Venice at the Centre of International Relations and Politics
The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) and subsequent capture of Constantinople initiated the fall of the Byzantine Empire and left Venice as the dominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Two centuries later the trading empire of Venice stretched from the harbours of Britain, across the Channel to France and throughout the Mediterranean with trade extending far into Africa and Asia. By 1612 the dominance of Venetian merchant trade led English Ambassador Sir Dudley Carleton to state, Omnes vias pecuniae norunt [they know all the ways of money]. The sheer expanse of Venetian influence gave rise to a popular conception throughout Europe that Venice was the ‘New Rome’.
Politically Venice stood as a city free from monarchical rule, the Doge was elected for life but in several cases was replaced during political turmoil. Venetians held elected positions in high regard. Captains of military and trading fleets, lawmakers, and city officials were all appointed and elected from within the ranks of noble citizens known as patricians.
Emphasising the importance of naval control and military power the 12th century, the Arsenal of Venice employed the largest workforce in Europe and continually produced new innovations for the Venetian fleet. Ground forces were not overlooked as in 1482, at the outbreak of the Ferrara war, Venice counted 8,000 heavy cavalry on station in Lombardy and many more infantry veterans in the East who were returning from conflicts fought against the Ottomans.  Although militarily powerful, Venetian citizens expected public discourse over campaigns and during the 1482 campaign were unsatisfied by the lack of public dialogue.  By the 14th century Venice also began fighting to assert dominance in trade not only over the threat of pirates and the Ottoman Empire, which demanded tribute to utilize ports and passage, but also by the lesser European trading nations of Genoa and Hungary. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries Venetian foreign policy carefully counterbalanced Ottoman, Italian, European, and Roman Catholic foreign policy to the benefit of trade coffers.
Unlike Britain, which split from the Roman Catholic Church and was forced to ‘go it alone’, Venice benefited geographically from several competing interests. In 1509 Pope Julius II gathered a coalition army and launched military campaigns against Venice. Yet, the following year Julius allied himself with Venice against the armies he had formed the year before. As such, Venetian foreign politics capitalized on the competing needs of neighbours and allies but also constantly reminded potential adversaries that Venetian merchants still controlled the majority of trade throughout Europe.
Unhappy with Venetian policy outside the control of Rome, the Renaissance Popes often enacted interdiction, the suspension of Catholic functions, upon Venice. In a time of devout piety, a ‘strike’ by priests meant no weddings, baptisms or funerals would occur and it meant that God himself was angry with the populace. However, fearful of a riotous Venetian populace, a 1482 Interdiction by Pope Sixtus IV was posted on the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome rather than in Venice. 
In 1571 the Venetian Empire ceded the key island of Cyprus to the Ottoman Turks after a difficult two-year war. The loss of Cyprus effectively ended the period of Venetian expansion but also indicated that the Empire knew when it was overstretched. By ceding Cyprus to the Ottomans the Venetians ensured that the isles, ports and trade they did possess were safe from continued warfare and that economic recovery was still manageable. The peace also prevented Spain, an ally of Venice throughout the conflict, from extending any influence into the Eastern Mediterranean—once again proving Venetian political tact for settling both East and West relations advantageously.
1. David S. Chambers & Brian Pullan, ed., Venice: A Documentary History: 1450-1630. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 27. Return to text
2. David S. Chambers, Ceicil H. Clough & Michael E. Mallett, ed., War, Culture and Society in Renaissance Venice. (London: Hambledon Press, 1993), p. 61. Return to text
3. See: Michael E. Mallett, Venice & the War of Ferrara, 1482-84. In: David S. Chambers, Ceicil H. Clough & Michael E. Mallett, ed., War, Culture and Society in Renaissance Venice. (London: Hambledon Press, 1993), p. 68. Return to text
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