer spoken in
the Esnoga [Synagogue ] for long time, since the first half of the 19th century34 . After the
French Revolution in 1789, and during the period of the French rule in the Netherlands,
1795-1813, they reached the Dutch citizenship. Having settled in the Netherlands to escape persecution, they became loyal citizens to the Netherlands until the military occupation by the German troops after May, 1940. The worship continued until May 26,
1943. The majority of the Portuguese Jews were deported and executed by the Germans.
This paper proposes to state the historical economic grounds behind the theme of
“The Portuguese Jews and Modern Capitalism”, which allows us to come to a brief
overview and understanding of the contribution made to modern capitalism and its entrepreneurial and institutional changes.
Its has been related from the time of ancient and Modern Age diaspora, that
Jews had almost always assumed a dominant rôle in business, trading, insurance, banking, finance, and in money-lending. However, Roman Catholic Church and guilds imposed various types of restrictions upon Jewish activities. Therefore Jewish wealth became proverbial and their historical rôle made common sense to all. Their nature and
characteristics have been negatively stereotyped.
Until mid-twentie th century, the economic importance of the Portuguese Jewish
settlement in Amsterdam tended to be exaggerated by many scholars.
Despite this, the Portuguese Jews remained prominent in the realm of Dutch economic and cultural life, where they assumed a major rôle in supplying spices, com34
See: NOGUEIRA, A. de Vasconcelos, «Memória da diáspora hispano-portuguesa em Amsterdão:
elementos de bibliografia», in Separata da revista da universidade de Aveiro * Letras, n.º 16 (1999), pp.
201-204; The “Esnoga”. A Monument to Portuguese-Jewish Culture, pp. 29; 32.
modities and other luxury goods. Above all, they were more influential in economic,
social, and spiritual life. They managed their lives and business according to their religious faith. As entrepreneurs they were assumed to act in a rational, organized, and
ethical mode, in order to achieve their duties according to their values and beliefs, and
in such a way to deserve God’s blessing.
We focus the economic factors making up Portuguese Jewish participation in the
capitalistic order. They had been committed to economical and financial activities,
which led to a rational pattern of doing business throughout organization, network and
manage ment. Their prosperity derived primarily from merchandise trading, the import-export commerce of spices, dye woods, raw materials, jewels, precious metals for coinage, but also from their financial transactions, their family trends to make good business, including stock and share speculation, their networks and holdings, their ethos.
In this ground, the Portuguese Jewish families mentioned above took part in the
process of the rise and growth of capitalism, implementing the capitalistic order and
institutions, which expanded the markets. Some of them remained rich in accumulated
capital, since Dutch modern banking institutions were developed to meet the need of
expanding trade. They were middlemen, shareholders, stock-holders, bankers and brokers in many cities, involved in stock- market and stock-exchange operations, which
took place in the Spanish Low Countries, and then in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London
and New York.
Our aim is also to provide a survey of literature.
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The Portuguese Jews and Modern Capitalism