Most Serene Republic of Venice ( or , ) or
Venetian Republic was a state originating from the
city of Venice in Northeastern Italy.
existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century AD
until the year 1797
. It is often referred to as La
, in reference to its title in Venetian,
the Most Serene
The city of Venice originated as a collection of lagoon communities
banded together for mutual defence from the Lombards
and other steppe
peoples as the power of the Western
dwindled in northern
. 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
. He was the first historical
Doge of Venice
. Tradition, however,
first attested in the early 11th century, states that the Venetians
first proclaimed one Anafestus
duke in 697, though this story dates to no earlier
than the chronicle of John the
. Whatever the case, the first doges had their
power base in Heraclea.
Ursus's successor, Deusdedit
his seat from Heraclea to Malamocco
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
king of the Franks
, Pepin the
, as the best provider of defence 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 neighbouring (and surrounding, but
for the sea) Lombard kingdom.
Early Middle Ages
The successors of Obelerio inherited a united Venice. By the
(803) the two
emperors had recognised Venetian de facto
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 stole the remains
of Saint Mark the
Evangelist from Alexandria, took them to Venice, and made him the Republic's
During the reign of the successor of the Participazio, Pietro Tradonico
, Venice began to establish
its military might which would influence many a later crusade and
dominate the Adriatic for centuries. Tradonico secured the sea by
and Saracen pirates
Tradonico's reign was long and successful (837–64), 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
In 1000, Pietro II
sent a fleet of 6 ships to defeat the Croatian pirates
High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages, Venice became
extremely wealthy through its control of trade between Europe and
the Levant, and began to expand into the
Sea and beyond.
In 1084, Domenico Selvo
personally led a fleet against
, but he was defeated and lost 9
great galleys, the largest and most heavily armed ships in the
Venetian war fleet
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
1110, Ordelafo Faliero
commanded a Venetian fleet of 100 ships to assist Baldwin I
and Sigurd I of Norway
in capturing the city
. In the 12th century,
the Venetians also gained extensive trading privileges in the
Byzantine Empire and their ships often provided the Empire with a
1182 there was a vicious anti-Western riot in Constantinople, of which the Latins were the targets, the
Venetians in particular.
Many in the Empire had become
jealous of Venetian power and influence, and thus, when in 1182 the
pretender Andronikos I
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 Dalmatian city of Zara
), which had rebelled against the Venetian rule in 1183, placed
itself under the dual protection of the Papacy
and King Emeric
and had proven too well fortified to retake for
Venice alone. Upon accomplishing this, the crusade was again diverted to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, another rival of Venice,
in order to avenge 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.
Venetians, who accompanied the crusader fleet, claimed much of the
plunder, including the famous four
bronze horses which were brought back to adorn St. Mark's
basilica. As a result of the subsequent partition of
the Byzantine Empire, Venice gained a great deal of territory in
Sea (three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire), including
the islands of Crete and Euboea; for
example, the present core city of Chania on Crete is
largely of Venetian construction, built atop the ruins of the ancient city of Cydonia. The Aegean islands came to form the Venetian
Duchy of the
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
. Initially defeated, they devastated the Genoese fleet
at the Battle of Chioggia
and retained their prominent position in eastern Mediterranean
affairs at the expense of Genoa's declining empire.
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
The Republic of Venice (shown in
orange), its possessions and other surrounding states in
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.
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
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.
February 1489, the island of Cyprus, previously
a crusader state (the Kingdom of Cyprus), was annexed to
Venetian possessions in Greece, 1450
League of Cambrai, Lepanto and the loss of Cyprus
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
and captured Otranto
. By 1490, the population
of Venice had risen to about 180,000 people.
War with the
resumed from 1499 to 1503. In 1499, Venice
allied itself with Louis XII of
France against Milan, gaining
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.
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.
take some of Venice's lands, all neighbouring powers joined in the
League of Cambrai
in 1508, under
the leadership of Pope Julius II
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.
offensive against the huge army enlisted by Venice was launched
from France. On 14 May 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
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.
1563, the population of Venice had dropped to about 168,000
In the summer of 1570, the Turks struck again, but this time with a
rather than a raid. About 60,000 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 — 20,000
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
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
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
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.
latter half of the 17th century saw also prolonged wars with the
Ottoman Empire: in the Cretan War , Venice lost its
major overseas possession, the island of Crete, after a
In 1684 however, taking advantage of
the Ottoman involvement against Austria in the Great Turkish War
, the Republic initiated
the Morean War
, which lasted until 1699
and in which it was able to conquer the Morea
These gains were not meant to last, however: in December 1714, the
Turks began the last Turkish–Venetian
, when 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".
took the islands of Tinos and Aegina, crossed the isthmus and took
, 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.
was the last war with the Ottoman Empire. By the year 1792, the
once great Venetian merchant fleet had declined to a mere 309
The fall of the Republic
By 1796, the Republic of Venice could no longer defend itself since
its war fleet numbered only four galleys
. In spring 1796,
Piedmont fell and the Austrians were beaten
from Montenotte to Lodi.
army under 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
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
preliminaries to the Peace of
Leoben, the terms of which remained secret, the Austrians were
to take the Venetian possessions in Balkans
as the price of peace (18 April 1797), while France required
the Lombard part of the State.
After Napoleon's ultimatum, Duke Ludovico
surrendered unconditionately on May 12, and abdicated
himself, while the Major Council declared the end of the Republic.
According to Bonaparte's orders, the public powers passed to a
Provisional Municipality under the French Military Governor.
October 17, France and Austria signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, according the
sharing of all the territory of the ancient republic, with a new
border just west of Adige
The treaty was seen as a betrayal by
Italian democrats, especially young poet Ugo
. The metropolitan part of the disbanded republic so
became an Austrian territory, under the name of Venetian Province
Attempts to restore the Republic
A short lived Repubblica di San
, led by Daniele Manin
created in Venice after a rebellion against the Austrians in 1848.
The latter reconquered it in 1849 after a long siege.
In attempts to increase interest in Venetian autonomy, in the late
20th century members of the Venetism
movement have occasionally staged non-violent demonstrations or run
for various government bodies. Perhaps most notable are the
federalistic Liga Veneta
Liga Veneta Repubblica
goal is to actually restore the Republic. This is one of a number
movements in Italy. None have
come close to success.
Present day use of the Winged Lion
The winged Lion of St. Mark, which had appeared on the Republic's
Flag and Coat of Arms, survives in the Golden Lion
, awarded at the Venice Film Festival
, and in the
insignia of the large Assicurazioni Generali
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 Council
, composed of 480
members taken from certain families, so that "He could do nothing
without the Major Council and the Major Council could do nothing
In the 12th century, the aristocratic families of Rialto further
diminished the Doge's powers by establishing the Minor
(1175), composed of six advisors of the Doge, and the
(1179) as a supreme
tribunal. In 1223, these institutions were combined into the
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
, which formed an executive branch. In 1229, the
, 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
Venice claimed to be mixed republic
combining monarchy in the Doge, aristocracy in the senate, and
democracy in the Major Council. Machiavelli also refers to Venice
as a republic, considering it "excellent among modern republics"
(unlike his native Florence
In 1310, a Council of
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
In 1454, the Supreme Tribunal
of the three state
inquisitors was established to guard the security of the republic.
By means of espionage
, 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
councillors, two – popularly known as I negri
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
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.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 32.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 53.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 72.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 77.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 83.
- Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of
Constantinople, Introduction, xiii.
- C.Michael Hogan, Cydonia, Modern
Antiquarian, January 23, 2008
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 176-180.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 269.
- How To Reboot Reality — Chapter 2, Labor
- Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 494.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 591.
- J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 615.
- Marin Sanudo.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, " Venice", p. 602.
- The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dino Bigongiari
ed., Hafner Publishing Company, NY, 1953. p. xxx in
- Niccolò Machiavelli,
Prince, trans. & ed. by Robert M. Adams, W.W. Norton
& Co., NY, 1992. Machiavelli Balanced Government
- Niccolò Machiavelli,
Discourses on Livy, trans. by
Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996.
- Contarini, Gasparo (1599). The Commonwealth and Government
of Venice. Lewes Lewkenor, translator. London: "Imprinted by
I. Windet for E. Mattes." — The most important contemporary account
of Venice's governance during the time of its blossoming; numerous
reprint editions; online facsimile.
- Patricia Fortini Brown. Private Lives in Renaissance
Venice: art, architecture, and the family (2004)
- Chambers, D.S. (1970). The Imperial Age of Venice,
1380–1580. London: Thames & Hudson. The best brief
introduction in English, still completely reliable.
- Garrett, Martin, "Venice: a Cultural History" (2006). Revised
edition of "Venice: a Cultural and Literary Companion" (2001).
- Grubb, James S. (1986). "When Myths Lose Power: Four Decades of
Venetian Historiography." Journal of Modern History 58,
pp. 43–94 — the classic "muckraking" essay on the myths of
- Deborah Howard and Sarah Quill. The Architectural History
of Venice (2004)
- John Rigby Hale. Renaissance Venice (1974), ISBN
- Lane, Frederic Chapin. Venice: Maritime Republic
(1973) — a standard scholarly history with an emphasis on economic,
political and diplomatic history; ISBN 0801814456
- Laven, Mary, "Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows
in the Renaissance Convent (2002). The most important study of the
life of Renaissance nuns, with much on aristocratic family networks
and the life of women more generally.
- Mallett, M. E. and Hale, J. R. The Military Organisation of
a Renaissance State, Venice c. 1400 to 1617 (1984),
- Martin, John Jeffries and Dennis Romano (eds). Venice
Reconsidered. The History and Civilization of an Italian
City-State, 1297–1797. (2002) Johns Hopkins UP — The most
recent collection on essays, many by prominent scholars, on
- Drechsler, Wolfgang (2002). "Venice Misappropriated."
Trames 6(2), pp. 192–201 — A scathing review of
Martin & Romano 2000; also a good summary on the most recent
economic and political thought on Venice.
- Muir, Edward (1981). Civic Ritual in Renaissance
Venice. Princeton UP — The classic of Venetian cultural
studies, highly sophisticated.
- David Rosand. Myths of Venice: The Figuration of a
State (2001) — how writers (especially English) have
understood Venice and its art
- Manfredo Tafuri. Venice and the Renaissance (1995) —
- Gottlieb Lukas Friedrich Tafel, Georg Martin Thomas (1856).
Urkunden zur älteren Handels- und Staatsgeschichte der
Republik Venedig (at the Internet Archive)
- Luigi Tomaz, Il confine d'Italia in Istria e Dalamzia.
Duemila anni di storia, Presentazione di Arnaldo Mauri,
Think ADV, Conselve 2007.
- Luigi Tomaz, In Adriatico nell'antichità e nell'alto
medioevo, Presentazione di Arnaldo Mauri, Think ADV, Conselve