Call for papers // Bucharest, 2024

Accessing Arcana Imperii: Informal Channels for Early Modern States in Imperial Courts

An international conference

Bucharest, 28–29 May 2024

Over the course of the past few decades, the question has often been raised in the historiography on European diplomacy that we will inevitably fail to grasp an enormous part of the communication going on between the political players if we consider only official missions with formal princely accreditation. The actor-centred approach highlighted the importance of the individual diplomats’ networks in information gathering and exerting influence on the host country’s decision-making. Moreover, the role played by non-state actors was repeatedly pointed out: individuals who did not belong to the state apparatus could nevertheless frequently offer important services for the rulers in the realm of foreign policy, while also pursuing their own agenda. This conference, organised in the framework of the ERC project “The Diplomacy of Small States in Early Modern South-eastern Europe” (SMALLST) aims to offer a venue to enlarge the scope of this research that usually concentrates on the western part of Europe and bring into discussion the experiences of the early modern states in both parts of the continent and its immediate surroundings, from Northern Africa to the Caucasus. Also, looking beyond the usual frame of related discussions, which base their results on the cases of empires, the conference aims to provide a space for the diplomatic practices of small states that had much more limited resources than their larger counterparts and thus often had to rely on alternative ways of influencing the decision-makers of foreign courts.

               The conference will address the following topic fields:

  • accessing foreign courts: apart from having their wishes declared at public audiences or negotiating with other rulers through official envoys, what other channels of creating influence at foreign courts can be observed in the diplomatic practices of early modern rulers?
  • creating networks: what were the means for early modern powers to gain support in the elites of other state entities of the age? Were there any ways to secure (or even formalize) the loyalty of those involved?
  • intermediaries and information brokers: how was it possible to make sure that people, who did not belong to the political elite of the foreign country, but had a direct access to it, would act as go-betweens between the interested parties and keep the interests of the foreign ruler in mind?
  • non-state actors: what was the framework for those outside the court to influence the relationship between two rulers? What could be the benefit of giving these people, with a clear political agenda of their own, credit and accreditation?
  • covert action and clandestine diplomacy: much of the most important diplomatic activities of early modern rulers were taken care of by people who did not go through the regular procedure of introducing foreign envoys at the court visited, e.g. received no public audience. This was especially the case of smaller states, who had to keep part of their diplomatic plans secret in order to avoid pre-emptive retribution from their stronger enemies. What kind of problems and conflicts did such practices cause in the realm of the otherwise highly formalized world of early modern diplomatic negotiations?

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 31 October 2023. Applicants will be notified of the acceptance of their proposal by 20 November 2023. The ERC project will be able to cover a moderate level of travel costs, provide accommodation in Bucharest for the duration of the event and offer catering.