The Cambridge Modern History/Volume I/Chapter VIII
|The Cambridge Modern History
Volume I: The Renaissance
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, and numerous islands, had for long sheltered a race of pirates who never ceased to molest Venetian traffic. It was necessary to destroy this corsairs' nest, and Venice embarked on the first great war she undertook as an independent State in her own individual interests. This war was entirely successful. The Dalmatian coast towns recognised the Doge as "Duke of Dalmatia" and submitted to a nominal tribute in recognition of the supremacy of the Republic. Venice, it is true, did not remain in undisturbed and continuous possession of Dalmatia, but she acquired a title which she subsequently rendered effective. She thus took the first step towards that indispensable condition of her commercial existence, supremacy in the Adriatic. The Dalmatian cities were now open to her merchants. The Dalmatian sea-board furnished a food supply which the Lagoons could not; Dalmatian forests yielded timber for building ships and houses.
With the period of the Crusades Venice achieved a still wider expansion in the Levant. The eyes of Europe had been attracted to the little city in the Lagoons which had attacked and subdued the Narentine pirates, challenged and fought the Normans, and rendered striking services to the Eastern Emperor himself. When the Crusaders began to look about for a port of embarcation and for transport-service to the Holy Land, the three cities of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice offered themselves. Venice was not only the most powerful; she was also the most easterly of the three. Her geographical position naturally led to the choice of Venice as the port of departure. The issue of the Crusades proved that the Republic entered upon those enterprises in a purely commercial spirit. When Sidon fell, the Venetians received from Baldwin, King of Jerusalem, in return for their assistance, a market-place, a district, a church, and the right to use their own weights and measures in that city. This was in fact the nucleus of a colony of merchants living under special treaty capitulations; and the privileges of the Sidon treaty we find repeated and extended when Acre, Tyre, and Ascalon were successively occupied.
The siege and capture of Tyre mark the close of the second period in the history of Venetian maritime expansion. With the erection of factories in Constantinople and in the chief cities of the Syrian sea-board the Republic may be said to have embarked upon the construction of that greater Venice, which was to be completed after the Fourth Crusade.
But the course of Venetian expansion was not uninterruptedly smooth. The rapid growth of her power in the Levant procured for the Republic an enemy in the person of the Eastern Emperor. The Emperors had always viewed with suspicion the whole movement of the Crusades and more especially the professedly commercial attitude assumed by Venice, who was obviously bent upon acquiring territory and rights inside the Empire. They were aware that they could chastise her by favouring her rivals Pisa and Genoa. The growing wealth and importance of Venetian colonists in Constantinople, where they are said to have numbered two hundred thousand, increased the imperial jealousy. The Venetians were accused of being troublesome, brawling neighbours, who kept the town in an uproar. In March, 1171, all Venetians in the Empire were placed under arrest and their property confiscated. Popular indignation at Venice swept the Republic into war with the Emperor. One hundred galleys and twenty ships were manned in the course of a hundred days. The issue of the campaign was disastrous for the Venetians. The Emperor's Ambassadors induced the Doge to temporise. The plague decimated and nearly annihilated the fleet. The shattered remnants returned to Venice where the Doge was slain by the mob.
With the reign of Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade we approach a memorable period in the history of Venetian maritime empire. When Dandolo came to the throne the affairs of the Republic as regards their maritime power stood thus. In the imperial city their position was precarious, liable to violent changes, exposed to the machinations of their commercial and naval rivals, Pisa and Genoa. Their communications with their Syrian factories were not secure. Zara and the Dalmatian coast were still in revolt. In the year 1201 the Republic discovered that the usurping Emperor, Alexius III, was in treaty with the Genoese and meditated conferring on them ampler trading rights. The immediate objects of the Republic were the recovery of Zara and the suppression of their commercial rivals in Constantinople. The story of the Fourth Crusade is the story of the way in which the Republic accomplished its aims.
Zara was recovered and on the fall of Constantinople, in 1204, the Republic reaped material advantages of a preponderating kind. Her portion of the booty gave her solid riches, with which she bought the rights of Boniface over Crete and Salonika, and obtained leave for Venetian citizens to occupy as fiefs of the Empire any Aegean islands not already owned by the Republic. In this way she became possessed of the Cyclades and Sporades, and held the seaports of Thessaly and the island of Crete. Zara and other Dalmatian towns now became liers both by conquest and by title; and thus the Republic acquired an unbroken line of communication from Venice down the Adriatic to Constantinople and round to the seaports of the Syrian coast.
But the possession of this large maritime empire had to be made good. Venice was unable to undertake at one and the same time the actual conquest and settlement of so many scattered territories. She adopted a method borrowed from the feudal system of her Frankish allies, and granted investiture of the various islands, as fiefs, to those of her richer families who would undertake to render effective the Venetian title and to hold the territories for the Republic at a nominal tribute. We have no evidence as to how these feudatories established their title and governed their fiefs; but when we come to deal with the growth of the Venetian constitution we shall find that a great increase in private wealth resulted from this partition of the Levant islands. We do know, however, the system adopted for the colonisation of the large island of Crete, which the Republic kept directly in its own hands. Venetian citizens were tempted to settle in the island by the gift of certain villages with their districts. These they were expected to hold for the Republic in the case of a revolution. The Governor of the island, who bore the title of Duke of Candia, was a Venetian noble elected in the Great Council at Venice; he was assisted by two Councillors. Matters of importance were decided by the Great Council of Crete, which was composed of all noble Venetians resident in the island and all noble Cretans. The remaining magistracies were formed upon the Venetian model; and the higher posts, such as those of Captain-General, Commander of the Cavalry, Governors, and military commanders in the larger towns, were filled by Venetians. The minor offices were open to Cretans. Absolute equality was granted to both> Roman and Orthodox rites. In fact the Republic displayed at once the governing ideas of her colonial policy, namely to interfere as little as possible with local institutions; to develop the resources of the country; to encourage trade with the metropolis; to retain only the very highest military and civil appointments in her own hands as a symbol and guarantee of her supremacy.
For the defence of these widely scattered possessions and for the preservation of communications between Venice and her dependencies the Republic was obliged to organise a service of patrol squadrons. The Captain of "the Gulf," that is the Adriatic, had his head-quarters at the Ionian islands, and was responsible, for the safety of merchantmen from Venice to those islands and in the waters of the Morea as far as Modon and Coron. From the Morea to the Dardanelles the safety of the sea route was entrusted to the Venetian feudatories in the Greek islands; while the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora, the Bosphorus, and the Black Sea were patrolled by the Black Sea squadron.
It is obvious that the outcome of the Fourth Crusade was of vast importance for the expansion of Venetian maritime empire; and we are now in the presence of a Venice quite different from anything we have encountered hitherto. The Republic assumed the aspect of a naval Power with a large mercantile marine and organised squadrons of warships for her protection. The crews of Venetian warships were at this period free citizens, serving under the command of a Venetian noble. Condemned prisoners or galley-slaves were not employed till much later,—first because the State was hardly large enough to furnish sufficient criminals to serve the oar, and secondly because, as long as boarding formed an important operation in naval tactics, condemned criminals could not be employed with safety as it was dangerous to entrust them with arms. When ramming took the place of boarding, the galley-slave, chained to his bench, could be used precisely as we use machinery.
The expansion of Venetian maritime empire as the outcome of the Fourth Crusade roused the jealousy of her great rival Genoa. It was inevitable that the Genoese and the Venetians, both occupying neighbouring quarters in the Levantine cities, each competing for a monopoly of Eastern commerce, should come to blows. The Republic was now committed to a struggle with her western rival for supremacy in the Levant-a deplorable conflict fraught with disaster for both parties.
A long period of naval campaigning ensued, the fortune of war leaning now to one side, now to the other. The breathing-space between each campaign and the next was devoted by the Republic to the development of her commerce. Treaties were stipulated with Milan, Bologna, Brescia, Como. Trade with England and Flanders by means of the Flanders galleys was developed. Venetian merchants brought sugar from the Levant, and exchanged it for wool in London. The wool was sold in Flanders and cloth bought, which was placed on the markets of Italy and Dalmatia, as the ships sailed east again to procure fresh cargoes for the London market. Industries also began to take root in the city. Refugees from Lucca introduced the silk trade, and established themselves in a quarter near the Hialto. The glass manufacture of Murano received an impetus. The population of the city numbered 200,000; the males fit for arms, that is between the ages of twenty and sixty, were reckoned at 40,000.
There is proof that, in spite of defeats by Genoa at Ayas and at Curzola, Venice had achieved a high position in the eyes of European Princes. Edward III asked for Venetian aid in his wars with Philip of France; he offered extensive privileges, and invited the Doge to send his sons to the English court. Alfonso of Sicily apologised for insults offered to Venetian merchants. The Pope proposed that Venice should undertake the protection of Christians against the Ottoman Turks, who were now beginning to threaten Europe, in return for which the Republic was to enjoy the ecclesiastical tithes for three years.
But Genoa was not yet driven from the field. It was impossible that commercial rivalries should not lead to fresh explosions. The fur trade in the Crimea gave rise to differences. The Venetians sent an embassy to Genoa to protest against alleged violations of a compact by which both Republics had pledged themselves to abstain from trading with the Tartars. The Genoese gave Venice to understand that her presence in the Black Sea was only permitted on sufferance. War broke out. The Republics were now embarked upon a struggle to the death, from which one or other of the combatants must emerge finally victorious. In the course of that struggle the recuperative power of Venice was amply demonstrated. She lost Negroponte; she was defeated in the Bosphorus; her whole fleet was annihilated at Sapienza. But the result of her one great victory at Cagliari was sufficient to counterbalance her losses, for by it she forced Genoa to surrender her liberties to Visconti. And so, while Venice after each disaster, after Curzola and Sapienza, was able to devote her whole energies to replacing her fleet and reestablishing her commerce, the case was very different with her rival. The Genoese Republic had accepted the lordship of Visconti at a moment of great peril, and was compelled to devote any interval of peace with Venice, not to the increase of her wealth and the augmentation of her fleet, but to efforts for the recovery of that freedom she had surrendered. Genoa could only stand by and watch with jealous eyes the reconstitution of her antagonist.
The steady advance of Venice brought about the final rupture. On the threat that they would join the Sultan Murad I and expel the Emperor John Paleologus from his throne, the Venetians wrung from the Emperor the concession of the island of Tenedos. The position of that island, commanding the mouth of the Dardanelles, made it intolerable to the Genoese that it should pass into the hands of their enemies. War was declared again in 1378. In the following year Vettor Pisani, the Venetian commander, was utterly defeated at Pola, though the Genoese lost their admiral in the battle. This delayed their attack on the Lagoons; and while they awaited the arrival of a new commander, the panic in Venice subsided and the Republic set to work to protect the home waters from an assault which seemed imminent day by day. In July Pietro Doria, the Genoese admiral, reconnoitred Chioggia, and it was clear that he intended to make that Lagoon city his head-quarters and thence to blockade and starve Venice to surrender. Chioggia lay close to the mainland, and Doria counted on abundant supplies from Francesco Carrara, Lord of Padua, who was at that time at open war with the Republic and blockading her on the land side. But Chioggia had yet to be captured. On August 11, 1379, the assault began and was renewed till the 18th, when the town fell into the hands of the Genoese. Carrara urged Doria to push on at once to Venice, only about twenty miles away; and had he done so there can be little doubt but that the flag of St George of Genoa would have floated in the Piazza, and Carrara would have carried out his threat of bitting and bridling the horses on St Mark's. But the Genoese admiral decided to abide by his plan of a blockade and his decision proved the salvation of Venice. At Venice, in the face of this imminent peril, the whole population displayed coolness, courage and tenacity. The magistrates forewent their pay; new imposts were borne without complaint; the people, invited to express their wishes on the question of continuing the war, replied: "Let us man every vessel in Venice and go to fight the foe." The public voice designated Vettor Pisani as leader, in spite of the disastrous defeat he had suffered at Pola, and the government withdrew their own candidate, Taddeo Giustinian. Thirty-four galleys were put together, and Pisani took the command. Meanwhile Doria had resolved to withdraw his whole fleet into Chioggia for winter quarters. Pisani grasped the situation and seized the opportunity. He resolved to blockade the blockaders. All the channels which gave egress from Chioggia to the sea were rendered useless by sinking across them galleys filled with stones. Pisani then drew up his fleet in the open sea opposite the Chioggian entrance to the Lagoons, in order to intercept any reinforcements which might be sent from Genoa. The Genoese in Chioggia were all the while straining every nerve to break through Pisani's lines; his crews were kept on guard by turns day and night; it was winter time, and a storm from the east or south-east might easily spring up such as would probably drive Pisani on to the lee shore. The strain on the Venetians was very great. But just when they were on the point of abandoning the blockade, Carlo Zeno's fleet, which had been cruising down the Adriatic, hove in sight. The reinforcements enabled Pisani to land troops and to occupy the point of Brondolo, whence his two great guns, the "Trevisana" and the "Vittoria," opened on the town. A shot from one of them brought down the Campanile and killed the Genoese admiral Doria. His successor, Napoleone Grimaldi, withdrew all his troops into Chioggia, and abandoned the design of cutting a new canal from the Lagoons to the sea. Carlo Zeno with a company of mercenaries disembarked on the mainland and eventually succeeded in cutting off the supplies which Carrara was sending into Chioggia. The Genoese began building light boats in which they hoped to be able to sail over the obstacles in the channels that led to the Adriatic. Twice they attempted a sortie and failed. Famine came to close the long list of their disasters, and on June 24t, 1380, the Genoese fleet surrendered to Venice.
The successful issue of the war of Chioggia left the Republic of Venice the supreme naval Power in the Mediterranean. Genoa never recovered from the blow. She fell a prey to internal feuds, and in 1396 she renounced her independence, receiving from Charles VI of France a governor who ruled the State in French interests. Venetian predominance in the Mediterranean was confirmed by the recovery of Corfu in 1386, and by the purchase of Argos and Nauplia in the Peloponnese. But at the very moment when her power seemed indisputably established a new and formidable rival began to loom on the horizon. Sultan Bayazid's victory at Nikopolis in 1392 planted a Muslim mosque and a Cadi in Constantinople and presaged for Venice that long series of wars, which were destined eventually to drain her resources and to rob her of her maritime supremacy. The expansion of Venice on the mainland of Italy began somewhat later than the creation of her maritime dominion, and was in a certain way the result of that dominion. The Republic was originally a sea-Power whose merchants brought to her port the various products of Eastern countries, all de transmarinis partlbus orientalium divitias. The geographical position of Venice as the seaport nearest to the centre of Europe indicated her as a great emporium and mart for the distribution and exchange of goods; and, further, her situation in the shallow waters of the Lagoons gave her a monopoly of salt. Cassiodorus, Theodoric's secretary, when describing the growing State, points to salt as the real riches of the young Republic; "for men may live without gold," he says, "but no one ever heard of their being able to do without salt." Venice however required an outlet for her commodities; and this led at first to the establishment of factories in the districts of Belluno and Treviso, along the banks of the Piave and on one of the highroads into the heart of Europe (991), and subsequently at Ferrara (1100), and again at Fano (1130).
But these factories did not, strictly speaking, constitute territorial possessions. They were merely colonies of Venetian merchants living in foreign cities under special treaty rights which conferred extra-terri-toriality on the Venetian quarter. Indeed, the early policy of the Republic was to keep as far aloof as possible from all the complications of the Italian mainland. Her real interests lay in the East,—in the Levant, in Constantinople, in Syria. Her character was oriental rather than Latin. When Pippin, the son of Charles the Great, attempted to compel the Republic to recognise the Frankish suzerainty he received for answer: "J/yu-et? SoCXot de\ofj,ev elvau rov /JacrtXeoo? ru>v 'PcafJ-aicov Kal ov'xl crow1'; and to the spirit of that answer the Venetians remained faithful throughout their early career.
It is not till the year 1300 that the Republic took a decisive and acquisitive step on the Italian mainland. In Ferrara, as we have seen, Venice had established a commercial colony protected by treaty rights. These were swept away when Salinguerra held the city for the Emperor Frederick II, who was hostile to Venice on account of the part she was playing in the Lombard League, for which she acted as banker. Pope Gregory IX, while endeavouring to recover the city, which he claimed as part of Countess Matilda's legacy to the Church, applied to Venice for help. The Republic was largely instrumental in expelling the Imperial troops and recovered all her privileges and interests in the mainland city. These privileges and interests were destined to entangle her in the complications of mainland politics.
The d'Este family was established at Ferrara and held it as a fief of the Holy See. But the Republic had been growing steadily in wealth, and strength, thanks to her expansion in the Levant and to the consolidation of her constitution as an oligarchy by the closing of the Great Council in 1297. She had before her the example of other lordships rising to power on the mainland,—Scala, Visconti, Carrara, all in her neighbourhood. It seems certain from the attitude of the Doge, Pietro Gradenigo, that the government entertained the idea of taking the place of the d'Este should a fitting occasion present itself. That moment appeared to have arrived when Azzo d'Este lay on his death-bed. The Republic sent three nobles to Ferrara with instructions to see that the succession was directed in a way consonant with its aims. Azzo had no legitimate offspring; the d'Este succession seemed likely to pass through his brothers Francesco and Aldobrandino. But Azzo had a bastard named Fresco who had a son Folco; and Azzo named Folco his heir. On his death the uncles of Folco tried to unseat him and his father Fresco, who in his straits applied for help to Venice which was given. But now the Pope, as overlord, claimed the right to direct the succession and sent his troops into Ferrara to support Francesco and to take over the city in the name of the Church. Thereupon Fresco in the name of his son Folco ceded to Venice Folco's claims in Ferrara. The papal troops entered the city; but the Venetians held the fortress and commanded the town. The Pope ordered the Venetians to evacuate the castle. The Doge's speech on this occasion clearly indicates the political conceptions of the party in power and points most emphatically to an expansion of Venice on the mainland of Italy. Gradenigo urged that it was the duty of a loyal citizen to lose no opportunity for the aggrandisement of his native State. In spite of opposition the Doge's policy carried the day, and it was resolved to retain Ferrara. On March 27, 1309, the Pope launched the excommunication and interdict. The clergy were ordered to leave Venetian territory. But, more than this, the jealousy of Venice which had been roused by her expansion and preponderance in the Levant broke loose now; under the papal sanction, in England, in Asia Minor, in Italy, Venetian merchants were threatened in their lives and despoiled of their goods. The government held firm and ordered its officers in Ferrara to withdraw into the castle, promising relief from Venice. But plague broke out in the city. The papal arms pressed the castle closer and closer, till it fell and all the Venetians were put to the sword. These disasters precipitated the great conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo-with which we shall deal when discussing the Venetian constitution-and in 1311 the Republic made its peace with the Pope, paid an indemnity, and received permission to resume its trading rights in Ferrara.
This first attempt of Venice to establish herself in possession of mainland territory proved a failure. But the rise of the great Lords of Verona, Padua, Milan, the Scala, Carraresi, and Visconti, and the struggles which took place between them, could not fail to disturb the quiet of the Lagoons and to draw Venice once more into the mesh of Italian politics. It was impossible for Venice to be indifferent to events which were affecting cities so close to herself and so necessary for her commerce as Padua and Treviso.
Padua, thanks chiefly to the ability of Jacopo da Carrara, had made herself mistress of Vicenza, and had thus been brought into close proximity with the possessions of the powerful family of della Scala, Lords of Verona. The Paduans in return for Jacopo's services elected him as her Lord. When Jacopo da Carrara died, Can Grande della Scala attacked Marsilio da Carrara, who had succeeded his uncle, and wrung from him Padua and the Padovano; thence the Scala spread to Feltre, Belluno, and the territory at the foot of the Alps, and finally Treviso came to their possession in 1329. The Republic of Venice could not be indifferent to the growth of a Power which threatened to enclose the Lagoons and to block all exits for Venetian merchandise. Moreover her natural position rendered her incapable of supporting herself if food supplies from the mainland were cut off. A contingency of this kind, if it should happen to coincide with such a defeat at sea as Venice had sustained at Curzola or Sapienza, would, in a very short time, have placed the Republic at the discretion of her enemies. It was obvious therefore that Venice was face to face with a rival whom she must either crush or be ruined. War was inevitable.
The crisis was of vital importance to the Republic. It is true that in the War of Perrara she had made an attempt to establish herself on the mainland; but in attacking the Lord of Verona, Vicenza, Brescia, Treviso, Feltre, Belluno, and Padua she was embarking on a far more serious enterprise. Failure meant peril to her very existence; success would compel her to occupy the nearer mainland and therefore to sacrifice one of her great advantages, the absence of a mainland frontier to protect. The party of the Doge, the party opposed to the War, was met and overcome by the argument that war was the only alternative to starvation; the want of corn for feeding the city could not be supplied in any other way. Moreover it was urged that if Venice once attacked the Scala she would be joined by all who were jealous of the growing power of Verona and its Lords. Such proved to be the case. The declaration of war by Venice at once created so strong a combination-Florence, Parma, and Venice-that Mastino della Scala was forced to negotiate for peace. With singular want of judgment he chose as his ambassador to Venice Marsilio da Carrara, the very man whom the Scala had already deprived of the lordship of Padua. That lordship the Doge promised to restore to the Carraresi, if Marsilio would admit the troops of the league into Padua, which he held in the name of Mastino della Scala. Marsilio kept his word, and in August, 1337, Pietro de1 Rossi, general of the confederate forces, entered the city.
For her own part, the Republic by the peace of 1338, thus gained possession of the marches of Treviso, with the districts of Bassano, Castelfranco, Conegliano and Oderzo,—her first mainland possession; and the family of Carrara held Padua-which had been captured in the name of the Republic-as a quasi-fief of Venice. She was now in command of a corn-growing district and was sure of an abundant meat supply. But on the other hand the mainland frontier which she now acquired exposed her to attack from the Patriarch of Aquileia or the Counts of Gorz; while she was bound to protect her dependent Carrara beyond whom lay the growing power and ambition of the Visconti of Milan. An attack on Carrara was necessarily a threat to Venice, and in fact if not in appearance the Republic had by the fall of the Scala become conterminous with Visconti.
We have seen how the Republic dealt with her maritime colonies, especially in the instance of Crete; we may now observe her method towards her newly acquired mainland possessions. Her mild and provident sway was fruitful of many results favourable to the Republic, and it brought her dependencies back to her of their own accord after the disastrous wars of the League of Cambray. To use the words of the Senate, the Republic of Venice in her relations towards her dependencies set herself to provide taliter quod habeamus cor et amorem civium et sub-diforum nostrorum, and she succeeded. Her rule was just, lenient and wise. Alike in her maritime and in her mainland acquisitions her object was to interfere as little as might be with local institutions, provided her own tenure and the supremacy of the capital were maintained. In each of the more important dependent cities she placed a civil governor, called the Podesta, and a military commandant, called the Captain, whose duty it was to raise levies and look after the defence of the city; these two when acting together were called the Rectors. The local municipal councils, varying in numbers, were left undisturbed and retained the control of such matters as lighting, roads, local taxation. The police and imperial taxation were in the hands of the Rectors, and they were in constant communication either with the Senate, or, in very grave emergencies, with the Council of Ten. The smaller towns were governed by a Podesta, a Capitano, or a Provveditore. Each town possessed its own special code, called the Statute, which the Rectors swore to observe. The Statuto dealt with octroi dues, roads and bridges, wells, lighting, doctors, nurses, fires, guilds, sanitary matters,—in short with all the multifarious details of municipal and even of private life. Peace, encouragement of trade, and comfort of living were the chief objects aimed at. In the Courts of Justice the Podesta or one of his three assessors merely presided; he did not constitute the Court, which was composed of citizens. Provision was made for public instruction in the humanities, in canon and civil law, and in medicine; primary education was supplied by what were called schools of arithmetic. The cost of education was charged on the revenues of the province.
The expansion of Venice on the mainland, while it increased the prestige of the Republic, likewise augmented her dangers. Hitherto she had been engaged in a duel with Genoa for supremacy at sea. No other Italian Power had any motive for interfering in the combat. But now that Venice had acquired a mainland territory she became possessed of something that her mainland neighbours coveted, and of which they were ready to despoil her if occasion offered. Thus during the final phases of her war with Genoa we find the Republic called upon to face Carrara and Hungary, banded together with Genoa to destroy the mighty city of the Lagoons (1369). Louis I, King of Hungary, was ready to attack Venetian mainland territory with a view to wringing from the Republic a renunciation of Dalmatia. The Counts of Gorz viewed with alarm Venetian expansion eastward and were ready to join the Hungarians. The Carraresi, though restored to the lordship of Padua by the Republic, were impatient under the suzerainty which Venice imposed, and were aspiring to an absolute independence; they too joined the Hungarians. From their conduct at this moment Venice learned that she would not be safe until Padua was in her possession; and thus she found that having once touched the mainland she could not stop, but was, by the very nature of the situation, forced further and further into the Italian terra ferma, and along a line of action which was destined to land her in the disasters of Cambray.
It was obvious that Carrara would not remain quiet if he found an opportunity of attacking Venice with any prospect of success. Such an occasion presented itself in the War of Chioggia (1379). Carrara assisted the Genoese by all the means in his power; he bombarded Mestre and maintained the land blockade of Venice; he sent twenty-four thousand troops to the neighbourhood of Chioggia, and supplied the Genoese forces when they took up their quarters in that town. But the surrender of the Genoese left Carrara single-handed against Venice. lie was still in possession of the Trevisan marches and was pressing Treviso so closely that its fall was momently expected. Rather than allow it to pass into the hands of Carrara, Venice made a formal surrender of the city to Duke Leopold of Austria, who immediately occupied it. All parties, however, were weary of the war. Venice was exhausted by her continual struggles against Hungary, Carrara, Genoa; Carrara disgusted at being baulked of Treviso; Genoa crushed by the loss of her fleet. Amadeo of Savoy found little difficulty in negotiating the Peace of Turin (1381).
That Peace left Venice little cause for self-congratulation. She resigned Tenedos, the occupation of which had been the immediate cause of the War of Chioggia; she lost Dalmatia; Treviso she had surrendered to Duke Leopold of Austria; on the mainland all that she now possessed was a narrow strip of territory round the edge of the Lagoon. But the respite granted by the peace was devoted to the reestablishment of commerce and trade. Petrarch, from his windows on the Riva degli Schiavoni, noted the extraordinary movement of the port: the huge vessels "as large as my house, and with masts taller than its towers." They lay like mountains floating on the waters; and their cargoes were wine for England; honey for Scythia; saffron * oil, linen for Assyria, Armenia, Persia, and Arabia; wood went to Egypt and Greece. They brought home again various merchandise to be distributed over all Europe. "Where the sea stops the sailors quit their ships and travel on to trade with India and China. They cross the Caucasus and the Ganges and reach the Eastern Ocean."
And in the history of Venetian mainland extension there was one task to which all this accumulation of wealth and resources was to be dedicated; the destruction of the Carraresi and the acquisition of Padua. Venice knew that the Lords of Padua were permanently hostile. The action of Francesco Carrara soon proved that the Republic could not, even if it would, leave him alone. In 1384 Carrara bought from the Duke of Austria, Treviso, Ceneda, and Feltre, commanding the great northern road into the Pusterthal by Cortina d'Ampezzo; he was now master of all the mainland between the Alps and the Lagoons; nothing remained for him to seize in that direction. But westward, between him and the Visconti of Milan, lay the territories of Vicenza and Verona, feebly held by Antonio, the last of the Scala family. Visconti and Carrara entered into a league to despoil Antonio. Verona was to be added to Milan, Vicenza to Padua. The attack was delivered simultaneously and Visconti's general entered Verona, but instead of halting there he pushed on to Vicenza, and captured that city in his master's name. When too late Carrara saw what his alliance with Visconti implied. He appealed to Venice for help. But although the Republic had no desire to see the powerful Lord of Milan so near the Lagoons, she had still less intention of supporting Carrara whom she knew to be treacherous. Visconti's emissaries were already in Venice offering to restore Treviso, Ceneda, and Feltre if the Republic would assist him to crush Carrara. The terms were accepted and Padua fell to Visconti.
Such a powerful prince as Gian Galeazzo was not likely to prove a less dangerous neighbour to Venice than Carrara had been. But his rapid advance in power, and his obvious intention to create a North-Italian kingdom, immediately produced a coalition against him of all the threatened Princes. Venice joined the league but she had no intention of challenging Visconti on the mainland herself; she adopted a less costly plan and invited the Carraresi to return to Padua promising to support their enterprise; Sir John Hawkwood, the Florentine General, was pressing Visconti on the Adda; Visconti's forces were scattered; the Paduans weary of his rule rose in revolt and the Carraresi recovered possession of their city (1390).
The Peace of Genoa which ensued (1392) was highly satisfactory to Venice. Without any cost to herself she had recovered Treviso, Ceneda, Feltre, and consequently the passes; she had removed Visconti from the immediate neighbourhood of the Lagoons; and replaced him by a Carrara whom dread of Visconti would certainly keep submissive to his protector. But in 1402 Gian Galeazzo died suddenly, and the whole aspect of the situation underwent a change. The reason for Carrara's loyalty to Venice, his dread of Visconti, disappeared. The value of Carrara to Venice, as a buffer between herself and Visconti, no longer existed. The moment had arrived for Venice to consolidate her landed possessions by the absorption of Padua. The pretext was soon found. The Visconti possessions were now held by his Duchess as regent for Gian Galeazzo's infant children. The Duchess was weak. Gian Galeazzo's generals began to divide their late master's dominions. This dissolution of the Visconti duchy roused the cupidity of Carrara. He claimed Vicenza and had an eye on Verona. He sat down before Vicenza; but the people, weary of the uneasy, shifting rule of these personal Lords, Scala, Visconti, Carrara, declared that if they must yield to some one, they would hand their city over to Venice. Moreover the Duchess had already invited Venice to hold Carrara in check and the Republic had demanded as the price of her interference Bassano, Vicenza, Verona. The Duchess consented. Armed with this double title, Venice requested Carrara to raise the siege of Vicenza. He refused, and mutilated the Venetian herald by cropping his ears and slitting his nose. War was declared. Carrara was gradually beaten back into Padua. A long siege followed. Carrara held out with great courage, hoping that aid might come from Florence, and that his partizans in Venice might succeed in carrying into effect a plot which they had concerted in that city. But the plague and the fury of the populace broke down his pertinacity. The Venetians delivered an assault and with the help of the people they entered the town (November 17, 1404). Francesco and his son were taken to Venice, where they were tried and condemned to be strangled.
As the defeat of Genoa secured Venetian maritime supremacy, so the fall of the Carraresi consolidated her mainland possessions. She now held Treviso, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, and their districts. The boundaries of the Republic were, roughly speaking, the sea from the mouth of the Tagliamento to the mouth of the Adige, the river Tagliamento to the east, the Alps to the north, the Adige to the west and south. This territory she retained with brief exceptions, down to the League of Cambray. She now entered the community of Italian States and enjoyed all the prestige, but also confronted all the dangers, of an Italian principality.
On the sea the Turk was already in sight; on the mainland the Visconti of Milan, with their claim to Verona and Vicenza, had to be faced. But before proceeding to narrate the history of the full-grown Republic during the period of her greatest brilliancy, we must consider for a moment two important points, her relations to the Church, and the nature of the Venetian constitution which played so striking a part in the creation and preservation of her glory.
The political independence of the early Venetian State is reflected in her relations towards the Roman Church. The fact that, through the first centuries of her career, she was in closer touch with the Eastern Empire than with the Italian mainland, conduced to that independent attitude towards the Curia which characterises the whole of Venetian history.
Some flavour of an ecclesiastical quality seems to have attached to the office of Doge; we find that on certain great occasions he bestowed his benediction, and the earlier Doges claimed the right to nominate and to invest Bishops. This right was, however, challenged at Rome.
The head of the Church in Venice was the Patriarch of Grado. That See had been called into existence by the same causes which created the city of Venice itself. When Aquileia was destroyed by Attila, the Patriarch of that city and his flock found an asylum in the Lagoons of Grado. After the return to Aquileia a Bishop was left behind in the Lagoon City, and his flock was continually increased-partly by the schism of the Three Chapters which divided the mainland Church, partly by refugees from the repeated barbarian incursions. The Bishop of Grado obtained from Pope Pelagius II a decree which erected his See into the Metropolitan Church of the Lagoons and of Istria, though Aquileia disputed the validity of the act. During the Lombard invasion and under the Lombard protection the mainland Bishoprics became Arian, the Lagoon See remained orthodox. The Metropolitan of Grado then claimed that his See was the real Patriarchal See of the Lagoons in opposition to Arian and heretical Aquileia. A long series of struggles between the two Patriarchates ensued. The Republic of Venice supported the Lagoon Bishopric. Finally the Lateran Council in 732 decreed the separation of the two jurisdictions, assigning to Aquileia all the mainland and to Grado the Lagoons and Istria, and recognised the Patriarchal quality of that See. In 1445 the seat of the Patriarch as well as his title was changed from Grado to Venice and the Beato Lorenzo Giustinian was the first Patriarch of Venice, an office henceforth always filled by a Venetian noble.
The Cathedral Church of Venice was San Pietro di Castello, not St Mark's. That magnificent basilica was technically the Doge's private chapel, and was served by the Doge's chaplain, called the Primiciero, and a chapter of canons; an arrangement not without significance, for the shrine of the patron Saint of Venice, the most splendid monument in the city, the home of its religion, was thereby declared to belong to the State, not to the Curia Romana, whose outward and visible abode was that comparatively insignificant building San Pietro di Castello, at the extreme north-eastern corner of the City.
The anti-Curial attitude of the Republic is obvious all down her history. In 1309, during the War of Ferrara, when Venice was lying under an interdict, the Doge Gradenigo enunciated the principle that the Papacy had no concern in temporal affairs, and that a misinformed Pope could not claim obedience.
She again asserted her adherence to the Conciliar principle when in 1409 she recognised Alexander V, the Pope elected by the Council of Pisa, against her own citizen Gregory XII (Angelo Correr), who was deposed by that Council; and yet again when she sent three ambassadors to the Council of Constance, who solemnly pledged the Republic to accept its decrees. By these acts she accepted the principle that Councils are superior to Popes, from whom an appeal may lie to a future Council; as well as the doctrine that an appeal may lie from a Pope ill-informed to a Pope better informed. In spite of "Execrabilis" the Republic more than once availed herself of these rights. When Sixtus IV placed the Republic under an interdict during the Ferrarese war in 1483, Diedo* the Venetian Ambassador in Rome, refused to send the bull to Venice. The Patriarch was instructed to present it to the government; he feigned to be ill, and secretly informed the Doge and the Ten that the bull was in Venice. The Ten ordered all clerics to continue their functions, and announced their intention to appeal to a future Council. Five experts in Canon Law were appointed to advise the government, and the formula of appeal was actually fixed on the doors of San Celso in Home.
Again, in 1509, Julius II, preparing for the combined attack of all Europe upon Venice, placed the Republic under an interdict by the bull of April 27. The College and the Council of Ten which undertook to deal with the situation, forbade the publication of the bull, the guards were ordered to tear it down if it were affixed to the walls; doctors in Canon Law were again appointed to advise, and once again an appeal to a future Council was affixed, this time to the doors of St Peter's in Rome.
The position of the Church in Venice as defined by the close of the fourteenth century was as follows. The parish clergy were elected by the clergy and the people, and inducted by the Ordinary. Bishops were elected in the Senate. Candidates were balloted for until one obtained a majority. He was then presented at Rome for confirmation. But in 1484 the Senate decreed that the temporal fruits should not fall to any one who was not approved of by the government. This really made the State master of the situation; and its position was further strengthened by a law of 1488 rendering all foreigners ineligible for the episcopate.
Venetian nobles who were beneficed were excluded from the Maggior Consiglio; and when ecclesiastical matters were under discussion in the Maggior Consiglio or the Senate all members who were related to any one holding an appointment from the Curia were obliged to retire. The minutes were marked expulsis papalistis.
The excessive accumulation of Church property had been regulated by a law passed as early as 1286, which provided that all legacies to monastic establishments must be registered, and the property taxed like any other.
The question of the jurisdiction of the secular Courts over ecclesiastics was a fruitful source of differences with the Curia. Originally it would seem that clerics were subject to the secular Courts in civil as well as in criminal cases. Jacopo Tiepolo granted jurisdiction to the Bishops but reserved punishment to the secular Courts. This arrangement gave rise to constant disputes, and in 1324 a commission was appointed to draw up regulations on the question. Finally a convention was reached between the Patriarch of Grado and the secular authorities, whereby it was agreed that in the case of injury done by a cleric to a laic the secular Courts should denounce the offender to the ecclesiastical Courts, which should try and sentence him in accordance with existing laws; and vice versa in the case of injury inflicted by a laic on a cleric. By the bull of Paul II in 1468 those clerics who had been tonsured after the committal of a crime with a view to securing benefit of clergy were handed over by the Church to the secular Courts; so too were the clerics caught in flagrante and unfrocked. Sixtus IV, in view of the growing frequency of crime-especially of counterfeit coining and of conspiracy-on the part of clerics, instructed the Patriarch to hand over all such offenders to the secular Courts, but to assist at the trial in the person of his Vicar.
The independent attitude of the Republic in matters ecclesiastical is illustrated once again in the position occupied by the Inquisition at Venice. When the Pope, with a view to crushing the Albigensian and Patarinian heresies, endeavoured to establish everywhere in Italy the Dominican Inquisition, the Republic resisted its introduction into Venice. But in 1249, in the reign of the Doge Morosini, the Holy Office was admitted, though only in a modified form. The State charged itself to discover heretics, who when caught were examined by the Patriarch, the Bishop of Castello, or any other Venetian Ordinary. The examining Court was confined to a return of fact. It was called on to state whether the examinee was or was not guilty of heresy. Punishment was reserved to the secular authority. This arrangement did not satisfy the Court of Rome, and in 1289 a modification took place. An Inquisitor was appointed by the Pope, but he required the Doge's exequatur before he could act, and a board was created of three Venetian nobles, to sit as assessors to the Holy Office. Their duty was to guard the rights of Venetian citizens against ecclesiastical encroachment; without their presence and their sanction no act of the Holy Office was valid in Venice. The archive of the Sant' Uffizio is now open to inspection. Heresy was not the sole crime submitted to the jurisdiction of this Court; witchcraft and scandalous living furnished a large number of cases; but among all the trials for heresy pure and simple only six cases of capital punishment can be found, which were in each instance to be carried out by drowning or strangulation, and in none by fire. The Inquisition in Venice was certainly no sanguinary Office, thanks no doubt in a large degree to the independent attitude of the State, which insisted upon the presence of lay assessors at every trial.
But a large part of this independence in matters ecclesiastical, along with much else, was sacrificed at the disastrous epoch of Cambray. In order to detach Julius from the League, the Venetians agreed to the following conditions. The Republic renounced its appeal to a future Council, acknowledged the justice of the excommunication; abolished the taxes on ecclesiastical property; surrendered its right to nominate Bishops; consigned criminous clerics to ecclesiastical Courts; granted free passage in the Adriatic to papal subjects. But in secret the Council of Ten entered a protest against all these concessions and declared that their assent was invalid, as it had been extorted by violence;-a reservation of which Venice availed herself in her subsequent struggle with Pope Paul V, when, championed and directed by Fra Paolo Sarpi, the Republic undertook to defend the rights of secular princes against the claims of the Curia Romana.
The Venetian constitution, which, on account of its stability and efficiency, compelled the envy and admiration of all Italian and numerous foreign statesmen, was a product of the growth of Venice, slowly evolved to meet the growing needs of the growing State.
Democratic in its origin, the constitution of the Lagoon islands was at first a loose confederation of the twelve principal townships each governed by its Tribune; all the Tribunes meeting together for the discussion and discharge of business which affected the whole Lagoon commonwealth. The jealousies and quarrels of the townships and their Tribunes led to the creation of a single supreme magistrate, the Doge. The Doge was elected in the Condone, or assembly of the entire Venetian people; his was a democratic magistracy in its first intention; but it soon became apparent that there was considerable danger lest the Doge should attempt to establish an hereditary tyranny. Any such effort was resented by the people and resulted in the murder, blinding, or expulsion of several of the earlier Doges. On the other hand, as the State developed and pushed out beyond the Lagoon boundaries, across to the Dalmatian coast, down the Adriatic, and away eastward, the more able and enterprising citizens began to accumulate wealth, and a division of classes made itself apparent, more especially after such periods of expansion as the reign of Pietro II, Orseolo, the capture of Tyre, and the Fourth Crusade. This wealthier class gradually drew together and formed the nucleus of a plutocracy. The policy of this powerful class, embracing as it did all the leading citizens, naturally pursued the lines along which Venetian constitutional development consistently moved. This policy had a twofold object: first, to curtail the ducal authority; secondly, to exclude the people, and to concentrate all power in the hands of the commercial aristocracy. The history of the Venetian constitution is the history of the way in which the dominant party attained its "ends.
The primitive machinery of the Venetian Republic consisted, as we have seen, of the General Assembly and the Doge. Very soon, however, under the pressure of business, two ducal Councillors were added to aid the Doge in the discharge of his ever-growing obligations. Further, it became customary though not necessary, that he should invite (pregare) some of the more prominent citizens to assist him with their advice upon grave occasions, and hence the name of what was eventually known as the Consiglio dei Pregadi, the Venetian Senate.
But constitutional machinery of so simple a nature could not prove adequate to the requirements of a State whose growth was as rapid as that of Venice. In 1172 the disastrous conclusion of the campaign against the Emperor Manuel, into which the Republic had rushed at the bidding of the Condone or General Assembly, called the attention of Venetians to their constitution and its defects. It seemed to them that reforms were required on two grounds: first, because the position of the Doge was too independent, considering his discretionary powers as to whether and as to whom he would ask for advice; secondly, because the people in their General Assembly had become too numerous, unruly and rash to allow of their being safely entrusted with the fortunes of their country. A deliberative assembly of manageable size was required; and its establishment implied a definition of the Doge's authority on the one hand and of the popular rights on the other. The evolution of these two ideas forms the problem of Venetian constitutional history down to the year 1297, when that constitution became stereotyped as a close oligarchy after the famous "Closing of the Great Council."
The reforms of the year 1172 were threefold:
(1) In order to create a manageable deliberative assembly each sestiere of the city was required to elect two representatives; and each couple in their turn nominated forty of the more prominent members of their district. Thus a body of four hundred and eighty members was created. They held office for one year and at the end of the first year the General Assembly itself named the two nominating representatives of each sestiere. The functions of this new Assembly were to appoint all officers of State and to prepare business to be submitted to the General Assembly. This is virtually the germ of the Maggior Consiglio (the Great Council), the basis of the Venetian oligarchical constitution. It had its origin in a double necessity: - that of limiting the electorate, and that of securing adequate deliberation and debate in a rapidly growing State. Its prime function of appointing to office belonged to it from the first. Its origin was democratic, for it sprang from election by the whole people; but an element of a close oligarchy was contained in the provision whereby the Assembly itself at the end of the first and of all subsequent years elected the twelve representatives of the six quarters of the city.
(2) The Doge continued to summon the Pregadi to assist him; but seeing that the newly created Council undertook election to office and many matters of internal policy, foreign affairs were chiefly reserved for the Senate; though that body did not become organised and permanent till the Tiepoline reforms of 1229-44.
(3) With a view to restricting the Doge's authority, four Councillors were added to the two already existing. Their duty was to check any attempt at personal aggrandisement on the part of the Doge; and gradually the ducal authority was withdrawn from the chief of the State and placed as it were, in commission in his Council. The coronation oath or promissione of the Doge was subjected to constant modification in the direction of restricting his authority, till at last the Doge himself lost much of his original weight. As his supreme power was withdrawn from him, bit by bit, the pomp and ceremony surrounding him were steadily increased.
These reforms of 1172 display the inherent nature of the Venetian constitution. The ducal authority is gradually curtailed; the Council shows a tendency to become a close oligarchy; the people are removed from the centre of government, although the complete disfranchisement of the mass of the population was not effected at once. The newly appointed Council did indeed endeavour to elect a chief magistrate without any appeal to the people, and a riot ensued which was only quieted by the electors presenting the new Doge to the General Assembly with the words "This is your Doge, an it please you,"—a formula which deluded the people into a belief that they still retained some voice in the election of the Doge.
The tendency displayed in the reforms of 1172 continued to make itself felt during the next hundred years, until we come to the epoch of the Closing of the Great Council, whereby Venice established her constitution as a close oligarchy.
The growing wealth of the State, especially after the Fourth Crusade, served to increase the influence of those families into whose hands the larger share of Venetian commerce had already fallen. We find certain family names such as Contarini, Morosini, Foscari, recurring more and more frequently and preponderating in the Council which the law of ( 1) The Council of Forty, that is the Judges of the Supreme Court, are to put up to ballot the names of all who have, at any time during the last four years, had a seat in the Great Council. Those who receive twelve votes and upwards are to be included in the Great Council. (2) On return from absence abroad a fresh ballot is requisite. (3) Three members shall be appointed to submit names of new candidates for election. These electors are to hold office for one year. (4) The present law may not be revoked, except with the consent of five out of six ducal Councillors, twenty-five members of the Council of Forty, and two-thirds of the Great Council.
The result of these resolutions was to create a specially favoured class, those who had during the last four years sat in the Great Council. By the third resolution admission to that caste was still left open; but the action of the Committee of three soon completed the Serrata del Maggior Cormgtio, and rendered the oligarchy virtually a close caste; for they laid down for themselves the rule that no one was eligible to the Great Council unless he could prove that a paternal ancestor had sat in the Council subsequent to its creation in 1172. By this regulation all those-and they were the vast majority-who had neither sat themselves nor could prove that a paternal ancestor had sat in the Great Council, were virtually disfranchised, for that Council was the root of political life in the State, and exclusion from it meant political annihilation. In 1315 a list of all those who were eligible for election was compiled, and only legitimate children of parents belonging to the favoured class were allowed to appear in this register, known as the Golden Book. Thus the Venetian aristocracy was created, and was established as the sole power in the State.
The exclusion of so many Venetians from all share in the government of their State led to the only revolution which ever seriously endangered the Republic,—the Conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo (1310). Thanks, however, to the decisive step then taken, this conspiracy was crushed and the constitution of Venice was never again in any grave peril. For it was at this moment of danger to the State that the constitution received its final touches by the creation of the Council of Ten. The accumulated difficulties and dangers brought about by the War of Ferrara, the Interdict, and the Tiepoline Conspiracy taught the Republic that the existing machinery of the State was too cumbersome, too slow, too public, to meet and deal successfully with extraordinary crises. A special committee to direct the affairs of Ferrara had been appointed early during that War. When the movements of Tiepolo and his fellow-conspirators, after their defeat, caused grave anxiety to the government, it seemed that some more rapid, secret, and efficient body than the Senate was required to track the operations of the traitors and to watch over the safety of the State. It was accordingly proposed that the Committee on Ferrarese affairs should be entrusted with the task (1310). The proposal was rejected on the ground that the committee was fully occupied. It was then suggested that the Great Council should elect ten of its members, and the Doge, his Council, and the Supreme Court, should elect another ten, and that from this body of twenty the Great Council should afterwards elect ten; not more than one member of the same family might sit on the board, which was at once entrusted with the protection of the public safety and the duty of vigilance against the Tiepoline conspirators. The committee acted so admirably and its services proved so valuable that its term of office, originally only for a few months, was extended and it finally became permanent in 1335.
As eventually modified the Council took the following shape afld was governed by its own code of procedure. The members were elected in the Great Council for one year only, and were not re-eligible till a year had elapsed. Every month the Ten elected three of its members as "Chiefs" (Capi). The "Chiefs" opened all communications, prepared all business to be submitted to the Council, and acted as its executive arm; they were obliged during their month of office to stay at home, so as to avoid exposure to bribery or other illegitimate influences.
Besides the ten actual members the Council included ex officio the Doge and his six Councillors, to whom were added on very grave occasions a certain number of prominent citizens, called the Zonta. Of the normal seventeen Councillors twelve made up a quorum. One at least of the Law-officers of the State-the Avogadori di comun-was ' always present, though without a vote, to prevent the Council from taking any illegal step.
The sittings opened with the reading of letters addressed to the Ten. Then followed the list of denunciations which were either public, that is signed, or secret, that is anonymous. If public, the Council voted whether they should take the accusation into consideration; if four-fifths voted "Aye" the case was entered on the agenda. If the denunciation was secret the Doge and his Council and the "Chiefs" were bound, before the question of taking it up came forward, to declare unanimously that the matter of the accusation was of public concern; and such a declaration required confirmation by a vote of five-sixths of the whole Council. This being obtained, the question of taking the matter into consideration next arose, and was decided as in the case of public denunciations. The denunciation list having been discharged, the first case on the trial list then came on for hearing. The Law-officers of the State (Avogadori) read a report on the case and submitted the form of warrant for arrest. The Council voted "to proceed" or not. If the vote was affirmative the warrant was issued and the "Chiefs" gave it execution. When the accused was in the hands of the Ten, a sub-committee or Collegia, as it was called, was appointed to draw up the case; they were empowered to use torture only by a special vote. The presumption was against the prisoner; he was called on to disprove the charge-intimare le difese. He was confronted neither with his accuser nor with witnesses. If he pleaded incapacity he was allowed to consult one of the official advocates established in 1443. The report of the subcommittee was read to the Council, and a vote was taken as to whether sentence should be pronounced. If the vote was affirmative sentence was proposed, any member being free to move a sentence or an amendment to one. On the result of the voting the fate of the prisoner depended. In cases of crime committed outside Venice but within the competence of the Ten, that Council could delegate its powers and procedure (its rito) to the local magistrates who sent in the minutes of the trial to the "Chiefs."
With the Closing of the Great Council and the establishment of the Council of Ten, the Venetian constitution reached its maturity. Some slight developments, such as the evolution of the Three Inquisitori di Stato, of the Esecutori contro alia Bestemmia, and the Camerlenghi, took place it is true; but on the whole the form was fixed, and it stood thus: (1) The Great Council contained the whole body politic. Out of it were elected almost all the chief officers of State. At first it possessed legislative and even some judicial powers, but these were gradually delegated to the Senate, or the Ten, as the Council became unmanageable in size, until at last it was left with hardly any attributes save its original chief function, that of the electorate of the State. (2) Above the Great Council came the Senate, consisting nominally of one hundred and twenty members, not including the Doge, his Council, the Judges of the 'Supreme Court, and many other officials, who sat ex officio and raised its numbers higher. The Senate was the great legislative body in the State; it also had the chief direction of ordinary foreign affairs and of finance; it declared war, made peace, received despatches from ambassadors, and sent instructions. It possessed a certain judicial authority which, however, was seldom exercised. (3) Parallel with the Senate, but outside the main lines of the constitution, came the Council of Ten. It had been established as a committee of public safety to meet a crisis, and to supply a defect in the constitution, the want of a rapid, secret, executive arm. Its efficiency and rapidity led to a gradual substitution of the Ten for the Senate upon many important occasions. An order of the Ten was as binding as a law of the Senate. Ambassadors reported secretly to the Ten; and the instructions of the Ten would carry more weight than those of the Senate. The judicial functions of the Ten were far higher than those of the Senate; and indeed in its capacity as a permanent committee of public safety and guardian of public morals there were few departments of government or of private life where its authority would have been disallowed. (4) Above both Senate and Ten came the cabinet or Collegia, It was composed of the Savii or Ministers. The six Savii grandi, the three Savii di terraferma, the three Savii agii ordini, the Secretaries, of finance, of war, and of marine. The Savii grandi took their functions in turn week and week about. All business of State passed through the hands of the Collegia and was prepared by them to be submitted to the Great Council, the Senate or the Ten according to the nature and importance of the matter. The Collegia was the initiatory body in the State and also the executive arm of the Maggior Consiglio and the Senate. The Ten, as we have stated, possessed an executive of its own in its three "Chiefs." (5) Above the Collegio came the lesser Council composed of the six ducal Councillors; immediately connected with the Doge; both* supervising him and representing him in all his attributes. The Doge could do nothing without his Council; a majority of the Council could perform all the ducal functions, without the presence of the Doge. (6) At the head of all came the Doge himself; the point of greatest splendour though not of greatest weight, the apex of the constitutional pyramid. He embodied and represented the majesty of the State; his presence was necessary everywhere, in the Great Council, in the Senate, in the Ten, in the College. He was the voice of Venice and in her name he replied to all ambassadors. As a statesman long practised in affairs and intimately acquainted with the political machinery of the Republic he could not fail to carry weight by his personality; and at a crisis the election of a Doge, as in the case of Francesco Foscari or, later still, as in the case of Leonardo Donato, might determine the course of events. But theoretically he was a symbol, not a factor in the constitution; the outward and visible sign of all that the oligarchy meant.
Such was the Venetian constitution, which, thanks to its efficiency and strength, commanded the admiration and the envy of Europe and enabled Venice to assume that high place among the nations which was hers during the fifteenth century.
The fifteenth century is the period of greatest splendour in the history of the Republic. Mature in her constitution, and with a dominion firmly established by sea and land, Venice presented a brilliant spectacle to the eyes of Europe. Yet this period contains the germs of her decadence. Supreme in the Mediterranean by the defeat of Genoa, Venice was almost immediately called upon to face the Turks and to wear herself out in a long and single-handed contest with their growing power; firmly planted on the mainland, the Republic discovered that, with jealous neighbours around her and frontiers to be attacked, she could not stand still; she was compelled to advance, and found herself exposed to all the dangers implied in the use of mercenary arms, and committed to that policy of aggression which summoned up against her the League of Cambray.
Her mainland territory was probably a drain on the financial resources of the Republic, not a fountain of wealth. That territory was only acquired and held by paying for costly troops and more costly captains of adventure. It is doubtful whether the revenue derived from the provinces covered the cost of possession and administration. True, on occasion, the Republic applied to her land territories for a loan, as in 1474, when 516,000 ducats were advanced to the government; but the fact remains that the contentment of her mainland possessions was essential to Venetian supremacy, and that this contentment could not be secured if they were heavily taxed.
The real wealth of Venice, the wealth which enabled her to adorn the Capital and retain her provinces, depended upon the sea. It was derived from her traffic as a great emporium and mart of exchange fed by a large mercantile marine. The State built the ships and let them out to the highest bidder at auction. Every year six fleets were organised and despatched: (1) to the Black Sea, (2) to Greece and Constantinople, (3) to the Syrian ports, (4) to Egypt, (5) to Barbary and the north coast of Africa, (6) to England and Flanders. The route and general instructions for each fleet (muda) were carefully discussed in the Senate. Every officer was bound by oath to observe these instructions and to maintain on all occasions the honour of the Republic. The government prescribed the number of the crew for each ship, the size of the anchors, quality of rope, etc. A compulsory load-line was established. New vessels were allowed to load above the line for the first three years, but to a diminishing extent each year. The ships were all built upon government measurements for two reasons; first, because ships of identical build would behave in the same way under stress of weather and could more easily be kept together; secondly, because the consuls in distant ports could be sure of keeping a refit of masts, rudders, sails, etc., when they knew the exact build of all Venetian ships which would touch their ports. The ships were convertible from merchantmen to men-of-war; and this explains to a certain extent how Venice was able to replace her fleets so rapidly after such losses as those of Curzola or Sapienza. The six State fleets are estimated to have numbered 330 ships with crews to the amount of 36,000 men. Venetian commerce covered the whole civilised world. The city was a great reservoir of merchandise, constantly filled and constantly emptied again, with eastern luxuries flowing westward and western commodities flowing east. Upon export and import alike the government levied taxes (tavola dell1 entrada e tavola deW insidd); these, with the salt monopoly and the taxation of the guilds (tansa delta mttizia, tansa insensibile, etc.), furnished the main source of her ordinary revenue, which in the year 1500 was estimated at 1,145,580 ducats. The importance of the sea in the economy of Venice is obvious; but during the fifteenth century her naval and commercial sea-power both received a fatal blow. Wars with the Turks exhausted her fighting capacity and the discovery of the Cape route to the Indies tended to divert the whole line of the world's traffic from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic, out of the hands of the Venetians into the hands of the Portuguese.
The century opened, however, with a series of triumphs for the Republic. The development and extension of her land empire continued; her prestige at sea increased. Dalmatia, which the Republic had surrendered by the treaty of Turin, was recovered after a struggle; and by 1420 Venice was in possession of the whole of Friuli. Thanks to the mountainous frontier of the province this acquisition gave the Republic a defensible position towards the east, where she had hitherto been very weak; it largely increased her land empire and whetted her appetite for more.
Nor was her achievement by sea less brilliant. The quarrels among the sons of Sultan Bayazid I ended in the concentration of the Ottoman power in the hands of Mohammad (1413). Venice had no desire to embark on a campaign against the victorious Turk. She hoped to trade with them, not to fight them, and, through her ambassador Francesco Foscari, a treaty was signed whereby she believed herself to have secured her colonies from molestation. But Mohammad was not able, even if he desired, to prevent his followers from regarding all Christians as dogs. Treaty or no treaty, they chased some Venetian merchantmen into Negroponte and menaced the island. The Venetian admiral Loredan came to a parley with the Turkish commander, at Gallipoli (1416). But while the leaders were in consultation, the crews fell to, and a battle became inevitable. The Venetians were brilliantly victorious; and the Republic secured an advantageous peace, as well as the applause of Europe, only too ready to believe that it need not mind about the Turk as long as Venice was there to fight him.
But contemporaneously with this fresh expansion of Venice, by the conquest of Friuli and the heightening of her prestige after the victory of Gallipoli, events fraught with grave consequences for the Republic were maturing to the west. On the sudden death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1402), his dominions had been seized and partitioned by his generals. Gian Galeazzo's son, Filippo Maria, patiently, slowly, but surely, recovered the Visconti territories. In this task he was greatly assisted by the military skill of Francesco Bussone, called Carmagnola from his birthplace near Turin. By 1420 the task was accomplished, and a Visconti was once more Lord of Milan, Cremona, Crema, Bergamo, Brescia, and Genoa, as powerful as ever Gian Galeazzo had been and not one whit less ambitious. Florence took alarm at Visconti's attitude and asked Venice to join her in a league against Milan. The position was a difficult one for the Republic; Filippo Maria was undeniably menacing and he had a claim in virtue of his father's conquest to both Verona and Vicenza, now Venetian territory; on the other hand Venice was extremely unwilling to embark upon the troubled waters of Italian mainland politics, and to find herself, in all probability, committed to costly mainland campaigns which would consume the wealth she was sweeping in from the sea.
The Florentine proposals revealed two parties in the State, The Doge Mocenigo and his friends held that it was still possible to avoid a rupture with Visconti, that Venice might remain on good terms with her powerful neighbour and trade with Milan instead of fighting it. Opposed to the Doge was Francesco Foscari, head of the party of young Venice, in favour of expansion, elated by the recent acquisition of Friuli. But Mocenigo was dying, and on his death-bed he called the principal statesmen of the Republic about him and reminded them of the position of the community, which had never been more flourishing. He pointed to the merchant marine, the finest in the world, to the rapid reduction of the national debt, from ten millions to six; to the vast commerce with the territories of the Duke of Milan which represented ten million ducats capital with a net profit of two millions; he insisted that at this rate Venice would soon be mistress of the world, but that all might be lost by a rash war. Everything would depend, he said, upon the character of the man who succeeded him. He uttered a solemn warning against Francesco Foscari as a braggart, vainglorious, without solidity, grasping at much, securing little; certain to involve the State in war, to waste its wealth and leave it at the mercy of its mercenary captains. Prophetic words, but powerless to avert the doom they foretold. Foscari was elected (1423); and instantly set himself to support the Florentine request for an alliance. He did not carry his point at once, for the Mocenigo party could always urge that an alliance with Florence against Milan would draw Visconti and Sigismund together against the Republic. But Filippo Maria's successes were continuous; his troops were in the Romagna, and he had defeated Florence in battle after battle, Zagonara, Val di Lamone, Rapallo, Anghiari. In desperation the Florentines declared that if the Venetians would not help them to retain their liberties, they would pull the house about their ears. "When we refused," they said, "to help Genoa, she made Visconti her Lord; if you refuse to help us we will make him King." This threat coupled with the desertion of Visconti's great general, Carmagnola, turned the scale. The Florentine League was concluded and Carmagnola received the command of the Venetian forces.
Thus the Republic embarked upon a struggle for supremacy as a land-Power in northern Italy. But she was soon to prove the truth of Mocenigo's dying words. The first campaign ended in the acquisition of Brescia and the Bresciano by Venetian troops, but not by Carmagnola. He had no sooner brought his forces under Brescia than he asked leave to retire for his health to the Baths of Abano; and his conduct from the very first roused those suspicions which eventually led to his doom. The second campaign gave Bergamo to the victorious Republic. But the suspicions of Venice were increased by finding that the Duke of Milan was in communication with Carmagnola and was prepared to conclude a peace through him as intermediary, suspicions confirmed by the dilatory conduct of their general after the victory at Maclodio, when nothing lay between him and Milan. At the opening of the third campaign against Visconti, the Republic endeavoured to rouse their general to vigorous action by making him large promises if he would only crush the Duke and take his capital. But nothing would stir Carmagnola from his culpable inactivity. The truth was that he cared not a jot for Venetian interests; like all mercenaries he was playing his own game, and that did not counsel him to press Visconti too hard, for it was always possible that he might one day find himself again in the Duke's service.
The patience of the Republic was exhausted at last. Carmagnola was summoned to Venice on the plea that the government wished to consult him. He was received with marked honour. His suite was told that the general stayed to dine with the Doge and that they might go home. The Doge sent to excuse himself from receiving the Count on the score of indisposition. Carmagnola turned to go down to his gondola. In the lower arcade of the palace he was arrested and hurried to prison. He was tried by the Council of Ten on the charge of treason and executed in the Piazzetta of St Mark (1432).
Notwithstanding their difficulties with their mercenary commander, the Venetians had made very solid acquisitions during these wars with Visconti. Brescia and Bergamo were now permanently added to the land empire of the Republic, and the title was confirmed by an imperial investiture at Prague in 1437, in which Venetian dominions are defined as all the land di qua, that is east of the Adda,—very nearly the extreme limit of mainland possession ever touched by the Republic.
But the possession of Brescia and Bergamo was not likely to be left undisputed by Filippo Maria Visconti; and a long series of campaigns, conducted by such generals as Gonzaga and Gattamelata, exhausting to the treasury and unprofitable to the State, was only brought to an end by the death of the Duke of Milan in 1447. During this period, however, Venice had converted her guardianship of Ravenna into actual possession as remainder-heir to the Polentani, Lords of that city; a step which brought into the field against her the Roman Curia, and was not without important bearings on the final combination of the Papacy with her other enemies at the League of Cambray.
The death of Filippo Maria Visconti left Milan and the Visconti possessions without a Lord. Visconti's only child Bianca was married to Sforza, and in right of her he claimed succession; but the city of Milan declared itself a republic. Venice seized Lodi and Piacenza and offered to support the Milanese Republic if it would recognise the capture. Milan declined. But that city was soon forced to open its gates to Sforza; and shortly afterwards Venice and Sforza came to terms in the Peace of Lodi (1454V), by which the Republic was confirmed in possession of Bergamo and Brescia and acquired Crema and Treviglio as well, thereby affording her enemies fresh proofs for that charge of insatiable greed which they were already beginning to move against her.
But Visconti's death produced another result still more momentous not only for Venice but for all Italy as well. Filippo Maria had left no heirs male; and the French claim,—that of the house of Orleans based upon the marriage of Valentina Visconti with the father of Charles of Orleans,—was immediately advanced. -It opened a new epoch in Italian history, preparing the way for the complications inseparable from the advent of foreign princes in Italian politics.
There were two reasons which induced Venice to accept gladly the Treaty of Lodi. The long War with Visconti, though it had brought her a large accession of territory, had also cost her very dear; but it was of even greater significance that all Europe and Venice especially, as the power most nearly concerned, had been startled by the news that the Turks had captured Constantinople and that the Eastern Empire was at an end for ever. This event took place in 1453, the year before the Peace of Lodi.
We have seen already that the real desire of the Republic was to trade with the Turks, and not to fight them; from the very outset when she made a treaty with Sultan Mohammad in 1410 and again after the victory of Gallipoli, her whole energies had been directed to securing her colonies and insuring freedom of traffic. But now, with the Mussulmans established in Constantinople and spreading down the Levant, it was inevitable that Venice should be brought into hostile relations with their growing power.
The fall of Constantinople was the last external event of moment in the brilliant reign of Francesco Foscari. Internal events also contributed to render his Dogeship remarkable. He seems to have come to the throne as the embodiment of the new oligarchy which had taken final shape at the closing of the Great Council, and which had consolidated its authority by the creation of the Ten. He was the first Doge in whose election the people had no part. In presenting him to his subjects the old formula " This is your Doge, an it please you," was changed to "This is your Doge." But, furthermore, Foscari's election is the first in which we find any suggestion of bribery. He was accused of having applied, while holding the office of Procurator, a sum of money, which he found in the coffers of that magistracy, to securing support among the poorer nobility, a class destined to become both famous and dangerous under the name of the Barnabotti, but of whom we hear now for the first time. Political corruption showed itself again in 1433, when a wide-spread conspiracy to arrange election to offices was discovered among the nobles of the Great Council. The obscure case of Jacopo Foscari, the Doge's son, showed to what lengths intrigue might be carried; and the dramatic end of the Doge's reign, his deposition after so long and so brilliant an occupation of the throne, demonstrated the absolute authority of the Council of Ten as sovereign in Venice.
The epoch was one of great outward splendour. Commines, who came to Venice some years later, describes it as "the most triumphant city I have ever seen; the city that bestows the greatest honour on ambassadors and on strangers; the city that is most carefully governed; the city wherein the worship of God is most solemnly conducted."
It was thus that Venice struck a competent observer towards the close of the fifteenth century, and Commines is only one of the earliest in a long list of testimonies to the vivid impression created by the Capital of the Lagoons. Venice was at the zenith of her splendour; a city of pleasure, sumptuous in her reception of "ambassadors and strangers"; a commonwealth of surprising solidity and power, "most carefully governecT"; a palace of pomp where the arts flourished and where the "worship of God," in churches, processions, pageants "was most solemnly conducted." Everything connected with the city, external as well as internal, contributed to the indelible impression she produced. Her singular site; her water streets; the beauty of her public and private buildings; the Doge's palace so audaciously designed, glowing with the rose and cream coloured marbles; St Mark's, a precious casket of porphyry, mosaic and oriental cupolas; the Hall of the Great Council adorned with records of Venetian prowess; the rich Gothic of the Porta della Carta; the Piazza with its noble bell-tower; the opening of the Piazzetta, the vista of San Giorgio Maggiore, the sweep of the Riva degli Schiavoni leading away to San Nicolo and the great sea avenue of Venice; the domestic architecture of the private palaces, that lined the Grand and the smaller canals; the slender columns, the ogee windows, the balconies with their sea lions for brackets, the perforated stone tracery above the windows, the glowing colour of the plaster on the walls-all combined to arrest attention. But more than this; behind the external splendour and deep down as the cause of it, Venice had something further to offer for the study and the contemplation of the stranger. Her constitution was almost an ideal for European statesmen. Her declared object was "to win the heart and the affection of her people," and this could only be brought about by attention to their interests; in the interests of commerce consuls had been established as early as 1117; in those of finance public funds and government stock had been created in 1171; in those of order the census was introduced about the year 1300; in those of property each holding was numbered and registered; in those of justice the law was codified in 1229. A factory act forbade the employment of children in dangerous trades where mercury was used. The nautical code provided for a load-line on all shipping and insisted on the proper treatment of crews. In most departments of practical government the Republic of Venice preceded all other States of Europe, and offered material for reflexion to their politicians, to whom was presented the phenomenon of a fully-matured and stable constitution, and of a people fused together in one homogeneous whole.
For though the Closing of the Great Council had rendered the governing class a close oligarchy, it had not produced class hatred; Venice showed no trace of the feudal system with its violent divisions of the State into hostile camps; every Venetian was still a Venetian first and foremost, and though excluded from the functions of government was still in all likelihood closely connected with those who exercised them. The palace of the patrician was surrounded by a network of small alleys filled with his people, his clients. The merchant prince in his office was served by a staff of clerks who had their share in the success of his ventures. The arrival of any merchant's galleys was a matter for rejoicing to the whole community and was announced by the great bell of St Mark's. Venice, in short, from the commercial point of view was a great joint-stock company for the exploitation of the East, and the patricians were its directors.
The life of a Venetian noble could be filled to the full if he so desired. Politics, diplomacy, trade, arms were all open to him; and he frequently combined two or more of these professions. At the age of twenty-five he took his seat in the Great Council and became eligible for any of the numerous offices to which that Council elected. He might serve his apprenticeship in the department of trade, of finance, of health; passing thence to the Senate, he might represent his country in Constantinople, Rome, Prague, Paris, Madrid, London. On his return he would be made a Savio and member of the cabinet, or serve his turn of a year on the Council of Ten, ending his days perhaps as a Doge, at least as Procurator of St Mark. And throughout the whole of this official career he was probably directing with the help of his brothers and sons the movement of his private family business, trade, or banking. Nothing is commoner than to find an ambassador petitioning to be recalled, because his family business is suffering through his absence from Venice. There was, of course, another aspect of the patrician class. The vicious nobles became poor, the poor corrupt, and political and social life both suffered in consequence. The Council of Ten was frequently called upon to punish the betrayal of State secrets and the unbridled license of the nobility.
On the other hand, if the people were excluded from the direction of State affairs they found abundant scope for their energies in trade and industries and the guild-life which these created and fostered. Every art and craft and trade in Venice, down to the very sausage-makers, was erected into a guild. They were self-supporting, self-governing bodies, supervised, it is true, by a government office whose approval was necessary for the validity of the bye-laws. They were carefully fostered by the State, which saw in them an outlet for the political activities of the people. At his coronation each new Doge was expected to entertain the guilds, who displayed specimens of their handiwork in the ducal palace; on great State occasions, when Venice entertained distinguished guests, the guilds were called upon to furnish part of the pageant; but they never acquired, as in Florence, or other Italian cities, a voice in the government of the State. The guilds of most Italian towns represented and protected the people against a nobility of arms and of territory. In Venice such a nobility never existed; the patrician was himself a merchant and very probably a member of a trade guild.
And the decorative and cultured side of all this teeming life found expression in the arts. Murano produced the earliest masters of that school of painting which was to adorn the world by the hands of the Vivarini, Carpaccio, the Bellinis, Mantegna, Giorgione, Veronese, Titian, Palma, Cima da Conegliano, Tintoretto, Tiepolo. Dramatic in conception, gorgeous in colour, untrammelled by the effort to express philosophic ideas or religious emotion, the art of Venice was essentially decorative, and was dedicated to the adornment of public and private life in the city. The great colonnade at the Rialto, the very heart of Venetian traffic, was already covered with frescoes and possessed that famous planisphere, or Mapamondo, showing the routes followed by Venetian commerce throughout the world. The study of letters received a vital stimulus, thanks to the asylum which Venice offered to refugees from Constantinople. Cardinal Bessarion made St Mark's Library the legatee of his inestimable treasures. The brilliant history of the Venetian printing press was inaugurated by John of Speyer and Windelin his brother (1469), by Nicolas Jenson, by Waldorfer and Erhardt Radolt, and carried on by Andrea Torresano to the glories of the Aldine Press. Coming third in chronological order, preceded by Subiaco and Rome, the press of Venice surpassed all its Italian contemporaries in splendour and abundance, in range of subjects, in service to scholarship.
Of literature in the sense of belles-lettres there was but little; but the Annali of Malipiero, the Diarii of Sanudo and the Diaries 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 lightly to the deceiving of themselves. The Turk has a way of exaggerating the enemy's strength and arming regardless of expense. Venice had better do the same. This was in 1466; three years later the blow was ready to fall, and again Venice received warning through another merchant, Piero Dolfin, resident in Chios. Let the government, he wrote, fortify its places in the Levant and lose no time about it; "on this depends the safety of the State, for Negroponte once lost the rest of the Levant is in peril."
But Venice, exhausted by the drain of the land wars against Visconti, was unwilling to face another and more terrible campaign by sea unless she were forced to do so. She endeavoured to open negotiations at Constantinople on the pretext that she was acting in the name of Hungary. But in 1470 Negroponte fell. The War had already cost considerably over a million ducats, and the government was reduced to suspending either two-thirds or a half of all official salaries which were over twenty-five ducats per annum. In spite of this she rejected, as extravagant, terms of peace offered her in 1476; and faced the struggle once more. Scutari was attacked by the Sultan in person, who, in his determination to enter the town, blew besieged and besiegers alike to atoms before his siege guns. But the Republic could not hold out for ever unaided; Scutari was at the last extremity; a large army was rumoured to be on its way to attack Friuli. Venice was forced to recognise the facts, and in 1479 she proposed terms of peace. Scutari, and all Venetian possessions in the Morea were ceded to the Turk. Venice agreed to pay ten thousand ducats a year for the privileges of trading, and one hundred thousand in two years, as a war indemnity; and received permission to keep an Agent (Bailo) in Constantinople.
The Peace of 1479 marks an epoch in the history of Venetian relations with the East, and indicates a return to her original policy of peaceable dealings, whenever possible, with the Turk.
In truth, the Republic had every reason to complain of the conduct of Europe. After sixteen years of continuous warfare, which she had undertaken on the strength of European promises, Venice concluded a ruinous peace, by which she lost a part of her Levantine possessions and was reduced to the position of a tributary. Yet instantly all Europe attacked her for her perfidy to the Christian faith, and the princes of Italy professed to believe that Venice had abandoned the Turkish War, merely in order to devote herself to the extension of her power on the mainland. Had she received any support from Europe or Italy, she would never have closed the War with such a balance against herself. In truth the Republic was too exhausted to continue the' struggle. It was not her fault that, the year after the conclusion of the Peace, Italy and all Europe were alarmed by the news that the Turks had seized Otranto. This was the inevitable result of the withdrawal of Venice from the struggle,—a withdrawal in its turn due to lack of any support from Italy or Europe. When invited by the Pope to join an Italian league against the Turk, Venice, mindful of the results which had followed on her acceptance of the last papal invitation, replied that she had made peace with the Sultan, and confirmed the suspicion that she was in secret understanding with the Turk. Her next step emphasised the further suspicion that her object in coming to terms with the Turk had been to allow herself a free hand to extend in Italy.
We have seen that in 1441 Venice had occupied Ravenna-under protest from Rome-as heir of the Polentani, Lords of Ravenna. She now (1481) attacked the Marquis of Ferrara on the ground that he was infringing a Venetian monopoly by the erection of salt-pans at the mouth of the Po. As the territory of Ferrara lay between the Venetian frontier and Ravenna it looked as if Venice desired to unite her possessions in that direction by the acquisition of Ferrara. This policy induced the Duke of Milan, the Pope, and the King of Naples to combine in support of Ferrara against Venice. The War was popular with the Venetians at first, but the strain on both treasury and private purses soon became insupportable, and no success crowned the Venetian arms. The distressed condition of the Republic is described by Malipiero. Payment of the interest on the funds was partially suspended; the shops on the Rialto were mortgaged; private plate, and jewellery compulsorily called in; salaries cut down. The revenue from the mainland was falling off. The arsenal was nearly empty. Famine and plague were at the door. "We shall be forced to sue for peace and restore all we have gained."
Malipiero was partially right. Venice was forced to sue for peace, but not till she had taken the ruinous step (which other Italian princes took before and after her) of suggesting to the French that they should make good their claims on certain Italian provinces,—Charles VIII his claim on Naples, the Duke of Orleans his claims on Milan. Two members of the hostile League, Milan and Naples, were thus threatened in their own possessions, with the result that peace was concluded at Bagnolo in 1484. Venice retained Rovigo and the Polesine, but was forced to surrender the towns she had taken in Apulia during the course of the War.
This invitation to foreigners was fatal to all Italian princes, as events were soon to demonstrate. The five Great Powers of Italy, Venice, Milan, Florence, the Pope and Naples, were able to hold their own against each other, but the moment the more potent ultramontane sovereigns appeared upon the scene, nominally in support of one or other of the Italian States, really in pursuit of their own aggrandisement, the balance was irretrievably upset. The sequence of these events, culminating in the Wars of the League of Cambray, after which Venice never again recovered her commanding place among the political communities of Europe, has been narrated in a previous Chapter.