History of Venice Italy

History of Venice Italy includes being a place of refuge (from ancient Roman cities) to its period as a major naval power, to today, as a major tourism destination.

Most early records, from ancient Roman period, point to the Venetian lagoon being a place of refuge for people from Roman cities such as Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino and Concordia…

…as they were fleeing Germanic and Hun invaders.

As these people started to live in the lagoon islands permanently, a community was formed.

The actual founding of Venice is typically identified with the dedication of the first church here, ‘San Giacomo‘, within the islet of Rialto, in 421 AD.

Being part of ancient Rome / Byzantine territory, Venice’s isolated location meant it enjoyed significant autonomy.

As a sign of this independence, the first ‘tribuni maiores‘, the islands’ own governing committee, was formed in 568.

First de facto doge of Venice, Paolo Lucio Anafesto, was actually a representative of ancient Byzantine empire, sent from Ravenna.


“Doge” is Venetian dialect form of Latin “dux”, “leader”. The closest English version is “Duke”.


His seat, of local Byzantine governance, a ducal seat, was located in Malamocco (later that seat was moved to Venice, during early 9th century).

All in all, Venice would have 117 doges throughout its history.

As the regional powerbase shifted to Venice, the lagoon islands saw a surge in residence and new buildings, including…

  • the monastery of St. Zachary,
  • first ducal palace, and
  • the basilica of St. Mark, as well as
  • a defense wall.

As the city’s importance grew, Charlemagne tried to conquer the Byzantine outpost, sending his son Pepin, king of the Lombards to siege Venice.

This siege lasted a total of six months, ending in Pepin’s withdrawal, and in the subsequent death of Pepin himself, from a disease contracted from the Venetian lagoon swamps.

Upon defeat, Charlemagne (in 814) recognized Venice as Byzantine possession, and opened the city trading routes along the Adriatic coast, leading to new wealth flowing to the city’s coffers.

Along with secular wealth, Venice also acquired religious treasures.

Most importantly, in 828, the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist were acquired (from Alexandria), and placed into the new basilica in Venice.

When Byzantine power started to diminish, Venice was transformed (over a period from 9th to 12th century) into a city-state.


Other regional city-states of the time included Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi.


Gaining this autonomous status and having the wealth and naval power to do so, the city-state started to acquire outposts (expanding the number of these outposts up to 1200).

The outposts were located especially within eastern Adriatic, acquired mostly for commercial reasons, giving the Venetian Doge also titles of “Duke of Dalmatia” and “Duke of Istria“.

During this period, Venice started to expand inland…

  • to gain buffer areas against neighboring states,
  • to ensure wheat supplies for the Venetian population, and
  • to guarantee commerce through Alpine routes.

With the expanded influence, the Venetian Republic, with possessions throughout the Aegean island, was a major power in commerce between Near East and Europe, and in the important salt trade in general.

Although independent, Venice remained closely associated with Byzantium, both militarily and commercially, having trading privileges throughout the empire.

A new era in the history of Venice Italy started with the Fourth Crusade, to which Venetians provided ships.

As Constantinople fell as part of that crusade (which had veered off course), and as a new Latin Empire was established (even though a much weakened Byzantine Empire lived on until 1453)…

…Venice carved out new areas for itself, including gaining control over Crete.

With new outposts and commercial routes, by the late 13th century, Venice had become the most prosperous city in all of Europe, and by 1450, was operating over 3,000 ships throughout the Mediterranean.

When the use of printing press spread throughout Europe in the 15h century, Venice quickly became a printing capital for the world, with the leading Venetian printer being Aldus Manutius.

However, the same century started a long descend from a position of power in the history of Venice Italy, starting with an unsuccessful defense of Thessalonica against the Ottoman forces (1423–1430).

Another point of defeat came when Venice supplied forces to the defence of Constantinople against Ottomans (1453). As Constantinople fell, Sultan Mehmet II declared war on Venice…

…with Venice losing most of its eastern Mediterranean outposts on the thirty years of war that followed.

On the commercial front, as Portugal found an alternative sea route to India, Venice lost most of the trading advantages it had previously.

On this period in the history of Venice Italy,diseases contributed to Venice’s decline as well, with plague devastating the Venetian Republic in 1348, 1575, 1577, and 1630.

The last bout of the Black Death of these killing 1/3 of the Venetian population at the time.

Even though Venice empire suffered major setbacks on both commercial and political fronts, it was still a major exporter of agricultural products & a manufacturing center (up until the mid-18th century, in fact).

17th and 18th centuries, in contrast, saw Venice’s rise into a center for European culture, with the elegant city having a major influence on arts, architecture, and literature.

Much of that evaporated, however, as Venetian Republic lost its independence, when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the city-state on 12th of May, 1797.

With the defeat, Venice first became an Austrian territory from 1798. Soon after, it become part of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy (from 1805)…

…and later, upon Napoleon’s defeat, it was returned first returned to Austria (in 1814), becoming part of the (Austrian) Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia…

…and with the Third Italian War of Independence (from 1866), it became as part of newly created Kingdom of Italy, and finally, the Republic of Italy.