Author: ARDELEANU KONSTANTIN
The “Organic Statute” in 1831–1832 settled the organisation of the commercial class in the Romanian Principalities, and merchants were divided into three categories: 1) domestic and foreign wholesalers; 2) domestic wholesalers; 3) retailers. Beyond these tax payers (subjects of Moldavia and Wallachia), the foreign trade of the Principalities was almost completely controlled by foreign merchants, most of them Greeks, Italians, Jews, Armenians, etc., the commercial nations of the Levant, attracted to the Danube from the large ports of the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Organised in commercial houses, they served as agents or partners of the large houses from London, Marseille, Trieste, Constantinople, Vienna or Leipzig. In an area where capitalist instruments were still at the beginnings, these businessmen were “in the same time bankers, merchants, exchange agents, traders for import and exports, but more than anything they are middlemen”. The most remunerating enterprise was by far to act as middleman in the grain trade. Exporters bought “grain from the peasants and owners a long time before the harvest at a fixed price, paying a part in advance and a part at delivery.” They also dealt with brokerage and storage costs, about 4–5% of the goods’ value, the sellers having the obligation to carry the products to well designated places, usually in the Danubian ports.
Jews and Greeks controlled the domestic trade, especially in articles of large consumption; in the same time, together with Italian and Austrian traders, they acted as middlemen in the grain trade. Although not very numerous, Western merchants gradually got to key-positions in this profitable commerce.
According to statistics, the number of commercial houses continuously grew, from 21 in 1837 and 34 in 1838 to 41 in 1841. In the late 1840s, the largest houses were those of Sechiari, Argenti and Schilizzi, based mainly on imports, and that of Epaminonda Pana et Co., specialised on exports. C. Ioanides et Co worked for a house in London, whereas T. G. Zissi was the agent of the Rosetti house. In the late 1840s and early 1850s, the biggest transactions were concluded by commissioners who mediated contracts for Western merchants. The house of the Schlienger brothers, French “sudits”, worked with English importers and invested huge capitals in purchasing Danubian grain.
The same pattern is visible in the 1860s, when the largest companies were those of Xenofon Hagi Teologu (grain and manufactures), Jean Sechiari, D. Rodocanachi şi I. Vuru (grain, colonials and manufactures), V. Fanciotti (grain), Francesco Delvecchio (grain), Panaioti Ghioni (grain), Evloghie Gheorghiev (grain and colonials), Dettner and Brenner (manufactures).
During the late 19th century, most of the largest merchants continued to be foreigners: M. Schmierer, L. Mendl, Caravia brothers, Paul Coventry et Co., Luderman et Romer, N. Vrioni, Corvissiano – grain exporters; T. Helwig, V. Stoicovici, A. Eliad – colonials importers; Teologo brothers, Schăfer, Marty – importers of manufactures.
 Thibault Lefebvre, Études diplomatiques et économiques sur la Valachie (Paris: Guillaumin et Cié, 1858), 313.
 Ibid., 261.
 Constantin Buşe, Comerţul exterior prin Galaţi sub regim de port–franc (1837–1883) (Bucharest: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1976), 72–73.
 Ibid., 85–86.
 Tezaur documentar gălăţean, edited by Cezar Bejan, Alexandru Duţă, Stelian Iordache, Viorica Solomon (Bucharest: Direcţia Generală a Arhivelor Statului, 1988), 175–177.
Serviciul Judeţean Galaţi al Arhivelor Naţionale (The National Archives, Galaţi Branch), Primăria oraşului Galaţi (The Municipality of Galaţi), Files starting with 1831.
Buşe, Constantin, Comerţul exterior prin Galaţi sub regimul de port franc (1837–1883) [The Foreign Trade through Galaţi under the Regime of Free Port (1837–1883) (Bucharest: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1976).
Lefebvre, Thibault, Études diplomatiques et économiques sur la Valachie (Paris: Guillaumin et Cié, 1858).
Tezaur documentar gălăţean [Tresure of Documents on Galaţi], edited by Cezar Bejan, Alexandru Duţă, Stelian Iordache, Viorica Solomom (Bucharest: Direcţia Generală a Arhivelor Statului, 1988).