The Most Serene Republic of Venice, was an Italian state originating from the city of Venice (today in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late seventh century until the late eighteenth century (1797). At times, its jurisdiction extended into Dalmatia further into Italy and across many Mediterranean and Aegean islands including Cyprus and Crete. In addition, it had far-flung trading outposts. It fought many battles against the Ottoman Empire and earlier Muslim polities although it also engaged in extensive trade within the Muslim world. Many Muslim cities, including Istanbul had Venetian quarters. The Venetian navy even helped Muslim rules in Egypt to police their shore-line, preventing piracy. One of the republics most famous sons was the merchant and explorer, Marco Polo who traveled the Silk Road to China. It is often referred to as La Serenissima, in reference to its title in Venetian, The Most Serene Republic. It is also referred to as the Republic of Venice or the Venetian Republic. It was never a republic in the sense that all citizens voted, or could take part in governance. However, for centuries when most states were run more or less by one person with almost unlimited power, Venice had a system of governance with checks and balances in which certain citizens exercised much more authority than in most other polities at the time. It has the longest history of any republican system yet devised.
The republic thrived on trade and, rather like the Carthaginian Empire only became involved in war to protect its commercial routes and interests. Because of its independence, Venice was an important cultural and intellectual center during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Venice was a major conduit for cultural exchange between Europe, Africa and as far East as China. The city was not subjected as strictly to the control of the Catholic Church as other centers of Europe, allowing more freedom for scholars and artists. From the fifteenth century, many works of Islamic learning were also printed in Venice. Like other Italian city states, the city of Venice maintained schools and universities, for which it sought the most prestigious professors. Wealthy families competed with each other in building magnificent palaces. Ultimately, the larger imperial entity to the North, the Holy Roman Empire of Austria which had long coveted access to the sea, took control of the City-state and ended its existence as an independent entity. After a brief period under Napoleon Bonaparte, Austrian Venice fell to the forces of the Italian unification movement in 1866. Trade enabled the republic to respect the cultural and religious other, with whom it would rather trade than fight. The republic engaged in war to protect its interests but its not insignificant power derived from trade, not from military might.
The city of Venice originated as a collection of lagoon communities banded together for mutual defense from the Lombards, Huns and other steppe peoples as the power of the Byzantine Empire dwindled in northern Italy. Sometime in the first decades of the eighth century, the people of the lagoon elected their first leader Ursus, who was confirmed by Byzantium and given the titles of hypatus and dux. He was the first historical Doge of Venice. Tradition, however, first attested in the early eleventh century, states that the Venetians first proclaimed one Anafestus Paulicius duke in 697, though this story dates to no earlier than the chronicle of John the Deacon.</ref>John the Deacon died at the turn of the tenth century; see J.P. Kirsch, 1910. John the Deacon. The Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company). Retrieved August 22, 2008.</ref> Whatever the case, the first doges had their power base in Heraclea.
Ursus's successor, Deusdedit, moved his seat from Heraclea to Malamocco in the 740s. He was the son of Ursus and represented the attempt of his father to establish a dynasty. Such attempts were more than commonplace among the doges of the first few centuries of Venetian history, but all were ultimately unsuccessful. During the reign of Deusdedit, Venice became the only remaining Byzantine possession in the north and the changing politic of the Frankish Empire began to change the factional division of Venetia. One faction was decidedly pro-Byzantine. They desired to remain well-connected to the Empire. Another faction, republican in nature, believed in continuing along a course towards practical independence. The other main faction was pro-Frankish. Supported mostly by clergy (in line with papal sympathies of the time), they looked towards the new Carolingian king of the Franks, Pepin the Short, as the best provider of defense against the Lombards. A minor, pro-Lombard, faction was opposed to close ties with any of these further-off powers and interested in maintaining peace with the neighboring (and surrounding, but for the sea) Lombard kingdom.
The successors of Obelerio inherited a united Venice. By the Pax Nicephori (803) the two emperors had recognized Venetian de facto independence, while it remained nominally Byzantine in subservience. During the reign of the Participazio, Venice grew into its modern form. Though Heraclean by birth, Agnello, first doge of the family, was an early immigrant to Rialto and his dogeship was marked by the expansion of Venice towards the sea via the construction of bridges, canals, bulwarks, fortifications, and stone buildings. The modern Venice, at one with the sea, was being born. Agnello was succeeded by his son Giustiniano, who brought the body of Saint Mark the Evangelist to Venice from Alexandria and made him the patron saint of Venice.
During the reign of the successor of the Participazio, Pietro Tradonico, Venice began to establish its military capability, which would influence many a later crusade and dominate the Adriatic for centuries. Tradonico secured the sea by fighting Slavic and Saracen pirates. Tradonico's reign was long and successful (837–864), but he was succeeded by the Participazio and it appeared that a dynasty may have finally been established. Around 841, the Republic of Venice sent a fleet of 60 galleys (each carrying 200 men) to assist the Byzantines in driving the Arabs from Crotone, but it fails. In 1000, Pietro II Orseolo sent a fleet of six ships to defeat the Croatian pirates from Dalmatia.
In the High Middle Ages, Venice became extremely wealthy through its control of trade between Europe and the Levant, and began to expand into the Adriatic Sea and beyond. In 1084, Domenico Selvo personally led a fleet against the Normans, but he was defeated and lost nine great galleys, the largest and most heavily armed ships in the Venetian war fleet. Venice was involved in the Crusades almost from the very beginning; 200 Venetian ships assisted in capturing the coastal cities of Syria after the First Crusade, and in 1123 they were granted virtual autonomy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem through the Pactum Warmundi. In 1110, Ordelafo Faliero personally commanded a Venetian fleet of 100 ships to assist Baldwin I of Jerusalem in capturing the city of Sidon. In the twelfth century, the Venetians also gained extensive trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire and their ships often provided the Empire with a navy. In 1182 there was an anti-Western riot in Constantinople, of which the Venetians were the main targets. Many in the Empire had become jealous of Venetian power and influence, and thus, when in 1182 the pretender Andronikos I Komnenos marched on Constantinople, Venetian property was seized and the owners imprisoned or banished, an act which humiliated, and angered the Republic. The Venetian fleet was crucial to the transportation of the Fourth Crusade, but when the crusaders could not pay for the ships, the cunning and manipulative Doge Enrico Dandolo quickly exploited the situation and offered transport to the crusaders if they were to capture the (Christian) Dalmatian city of Zadar (Italian: Zara), which had rebelled against the Venetian rule in 1183, placed itself under the dual protection of the Papacy and King Emeric of Hungary and had proven too well fortified to retake for Venice alone.
After accomplishing this the crusade was again diverted to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, another rival of Venice in revenge for the 1182 massacre of Venetian citizens living in Constantinople. The city was captured and sacked in 1204; the sack has been described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history. The Byzantine Empire, which until 1204 had resisted several attacks and kept the Islamic invaders out of Western Anatolia and the Balkans, was re-established in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaiologos but never recovered its previous power and was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who later occupied the Balkans and Hungary and on two occasions even besieged Vienna. The Venetians, who accompanied the crusader fleet, claimed much of the plunder, including the famous four bronze horses which were brought back to adorn Saint Mark's basilica. As a result of the subsequent partition of the Byzantine Empire, Venice gained a great deal of territory in the Aegean Sea (three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire), including the islands of Crete and Euboea. The Aegean islands came to form the Venetian Duchy of the Archipelago. Throughout the Crusades, the republic continued to trade with Muslim partners.
In 1295, Pietro Gradenigo sent a fleet of 68 ships to attack a Genoese fleet at Alexandretta, then another fleet of 100 ships were sent to attack the Genoese in 1299. From 1350 to 1381, Venice fought an intermittent war with the Genoese. Initially defeated, they devastated the Genoese fleet at the Battle of Chioggia in 1380 and retained their prominent position in eastern Mediterranean affairs at the expense of Genoa's declining empire.
In the early fifteenth century, the Venetians also began to expand in Italy, as well as along the Dalmatian coast from Istria to Albania, which was acquired from King Ladislas of Naples during the civil war in Hungary. Ladislas was about to lose the conflict and had decided to escape to Naples, but before doing so he agreed to sell his now practically forfeit rights on the Dalmatian cities for a meager sum of 100,000 ducats. Venice exploited the situation and quickly installed nobility to govern the area, for example, Count Filippo Stipanov in Zadar. This move by the Venetians was a response to the threatening expansion of Giangaleazzo Visconti, Duke of [[Milan. Control over the north-east main land routes was also a necessity for the safety of the trades. By 1410, Venice had a navy of 3,300 ships (manned by 36,000 men) and taken over most of Venetia, including such important cities as Verona (which swore its loyalty in the Devotion of Verona to Venice in 1405) and Padua.
The situation in Dalmatia had been settled in 1408 by a truce with King Sigismund of Hungary but the difficulties of Hungary finally granted to the Republic the consolidation of its Adriatic dominions. At the expiration of the truce, Venice immediately invaded the Patriarchate of Aquileia, and subjected Traù, Spalato, Durazzo and other Dalmatian cities.
Slaves were plentiful in the Italian city-states as late as the 15th century. Between 1414 and 1423, some 10,000 slaves were sold in Venice, almost all of whom were "nubile" young women from Russia, Greece, Bosnia, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Turkey
In February 1489, the island of Cyprus, previously a crusader state, was annexed to Venice.
Trading across North Africa, the Levant and the Middle East, the republic established what have been described as "mini-Venices." In such cities as Alexandria, Constantinople, Damascus, Acre, Aleppo, Trebizond and Tabriz, "the Republic created mini-Venices, commercial enclaves overseen by a bailo, or consul, complete with churches, priests, merchants, doctors, barbers, bakers, cooks, tailors, apothecaries and silversmiths." Venetian diplomats as well as merchants traveled throughout the Muslim world. Their records and correspondence sheds a great deal of light on all aspects of "Islamic politics, history, economics and art." After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, they actually sent a famous artist, Gentile Bellini to work for the Sultan on a two-year loan, as a present; "In the nearly two years he resided at the Ottoman court, Bellini painted numerous portraits that ultimately left their marks on local artists and miniaturist painters in Istanbul and as far away as Isfahan and Tabriz." A series of forts were built to protect the trade routes.
The Ottoman Empire started sea campaigns as early as 1423, when it waged a seven year war with the Venetian Republic over maritime control of the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea. The wars with Venice resumed in 1463 until a favorable peace treaty was signed in 1479. In 1480 (now no longer hampered by the Venetian fleet) the Ottomans besieged Rhodes and captured Otranto. By 1490, the population of Venice had risen to about 180,000 people.
War with the Ottomans resumed from 1499 to 1503. In 1499, Venice allied itself with Louis XII of France against Milan, gaining Cremona. In the same year the Ottoman sultan moved to attack Lepanto by land, and sent a large fleet to support his offensive by sea. Antonio Grimani, more a businessman and diplomat than a sailor, was defeated in the sea battle of Zonchio in 1499. The Turks once again sacked Friuli. Preferring peace to total war both against the Turks and by sea, Venice surrendered the bases of Lepanto, Modon and Coron.
Venice's attention was diverted from its usual maritime position by the delicate situation in Romagna, then one of the richest lands in Italy, which was nominally part of the Papal States but effectively fractionated in a series of small lordship of difficult control for Rome's troops. Eager to take some of Venice's lands, all neighboring powers joined in the League of Cambrai in 1508, under the leadership of Pope Julius II. The pope wanted Romagna; Emperor Maximilian I: Friuli and Veneto; Spain: the Apulian ports; the king of France: Cremona; the king of Hungary: Dalmatia, and each of the others some part. The offensive against the huge army enlisted by Venice was launched from France. On May 14, 1509, Venice was crushingly defeated at the battle of Agnadello, in the Ghiara d'Adda, marking one of the most delicate points of the entire Venetian history. French and imperial troops were occupying the Veneto, but Venice managed to extricate itself through diplomatic efforts. The Apulian ports were ceded in order to come to terms with Spain, and pope Julius II soon recognized the danger brought by the eventual destruction of Venice (then the only Italian power able to face kingdoms like France or empires like the Ottomans). The citizens of the mainland rose to the cry of "Marco, Marco," and Andrea Gritti recaptured Padua in July 1509, successfully defending it against the besieging imperial troops. Spain and the pope broke off their alliance with France, and Venice regained Brescia and Verona from France also. After seven years of ruinous war, the Serenissima regained its mainland dominions west to the Adda river. Although the defeat had turned into a victory, the events of 1509 marked the end of the Venetian expansion.
In 1489, the first year of Venetian control of Cyprus, Turks attacked the Karpasia Peninsula, pillaging and taking captives to be sold into slavery. In 1539 the Turkish fleet attacked and destroyed Limassol. Fearing the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire, the Venetians had fortified Famagusta, Nicosia, and Kyrenia, but most other cities were easy prey. By 1563, the population of Venice had dropped to about 168,000 people.
In the summer of 1570, the Turks struck again, but this time with a full-scale invasion rather than a raid. About sixty thousand troops, including cavalry and artillery, under the command of Mustafa Pasha landed unopposed near Limassol on July 2, 1570, and laid siege to Nicosia. In an orgy of victory on the day that the city fell—September 9, 1570—twenty thousand Nicosian Greeks and Venetians were put to death, and every church, public building, and palace was looted. Word of the massacre spread, and a few days later Mustafa took Kyrenia without having to fire a shot. Famagusta, however, resisted and put up a heroic defense that lasted from September 1570 until August 1571.
The fall of Famagusta marked the beginning of the Ottoman period in Cyprus. Two months later, the naval forces of the Holy League, composed mainly of Venetian, Spanish, and Papal ships under the command of Don John of Austria, defeated the Turkish fleet at Battle of Lepanto in one of the decisive battles of world history. The victory over the Turks, however, came too late to help Cyprus, and the island remained under Ottoman rule for the next three centuries. By 1575, the population of Venice was about 175,000 people, but dropped to 124,000 people by 1581.
In 1605, a conflict between Venice and the Holy See began with the arrest of two clerics accused of petty crimes, and with a law restricting the Church's right to enjoy and acquire landed property. Pope Paul V held that these provisions were contrary to canon law, and demanded that they should be repealed. When this was refused, he placed Venice under an interdict. The Republic paid no attention to the interdict or the act of excommunication, and ordered its priests to carry out their ministry. It was supported in its decisions by the Servite monk Paolo Sarpi, a sharp polemical writer who was nominated to be the Signoria's adviser on theology and canon law in 1606. The interdict was lifted after a year, when France intervened and proposed a formula of compromise. Venice was satisfied with reaffirming the principle that no citizen was superior to the normal processes of law. Following the Cretan War (1645–1669) Venice lost the island of Crete, one of its most lucrative possession to the Ottomans, bringing four centuries of Venetian rule to an end. Ironically, when the Popes from time to time banned trade with Muslims, it was through Crete that Venice had circumvented this and carried on business as usual.
In December 1714, the Turks declared war when the Peloponnese (the Morea) was "without any of those supplies which are so desirable even in countries where aid is near at hand which are not liable to attack from the sea."
The Turks took the islands of Tinos and Aegina, crossed the isthmus and took Corinth. Daniele Dolfin, commander of the Venetian fleet, thought it better to save the fleet than risk it for the Morea. When he eventually arrived on the scene, Nauplia, Modon, Corone and Malvasia had fallen. Levkas in the Ionian islands, and the bases of Spinalonga and Suda on Crete which still remained in Venetian hands, were abandoned. The Turks finally landed on Corfù, but its defenders managed to throw them back. In the meantime, the Turks had suffered a grave defeat by the Austrians at Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August 1716. Venetian naval efforts in the Aegean and the Dardanelles in 1717 and 1718, however, met with little success. With the Treaty of Passarowitz (21 July 1718), Austria made large territorial gains, but Venice lost the Morea, for which its small gains in Albania and Dalmatia were little compensation. This was the last war with the Ottoman Empire. By the year 1792, the once great Venetian merchant fleet had declined to a mere 309 merchantmen.
By 1796, the Republic of Venice could no longer defend itself since its war fleet numbered only 4 galleys and 7 galliots. In spring 1796, Piedmont fell and the Austrians were beaten from Montenotte to Lodi. The army under Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the frontiers of neutral Venice in pursuit of the enemy. By the end of the year the French troops were occupying the Venetian state up to the Adige. Vicenza, Cadore and Friuli were held by the Austrians. With the campaigns of the next year, Napoleon aimed for the Austrian possessions across the Alps. In the preliminaries to the Peace of Leoben, the terms of which remained secret, the Austrians were to take the Venetian possessions as the price of peace (April 18, 1797). They had long coveted access to the sea.
In the early years of the republic, the Doge ruled Venice in an autocratic fashion, but later his powers were limited by the promissione, a pledge he had to take when elected. As a result powers were shared with the Major Council of Venice, composed of 480 members taken from certain families. Neither the Doge nor the Council could act without the other's consent.
In the twelfth century, the aristocratic families of Rialto further diminished the Doge's powers by establishing the Minor Council (1175), composed of six advisors of the Doge, and the Quarantia (1179) as a supreme tribunal. In 1223, these institutions were combined into the Signoria, which consisted of the Doge, the Minor Council and the three leaders of the Quarantia. The Signoria was the central body of government, representing the continuity of the republic as shown in the expression: "si è morto il Doge, no la Signoria" ("Though the Doge is dead, not the Signoria").
Also created were the sapientes, two (and later six) bodies that combined with other groups to form a collegio, which formed an executive branch. In 1229, the Consiglio dei Pregadi, a senate, was formed, being 60 members elected by the Major Council. These developments left the Doge with little personal power and saw actual authority in the hands of the Major Council.
Venice described its political system as a 'classical republic' combining the monarchy in the Doge, aristocracy in the senate, and democracy in the Major Council.. Machiavelli also refers to Venice as a republic..
In 1335, a Council of Ten was established and became the central political body whose members operated in secret. Around 1600, its dominance over the Major Council was considered a threat and the Ten's reduced.
In 1454, the Supreme Tribunal of the three state inquisitors was established to guard the security of the republic. By means of espionage, counterespionage, internal surveillance and a network of informers, they ensured that Venice did not come under the rule of a single "signore," as many other Italian cities did at the time. One of the inquisitors - popularly known as Il Rosso ("the red one") because of his scarlet robe - was chosen from the Doge's councilors, two - popularly known as I negri ("the black ones") because of their black robes - were chosen from the Council of Ten. The Supreme Tribunal gradually assumed some of the powers of the Council of Ten.
In 1556, the provveditori ai beni inculti were also created for the improvement of agriculture by increasing the area under cultivation and encouraging private investment in agricultural improvement. The consistent rise in the price of grain during the 16th century encouraged the transfer of capital from trade to the land.
Austrian Venice lasted until 1805, when Napoleon re-took the city. After 1814, it was returned to Austria. In 1866, after a seven week war between the Italians and Austria, it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy as part of the process of Italian unification. For the citizens of the republic while it lasted across a thousand years of history, the city's stable and participatory system of government brought prosperity and often peace. The history of the republic of Venice is testimony to what a polity based on trade can achieve, even though Venice did engage in war, war was never the main concern or agenda of the city-state. To quite a degree, it saw its role as policing the sea. It often used treaties to extent its trade and at different times had "productive business agreements with princes in North Africa, Syria and Egypt". 'The Mamluks, who ruled a vast stretch of territory from Egypt to Syria from 1250 till 1517, relied," says Covington, on the Venetian navy to protect their coasts. With trading links as far East as China and outposts dotted across the Middle East, Venice was also a major conduit for East-West cultural exchange. Strong early links with the Byzantine Empire also helped to preserve the Greek legacy. From the fifteenth century, many works by Muslim scholars were printed and published in Venice.
Stability, trade and independence allowed art and culture to flourish across the centuries, and Venice was often a haven where others found refuge. The adjective it chose to describe itself, "serene," from the Latin serenus means clear, cloudless, untroubled, quiet, tranquil, or simply "peaceful" suggesting that peace was a central concern. The legacy of Venice's cultural exchange with the Muslim world can be seen in the "cupolas, pointed arches and gilt mosaics of the Basilica of Saint Mark to the labyrinth of winding streets that Cambridge University architectural historian Deborah Howard compares to a 'colossal souk.'" Venice was never hostile to the world of Islam in the same way that some European nations were, always balancing its interests. When the Pope "from time to time" placed "restrictions on trade with Muslims … the Venetians, eager to assert their independence from papal authority, circumvented the bans by trading surreptitiously through Cyprus and Crete." In fact, "For centuries, the Christian Republic carried on a diplomatic high-wire act, balancing competing allegiances to Muslim rulers and the Catholic Church, essentially doing whatever was necessary to keep commerce as free and unhindered as possible." Here is an example of how trade between different civilizational zones can produce a preference for peace: war disrupts commerce except, of course, for the makers and sellers of weapons. Without trade with the Muslim world, says Covington, "Venice would not have existed."
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