The Most Serene Republic of Venice (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia) or Venetian Republic was an Italian state originating from the city of Venice (today in Northeastern Italy). It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century AD until the year 1797. It is often referred to as La Serenissima, in reference to its title in Venetian, The Most Serene Republic.
During the reign of the successor of the Participazio, Pietro Tradonico, Venice began to establish its military might which would influence many a later crusade and dominate the Adriatic for centuries. Tradonico secured the sea by fighting Slavic and Saracen pirates. Tradonico's reign was long and successful (837–64), but he was succeeded by the Participazio and it appeared that a dynasty may have finally been established. Around 841, the Republic of Venice sent a fleet of 60 galleys (each carrying 200 men) to assist the Byzantines in driving the Arabs from Crotone, but it fails. In 1000, Pietro II Orseolo sent a fleet of 6 ships to defeat the Croatian pirates from Dalmatia.
In the High Middle Ages, Venice became extremely wealthy through its control of trade between Europe and the Levant, and began to expand into the Adriatic Sea and beyond. In 1084, Domenico Selvo personally led a fleet against the Normans, but he was defeated and lost 9 great galleys, the largest and most heavily armed ships in the Venetian war fleet. Venice was involved in the Crusades almost from the very beginning; 200 Venetian ships assisted in capturing the coastal cities of Syria after the First Crusade, and in 1123 they were granted virtual autonomy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem through the Pactum Warmundi. In 1110, Ordelafo Faliero personally commanded a Venetian fleet of 100 ships to assist Baldwin I of Jerusalem in capturing the city of Sidon. In the 12th century, the Venetians also gained extensive trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire and their ships often provided the Empire with a navy. In 1182 there was an anti-Western riot in Constantinople, of which the Venetians were the main targets. Many in the Empire had become jealous of Venetian power and influence, and thus, when in 1182 the pretender Andronikos I Komnenos marched on Constantinople, Venetian property was seized and the owners imprisoned or banished, an act which humiliated, and angered the Republic. The Venetian fleet was crucial to the transportation of the Fourth Crusade, but when the crusaders could not pay for the ships, the cunning and manipulative Doge Enrico Dandolo quickly exploited the situation and offered transport to the crusaders if they were to capture the (Christian) Dalmatian city of Zara (Zadar), which had rebelled against the Venetian rule in 1183, placed itself under the dual protection of the Papacy and King Emeric of Hungary and had proven too well fortified to retake for Venice alone. Upon accomplishing this the crusade was again diverted to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, another rival of Venice in revenge for the 1182 massacre of Venetian citizens living in Constantinople. The city was captured and sacked in 1204; the sack has been described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history. The Byzantine Empire, which until 1204 had resisted several attacks and kept the Islamic invaders out of Western Anatolia and the Balkans, was re-established in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaiologos but never recovered its previous power and was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who later occupied the Balkans and Hungary and on two occasions even besieged Vienna. The Venetians, who accompanied the crusader fleet, claimed much of the plunder, including the famous four bronze horses which were brought back to adorn St. Mark's basilica. As a result of the subsequent partition of the Byzantine Empire, Venice gained a great deal of territory in the Aegean Sea (three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire), including the islands of Crete and Euboea; for example, the present core city of Chania on Crete is largely of Venetian construction, built atop the ruins of the ancient city of Cydonia. The Aegean islands came to form the Venetian Duchy of the Archipelago.
In 1295, Pietro Gradenigo sent a fleet of 68 ships to attack a Genoese fleet at Alexandretta, then another fleet of 100 ships were sent to attack the Genoese in 1299. From 1350 to 1381, Venice fought an intermittent war with the Genoese. Initially defeated, they devastated the Genoese fleet at the Battle of Chioggia in 1380 and retained their prominent position in eastern Mediterranean affairs at the expense of Genoa's declining empire.
The situation in Dalmatia had been settled in 1408 by a truce with King Sigismund of Hungary but the difficulties of Hungary finally granted to the Republic the consolidation of its Adriatic dominions. At the expiration of the truce, Venice immediately invaded the Patriarchate of Aquileia, and subjected Traù, Spalato, Durazzo and other Dalmatian cities.
Slaves were plentiful in the Italian city-states as late as the 15th century. Between 1414 and 1423, some 10,000 slaves were sold in Venice, almost all of whom were "nubile" young women from Russia, Greece, Bosnia, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Turkey.
War with the Ottomans resumed from 1499 to 1503. In 1499, Venice allied itself with Louis XII of France against Milan, gaining Cremona. In the same year the Ottoman sultan moved to attack Lepanto by land, and sent a large fleet to support his offensive by sea. Antonio Grimani, more a businessman and diplomat than a sailor, was defeated in the sea battle of Zonchio in 1499. The Turks once again sacked Friuli. Preferring peace to total war both against the Turks and by sea, Venice surrendered the bases of Lepanto, Modon and Coron.
Venice's attention was diverted from its usual maritime position by the delicate situation in Romagna, then one of the richest lands in Italy, which was nominally part of the Papal States but effectively fractionated in a series of small lordship of difficult control for Rome's troops. Eager to take some of Venice's lands, all neighbouring powers joined in the League of Cambrai in 1508, under the leadership of Pope Julius II. The pope wanted Romagna; Emperor Maximilian I: Friuli and Veneto; Spain: the Apulian ports; the king of France: Cremona; the king of Hungary: Dalmatia, and each of the others some part. The offensive against the huge army enlisted by Venice was launched from France. On 14 May 1509, Venice was crushingly defeated at the battle of Agnadello, in the Ghiara d'Adda, marking one of the most delicate points of the entire Venetian history. French and imperial troops were occupying the Veneto, but Venice managed to extricate itself through diplomatic efforts. The Apulian ports were ceded in order to come to terms with Spain, and pope Julius II soon recognized the danger brought by the eventual destruction of Venice (then the only Italian power able to face kingdoms like France or empires like the Ottomans). The citizens of the mainland rose to the cry of "Marco, Marco", and Andrea Gritti recaptured Padua in July 1509, successfully defending it against the besieging imperial troops. Spain and the pope broke off their alliance with France, and Venice regained Brescia and Verona from France also. After seven years of ruinous war, the Serenissima regained its mainland dominions west to the Adda river. Although the defeat had turned into a victory, the events of 1509 marked the end of the Venetian expansion.
In 1489, the first year of Venetian control of Cyprus, Turks attacked the Karpasia Peninsula, pillaging and taking captives to be sold into slavery. In 1539 the Turkish fleet attacked and destroyed Limassol. Fearing the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire, the Venetians had fortified Famagusta, Nicosia, and Kyrenia, but most other cities were easy prey. By 1563, the population of Venice had dropped to about 168,000 people.
In the summer of 1570, the Turks struck again, but this time with a full-scale invasion rather than a raid. About 60,000 troops, including cavalry and artillery, under the command of Mustafa Pasha landed unopposed near Limassol on July 2, 1570, and laid siege to Nicosia. In an orgy of victory on the day that the city fell — September 9, 1570 — 20,000 Nicosian Greeks and Venetians were put to death, and every church, public building, and palace was looted. Word of the massacre spread, and a few days later Mustafa took Kyrenia without having to fire a shot. Famagusta, however, resisted and put up a heroic defense that lasted from September 1570 until August 1571. The fall of Famagusta marked the beginning of the Ottoman period in Cyprus. Two months later, the naval forces of the Holy League, composed mainly of Venetian, Spanish, and Papal ships under the command of Don John of Austria, defeated the Turkish fleet at Battle of Lepanto. The victory over the Turks, however, came too late to help Cyprus, and the island remained under Ottoman rule for the next three centuries. By 1575, the population of Venice was about 175,000 people, but dropped to 124,000 people by 1581.
In December 1714, the Turks declared war when the Peloponnese (the Morea) was "without any of those supplies which are so desirable even in countries where aid is near at hand which are not liable to attack from the sea".
The Turks took the islands of Tinos and Aegina, crossed the isthmus and took Corinth. Daniele Dolfin, commander of the Venetian fleet, thought it better to save the fleet than risk it for the Morea. When he eventually arrived on the scene, Nauplia, Modon, Corone and Malvasia had fallen. Levkas in the Ionian islands, and the bases of Spinalonga and Suda on Crete which still remained in Venetian hands, were abandoned. The Turks finally landed on Corfù, but its defenders managed to throw them back. In the meantime, the Turks had suffered a grave defeat by the Austrians at Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August 1716. Venetian naval efforts in the Aegean and the Dardanelles in 1717 and 1718, however, met with little success. With the Treaty of Passarowitz (21 July 1718), Austria made large territorial gains, but Venice lost the Morea, for which its small gains in Albania and Dalmatia were little compensation. This was the last war with the Ottoman Empire. By the year 1792, the once great Venetian merchant fleet had declined to a mere 309 merchantmen.
In the 12th century, the aristocratic families of Rialto further diminished the Doge's powers by establishing the Minor Council (1175), composed of six advisors of the Doge, and the Quarantia (1179) as a supreme tribunal. In 1223, these institutions were combined into the Signoria, which consisted of the Doge, the Minor Council and the three leaders of the Quarantia. The Signoria was the central body of government, representing the continuity of the republic as shown in the expression: "si è morto il Doge, no la Signoria" ("Though the Doge is dead, not the Signoria").
Also created were the sapientes, two (and later six) bodies that combined with other groups to form a collegio, which formed an executive branch. In 1229, the Consiglio dei Pregadi, a senate, was formed, being 60 members elected by the Major Council. These developments left the Doge with little personal power and saw actual authority in the hands of the Major Council.
Venice described its political system as a 'classical republic' combining the monarchy in the Doge, aristocracy in the senate, and democracy in the Major Council. Machiavelli also refers to Venice as a republic.
In 1335, a Council of Ten was established and became the central political body whose members operated in secret. Around 1600, its dominance over the Major Council was considered a threat and the Ten's reduced.
In 1454, the Supreme Tribunal of the three state inquisitors was established to guard the security of the republic. By means of espionage, counterespionage, internal surveillance and a network of informers, they ensured that Venice did not come under the rule of a single "signore", as many other Italian cities did at the time. One of the inquisitors - popularly known as Il Rosso ("the red one") because of his scarlet robe - was chosen from the Doge's councillors, two – popularly known as I negri ("the black ones") because of their black robes – were chosen from the Council of Ten. The Supreme Tribunal gradually assumed some of the powers of the Council of Ten.
In 1556, the provveditori ai beni inculti were also created for the improvement of agriculture by increasing the area under cultivation and encouraging private investment in agricultural improvement. The consistent rise in the price of grain during the 16th century encouraged the transfer of capital from trade to the land.