The Expansion of Venice
In the late middle-ages, the city of Venice was seven miles in circumference and the waters of the Lagoon of Venice in which it was built comprised it's canals and waterways. Surrounded by the sea, the city had a strong defensive position, removing the necessity for walls, fortresses and costly garrisons. The sea also provided Venetian wealth through profitable spice trading routes extending from India, Egypt and Palestine. Venetian nobility and merchants were keen to capitalize on the trade routes and enacted many laws, taxes and controls upon trade to ensure profitability.
Unlike most other powerful governments of the time, Venice prided itself on being an independent city with no monarch to rule over the citizens. Instead, an Doge and committees, both elected, ruled over the populace and were chosen from the noble citizenry who were known as patricians. Citizenship could be granted to resident artisans and professionals, but as elsewhere in European society, the nobility still controlled much of the governance and economy of the state. The nobility were expected to intermarry and Venetian law carefully guarded their superior status. Marriage was not only bound by the rules of the Catholic church but also by city laws which governed the lineage of nobles. Sons born outside of wedlock were not usually afforded the same rights and privileges enjoyed by their noble fathers.
Even with strict rules and regulations to safeguard the patrimony of Venetian citizenship, the city prided itself on a diversity of ethnicities and religious freedoms. Religious pilgrims often boarded Venetian vessels bound for the Holy Lands, which helped in turn to provide an eclectic mixture of races, religions and immigrants into Venetian society. Officially the city recognised foreign communities of Germans, Greeks, Germanic and Italian Jews, Sephardic Jews, and Turks. While also acknowledging the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome, Venice held a larger Orthodox Catholic population. Venetian expansion and influence over other cities also pressed Pope Julius II to orchestrate the League of Cambrai (1508-1510) and impose interdiction, meaning a suspension of catholic services, upon the city in 1509 in an attempt to curb Venetian power outside the direct control of the Vatican.
With immense wealth and a duty to protect trade routes, the Venetian Navy grew to enormous proportion and sailed throughout Mediterranean and European waters. While Venice closely monitored Turkish Adriatic expansion during the 15th century, the city also grew increasingly concerned with rival Christian states that might topple its carefully built trading empire. Importantly, Venetian expansion relied upon profitable trade and tariffs, and not costly wars. The wars fought during the late-15th and throughout the 16th century were short in duration and lost little Venetian territory. Setbacks such as the loss of Negroponte in 1470 were balanced by the seizure of Cyprus in 1489 and the capture of the Ionian Islands during the 1499-1503 war. However, while the late 15th century saw an extension in Venetian power, during the later 16th century it increasingly met challenges from other Europeans. The outward explorations of the Americas in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama’s trade route around the Cape of Good Hope began to demonstrate that other European powers could challenge Venetian naval supremacy by establishing their own trading dynasties. While still years from proving themselves profitable, these ventures did provide indicators that the golden age of Venetian trading influence was waning.
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