- Greatest of the Italian maritime republics. Its traditional foundation date is 421, but more likely is a date after 568 when refugees fled there to escape the Lombards (q.v.). Its location on a lagoon in the Gulf of Venice (part of the Adriatic Sea [q.v.]) provided a safe haven for commercial expansion, and, in the ninth century, independence from Byzantium (q.v.). Basil II (q.v.) extended commercial privileges to Venice, but those it received from Alexios I Komnenos (q.v.) provided the cornerstone of Venetian commercial power in the East. In return for help against the Normans (q.v.) in 1082 Alexios I granted Venice unrestricted trade throughout the empire, exemption from customs duties, in addition to several warehouses and quays in Constantinople (q.v.). These privileges were confirmed in 1126. In retrospect, this proved to be a major blunder, one that slowly increased Venice's role in the Byzantine economy, altering the political equation between Byzantium and Venice in the process. Manuel I Komnenos (q.v.) attempted to reverse Venice's growing stranglehold over eastern trade by confiscating Venetian goods and expelling Venetians from the empire in 1171. Increasingly, support was given to Venice's rivals Pisa and Genoa (qq.v.), in a vain attempt, as the events of 1203-1204 demonstrated, to thwart Venetian expansion. The conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade (q.v.), led by Doge Enrico Dandalo (q.v.), was the culmination of this process and, indeed, Venice was the greatest single beneficiary, gaining Crete, Euboea (qq.v.), numerous other islands, and mainland ports. A Venetian, Thomas Morosini (q.v.), was the first patriarch of the Latin Empire (qq.v.). The reconquest of Constantinople proved to be a temporary setback for Venetian commercial expansion, despite the favoritism Michael VIII (q.v.) showed to the Genoese. The Venetians fought and intrigued their way through the 14th century, intervening in Byzantine politics in hope of placing an emperor (q.v.) on the throne who would favor their interests against the preferred Genoese. This long and bitter rivalry reached a peak in 1376-1381 when fleets from Venice and Genoa (qq.v.) fought for control of Tenedos (q.v.). Andreas Dandalo (q.v.), writing in the 14th century, could look back with pride on Venetian expansion, especially on the contribution made by his ancestor Enrico Dandalo. However, the 15th century was more mixed for the Venetians. They were given Thessalonike (q.v.) to defend in 1423, but they lost it to the Ottomans (q.v.) in 1430. Further losses seemed inevitable after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. However, not until the next century did the Ottomans develop a fleet that could effectively challenge Venetian maritime supremacy, a supremacy founded on the ruthless pursuit of profit in Byzantine waters.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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