Giovanni Ceccarelli

Estimates without probability: insurance and risk in Renaissance Florence

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This article focuses on the criteria followed to assess the risk connected to maritime commerce, in the context of the insurance industry in Renaissance Florence. Insurers evaluated structural risks (related to itineraries, craft, weather, etc.), which were somehow predictable, as well as contingent risks (piracy, war), whose incidence was more difficult to assess. Two different approaches emerged to reach a reliable valuation: a pseudo-frequentist approach, which rested on a proto-statistical method, and a sub-symbolyc probablility, based on the forecast made by two «risk-experts» - a specialized broker and a leading insurer - that set the standard for the other transactors in what was a complex effort of appraising the perils of the sea.

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