Introduction In the history of trade, very few words have engaged historians in search of a de nition, or the precise identi cation of a phenomenon, as much as the term ‘ nation’. Economic as well as social, political and legal historiography has had to deal with this elusive, multifaceted word, ultimately emphasizing its multitude of meanings and the impossibility of reducing it to a single signi cance.1 A great many studies have now been written on ‘nations’ conceived of as communities of people settled abroad: the topic has been approached both from the point of view of a particular ‘national’ colony active on many foreign marketplaces2 and from that of a host city with several nations living within it.3 While pioneering studies were o en limited to quantitative or descriptive surveys, recent studies have aimed at obtaining a comprehensive framework of the relationship between foreigners and the political, economic and social environments in which they integrated and also the links between their places of origin and settlement.4