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The Merchants of Siberia

Trade in Early Modern Eurasia

In The Merchants of Siberia, Erika Monahan reconsiders commerce in early modern Russia by reconstructing the trading world of Siberia and the careers of merchants who traded there. She follows the histories of three merchant families from various social ranks who conducted trade in Siberia for well over a century.

Author Information


Erika Monahan is Assistant Professor of History at the University of New Mexico.


Valerie A. Kivelson, Thomas N. Tentler Collegiate Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History, University of Michigan, author of Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia:

"In The Merchants of Siberia, Erika Monahan demonstrates that trade in Siberia from the late sixteenth through eighteenth centuries was more extensive and significant than has been acknowledged heretofore. Commercial activity in general, not just furs, was the motivation for the Muscovite government's extension of its interests. Monahan tells the reader a great deal about European trade and merchants and uses that evidence to improve our understanding of commercial activity and merchants in Russia in general. In this important book, Monahan sets out nothing less than a revision of the way we imagine the Muscovite economy in the early modern era."

Janet Hartley, London School of Economics and Political Science:

"This excellent book is an impressive account of the world of trade, and of trading families, in Siberia in the seventeenth century. Erika Monahan not only provides a detailed and nuanced account of day-to-day commercial activity, but also contributes significantly to our understanding of the evolution of commercial relations and trade networks in Russia and of the relationship of the Tsars and their local officials with merchant families.... This is a rich and important study in which Monahan displays an impressive mastery of the archival records. It makes a major contribution to our understanding of Russian commercial activity and to the development of the Russian state in the seventeenth century and should be of interest to all historians and students of early modern Europe."

Donald Ostrowski, Harvard University Extension School and Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, author of Muscovy and the Mongols :

"The Merchants of Siberia is ambitious, original, readable, and significant. In this important book, Erika Monahan sets out nothing less than a revision of the way we imagine the Muscovite economy in the early modern era. With a deeply researched examination of trade and commerce across Eurasia, she challenges a number of ingrained assumptions about Russian trade policies as backwards, xenophobic, state-driven, and monopolistic. She finds that the Russian state encouraged trade across Siberia with farsighted policies that granted temporary tax exemption to lure merchants into the area. The state worked in tandem with merchants pursuing their own agendas and fostered private enterprise as well. By examining central decrees, local customs books, merchants' correspondence with their Siberian agents, and petitions between entrepreneurs and central administrative offices, she finds that the state understood the importance of supplying settlements with the necessary food and materials for survival and the need to negotiate attractive deals with foreign states and itinerant merchants."

Audience: General/trade;