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The Republic of Venice History: Rise and Fall Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2020

The phenomenon of the unprecedented success of the Republic of Venice is worth of detailed research as it illustrates the process of creating a powerful and prosperous state out of a small city. Searching for the answer why the Republic of Venice attained such power is crucial for understanding the methods of providing the solid ground for the development of a state originating from communities in the area of a city. Besides, the analysis of the causes of the decline of the Republic will help to understand the conditions that can lead to the fall of a powerful and wealthy state. The lessons learned from the experience of the Republic of Venice can help to understand the nature of past events, the way they have influenced the presence, and the possible development of future events.

The Republic of Venice gained unprecedented wealth and power because its advantageous location and proactive maritime policy helped it to become the top trading center. The Republic lost much of its power because the geopolitical reality changed significantly and the shift in its strategy on the mainland led to the irreversible decline. The detailed analysis of these points helps to understand how the location can both benefit and challenge the state depending on the geopolitical reality and how the deviation from well-developed strategy can cause the decline.

Background

From the beginning of its history, Venice presented an example of uniqueness in every aspect. Being built “upon the mud flats of a lagoon”, the city was unique in its site (Rosand, 2005, p. 6). Being primarily aimed at protecting the borders of the Western Roman Empire from invaders, the city became one of the world economic and trading centers. It supported political connections with most of the civilized states of that time and had economic ties with both Europe and the Middle East (Crowley, 2011). While other parts of Italy were facing internecine dissensions and economic instability, Venice was gaining its power and experiencing the prosperity.

Besides being extremely rich, the Republic became one of the main cultural centers of the world. The unheard-of success of the Republic of Venice remains the theme of numerous debates of historians and inspires people to explore its rich history full of events and glory. Exploring the causes of both rise and fall Venice is crucial to understanding the main factors that influenced a state’s destiny in past times.

The Rise of the Republic

The rise of the Republic was promoted by its several crucial specifics. Venice gained much power and wealth because it had a unique and very beneficial geopolitical position and used its advantages properly to provide the proactive maritime policy.

Advantageous Location

The advantageous location of the Republic is considered one of the main premises of its prosperity. The Republic of Venice originated from the lagoon communities. The situation of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon gave numerous advantages to their population. Being connected to the Adriatic Sea, the lagoon gave inhabitants of the islands the possibility to participate in trading and gradually become a significant maritime power.

Besides giving access to maritime routes, the lagoon created a natural protection from invaders. The insular geographic location of Venice protected it from the assaults from the mainland and, in such way, gave more freedom and independence to the Republic than to all other parts of Italy (Crowley, 2011). The islands were not vulnerable to invaders coming from the mainland, as to conquest them, the invaders had to overcome the natural obstacle on their way and the main protective source of Venice – big water.

Therefore, geographical distance between the mainland and the islands of Venice separated from it created a good basis for unique and independent political position of the homeland of the Republic of Venice – the subdivision of Republic’s possessions called Duchy of Venice (Crowley, 2011). This fact illustrates how even a few miles of water can change the historical development of the community and contribute to its prosperity. Besides water protection from the mainland was complemented by long sand bars on the eastern side of the lagoon.

Besides protection from foreign invaders, the location of Venice provided the protection from the influence of mainland Italy. While the whole country was facing severe political crisis and numerous civil strives, Venice remained privileged to lead its separate political life. Such privilege was caused by natural separation between its islands and the mainland Italy resulting in the absence of vulnerability of Venice to the events in other parts of the country. The genius of Venetians let them both to keep the distance between their Republic and Italy and, at the same time, ensure the access to all vital resources for its citizens that could be accessed only from the mainland. By gaining control over adjacent territories of the mainland, the Republic ensured its stability and security. The hinterland territories of the Republic called The Domini di Terraferma provided a constant supply of food and fresh water (Crowley, 2011).

Besides all of the above-mentioned natural advantages of the location of the Republic of Venice, its geopolitical position deserves special attention. The key to the success of Venice lied in its location on the main trade route between Asia and Europe. Such location let the Republic make use of its ability to become the center where huge supplies of Eastern goods came to flood the European markets. Therefore, the geographical position of Venice let it become an intermediary between the Eastern and Western civilizations and make immense wealth on trading. The advantageous position gave Venice an opportunity to establish connections with numerous states from all over the world and gain independence from Byzantine Empire.

Throughout the history, cities and states located at the crossroads of trading routes often made us of their advantageous position. Venice managed to become one of the global powers because its location protected it from invaders, gave access to maritime routes, and benefited it with the opportunity of becoming a successful trading center.

Proactive Maritime Policy

The Republic of Venice strived to be a proactive intermediary between the Eastern traders and the European markets. The Republic cannot be considered a passive participant of trading, as its active position was reflected in all steps made by it towards gaining the power and influence. The Republic achieved its huge success because it developed a unique maritime policy and put much effort in gaining control over territories that had strategic importance for providing the safe route for the traders. Such strategy distinguished the Republic from other trading centers and gave it an opportunity to become the strongest maritime power in Europe.

The distinctive feature of the maritime policy of the Republic was its direction towards providing the safe way for marine trading vessels. Venice held numerous secure bases that played an important role in providing safe conditions for traveling of vessels aimed to reach the Republic (Zakharov, Harlaftis, & Katsiardi-Hering, 2015).

Such bases were necessary to attract commercial vessels by ensuring their safety and proposing essential maritime services on their way to Venice. Such strategy helped the Republic to become the famous place of trading, as traders were attracted by the opportunity to travel safely to their final destination. Besides, Venice annexed several strategic territories necessary for controlling the whole maritime route to the Republic (Zakharov, Harlaftis, & Katsiardi-Hering, 2015).

These annexations resulted in the creation of Stato da Mar, the subdivision of Republic’s possession created to broaden the overseas empire. The Republic strived for adding only those territories that were pivotal for maritime traveling control and did not strive for gaining territories for profits. The Venetians preferred to use diplomacy for gaining power over important harbors and trade routes, and did not demonstrate military ambitions for conquering huge territories. Instead, they focused on small but strategically vital islands, and such strategy helped them to avoid unnecessary spending for conquests and provide control over the most important territories crucial for ensuring the safety of Marines heading to Duchy of Venice.

Proactive maritime guidance of vessels combined with thoughtful annexations of strategically important territories let Venice become the most important trading center and create a huge overseas empire.

The Fall of The Republic

Two main factors played a crucial role in promoting the fall of Venice. The Republic lost its power and dominance because the geopolitical situation changed significantly after the discovering of the New World and the route to India and because Venice became engaged in the political life of Italy and focused on the activities on the mainland instead of continuing considering maritime territories the primary priority.

Geopolitical Changes

Discovering of new trade routes put a serious threat to the dominance of Venice, as it changed the geopolitical reality completely. The evolvement of new routes to the East through Atlantic around Africa made Venice much weaker, as the Republic could not hold its leading positions in guiding the trading routes anymore (Grygiel, 2006). Vasco de Gama’s voyage around Africa caused Venice to lose half of the value of its stock market in one day (Grygiel, 2006). Most of the commercial vessels started using alternative routes that let them avoid the threat put to the Mediterranean Sea by the Ottoman Empire. The discovering of the New World also changed the geopolitical reality significantly as many states started trading across the Atlantic. Such states as Portugal, Spain, Britain, and France changed their trading priorities to the westerly direction.

The Republic tried to adjust to new geopolitical conditions and attempted to build a Suez Canal (Grygiel, 2006). This initiative was supposed to provide Venice with new alternative route able to attract the vessels. However, the project failed, and the Republic was left without a viable alternative. Besides, the Republic tried to compete in European trade by participating in ocean voyages but did not succeed in it. The vessels of Venice were perfect for short sea voyages in the Mediterranean, but could not fit long voyages in rough oceanic waters. Atlantic naval force was more seaworthy and better adjusted to the conditions of oceanic voyages than the caravel of Venice was, and this disadvantage led to the decline of the Republic’s dominance in European trading.

New discoveries and relocation of important trading routes decreased the power of the Republic and made it lose its main geopolitical advantage.

Becoming Engaged on the Mainland

The shift in the Republic’s goals from focusing on maritime domination to participating in the political games of Italy in the XV century led to irreversible negative consequences. The Republic changed its strategy of staying aside from the life of Italy to active participation in new conflicts aimed at gaining territorial control. In such way, the Republic stopped using the strategy that brought the success to it, and the results were disappointing. While Venice always tended to focus on dominating its maritime possessions and did not show much interest in gaining control over mainland territories, the Republic changed its strategy after the loss of confidence in its natural defense structures. The worries about natural protection were caused by the conflict with Genoa (Harkavy, 2007).

Though the Republic of Venice won the battle, its main Italian imperial rival nearly overcame the barriers (Harkavy, 2007). Such situation made the Venetians worry about their security and encouraged them to strive for gaining more power on the mainland to provide the protection for their maritime empire and be confident in constant access to food, water, and wealth. The situation was worsened by the growing power of Milan, as major Italian cities and states, along with Venice, had to oppose the new hegemony. These conditions and the factors mentioned above encouraged Venice to conquest several nearby cities and remove a critical buffer zone between the Republic and Milan. New conquests made the Republic more committed to the mainland and changed its initial priorities.

The shift in political powers guiding the Republic also contributed to the changes in its priorities. While most Doges were guided by the belief that the strength of the Republic depends on its maritime empire and were inclined to remain neutral to Italian politics, the newly-elected Doge Foscari argued that Venetia should struggle against Milano’s domination together with Florence (Mallett & Shaw, 2012). The new Doge was inclined to considering domestic interests higher than geostrategic ones, and this specific of the new reign led to inevitable changes in Republic’s strategy. The traditional policy of detachment from Italian political games was changed to active participation in the conflicts on the mainland, and Venice entered an Italian war as a Florentine ally (Mallett & Shaw, 2012). Radical changes in priorities of the Republic led to its loss of power and dominance on Strato da Mar.

The shift in strategic goals of the Republic from focusing on overseas empire to participation in Italian politics led it to the crisis and further decline.

The unprecedented success of the Republic of Venice was predetermined by its unique advantageous geopolitical location. The Venetians made use of this benefit and quickly attained much power because they converted the state into an active intermediary between the Eastern traders and Europe. However, the decline of Venice was also predetermined by its location, as the Republic lost its dominance on trading routes because of the changes in geopolitical reality. Besides, the Venetians departed from the strategy of staying detached from the mainland. Venice lost much of its potential because it changed the strategy that helped them to gain prosperity for the new one that led the Republic to irreversible decline.

References

Crowley, R. (2011). City of fortune: How Venice won and lost a naval empire. London: Faber and Faber Limited. Web.

Grygiel, J. (2006). Great powers and geopolitical change. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web.

Harkavy, R. (2007). Strategic basing and the great powers, 1200-2000. New York: Routledge. Web.

Mallett, M., & Shaw, C. (2012). The Italian wars 1494-1559. New York: Routledge. Web.

Rosand, D. (2005). Myths of Venice: The figuration of a state. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press. Web.

Zakharov, V., Harlaftis, G., & Katsiardi-Hering, O. (2015). Merchant colonies in the early modern period. New York: Routledge. Web.

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