Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/321

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of Priuli afford us a full, vivid, and veracious narrative of Venetian history, of life in the city, of the wars and intrigues of the Republic during her splendour and the beginning of her decline (1457-1535). No other Italian State can show such a monumental record of its doings as this. Written by capable men of affairs, the first a soldier, the second an official, the third a great merchant-banker, all of whom took a large part in the deeds and events they recount; written, not for publication, but to the honour and glory of that beloved San Marco "whom" to use the phrase of a later Venetian ambassador "each of us has engraved upon his heart"; written in dialect racy of the soil and of the people,—we have here a story, vigorous, vivacious, humorous; direct and simple as a ballad; a monument to the city-State that produced it; an illustration of the central principle of Venetian life that the Republic was everything, while her individual sons were of no account.

But this appearance of prosperity, of splendour, of pomp, during the latter half of the fifteenth century, masked the germs of incipient decline: the corruption of the nobles, the suspicious tyranny of the Ten, the first signs of bank failures, the drop in the value of funds, the rise of the national debt from six to thirteen millions. Land wars continued to drain the treasury; the Turkish wars, conducted by Venice single-handed, curtailed' her Levant trade and entailed a continual outlay; worst of all, in 1486 came the news that Diaz had discovered the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1497 that Vasco da Gama had rounded it, thereby cutting the tap-root of Venetian wealth, its Mediterranean carrying-trade, and drawing the great trade-lines of the world out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic. Venice could alter neither her geographical position nor her policy. She endeavoured to come to terms with the Turk, and she continued to expand on the mainland. This course of action brought down upon her the charge of infidelity on the one hand and of insatiable greed on the other, and ended in the disastrous combination of Cambray.

After the fall of Constantinople the Turkish advance was steadily continued both south and east. Athens surrendered to the Turks in 1457; so did Sinope and Trebizond; and the loss of the Morea in 1462 brought them into immediate collision with the Republic. Venice perfectly understood that a struggle for her possessions in the Levant was inevitable sooner or later; she therefore gladly embraced Pope Pius IPs proposals for a crusade. But the lamentable failure of the undertaking, and the Pope's death at Ancona, left the Republic to carry on, single-handed, a war she had undertaken on the promise and in the expectation of European support. Antonio Michiel, a Venetian merchant resident in Constantinople, had warned his government, in 1466, that the Sultan was mustering large forces. "I take it the fleet will number two hundred sail," he says, "and every one here thinks Negroponte its object." He continues in a note of serious warning that matters must not be treated