Venice and Genoa, two Italian cities are famous for their influence in the southern Europe along the 13-14-th centuries. Their competing for the control of the Mediterranean, Black Sea Basin and the Red Sea as well as for the finding the routes to trade the Eastern countries transformed to a great rival.
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If the efforts to win the priority one over another were united and directed to developing eastern routes of trade the whole medieval history and the West-East relationships would be different, providing both cities with even greater power and influence. However, it did not happen. The reasons that caused raising and developing Genoa and Venice into the most powerful states of the 13-th century will be discussed in the present essay.
Genoa originating from 5-th century as a small fishing and agricultural town began its fast rise in 11-th century after gaining independence from Byzantine Empire and the decision to join the campaign of conquering Palestine, as a significant number of its citizens answered the Pope’s call to join the Crusaders (Hindley 20). As Crusades provided the constant interaction between the East and the West, Genoa began its development on trade and military issues.
On the other hand, Venice, also raised from the small fishing village, by the eleventh century was strongly connected to Byzantine Empire, gaining its military support (Norwich 25). Venice got its trading privileges through rescuing Byzantine fleet and freeing the waterway thought the lower Adriatic from the Norman kingdom blockade.
In its profitable position, Venice had a little reason to join Crusades. At this time being separated by the Apennine Peninsula, both cities controlled different parts of Mediterranean. Genoa had trade connections with Muslim Spain and North Africa. Venice was controlling the eastern part of Mediterranean, Aegean and the Black Sea.
What Caused the Raise of Genoa and Venice?
As the Genoese participated in the conquest of Palestinian cities, they gained one-third of their lands. Venice joined the campaign only when no serious risks appeared to be met, and the high profit was obvious. It also gained the one-third part from conquered town’s lands.
The European need for eastern goods and eastern gold and precious metals (Ferguson 25) as well as gaining key trade points in Asia encouraged the development of Genoa and Venice and changing “the role of Italian merchant mariner cities from passive to active” (Abu-Lughod 108).
The Crusades caused the development of fleet and marine skills all over Mediterranean, with Italian cities being on the tip of this tendency. New forms of ships were invented as well as the system of convoying and transferring goods to fairs by sea. Both Venice and Genoa developed and transformed pre-capitalism system according to their needs, gaining the most profit.
Why did Venice win the hegemony over the Mediterranean?
The superiority of Venice over the eastern cluster of Mediterranean won after capturing Constantinople, Venice’s rival in 1204 (Phillips xiii), was interrupted by the fall of Latin Kingdom in 1261 with the assistance of Genoa that was seeking its way to the Eastern trade routes. At the same time, the eastern trade was blocked by Mongol invasion into Bagdad and the central Asia. Venice shifted its interests southwards. Genoa, not willing to remise, made an unsuccessful attempt to seek its way to Asia through the Atlantic.
As Abu-Lugod notes, “the port cities Genoa and Venice expanded their reach to incorporate virtually every part of the developing European world-economy” (Abu-Lughod 122), until Venice gained its full monopoly after defeating Genoa in the Battle of Chioggia in 1381 (Lucas 42). The other reasons of Venice monopoly were the reduction of Genoa population due to Black Plague, as well as more stable “socialistic” financial system in Venice versus “individualistic system” of Genoa.
Beneficial geographical position, innovative financial systems and thoughtful application of historical circumstances made Genoa and Venice prosperous, successful and influential city-states of 13-14-th centuries, but both of them could not resist the trade depression of 14-th century, losing their impact and the ways to trade Eastern countries.
Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony: The World System AD 1250- 1350. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.
Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2008. Print.
Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004. Print.
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Lucas, Henry S. The Renaissance and the Reformation. New York, NY: Harper & Bros, 1960. Print.
Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice. New York, NY: A.A. Knopf, 1982. Print.
Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade: and the Sack of Constantinople. New York, NY: Random House, 2011. Print.