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The Most Serene Republic of Venice ( or , ) or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venicemarker in Northeastern Italymarker. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century AD until the year 1797. It is often referred to as La Serenissima, in reference to its title in Venetian, the Most Serene Republic.


The city of Venice originated as a collection of lagoon communities banded together for mutual defence from the Lombards, Huns and other steppe peoples as the power of the Western Roman 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 11th 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. Whatever the case, the first doges had their power base in Heracleamarker.


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 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 Pax Nicephori (803) the two emperors had recognised 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 stole the remains of Saint Mark the Evangelist from Alexandriamarker, took them to Venice, and made him the Republic's patron saint.

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 fighting Slavic 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 Crotonemarker, but it failed. In 1000, Pietro II Orseolo sent a fleet of 6 ships to defeat the Croatian pirates from Dalmatia.

High Middle Ages

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 Seamarker and beyond. In 1084, Domenico Selvo personally led a fleet against the Normans, but he was defeated and lost 9 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 Syriamarker 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 and Sigurd I of Norway in capturing the city of Sidon. In the 12th 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 a vicious anti-Western riot in Constantinoplemarker, 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 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 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 of Hungary and had proven too well fortified to retake for Venice alone. Upon accomplishing this, the crusade was again diverted to Constantinoplemarker, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, another rival of Venice, in order to avenge the 1182 massacre of Venetian citizens living in Constantinoplemarker. 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 Anatoliamarker 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 Hungarymarker and on two occasions even besieged Viennamarker. The 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 basilicamarker. As a result of the subsequent partition of the Byzantine Empire, Venice gained a great deal of territory in the Aegean Seamarker (three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire), including the islands of Cretemarker and Euboeamarker; for example, the present core city of Chaniamarker 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 Archipelagomarker.

In 1295, Pietro Gradenigo sent a fleet of 68 ships to attack a Genoese fleet at Alexandrettamarker, 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.

15th century

The Republic of Venice (shown in orange), its possessions and other surrounding states in 1400.
In the early fifteenth century, the Venetians also began to expand in Italymarker, as well as along the Dalmatian coast from Istria to Albaniamarker, 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 Veronamarker (which swore its loyalty in the Devotion of Verona to Venice in 1405) and Paduamarker.

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 Traùmarker, Spalatomarker, Durazzomarker 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 Cyprusmarker, previously a crusader state (the Kingdom of Cyprus), was annexed to Venice.

Venetian possessions in Greece, 1450

League of Cambrai, Lepanto and the loss of Cyprus

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 Seamarker 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 Milanmarker, gaining Cremonamarker. 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 Coronmarker.

Venice's attention was diverted from its usual maritime position by the delicate situation in Romagnamarker, then one of the richest lands in Italy, which was nominally part of the Papal Statesmarker 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 neighbouring powers joined in the League of Cambrai in 1508, under the leadership of Pope Julius II. The pope wanted Romagnamarker; Emperor Maximilian I: Friulimarker and Veneto; Spainmarker: the Apulianmarker 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 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 Paduamarker in July 1509, successfully defending it against the besieging imperial troops. Spain and the pope broke off their alliance with France, and Venice regained Bresciamarker and Veronamarker 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 Limassolmarker. Fearing the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire, the Venetians had fortified Famagustamarker, Nicosiamarker, and Kyreniamarker, 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 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 Papalmarker ships under the command of Don John of Austria, defeated the Turkish fleet at Battle of Lepantomarker. 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.

17th century

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.

The 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 Cretemarker, after a protracted struggle. 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 peninsula.


These gains were not meant to last, however: in December 1714, the Turks began the last Turkish–Venetian War, 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".

The Turks took the islands of Tinos and Aegina, crossed the isthmus and took Corinthmarker. 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 islandsmarker, and the bases of Spinalonga and Suda on Cretemarker which still remained in Venetian hands, were abandoned. The Turks finally landed on Corfùmarker, but its defenders managed to throw them back. In the meantime, the Turks had suffered a grave defeat by the Austriansmarker at Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August 1716. Venetian naval efforts in the Aegeanmarker and the Dardanellesmarker 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 Albaniamarker 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.

The fall of the Republic

By 1796, the Republic of Venice could no longer defend itself since its war fleet numbered only four galleys and seven galliots. In spring 1796, Piedmont fell and the Austrians were beaten from Montenotte to Lodimarker. The 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 Adigemarker. 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 in Balkans as the price of peace (18 April 1797), while Francemarker required the Lombard part of the State.

After Napoleon's ultimatum, Duke Ludovico Manin 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. On 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 Rivermarker. The treaty was seen as a betrayal by Italian democrats, especially young poet Ugo Foscolo. The metropolitan part of the disbanded republic so became an Austrian territory, under the name of Venetian Province (Provincia Veneta in Italian, Venedig Provinz in German).

Attempts to restore the Republic

A short lived Repubblica di San Marco, led by Daniele Manin, was 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 and the Liga Veneta Repubblica, whose goal is to actually restore the Republic. This is one of a number of secession 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 insurance company.


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 without him".

In the 12th 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 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 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 councillors, 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.


  1. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 32.
  2. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 53.
  3. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 72.
  4. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 77.
  5. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 83.
  6. Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, Introduction, xiii.
  7. C.Michael Hogan, Cydonia, Modern Antiquarian, January 23, 2008
  8. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 176-180.
  9. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 269.
  10. How To Reboot Reality — Chapter 2, Labor
  11. Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to History
  12. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 494.
  13. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 591.
  14. J. J. Norwich, A History of Venice, p. 615.
  15. Marin Sanudo.
  16. Catholic Encyclopedia, " Venice", p. 602.
  17. The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dino Bigongiari ed., Hafner Publishing Company, NY, 1953. p. xxx in footnote.
  18. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. & ed. by Robert M. Adams, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 1992. Machiavelli Balanced Government
  19. Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, trans. by Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996.


Primary source

  • 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.

Secondary sources

  • 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 Venice.
  • Deborah Howard and Sarah Quill. The Architectural History of Venice (2004)
  • John Rigby Hale. Renaissance Venice (1974), ISBN 0571104290
  • 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), ISBN 0521032474
  • 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 Venice.
  • 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) — architecture
  • Gottlieb Lukas Friedrich Tafel, Georg Martin Thomas (1856). Urkunden zur älteren Handels- und Staatsgeschichte der Republik Venedig (at the Internet Archivemarker)
  • 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 2001.

See also

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