A Taste of Diplomacy: Food Gifts for the Muscovite Embassy in Venice (1582)

Laura Mesotten

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/LEGATIO.2017.05


A vital factor governing early modern diplomatic relations was the practice of hospitality. To assure that the embassy began amicably, ambassadors had to be received with generosity. The nature and extent of diplomatic hospitality differed according to the host state, but it often included the offer of housing and victuals. This critical edition of a primary source aims to shed new light on the characteristics of diplomatic hospitality by carefully examining a list of expenses drafted by the Venetian office of the Rason Vecchie. This archival document provides a detailed account of all the food that was supplied to host a Muscovite delegation that visited Venice in 1582. In the first place, the article unravels the qualities and dynamics of Venetian food gifts by contextualising and comparing the source with additional Venetian records. Furthermore, it argues that the type of foodstuffs offered, the amount of money spent on them, and the splendour of festive banquets all communicated strong symbolic and political messages. By focusing the analysis on lists of expenses, the relevance of these documents for the study of diplomatic practices is illustrated. Overviews of financial transactions might seem static and dry accounts at first sight, however, when analysed closely, they reveal a great deal about the day-to-day operation of early modern diplomacy.


Venice; hospitality; gift-giving; food gifts; diplomatic expenditure

Full Text:



Archival Sources

Venice, Archivio di Stato di Venezia

Collegio, Cerimoniali

reg. 1, 3

Collegio, Esposizioni Principi

reg. 5

Senato, Deliberazioni, Terra

reg. 36–80

fz. 85

Ufficiali alle Rason Vecchie

b. 378, 379

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Sanudo, Marin, Diarii di Marino Sanuto, ed. by Rinaldo Fulin and others, 58 volumes (Venice: Visentini, 1879–1903), XVII (1886)

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