The beginning of the fifteenth century offers a convenient point whence to survey the growth of the Venetian Republic. Venice had by that time become the Venice of modern European history; a great trading city; a mart for the exchange of goods between East and West; committed to a policy destined to make her one of the five Italian Powers and eventually to raise up against her a coalition of all Italy and Europe. Her constitution was fixed; her colonial system developed; her position towards the Church defined; her aggrandisement on the Italian mainland initiated; her wealth, her splendour, her art were beginning to attract the attention of the civilised world. The various threads of Venetian history are drawn together at this epoch. The Republic was about to move forward upon a larger, more ambitious career than it had hitherto followed; a career for which its various lines of development,—the creation of a maritime empire, expansion on the mainland, efforts for ecclesiastical independence, growth and solidification of the constitution,—had been slowly preparing it. An examination of each of these lines, in turn will enable us to understand the nature of the Venetian Republic as it emerged from the Middle Ages and became, for a time, one of the greatest factors in European history.
The growth of Venetian maritime empire in the Levant and supremacy in the Mediterranean falls into four well-defined periods. The Venetians began by moving slowly down the Dalmatian coast and establishing their power in the Adriatic; they then pushed out eastward and acquired rights in Syrian seaports, such as Sidon, Tyre, Acre; they seized many of the islands in the archipelago as their share of the plunder after the Fourth Crusade; finally they met, fought, and defeated their only serious maritime rivals the Genoese.
The Adriatic is the natural water avenue to Venice. If her commerce was to flourish, it was essential that she should be mistress in this sea. But the eastern coast of the Adriatic, with its deep gulfs,