The city of Venice is said to have been born on 25th March 421 A.D., but it wasn’t until 450 A.D. that large numbers of people settled there. It was a city built on fear after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Barbarians were sweeping down from Northern Europe and Lombard hordes drove vast numbers of people from the mainland to settle on the islands of the lagoon. This area had previously been occupied by fishermen and salt workers.
In 727 the first Doge (duke) Orso, was elected in an anti-Byzantine military declaration. He was replaced by Byzantine officials until about 751. Following the fall of the Exarchate of Ravenna Doge Obelerio and his brother Beato made an alliance with the Franks of Italy. In 810 Venice came under the rule of King Pippin of Italy thus freeing itself of Byzantine control.
Doge Domenico Flabanico (1032-42), finally took over when the family faction rule fell, which led to a change in government and the Rialto islands were formally transformed into the City of Venice.
Venice came under threat from the Normans in the 11th century under Robert Guiscard who threatened to cut off Venetian communications with the south.
Venice and the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus was so grateful for the help Venice had offered against the Normans that he granted unrestricted trade throughout the Byzantine Empire without customs dues. This marked the beginning of Venetian trade with the East in 1082.
Despite being first to win trading concessions and a commercial quarter in Constantinople, Venice concentrated efforts on control of the European trading posts of the Byzantine Empire. Private enterprises were thus left open for commercial opportunities in Syria and Asia Minor.
The doge finally lost monarchic control in 1140 – 1160 and became merely a government official. The commune took over all power, functions and matters of state. The Great Council of 45 became responsible for all political and administrative affairs. A Minor Council of six members took on executive powers together with the doge. Magistrates were granted judicial functions and administration.
Conflicts of Trade
The Fourth Crusade with Doge Enrico Dandolo among its leaders finally gave vent to the Venetians hatred of the Byzantines when Constantinople was captured and sacked in 1204. At this time Byzantine territory was divided between Venetians and the Latin Crusaders resulting in Venice founding a commercial empire in the eastern Mediterranean. Most important was Crete, parts of Euboea and many of the Aegean islands. These areas included valuable trading posts and fortified lookout points on the Greek mainland.
However, in 1261 the exiled Byzantine Emperor with the help of the Genoese, captured Venice and evicted the Venetians. As a reward the Emperor gave to Genoa privileges which challenged Venetian monopoly of trade. This resulted in almost two centuries of periodical wars between Venice and Genoa.
Various failed conspiracies took place between the years 1290 – 1300. The Council of Ten was established in 1310 to defend the regime in power and to keep a check on patrician order because of new laws which meant only a family performing magistrate’s duties could take part in government. Anyone claiming personal power had to rely on the people and act outside patrician order. The people, however, relied on the patricians for their financial needs and would not give their support.
The Struggle for Naval Supremacy
Venice was caught up in conflicts in the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and mainland Italy by the beginning of the 14th century.
Rivalry with Genoa reared its head yet again. The battle, which was mainly in Dalmatia, was greatly hampered by various factors: the spread of the Black Death in 1348, financial crisis caused by the war and by the inefficiency of military operations. After many victories and defeats the Peace of Turin was declared in 1381 which left the Venetians as victor and arbiter of the sea ports in the Mediterranean and the East.
Height of Power
Although victorious over the Genoese, there was a new threat from the Turks advancing from the East. In order to secure an economic base to make up for the smaller yield from trade with the East, the Venetians had to negotiate a state of neutrality with the Turks.
Political and Economic Decline
In 1423, the newly appointed Doge Francesco Foscari waged a series of wars on the mainland, in particular against Milan. Greed for new territories embroiled the Venetians in the already tangled web of politics and conflicts between Italy and other great powers in Europe.
To worsen the situation, the Turks were encroaching on the Byzantine Empire in the East. Thessalonica was captured in 1430 and Constantinople fell in 1453.
Europeans and Turks against Venice
Due to internal conflicts Italy became victim to invading forces from Spain, France and Germany. Together with these powers, the Pope, Hungarians, Savoyards and the Ferrarese joined forces at the same time that the Republic was going through an economic crisis (1508). Consequently Venice was no longer a power in the Mediterranean and enjoyed none of the advantages of direct access with the New World that Atlantic countries had. Economic stagnation followed in the 16th century.
Crete finally fell to the Turks after a long campaign from 1645-69. This was Venice’s last bastion in the eastern Mediterranean and they tried to re-establish themselves by liberating the Peloponnese from the Turks. Due to the brilliant campaign of Francesco Morosini in 1684-88, Venice acquired this Greek territory in 1699. However it proved a financial burden and in 1718 the Morea was handed back to the Turks.
The End of the Venetian Republic
The outbreak of the French Revolution brought about the end of the Republic. Napoleon sought to destroy the Venetian oligarchy on the grounds that it was hostile to him. Doge Ludovico Manin was deposed on 12th May, 1797 and the Peace of Leoben left Venice with no ally.
Following the Prussians victory over Austria in 1866, Venice became part of Italy which had been a united kingdom since 1861.