venice and the fourth crusade -- 6/18/24

Today's selection -- from Venice by Dennis Romano. The City of Venice was the key gathering point for the Fourth Crusade of Christians against Muslims in the thirteenth century:

“Two momentous events bookend the Venetian thirteenth century: the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the conquest of Constantinople in 1204, and the Serrata (Closing) of the Greater Council of 1297, which defined the contours of the ruling class. Together, these episodes fundamentally altered the internal structure and nature of Venetian society as well as Venice's relationship to the Mediterranean Sea.

“The Fourth Crusade, which began as military pilgrimage to rescue Jerusalem from the Muslims, ended in the sack of the Byzantine capital and creation of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. It also resulted in Venice's acquisition of a maritime dominion that included substantial holdings in Constantinople and Negroponte (Euboea), the strategically vital towns Modon (Methoni) and Coron (Koroni) at the southwestern tip of Greece, and several Aegean islands, including militarily and economically significant Crete. In what must have seemed the blink of an eye, Venice morphed from an Adriatic power into a Mediterranean one and found itself frequently at war with its maritime rivals, especially Genoa. The Venetians suddenly had to deal with all the questions that an empire carries in its wake. The answers would impact not only the possessions but also Venice's domestic politics. Just as important, the Venetians had to come to terms with their new role as rulers of an empire.

A 15th-century miniature depicting the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204

“Like the Fourth Crusade, the Serrata of 1297 was both an end and a beginning.It marked the culmination of a century of dramatic social change, much of it ushered in by economic growth that resulted from the overseas expansion. The city's population exploded, new men grew wealthy in commerce, and artisans and manufacturers began to make their presence felt. These changes sparked social ferment, new forms of association including guilds and confraternities, and the growing popularity and influence of the mendicant religious orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. Tax riots, the emergence of family-based clienteles, and factionalism eventually culminated in the almost complete exclusion of guildsmen, as representatives of the popolo, from political power and the consolidation of a ruling class made up of old and new merchant families who defined themselves as noble. In all these ways, the Serrata marked the end of a century of extraordinary social and political change. At the same time, it marked the beginning of what can properly be called the Venetian Republic.

“The social change and population growth of the thirteenth century also resulted in the expansion of Venice at the city's edges—a movement championed by the mendicants. Meanwhile the ruling elite fostered the development of a form of domestic architecture that would remain the characteristic Venetian palace type. This form was capable of accommodating changing stylistic and decorative fashions, at least until the end of the nineteenth century.

“All this makes the thirteenth century one of the most decisive centuries in Venice's long history.”



Dennis Romano


Venice: The Remarkable History of the Lagoon City


Oxford University Press


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