1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Doge

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DOGE (a modified form of the Ital. duca, Lat. dux, a leader, or duke), the title of the chief magistrate in the extinct republics of Venice and Genoa.

In Venice the office of doge was first instituted about 700. John the Deacon, referring to this incident in his Chronicon Venetum, written about 1000, says “all the Venetian cities (omnes Venetiae) determined that it would be more honourable henceforth to be under dukes than under tribunes.” The result was that the several tribunes were replaced by a single official who was called a doge and who became the head of the whole state. The first doge was Paolo Lucio Anafesto, and some authorities think that the early doges were subject to the authority of the emperors of Constantinople, but in any case this subordination was of short duration. The doge held office for life and was regarded as the ecclesiastical, the civil and the military chief; his duties and prerogatives were not defined with precision and the limits of his ability and ambition were practically the limits of his power. About 800 his independence was slightly diminished by the appointment of two assistants for judicial work, but these officers soon fell into the background and the doge acquired a greater and more irresponsible authority. Concurrently with this process the position was entrusted to members of one or other of the powerful Venetian families, while several doges associated a son with themselves in the ducal office. Matters reached a climax after the fall of the Orseole family in 1026. In 1033, during the dogeship of Dominico Flabianico, this tendency towards a hereditary despotism was checked by a law which decreed that no doge had the right to associate any member of his family with himself in his office, or to name his successor. It was probably at this time also that two councillors were appointed to advise the doge, who must, moreover, invite the aid of prominent citizens when discussing important matters of state. In 1172 a still more important change was introduced. The ducal councillors were increased in number from two to six; universal suffrage, which theoretically still existed, was replaced by a system which entrusted the election of the doge to a committee of eleven, who were chosen by a great council of 480 members, the great council being nominated annually by twelve persons. When a new doge was chosen he was presented to the people with the formula “this is your doge, if it please you.” Nominally the citizens confirmed the election, thus maintaining as a constitutional fiction the right of the whole people to choose their chief magistrate. Five years later this committee of eleven gave way to a committee of forty who were chosen by four persons selected by the great council. After the abdication of Doge Pietro Ziani in 1229 two commissions were appointed which obtained a permanent place in the constitution and which gave emphatic testimony to the fact that the doge was merely the highest servant of the community. The first of these commissions consisted of five Correttori della promissione ducale, whose duty was to consider if any change ought to be made in the terms of the oath of investiture (promissione) administered to each incoming doge, this oath, which was prepared by three officials, being a potent factor in limiting the powers of the doge. The second commission consisted of three inquisitori sopra il doge defunto, their business being to examine and pass judgment upon the acts of a deceased doge, whose estate was liable to be mulcted in accordance with their decision. In consequence of a tie at the election of 1229 the number of electors was increased from forty to forty-one. The official income of the doge was never large, and from early times many holders of the office were engaged in trading ventures. One of the principal duties of the doge was to celebrate the symbolic marriage of Venice with the sea. This was done by casting a precious ring from the state ship, the “Bucentaur,” into the Adriatic. In its earlier form this ceremony was instituted to commemorate the conquest of Dalmatia by Doge Pietro Orseole II. in 1000, and was celebrated on Ascension day. It took its later and more magnificent form after the visit of Pope Alexander III. and the emperor Frederick I. to Venice in 1177.

New regulations for the elections of the doge were introduced in 1268, and, with some modifications, these remained in force until the end of the republic. Their object was to minimize as far as possible the influence of the individual families, and this was effected by a very complex machinery. Thirty members of the great council, chosen by lot, were reduced, again by lot, to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven chose the forty-one, who actually elected the doge. As the oligarchical element in the constitution developed, the more important functions of the ducal office were assigned to other officials, or to administrative boards, and he who had once been the pilot of the ship became little more than an animated figurehead, properly draped and garnished. On state occasions he was surrounded by an increasing amount of ceremonial, and in international relations he had the status of a sovereign prince of the first rank. But he was under the strictest surveillance. He must wait for the presence of other officials before opening despatches from foreign powers; he was forbidden to leave the city and was not allowed to possess any property in a foreign land. To quote H. F. Brown, “his pomp was splendid, his power limited; he appears as a symbol rather than as a factor in the constitution, the outward and visible sign of the impersonal oligarchy.” The office, however, was maintained until the closing days of the republic, and from time to time it was held by men who were able to make it something more than a sonorous title. The last doge was Lodovico Manin, who abdicated in May 1797, when Venice passed under the power of Napoleon.

In Genoa the institution of the doge dates from 1339. At first he was elected without restriction and by popular suffrage, holding office for life; but after the reform effected by Andrea Doria in 1528 the term of his office was reduced to two years. At the same time plebeians were declared ineligible, and the appointment of the doge was entrusted to the members of the great and the little councils, who employed for this purpose a machinery almost as complex as that of the later Venetians. The Napoleonic Wars put an end to the office of doge at Genoa.

See Cecchetti, Il Doge di Venezia (1864); Musatti, Storia della promissione ducale (Padua, 1888); and H. F. Brown, Venice: a Historical Sketch (1893).