Early history

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and as the power of Byzantine became weaker in north Italy, the Lombard hordes began incursions in 568. Seeking protection from them, many mainlanders moved on the islands of the lagoon, home only of fishermen and salt workers. The islands of Veneto became part of the exarchate of Ravenna after its creation in 584. Tradition states that Venetians first proclaimed Anafestus Paulicius as duke in 697. However this story can be traced back to the 11th century in the chronicle of John the Deacon. The first historically proven doge or duke is Ursus or Orso who was confirmed by the Byzantines. His power was based in Eraclea.

After the fall of the exarchate of Ravenna a dispute broke out between the settlements for supremacy and between pro-Byzantine and anti-Byzantine currents. Even the church was involved trying to acquire their influence. Obelerio and his brother Beato formed an alliance with the Franks and placed Venice under the authority of Pippin, freeing themselves from Byzantine control. In the Pax Nicephori treaty 803-814 between the Franks and Byzantine, Venice was recognized as independent by both emperors, although Byzantine still had some influence in the city. In the same time the seat of government was moved from Eraclea to Rialto. Although a long series of disputes between the leading families were crumbling the city, the trade development was not stopped. At the begging of the 9th century the doges were chosen by election by the leading families. During the time of Giustiniano’s rule, the body of Saint Marko was brought to Venice. He became the city’s patron. The Rialto Island became Civitas Venetiarum – the city of Venice. In the time of Doge Domenico Flabanico (1032-1042) the final collapse of the family rule happened. Domenico restored the right to people to be able to elect the doge, but in practice this was mostly for the residents of Rialto and to a selected group of nobles. A legislative assembly was summoned to approve the acts of the dodge.

Map of the Venetian Republic, circa 1000

Rise of Venetia

In the 11thcentury the Norman expansion threatened the communication of Venice with the south. The actions of Doge Domenico Selvo and later of Vitale Falier assured Venice’s freedom on the Mediterranean Sea. Byzantine was also grateful for the aid of Venice against the Normans. The emperor Alexius I Comnenus granted Venice an unrestricted trade in the Byzantine Empire, which marked the beginning of the Venetian activity in the east in 1082. Venetian arrogance and lawlessness, however, triggered hatred between Byzantine and Venetia. Byzantine encouraged merchants from Genoa and Pisa to compete in the Byzantine markets. In 1171 the emperor arrested all Venetians in Constantinople and the provinces, and confiscated their goods. The relations became better in 1187 and in 1198, but the hatred never stopped. The growth of power of Venice meant a new governing system. Between 1140 and 1160 Venice became republic and the doge lost his monarchic character. The Great Council of 45 members had all the political and administrative power, as a contrast to a minor council of 6 members, which had an executive power.

Venetia was the main initiator of doing the 4th crusade, so together with the other leaders, they took Constantinople in 1204. Venice had part of the city under its rule and took over all the islands in the Aegean Sea, the most important trading stations and lookout ports on the Greek territory. Even after Byzantine was reestablished, Venice kept the control of many Greek Islands. Genoa challenged the Venetian monopoly of trade.

The new expansion needed new reorganizations of government. The number of members in the Great Council was 60 and later it was 100. In the 11th and 12thcentury the families Michiel and Falier tried to take the ducal power. This happened latter in the 13th century again, so between 1290 and 1300, new laws restricted families the right to take part in performing the magistrate’s duties. The patrician class received its legal status from the Serrata Del Maggior Consiglio- closing of the Great Council. So, anyone who wanted to claim power had to act outside of this class and rely on the people. However, the people were very close with the patricians by their economic need, led to a lack of support. The conspiracy of Martin Bocconio failed for this reasons in 1299. To counter any attempts for personal rule, the Council of Ten was established in 1310 to police the patrician order and defend the regime.

In 1381 the Peace of Turin was signed, eliminating Genoese influence from the Mediterranean and the east. However the Turks were advancing so they had to negotiate neutrality with them. New economic bases were needed, so they turned to the Italian mainland getting rid of the neighboring lordship and exploiting the riches of the lend they acquired. They ruled land to the rivers Mincio and Livenza, and later in 1420 controlled Aquileia.

Decline and end of the republic

In 1423 the doge Francesco Foscari, greedy for conquest of new territories, got tangled in a web of Italian politics for balance of power. The peace of Lodi in 1454 ended these wars and a Italian League was created to restore the political balance. In 1508 the League of Cambrai was created against Venice. They lost the Battle of Agnadello, but internal disagreements in the league saved Venice from the worst possible scenario, losing only the mainland territories. Meanwhile the discovery of the new world and the new routes to the east led Venice to economic crisis, ending the European dependence on Venetian trade. After a long campaign from 1645 until 1669, Crete was lost to the Venetians, the last possession on the eastern Mediterranean, to the Turks. However Venice found ally in Austria and tried to liberate Morea (Peloponnese) from the Turks. They succeeded in 1699 but it was lost again in 1718, ending the Venetian activity in the eastern and southern Mediterranean.

Venetia tried to reform (Angelo Querini, Giorgio Pisani, and Carlo Contarini) in the 18th century but these reforms didn’t go lower than the noble class. The last doge, Ludovico Manin, was deposed on 12 May 1797 by Napolen. A provisional democratic municipality was set up in place of the republican government, but later that same year Venice was handed over to Austria. In 1848 the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin set up a provisional republican government, but it fell the following year. After the defeat of Austria by the Prussians in 1866, Venice was ceded to Italy, which had been a united kingdom since 1861.