History Hub


Connecting past and present

Flora CassenFlora Cassen is Assistant Professor of History and Van der Horst Fellow in Jewish History and Culture at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. A native of Antwerp, in Belgium, she received her PhD in History and Judaic Studies from New York University in 2007. Her research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Belgian Academy of Rome, the Medieval Academy of America, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

Her forthcoming book with the University of Cambridge Press, Marking the Jews in Renaissance Italy: Politics, Religion, and the Power of Symbols, examines the roots of anti-Judaism through a study of discriminatory marks that Jews were compelled to wear in 15th and 16th century Italy. Her current project studies Italian Jews who were spies for the king of Spain. It examines how early modern intelligence networks functioned and probes questions of Jewish identity in a time of uprootedness and competing loyalties.

In episode nine of History Hub’s podcast series – ‘Kingdom, Empire and Plus Ultra: conversations on the history of Portugal and Spain, 1415-1898‘ – Professor Cassen is in conversation with series host Dr Edward Collins. In the episode, which is available to podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud, they discuss Professor Cassen’s current project on Italian Jewish spies in the employ of Spain, in this case King Philip II of Spain, and his Italian Jewish spy, Simon Sacerdoti.

A bitter conflict between the Spanish and Ottoman empires dominated the second half of the sixteenth century. In this early modern “global” conflict, intelligence played a key role. The Duchy of Milan had fallen to Spain, and for Jewish men like Simon Sacerdoti (c.1540-1600), expulsion by King Philip II (1527 -1598) was a very real risk. But Sacerdoti, scion to one of Milan’s wealthiest Jewish families, had direct access to high-level information from the enemy Ottomans, information that was of great value to Philip and to Spain. Sacerdoti, thus, found himself serving a king and an empire with a long history of harming the Jews, while spying on the Ottomans, a power far more tolerant of Jews. The podcast explores Sacerdoti’s actions and motivations and examine early modern diplomacy and espionage, as well as the place of the Jews in a time of competing empires and loyalties.

‘Philip II of Spain and His Italian Jewish Spy’ with Professor Flora Cassen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Read Professor Cassen’s article on the subject in the Journal of Early Modern History.

Kingdom, Empire and Plus Ultra

This History Hub podcast series features interviews with experts in the areas of Portuguese and Spanish history, from the beginning of the Portuguese discoveries in 1415 to the end of Spanish dominion in America in 1898. The interviews, conducted by historian Dr. Edward Collins, cover a range of topics on the domestic and overseas histories of both nations, which include, among others: the Portuguese explorations of Africa and Asia, Spanish navigation and settlement in America, the church in Portugal and Spain, monarchy and intermarriage in the Iberian kingdoms, natural science and mapping in America, the role of nautical science, Irish historical relations with Portugal and Spain, and imperial competition in Europe and overseas. The interviewees comprise a number of established and renowned academics, as well as up-and-coming researchers from universities and institutions worldwide.

This History Hub series is funded by UCD Seed Funding and supported by UCD School of History. Series editor is Mike Liffey (Real Smart Media). Download series episodes on iTunes or listen via Soundcloud. historyhub.ie/kingdom-empire-and-plus-ultra


Image: detail from ‘Philip II of Spain’ by Giacomo Antonio Moro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 

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