A Short History of Venice

A short history of Venice, to give you an overview how the ancient city-state rose to global power.

According to most historical records, first people to live in the Venetian lagoon were refugees.

Those people were fleeing Germanic and Hun invaders, from ancient Roman cities Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino and Concordia…

…forming permanent settlements on the lagoon islands.

These settlements were formalized, and a city was formed with the building of the city’s first church, ‘San Giacomo‘, in 421 AD.

Even though the Venetian lagoon was intially part of the ancient Roman and Byzantine empires, its first self-governing committee, ‘tribuni maiores‘, was formed as early as 568.

The city-state would later become famous for its elected leaders, ‘Doges’, the closest English language equivalent being ‘Duke’.

Throughout its history, Venice would have a total of 117 Doges, with the first de facto Doge of Venice, Paolo Lucio Anafesto, actually being a Byzantine representative.

Regional power started to shift to Venice during the 9th century, as regional Byzantine ducal seat was relocated to the city.

With a new status as a regional capital, Venice saw a surge in population and in wealth, with a range of new buildings being built to the Venetian islands, including…

  • the monastery of St. Zachary,
  • first ducal palace, and
  • the basilica of St. Mark.

After an unsuccessful siege of Venice, Charlemagne (in 814) also opened the city to trading routes on the Mediterranean, putting Venice overnight in top position for maritime trade in the region.

During this time in a short history of Venice, Venice also acquiredreligious treasures.

In 828, for example, the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist were relocated (from Alexandria) to the city’s newly built basilica.

From 9th century to the 12th century, Venice developed into anautonomous city-state, as Byzantine empire weakened throughout the same period.

With its new independent position, Venice started to acquire trading outposts throughout the region (including inland areas)…

…making it the top maritime power in commerce between the Byzantines (with which it had privileged commercial rights) and the Islamic world & Near East.

By the late 13th century in a short history of Venice, the city-state had become the most prosperous city in all of Europe.

By 1450, it operated over 3,000 commercial ships throughout the Mediterranean, all also capable to be used as warships.

However, 15th century also saw Venetian Republic’s long descend from a position of power…

…starting with an unsuccessful defense of Thessalonica (against the Ottoman forces, 1423–1430), which resulted in decline in the number of Venetian outposts.

This trend gained momentum as Byzantine Empire fell against the Ottomans (1453). Venice lost most of its eastern Mediterranean outposts on the thirty years of war that followed.

Also, as Portugal found an alternative sea route to India, Venice lost much of the commercial trading advantages, as its ships were not built to sail the great oceans of the world.

Venice also saw its share of devastating plagues, in 1348, 1575, 1577, and 1630, with the last epidemic killing 1/3 of the total population.

Although the Venice Republic’s position as a world’s political and commercial power diminished, it gained a new status within cultural front, in European arts, architecture, and literature.

That development came to an end with Venice losing its independence at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1797.

Following this defeat, Venice first became an Austrian territory (from 1798), and later, through the Third Italian War of Independence, from 1866, as part of Kingdom of Italy, and finally, the Republic of Italy.