In contrast to research on elites or "history from below," this study offers an approach that can be called "mesohistory" - a collective social biography of the Balkan merchants. In foregrounding the voices of traders, this study sheds fresh light on multiethnic networks of social actors navigating multiple social, political, and economic systems - supporting and opposing various aspects of nationalist ideologies. Personal accounts humanize features of these "faceless" socially mediating groups. Merchants' generation-specific perspectives on the economy, society, and state, both in times of war and peace, are analyzed against the backdrop of Balkan, Ottoman, and European history. The study captures a dialogue between primary and secondary sources and the major debates regarding nationalism, modernity, and the Ottoman legacy.