In 402 AD, the Goths attacked northern Italy. The Roman roads that in peacetime brought luxuries to the cities of the Veneto now brought the barbarians. Many of the citizens of the cities fled to the lagoon of the future Venice. When the Goths finally left, most returned to rebuild, although those who had little to return to probably stayed. This cycle repeated itself over the next decades. By 466 the islanders elected three tribunes as a government showing that the settlement had become permanent. Venice at this time seems to have been a collection of mostly fisherman and saltmakers, of no great importance.

Around 568 the invasion of the Lombards created a second migration to the lagoon. The refugees from Aquileia brought the Patriarch of Aquileia with them. The church at Aquileia was founded by St. Mark (the one who wrote the Gospel) and although it was not an independent see like Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, the bishops at Aquileia started calling themselves “Patriarch” anyway, since they had been founded by St. Mark just as Alexandria had. The Patriarch of Aquileia returned to communion with Rome, and since the Lombards could not be ruled ecclesiastically by their political enemies, they elected their own Patriarch of Aquileia. But the real Patriarch brought ecclesiastical importance, religious devotion to Venice along with a communion with the bishop of Rome.

While Venice was physically and religiously located in the West, politically and artistically it was part of the East, as Venice saw itself as part of the Roman Empire, which became increasingly the Byzantine emperor at Constantinople. In 697 the now twelve tribunes elected the first doge (pronounced “doe-dge”), a Venetian pronunciation of the Latin dux. Since the last names of the two candidates for the first doge sound like Italian transliterations of the Byzantine Greek version of the Latin title consul, suggesting that Venice still saw itself as part of the Empire. In fact, the Roman government at Ravenna appointed a few of the doges. Thus, the legal ruler of Venice was the Emperor in Constantinople, and the doge was his governor. Since Byzantium was distracted with wars with the Muslims, Venice was left to itself. So practically, the power in Venice derived from the people, who could assemble the arengo, a meeting of all men in the lagoon. There was much squabbling for about a century as the doges tried to make their position hereditary until King Pepin of the Franks attempted an invasion in 810. The Venetians withdraw to the the main islands of Rialto and proclaimed their loyalty to the Roman Emperor (despite being located in Constantinople). Since Pepin could not sail across the treacherous waters, a detente resulted, eventually leaving Venice still independent.

Shortly afterwards, the now Frankish Patriarch of Aquileia got himself recognized as the true Patriarch of Aquileia, probably at least in part because the Venetian Patriarch of Aquileia ignored the meeting. Unfortunately, he had little recourse now, because St. Mark had founded his church at Aquileia, not Venice. Some merchants illegally trading in Alexandria (the Byzantine Emperor had forbidden trading with Muslims), suggested to some members of the Alexandrian church that perhaps St. Mark would prefer resting in Christian Venice rather than Muslim Alexandria. So they stole/relocated St. Mark to Venice, hiding his body in a barrel underneath some pork, which being unclean, was not thoroughly inspected by the Muslim guards. Upon arrival in Venice, the saint was kept at the new Ducal Palace until a chapel was built for him. Although the doge probably intended for the saint to support his family aspiration to hereditary doge-ship, the doge was deposed and forced to be a monk. The doge was responsible to the people, and therefore St. Mark’s chapel was for the people of Venice. Ever since then, St. Mark and the winged lion have been the symbol of the Venetian Republic.

The Venetians were sailors, who had for a long time traded up and down the shores of Italy, eventually expanding across the eastern Mediterranean. On the mainland wealth (and therefore power) was in the form of land, but the shortage of land in Venice and the natural liquidity of mercantile wealth meant that there was no landed aristocracy in Venice. Anyone could become wealthy, and the new wealth wanted the same political power as the old wealth, and this rivalry ensured that the dogeship was closely watched to prevent any family from gaining more power than the others. The structure of the Venetian Republic evolved to balance the desire of the old wealth to retain power (even if their economic fortunes decline) and the desire of the new wealth to acquire power and nobility.

In the late 800s Doge Orso I Partecipazio replaced the elected tribunes with elected judges. These were present at all the meetings and had to cosign all the documents, so they probably acted as a check on the doge. In 950 the son of Doge Pietro III Candiano staged an unsuccessful coup against his father and the people exiled him to the mainland (upon request by his father). Some time afterwards, though, the people elected him doge, but while on the mainland he learned feudalism and began acting like a feudal baron. The Venetian people consistently distrusted concentrated power, but would tend to react violently and then repent of it. So in 976 fighting broke out, and the Ducal Palace and the chapel of St. Mark were burned (including the body of St. Mark, although it later miraculously reappeared during the rebuilding of the present church of St. Mark).

Venetian naval power slowly grew as the merchant shipping required protection. In 887 Doge Pietro Candiano attacked the pirates on the Dalmatian coast that threatened Venetian maritime traffic. He was presumably successful, given the lack of mention of pirates, but he died in battle. In 899 the Magyars attacked Venice. Despite having conquered the cities of northern Italy and the Carolingians, they failed at Venice for similar reasons as Pepin. In 1000 Doge Orseolo attacked pirates in Dalmatia, ending the problem by getting oaths of allegience from the Dalmatian tows (and adding the “Doge of Dalmatia” to his title, which was confirmed by the Byzantine emperor). It also secured a supply of timber for Venetian vessels from the Dalmatian forests. Doge Orseolo also aided the Byzantine emperor militarily, earning a special low tax on their trade in Constantinople. Merchants thrive in peace and stability, so when the Normans attacked Venice’s Dalmatian cities in 1074, Doge Domenico Silvio decisively beat them. After that it was clear that Venice, not Byzantium controlled the Adriatic. In exchange for help against the Normans attacking the Byzantine island of Corfu, Emperor Alexius gave Venice legal jurisdiction over Dalmatia and Croatia, annual stipends for the doge and the (Venetian) Patriarch of Aquileia, tithes to the Venetian churches, building in Constantinople that became the Venetian Quarter, and tax-free trade in all Byzantine ports. This tax-free trade gave the Venetian merchants a sizable advantage over their Genoan and other competitors, and it sowed the seeds of anger by the Byzantine people that they were paying for the boorish (from the perspective of Byzantium) Venetian sailors to become nouveau riche. In the mid-1000s this wealth led to the building of a new church of San Marco, designed by Greek architects from Constantinople.

In 1096 Venice joined the First Crusade, and after four years of ship-building, they sailed off in 1100. However, the Byzantine emperor had second thoughts about the Crusade by this point, and threatened to revoke Venetian trade privileges if they continued. They could not forsake their vow, though, so they attacked Haifa instead. On the way they stopped at Myra and took the rest of the bones of St. Nicholas that the men of the city of Bari not taken. Although the plunder at Haifa was minimal, it did open new ports, as well as provide opportunities to transport pilgrims. In 1120, Venice joined the Second Crusade and built a new fleet. This fleet had multiple uses. On the way to defend the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they attacked Dalmation rebels, beseiged Corfu in retaliation of the new emperor having rescinded Venice’s tax privileges (which had cost Venice many lives) although they had to lift the siege to help out at Acre, where they destroyed the Egyptian fleet and helped conquer the city. Venice received tax-free trade in all cities in the Kingdom, and shortly afterwards the Byzantine emperor renewed their tax-free privileges to avoid further attacks.

Unlike continental Europe, Venice the Church and State had only a loose relationship. Since the church owned limited lands, the ecclesiastical offices (which were still often appointed by the State) were not financially attractive, so they tended to attract the genuinely pious. Additionally, Patriarch Dandolo fought with Doge Polani from about 1134 to 1147, culminating in the new Doge Morosini changing the oath of office to include a guarantee of freedom for the Church. Afterwards, the Church and no role in government, and the government had no role in the Church.

A major change in the government of Venice came as a result of Doge Michiel’s military failure in 1172. When Venice failed to support the Byzantine emperor’s invasion of southern Italy, Emperor Manuel imprisoned all the Venetians in Constantinople and seized their property. A few wealthy people escaped on bail to tell the story. The people of Venice demanded that the Doge attack Byzantium. So they built a fleet and sailed out, but the Emperor successfully stalled the Doge with specious promises of peace talks. By the time the Doge realized that the Emperor was simply stalling, plague had killed many of the men, and they demanded the Doge take them home. The people killed the doge, then repented and killed the killer. Conservative, wise men from wealthy and powerful families told the people that it was their rashness that led to this situation and recommended a more conservative solution, so the people chose an eleven-man commission to choose the next doge. When the doge died, the important men of the city suggested choosing four men to elect “in the customary way” a forty member committee to elect the doge. This had the effect of insulating the government from the emotional swings of the people. It also meant that it was not possible for one family to seize power through populist means, which meant that Venice did not suffer the factionalism and civil wars that wrecked other Italians cities a few centuries later. However, while Venice started down the road of being ruled by elites, the government had checks and balances to ensure that it acted cautiously and prudently (as is desirable by businessmen).

The Fourth Crusade and negotiations of Doge Dondolo resulted in the Venetian Empire. Doge Dondolo was old and blind, but sharp of mind and an excellent negotiator, who effectively used events that spiraled out of his control. The Third Crusade had been funded by kings, but the Fourth Crusade had no money. The knights leading the campaign signed a contract with Venice to provide food and transportation for a year for 33,500 men and 4500 horses for a price of 85,000 silver marks, in addition to joining the Crusade with 50 war galleys. For a city of 100,000 people (the second largest in Europe, after Rome), this was a large undertaking, but the Venetians managed it. In June 1202 about 11,000 Crusaders arrived at Venice, fees were collected, but came to only about 50,000 silver marks. The Crusaders had taken individual oaths, so were not bound to go to the Crusade by way of Venice, and many did not. Dondolo suggested that Venice loan the Crusaders the money in exchange for half of the spoils and that Crusaders conquer Zara on the Dalmatian coast that had rebelled and winter there, since it was too late to sail for Egypt. Zara was protected by the Pope, but Dondolo managed to arm-twist the knights into attacking it, despite the Pope’s excommunication. Around Christmas German envoys came with the young Prince Alexius of Byzantium, whose father had been wrongfully deposed and Constantinople was groaning for the Prince to be restored. Alexius promised to pay 200,000 silver marks if they would  help them (and join the Crusade for a year). So they sailed to Constantinople, where the people did not seem to care about Alexius, although they admired the fleet from the walls. The Crusaders attacked the city, but being few were about to be repulsed when the old, blind Doge stood on the prow of his ship holding the banner of St. Mark as his ship surged in front. His courage inspired the army, which captured enough of the city that the Byzantines deposed their emperor-by-intrigue to restore order. Alexius paid 100,000 silver marks, of which Venice got half, and then another 35,000 from the Crusade and completed their contract, but Alexius was unable to procure the other half of the payment and refused to honor the rest of the agreement. This clear breach of contract angered both the Venetians and the Crusades, who sacked the city, conquering the Byzantine Empire (arguably through the initial bravery of the Doge). Because of the agreement, Venice receive 3/8 of the Empire (or rather, the right to conquer 3/8 of the Empire), and the Doge bought Crete from under the Genoans for 1000 silver marks. The Doge died of illness shortly afterwards, but the treasures that he saved were sent back to Venice where they decorate the city to this day.

This time brought a lot of transition to Venice. Wars with Genoa and Genoese intrigues with Byzantine politics closed many ports to Venice for a time. Marco Polo spent a couple decades as an Venetian-style ambassador (a combination emissary and spy) in Kublai Khan’s empire. Doge Giacomo Tiepolo reformed civil law in 1242 to streamline the judicial system. The Grand Council was created. Membership was through by election of the Council and could be indefinitely renewed. While the members were the wealthier people, in a city the size of Venice they were spread out throughout the city, so could effectively represent the people in their parishes. The doge became elected through an elaborate process of committees chosen of random members who chose other committees, whose randomly selected members chose other committee, who eventually chose the doge; this prevented the possibility of the 41 member electoral committee being stacked in favor of some families.

When the doge died in 1289, the people demanded a different Giacomo Tiepolo as doge, but he declined. The Great Council had suspended the process, but it was now resumed; the people had failed to wrest back direct control (probably for the good, as the politics of the other Italian cities attest). The problem was that many families who had become rich over the decades had no representation in the Council. Additionally, foreigners had married into Venetian families, and the wars in the East led to the return of many Venetians who had never lived in Venice. The new doge could not find a reform satisfactory to all parties, so they enacted a gradual reform. Members who were in the Council in any of the previous four years could become members for life with the approval of 12 out of the Forty, a subgroup in charge of Council membership. New people could become members by nomination of three of the Forty, confirmed by the doge and advisers, and approved by 12 of the Forty. Almost everyone who was already eligible became a full member, and most of the new people could join. After the initial flood, fewer people wanted in, so the Council slowly increased the number of the votes required for approval until in 1323 no new members were allowed (except for people who performed extraordinary service to the State). At this point the Council was over a thousand people from hundreds of families (who were listed in the Book of Gold) and was about 1% of the population, so the government was actually highly representative, even though membership was closed. The families on the Great Council were the Venetian nobility. A class called the cittadini allowed newly rich families to participate in the government administration when they had lived in Venice for 25 years and been nominated by current cittadini. (These families were listed in the Book of Silver.)

From 1295 - 1299 Genoa fought with Venice, with Genoa largely winning. As Muslim armies erode Byzantium’s holdings, Byzantine coinage became debased. Since reputable coinage is important for merchant to conduct trade, Venice started minting its own gold coin, the ducat, a stable currency for centuries. In 1308 Venice decided to meddle in the Ghibelline and Guelf factionalism on the mainland, as there was an opportunity to gain control of the port on the river Po, used by Venice for shipping to Europe. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong side and the Pope excommunicated the whole city (allowing Venetian goods through Christendom to be legally seized), leading to a failed coup attempt. The Great Council created the Ten to be in charge of the security of the city. This body eventually became so powerful that members served for one year and could never be re-elected. Three of the members served for a month at a time, and could not leave the Ducal Palace during that time, to avoid opportunities for bribery. This body also instituted the Lions Mouths, where people could inform the government about illegal activities. While later Europeans saw this as a secretive and oppressive system, the reality was that the Venetians kept it because it was very effective. Anonymous reports were carefully investigated through along, meticulously detailed process designed to reject most reports, and actual arrest and conviction required the normal civil process. After this upheaval, the next doge paid 90,000 florins to the Pope to life the excommunication.

In 1329 the Della Scala family imposed heavy taxes on Venetian traffic on the Po, and despite Venice’s long-standing aversion to meddling on the mainland, the Great Council hired mercenaries and allied with Della Scala family enemies. The result was that Venice acquired Treviso. In 1379, after years of back and forth between Genoa and Venice with Byzantium over the island of Tenedos, the Genoese navy attacked Venice itself. Vettor Pisani, an admiral who had just lost the upper Adriatic to the Genoese, arguably due to poor orders from Venice, hastily built ships and prepared civilians to row them, as the other half of the fleet was in the Mediterranean. Genoese forces occupied the island of Chioggia, while the Venetians blocked the narrow channels leading off the island. With the return of the other half of the fleet under command of Carlo Zeno, the Genoese surrendered the island in 1380, and in 1381 the Treaty of Turin closed the war with Venice neither gaining nor losing anything. (After the war, thirty families were admitted to the nobility, based on their wealth and ability to help the State—the war offered an opportunity to include those best suited to help the Republic if included and harm it if excluded.)

The power of Turks was increasingly eating away at the Byzantine Empire, and European states near the Turks sometimes decided to sell their holdings. Venice acquired many of these, to keep them out of Genoese hands when the Empire eventually fell. Generally as long as tribute was paid to the Turkish Sultan, he had no preference who actually owned them. The Dalmatian cities, which had been reconquered by mainland forces some decades earlier, in 1410 asked to be returned to Venetian rule rather than being continually fought over. Starting in 1418 Venice started acquiring more territory on the mainland, since some Italian rulers had grown powerful enough to cut off Venice’s mainland trade routes.

In 1423 Byzantine governor of Thessalonica, the number two city of the Empire, feared what the Turks would do when they eventually conquered the city, so he offered to give the city to the Venetians if they would defend it. The Venetian Senate accepted. For seven years the Venetians defended Thessalonica alone (the Greek residents refused to help defend, and instead sent repeated complaints of Venetian rule to the Senate), but it was unsuccessful due to sheer numbers of Turks. They made a treaty with the Turks to give up their claim to Thessalonica and pay them a substantial amount of money, and in return the Sultan would stay out of the Aegean Sea and recognize Venice’s Greek possessions.

In 1431 the Byzantine emperor became convinced that only a Crusade could save the empire, but since the Greek Orthodox church had acquired a reputation of making deals with the Muslims rather than defending Christendom, it required some work. For about eight years the Roman and Orthodox churches hammered out a reunification deal. The Roman Emperor and Pope came to Venice in 1438 amid much celebration for talks, which continued in Florence for a year. The union was signed in 1439. A Crusade was called, but most of western Europe was too exhausted from war to participate. Eastern Europe came, as did the Pope, who never did pay for the fleet he contracted from Venice. Lack of communication about a truce and a breaking of it, along with complete lack of participation (and, indeed, betrayal) from Genoa ended with the Turks swarming over the walls of Constantinople and conquering the Empire. The fall of the Empire was more than an opening for the Turks to attack Europe. For Venice, it was the death of a parent. The Venetians always honored the Byzantine Emperor as the Roman Emperor, even when the reality was that he was a petty dictator. The Byzantine Empire had survived any numbers of impending doom so that it felt immortal. It was the trading partner of Venice, which brought goods from the east for Venice to bring to the west. Finally, it Rome, it had always been Civilization, from before the beginning of Venice, and now the empire that had stood for over 1000 years was gone.

The fall of Constantinople opened the threat of Turkish invasion of Europe. Pope Pius II called for a Crusade to attack the Turks and preserve Europe. Venice was eager to join a crusade, but did not want to be the only member of the crusade again, and told the pope this. Eventually the pope declared the he, himself, would take the cross in the Crusade. Venice, led by the former crusader, Doge Cristoforo Moro, voted almost unamimously to join the Crusade, and declared war on the Turks. When the time came, only the Pope and the Veneitans arrived. The Pope himself took ill and died within a few days. Since Venice had declared war, it had to make war, but six years of war had little effect on the Turkish advance, which at one point was visible from Venice. They signed a peace treaty with the Turks a few years later. Sultan Mehmed had declared his intent to conquer both new Rome (Constantinople) and old Rome (Rome), and in 1480 he sacked Otranto. Despite the enemy at their gates, Europe would not unite to repel it, and some even claimed the Venetians had made peace so the Turks would eliminate their rival Naples—a galling claim to a city who had always taken up arms against the infidel, and often paid the highest price. Fortunately for Europe, the Sultan died shortly afterwards and his sons squabbled over the empire.

Venice was at its zenith at this point, and world events were changing the economics behind Venice’s empire. Portugal’s long route to India via Africa was able to bring spices cheaper than Venice could get them, although it was at the cost of the Portugese Crown building fortress along Africe, which it did in preparation for a Crusade against the Turks from the other direction. When the Manuel I died, the new king John III stopped the funding, forcing the merchants to fund the defences, which raised the prices. Still, it was clear to Venice that profitable trade route was in the Atlantic, from which it was shut out. Over time, it was destined to lose its profitable spice trade.

So Venice tried to acquire a mainland empire, but was stymied by the Pope and by jealous Italian states. The Pope excommunicated Venice and called a Crusade against the Turks and “all enemies of the church” and all the European powers descended on the Venetian mainland territories (and ignored the Turks). Venice lost most of its territory quickly, but over time the residents of those territories discovered they preferred Venetian rule to the harsh rule of France and Germany and started rebelling. Venice followed up with mercenaries and when it became clear that this might not be an easy war, Venetian diplomats were able to get Spain on their side and remove the Pope. In the end, in 1516, they had all the territories they had in the beginning. However, Venice saw that it had no way to amass the kind of power that the major European powers had, and after 1516 no longer tried to challenge that power.

As the Renaissance arrived, people quickly adopted the new style. The medium of oil paint was harder to use than frescoes, but aged better in the humid air. The three-dimensionality of the new style was vivid in contrast with the flat medieval style. Churches quickly converted over to the new style (the old style was preserved in the relatively unused San Giovanni Decollato, which is one of the few places with an authentic medieval feel). The University of Padua in the Veneto had an excellent university which drew people from all over Europe, including the artist Bellini and his two sons. The Bellini brothers’ portraits were in such high demand in Venice and throughout Europe that a portrait of Sultan Mehmed by Bellini was offered as part of the peace negotiations. Giovanni Bellini taught Titian, who painted so many excellent paintings that he was famous throughout Europe. So famous, in fact, that when Titian died of the plague, Venice gave him an exception to the rule that plague victims were disposed of outside the city, and he was buried in the fabulous church of the Frari.

Venice produced many great architects of this time (aided by the renovations in Rome), the most notable of which was Andrea Palladio. Trissino recognized Palladio’s architectural talen, and under his patronage Palladio was able to study the classical ruins in Rome, reverse-engineer their principles, and apply them in his buildings. His work was so excellent and popular that Palladian style buildings were the rage in Europe, and even made it to America. Thomas Jefferson designed Montecello according to Palladio’s methods, and public structures in Washington, D.C. are in the Palladian style.

Venice also had a thriving publishing industry, of whom Aldus Manutius was the most prominent. Books were originally printed with four pages on one large sheet of paper (in quarto), but this was rather large, so he printed eight per sheet (in octavo), leading a book about the size of a modern paperback. Manutius was a humanist, and printed high quality editions of Greek classics for other humanists. Venice was an attractive location to set up shop, not only because of its free business environment, but also because Venice had an excellent library of Greek manuscripts donated by a former bishop of Constantinople. Manutius became so associated with excellent in publishing that his symbol of a dolphin around an anchor was imitated by publishers everywhere.

Venice slowly lost Cyprus, Crete, and its Greek holdings to the Turks. As the power of the Germany and Austria increased, the Turks were driven out of Europe, but Venice was not as powerful, and so it saw its holdings eroded until it was left with only the Adriatic. While the Adriatic was recognized as legally Venice’s, the great powers tended to ignore that. Vessels had been required to dock at Venice, and duty was still charged as if they had. But when Austria opened the port of Trieste as a free port, Venice was no longer the only port in the Adriatic. Venice still remained propsperous, but it did not increase in prosperity as rapidly as its neighbors. So eventually Venice adopted a policy of neutrality, and managed to maintain its independence.

By this time Venice had become a destination. Venice became a required stop on the Grand Tour that well-heeled European youth took to appraise themselves of the great artwork and architecture of Europe. Tourism started becoming more central, and the Fat Tuesday Carnival was extended into a long bacchanal, attracting many tourists. Venice started becoming known as a city of decadence and ill-repute. Napolean, in particular, had a distaste for Venice, which led to him to attack Venice in his conquests. The Senate, knowing that it could not hope to defend the city, surrendered the Republic of St. Mark on May 12, 1797.

Writing a history of a city that has existed for 1,500 years is a serious challenge, let alone capturing the essence of the politcs, economics, culture, and personalities of the city. Madden is able to do all of this. He outlines the major events in some detail, while giving succinct accounts of minor events that add flavor and motivations behind the main events. Although Venice: A New History is a historical account, Madden tells the history through the actions of the people involved, briefly sketching the essential qualities of the persona involved.

The book is surprisingly detailed without feeling detail-oriented. In fact, sometimes it feels too brief and populist, as is probably inevitable for 1,500 years in a few hundred pages. However, Madden does an excellent job of capturing the essential events, showing the economic, political, and cultural background that led to the event, as well as the ramifications it had in the future. Madden has lovingly portrayed Venice’s distinguished history as the Venetians themselves in the various time periods are likely to have conceived of their city, as well as seeing it from an outside perspective. I read this book wanting to understand why Venice became great, what its greatness looked like, and why it is a shadow of its former self now. Madden answered those questions thoroughly, richly flavored with little events and personalities that bring it to life.

Review: 9.5
This is well-written, with well-chosen events and anecdotes, told entertainingly. Madden gives more than just the essentials in history personalities, and politics, and provides the essential economic and cultural understanding for all the periods of Venice’s history. Choosing major events over 1,500 years would be hard enough, but Madden has clearly researched Venice thoroughly, because he throws in colorful anecdotes and culture interest that are a little off the beaten track. This is definitely a comprehensive history, especially given its modest size. The only thing I can find to criticize is that it feels a little populist somehow, lacking a 100-year sort of thoroughness. However, I cannot actually justify that with any facts. This could be a definitive volume, but somehow feels like it will not be. I hope I am mistaken.