Thanks to T H for contributing the notes!

I. FEATURES OF EARLY VENICE (5th - 9th Century)

A. Geography

  1. Located in north Italy.

  2. Made up of 120 small islands, in a lagoon.

    • Protected from the currents of the Adriatic Sea by longer islands in the south.

    • Several salt marshes on the lagoons, which later became a profitable resource.

Her strategic location contributed to its development as a city state and rise as a maritime empire in Europe.

B. Life Of Early Venetians

  1. Early Venetian settlements consisted of small fishing villages.

  2. Constructed a system in which rainwater could be collected in communal walls so that they would have a constant water supply.

  3. Venetians have knowledged of crafts, fishing and salt production.

  4. They became seamen out of necessity as agriculture could not be practised on a large scale.

    • The islets have small land areas.

Venetians were prepared by the way they lived and worked to develop as an advanced civilization compared to the neighbouring settlements. This allowed Venice to grow rapidly as a regional power.

C. Venetian Society

  1. Venetians' urban planning system was the foundation of Venice's social stability.

    • Organised the way they lived & worked.

    • Created a sense of belonging & neighbourliness among the Venetians.

  2. Venice was divided into 6 districts

    • each district was further divided into smaller adminstrative & social units.

    • Houses were built close to one another due to scarcity of land.

  3. During festive occasions, people would father in the central near the church for celebrations.

    • Enabled the rich & poor to interact

The Venetian Society was very well-organized and developed compared to the neighbouring settlements. Hence, Venice soon became a role model as a successful city-state as it grew rapidly as a regional power.

D. Economic Activities

  1. Venice was able to monopolize the salt trade in the region by taking advantage of their knowledge of salt production & favorable location surrounded by sea.

    • early venetian boatmen traded salt & fish for grain with the communities along Po River, located at the West of the lagoon.

    • established trade agreements with different communities living by the river.

    • Hence:

      • Gain access to mainland & its forested areas.

      • Obtain its source of wood for trading, e.g. with Egypt for valuable goods such as gold, spices, incense & shipbuilding.

Economic activities allowed Venice to grow its maritime economy rapidly and exert a strong commercial influence in the region, that even the Byzanties even relied on Venice to protect some of their territories along the Italian shores. This paved the way for Venice to rise rapidly as a regional power.

E. System of Government

  1. Structure of early Venetian Gov. that lasted from 8th - 10th Century.

    • Doge > Ducal Council > General Assembly.

  2. Venice was allowed to choose their own leader, the Doge, through the elections despite being a vassal state of Byzantine Empire.

    • Usually appointed for life.

    • Chosen from ruling families of Venice.

    • Was the most experienced official.

  3. Ducal Council is formed by 2 advisers.

    • selected men eligible to be Doge for nomination.

  4. General Assembly

    • elect the Doge

    • passed laws on essential issues such as on trade & housing.

The system of Government allowed Vernice to be well governed by an effective & organised government. This political stability allowed Venice to rapidly rise as a regional power.

II. Rise of Venice as An Empire (9th - 15th Centuries)


1. Leadership

Establishing Control in Adriatic Sea

  • Doge Pietro II Orseolo felt that peace in the region would boost trade.

  1. Maintained friendship with Byzantine Emperor in the East.

  2. Established relations with Germanic Kings in the West.

  3. Created trade links with Muslim states in North Africa.

  4. Reconciled feuding cities.

  5. Disallowed trade between Venetians & cities controlled by pirates to cut off their salt supply & necessities.

    • Bringing piracy under control & subdued pirates in Dalmatia

Building the Venetian Empire

  1. Doge Enrico Dandolo directed the Fourth Crusade under the command of Pope Innocent III, head of western Christian world.

    • Originally was a military campaign to free Jerusalem from Muslim control, but became a campaign to overthrow Byzantine Emperor & take over capital at Constantinople.

    • Hence :

      • Gain recognition

      • Control some of the important territories which had belonged to the fallen Byzantine Empire, which were important for trade.

  2. Doge Pietro Ziani suceeded him in 1205, who believed in expanding trade through conquests.

    • ensure that Venice gained control of important routes in Mediterranean Sea.

      • Thus, it marked the beginning of Venice's growth as an maritime empire.

The leaders of Venice, especially the Doges, were far-sighted and had made outstanding contributions to ensure rapid growth & rapid development of Venice. Without strong leadership, Venice would not be able to compete against her neighbours and expand accross the region.

2. Reforms in the Government

Maintaining checks & balances

  • Council of Ten

  1. Made up of the Doge + 6 Ducal Councillors + 3 Heads of the Council of Forty in the 14th Century.

  2. Ensure there were no corrupt practices or abuse of power by the Doge or any high ranking official.

    • Emphasizes that no one was above the law, including the Doge.

  3. Became one of the most important branches of the government, esp in handling confidential & critical matters such as putting an end to uprisings or handling cases of treason.

Preventing the concentration of power

  • The Nominating Committee was added to the election process to identify suitable male candidates for all elected positions through the process of balloting.

    1. Prevents any individual/ family from dominating the government.

    2. Nobles appointed were not allowed the reject the position.

      • in order to ensure all positions of responsibility in the government were filled up.

      1. Nobles were not allowed to campaign for support in the election.

      • Discourages rivalry among them & no one could be appointed as a result of personal favour.

Reforms in the government ensure that the demands of the people & city-state are being met, hence assuring the rapid growth & development of Venice. Without government reforms, the leadership of Venice may become complacent or corrupted.


1. Trade Development & Expansion

Attitude towards Trade

  • Venetians were skilled diplomats.

    1. Able to obtain favourable trading terms such as having lower tax rates.

    2. Bring in highly-prized spices from the East.

    3. Maintained competitive edge over competitors such as Genoa, another rising Italian city-state.

  • Venetians possessed an enterprising spirit.

    1. Travelled to unknown lands to explore new trade routes, supplies & markets.

      • e.g. The Polo family's exploration of overland trade route to CHina earned Venice good relations with countries in the Far East.

        • Hence, extending trade further from beyond the Middle East.

Innovations in maritime technology

  1. Previously, poor visibility caused by bad weather unabled travels during winter.

    • With advanced technology now, travels become possible, enabling Venice to continue to dominate trade in the Mediterranean Sea throughout the year.

  2. Venetians had extensive knowledge of shipbuilding.

    • Designed & built superior vessels to meet sailing needs.

      • Unlike tradition sailing ships, Venetian fleets were propelled by both oars & sails and not depend solely on wind.

        • Hence, merchant & battle fleets were able to travel further, facilitating the expandsion of trade & territorial control.

  3. In the 13th Century, the first Venetian great galley was built.

    • A combination of merchant & war vessel.

    • It is formidable enough to discourage most pirates from launching an attack on Venetian trading ships.

Efficiency in managing voyages

  1. Venetians traders were now able to travel in winter, hence able to make more frequent voyages.

  2. Great galleys were also capable of transporting more goods.

  3. The Senate came up with an effective management system.

    • Organised & monitored schedule of trade envoys.

    • Grouped traders to travel in conveys, as it is more profitable to trade in larger quantities.

Overcoming trade competition

  • Main trade competitor was Genoa.

    1. Dependent on maritime trade.

    2. Had a conflict of political & commercial interestes, resulting in many wars.

    3. Competed fiercely with Venice especially in the Mediterranean Sea & Black Sea.

    4. Defeated in late 14th Century by Venice.

Trade Monopoly

  1. From 9th-15th century, trade was dominated by Venice, Genoa, & Hanseatic League.

    • Venice was most successful, as they were able to provide larger variety of goods from the East.

  2. As Venice was located at the northern tip of Adriatic Sea, Central & Southern Europe relied on them for goods from East such as spices, sugar & diamonds.

  3. Using combination of overland & sea routes, Ventians went to Arabian parts such as Alexandra and Hormuz to buy & late sell these goods to other European states at very high prices.

    • Reap large profits.

The factors of trade development & expansion of trade ensure that Venice could continue to grow rapidly as a great sea power & trading empire. With the great wealth fromj her thriving trade, Venice became much more powerful compared to her neighbours in Europe.

2. Industrial Development

Trade-related industry

  • Shipbuilding industry benefitted immediately from expansion of trade

    • before advances in maritimes, the industry was small & scattered all over Venice.

    • Around yr 1100, all the shipbuilders were centralised at a new location, the Arsenal.

      1. prevent overcrowding & minimise noise pollution at Bacino San Marco, the main trading port in the lagoon.

      2. Expanded in 13th Century to facilitate production as demand for great galleys increases.

      3. Eventually became backbone of Venice's maritime industry & power.

Manufacturing Industries

  1. With trade expansion, ↑ affluence, ↑ demand for goods.

    • hence promoted growth of manufacturing industries.

  2. Most well-known manufacturing industry was the glassmasking industry.

  3. New industries emerged.

    • e.g. Printing industry. It was established to serve the large reading public in Venice. Venice's extensive trade connections made it easy to find buyers for goods & obtain supplies such as paper.

    • Thus:

      • many jobs were created for the people

      • attracted skilled craftsmen from other parts of Europe to settle down & work in Europe.

Such economical activities in Venice helped to reinforce her economic strength as a trading power. Many other European countries lost out to Venice as their trading ships & products were inferior compared to those made in Venice.

3. Innovative Practices

  1. Double-entry bookkeeping

    • The amt. of goods in possession & details of recent transactions have to be accessible with many diff trading partners.

    • Double-entry bookkeeping has proven to be a useful system to record business transactions

      • The standardisation of the credit & debit columns and entries which are recorded by date helps to meet the needs of businesses

  2. Giro-banking

    • Now, with an account in a bank, there was a need to carry different currencies.

      • Now, with an account in a bank, payments can be made or received by making a request at the bank. This made transactions easier.

Innovative Practices provided a very conducive environment for social contact & economic transactions among traders of different countries. Thus it is a very important factor that attracted many countries to want to trade in Venice, making her one of the most thriving countries in Europe.



1. Foreign Threats

Involvement in the mainland Europe

  1. At the beginning of 15th Century, political developments in Europe forced Venetian government to turn its attention to controlling nearby mainland territories.

    • Needed to secure & maintain supply of resources such as food & water for the city-state's growing population & expanding industries.

    • Territories & commercial interests can be protected by taking advantage of rivalry among mainland states.

      • Made overland trade routes that were depended on by Venetians for trading to be unsafe, as constant battles were fought in the region.

  2. Venice tried to achieve balance of power by creating alliances with large states such as the feuding France & Spain.

    • switching alliances with different opposing states meant that Venice was constantly threading on fragile relations with the larger states.

      • This puts Venice at high risk of being attacked should negotiations fial as there was no certainty which would ultimately benefit Venice.

Venice's involvement in the mainland Europe drained her financial & mainpower resources as she had to employ a mercenary army to fight her battles due to her small population. Even though Venice was able to defend herself in all these battles, she found herself overly exerted.

The Ottoman Empire

  • From 13th Century:

  1. They expanded their influence from Middle East into Europe

  2. Replaced Genoa as Venice's greatest competitor for maritime control by 15th Century.

    • Ottomans acquired territories along the west of Adriatic Sea and lauched attacks at Venetian territories from there. Thus, Venice had to use galleys to fend off attacks.

      • This disruptes the use of galleys for trading purposes.

  • The act of giving concessions to Ottomans whenever it suited Venice's commercial interests but would later seek military aid from other European states to defend its territories caused European neighbours to eventually develop a deep hostility.

By fighting and defending against the Ottoman Empire, Venice's wealth & energy were further depleted, especially at times when she had to fight against other European countries at the same time as well. Venice was also forced to give up some of her territories to avoid losses, such as Negroponte, one of its most important Eastern Trade outposts in the Mediterranean in 1470.

The League of Cambrai

  • Formed in 1508.

    1. Consisted of most major powers in Europe. (Spain, Hungary & France)

    2. Aimed to reduce power of Venice & divide its territories amongst larger states.

  • In one of the battles at Agnadello, the Venetian mercenery army was badly defeated.

    • Venice then created new alliances with some states and managed to recapture some of its territories through renewed military campaigns.

    • Venice negotiated for seperate peace with some states in League by giving concessions.

With large states like France & Spain forming alliances such as the League of Cambrai, Venice found herself increasingly isolated. Because of this, Venice had to fend for herself against the Ottoman Empire on her own, which further drained & weakened Venice as she had to face all surrounding threats.

2. Maritime Competition

Discovery of new sea routes

  1. In 1497, a Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama went around the Cape of Good Hope and successfully reached Calicut, a thriving spice centre in India.

  2. Thus, the Portugese were able to buy their spices directly from India.

  3. This new sea route destroyed Venice's monopoly of the lucrative spice trade and greatly reduced her large profits.

  4. Compared to this route, Venice's tradition route to the East by Mediterrenean Sea followed by an overland route was time-consuming and unsafe due to robbers & plunders hiding in the desert and mountainous terrains.

With new trade routes, Venice began to lose its important & exclusive positioin as the middleman between the East & the West. With this, Venice's trade & wealth began to drop drastically as she loses her dominance as the main trading power in Europe.

New trade rivals

  • By 17th Century, these companies were established.

  1. Dutch East India Company

    • Bypassed Venetians to go to East to get supplies.

  2. English East India Company (EIC)

    • Specialised in bringing cotton & peper from India

    • Tea & porcelain from China.

  • Both the Dutch & British had better designed ships.

    • Although Venice suceeded in imitating the ships, she don't have skilled sailors to operate them.

  • England & Holland were more successful in negotiating for favourable trading rights in new ports.

Venice's status as the leading trade nation was gradually replaced by other rising trading nations such as Holland, Britain & France, and also becoming less popular as a port of call because she started to impose protectionist policies against her trade rivals. These trade rivals then shunned from trading with Venice as it proved too costly to trade with Venetians. Venice's insistence on maintaining its monopolistic position eventually resulted in the loss of some of her trading partners.


Threats from mainland Europe is the most important external factor contributing to the fall of Venice because it is the root factor that leads to other factors.

Bad relations that Venice had with other countries in mainland Europe made European countries form anti-Venice alliances such as the League of Cambrai and gave Ottoman Empire a chance to threaten Venice.

The threats from mainland Europe also motivate other European countries such Britain & the Dutch to look for new trade routes and become Venice's trade rivals.


1. Political Challenges

Incapable Leadership

  1. Most policies were meant to preserve the power, prestige & wealth of the novles rather than for the good of the city-state.

  2. Basic structure of Venetian government remained unchanged since 12th Century.

    • Rotation of duties ensured no individual/family could dominate the government.

    • However, competent officers would have to leave the office after a term. In some cases, incompetent ones were selected in their place.

  3. In the 15th Century, 2 Captain-Generals of Navy, Nicolo da Canal & Antonio Grimani who despite proven themselves as ambassador and financier respectively, lacked military skills were appointed to lead the navy against Ottomans.

    • This caused Venice to suffer heavy losses in battles.

Incompetent leaders would not be able to plan or implement policies to ensure Venice's sustainable growth. Without strong leaders, Venice would not be able to cope with both internal problems & external threats effectively.

Corruption in the government

  1. Venetian government suspended salaries of civil servants to finance the cost of wars with Ottomans & neighbouring states.

  2. Leadership was determined by how much nobles could afford to pay to be elected.

  3. Sold positions to raise funds during crises.

At the core of the Venetian government, corruption added to the inefficiency of the city-state. The corrupted officials led to the decay of the government integrity, making it increasingly incapable of governing Vernice against both internal problems & external threats.

Over-dependence on mercenaries

  1. Venice's small population reduced significantly from outbreaks of plague.

    • This raises a neccessity for Venice to maintian the large mercenary army to protect its territories & fight its wars.

  2. In 1615, Venice employed mercenaries to fight in the War of Gradisca. Later in 1619, near the end of the war, the Council of Ten discovered a large no. of French mercenaries' plot to seize Ducal Palace and kill Senate members and rob noble's palaces.

Without the commitment of its citizens to defend their own city, Venice ended up relying heavily on mercenaries for her defence. This is impudent because it led to increased expenditure. In addition, Venice's wealth could not buy loyalty and commitment from the mercenaries as seen that they could always be offered better salaries from other states. Resultantly, Venice became very vulnerable to external threats.

2. Social Challenges

Complacency Among Venetians

  1. Having lived in peace & stability, it caused Venetians to be conceited and pirioritizes wealth over maintaing security of the city-state.

  2. Nobles became less involved in impt matters such as adminstration & development of the city-state as they become more affluent.

  3. Many wealthy nobles indulged in lavish parties & celebrations known as Carnevale which could last up to 6 months. Even when Doge Paolo Renier died on 13/2/1789, the announcement was delayed until 2/3/1789 to not interrupt the Carnevale.

Venetians became increasily complacent and became blind to both the internal problems & external threats that their city-state was facing. Thus, the Venetians were incapable of protecting themselves effectively when serious problems occured.


1. Rise & Conquest by French Empire

  1. In 18th century, France's growing power threatened many European states.

  2. Under the leadership of Napolean Bonaparte, the French swept across Western Europe and moved into the Italian Penisula.

  3. Compared to sophistication of the French Army, Venice's fortresses & army were outdated.

  4. No capable nobles present to organise and lead an army to defeat Napolean's soldiers.

  5. Venice rejected Italian states' invitation to join an alliance for fear of proving the French.

  6. Absence of fighting spirit.

The French empire served as a trigger & final blow to the collapse of Venice as a city-state. Venice was so weak and incapable of defending herself that she surrendered to France without even bothering to put up a fight on 12 May 1797.