CALL FOR PAPERS Navigating the Society of Princes: The Strategies of Early Modern Small States in Their Foreign Policy

Zsuzsanna Hámori Nagy's picture
Call for Papers
May 29, 2023 to May 31, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Borderlands, Diplomacy and International Relations, Early Modern History and Period Studies, Eastern Europe History / Studies, European History / Studies

Call for papers

Navigating the Society of Princes: The Strategies of Early Modern Small States in Their Foreign Policy

An international conference

Budapest, 29–31 May 2023


The history of diplomacy usually concentrates upon the activities of empires, major powers that had substantial mobilisation resources for conducting their foreign policy and intelligence service, and left behind a large amount of documentation, which allows researchers to discover many facets of their strategies and its implementation. Small states, as a rule, receive less attention, in spite of the fact that they often had to face higher stakes in their foreign relations if they wanted to overcome challenges caused by their vulnerability. This conference, organised in the framework of the ERC project “The Diplomacy of Small States in Early Modern South-eastern Europe” (SMALLST) will address the question how entities with limited resources tried to establish or defend their ability to survive as an identifiable political unit in the “society of princes” of early modern Europe and its immediate surroundings, from Northern Africa to the Caucasus. We are primarily interested in strategies on the level of high politics: seeking for patrons, creating alliances, gaining further resources by coercing other small states and generally, securing a space for manoeuvring by functioning as sovereign actors in spite of their eventual connections to an overlord.

               Defining a ‘small state’ always involves applying a whole set of categories from the size of territory, population, economic wealth and military power. Such attempts at definition are usually practiced/conceptualized in a relational manner: that is, besides the aforementioned limited resources, they also have to take into account the perceived smallness of the given political units. This conference welcomes papers that present case studies about states which, due to their limited resources, were forced to negotiate from the position of weakness in most of their foreign policy relations. We are also interested in studies of states-in-formation, communities with a certain level of self-governance, which in critical situations decide to go against the policies of the central government of their magistrates and try to gain acknowledgment as players at the theatre of European politics on their own right. Their successes and failures can be instructive concerning the workings of the international society just as much as those of their more established counterparts.

               The conference will address the following topic fields:

  • struggle for sovereignty: what were the ways small states applied to implement their status as sui generis legitimate players in the early modern society of princes? Which were the applied means, ranging from political and legal treatises, ceremonies and symbols, alliances and warfare? What were the common obstacles they had to overcome? How did a ‘rebellious’ community or its leader seek to present themselves as legitimate members of the international society?
  • small states’ strengths and weaknesses as diplomatic players: were there any specific strengths of small states which were due exactly to their small size and resources? Can we identify diplomatic victories of small states over their larger counterparts – and if yes, what made this possible?
  • dynamics of relations with great powers: specific diplomatic relations shaped by significant difference in territory and power between the two polities. Which were the forms of patronage and dependence between the small states and great empires (e.g. tribute, military aid, symbolic submission)? What were the small states’ means of resisting the pressure of their more powerful counterparts?
  • early modern reflections of the problem: How were small states and the problems related to their political status presented in early modern political though, both in the Western Christian, as well as in the Orthodox and Muslim tradition?


We therefore invite researchers to send a maximum 300-word abstract and a short CV for twenty-minute papers, or suggestions for panels of three papers, addressing the aforementioned questions. Please send these documents to The deadline for submission is 30 November 2022. Applicants will be notified of the acceptance of their proposal by 15 December 2022.


The ERC project will be able to cover a moderate level of travel costs, provide accommodation in Budapest for the duration of the event and offer catering.