Origins and history

The area around Venice was inhabited in ancient times by the Veneti. According to tradition, the city was founded in ad 452, when the inhabitants of Aquileia, Padua (Padova), and other northern Italian cities took refuge on the islands of the lagoon from the Teutonic tribes that invaded Italy during the 5th century. They established their own government, which was headed by tribunes for each of the 12 principal islands. Although nominally part of the Eastern Roman Empire, Venice was virtually autonomous...more


In 697 the Venetians organized Venice as a republic under an elected doge. Internal dissension disturbed the course of government during the following century, but the threat of foreign invasion united the Venetians. Attacks by Saracens in 836 and by the Hungarians in 900 were repulsed. In 991 Venice signed a commercial treaty with the Saracens, initiating the Venetian policy of trading with the Muslims rather than fighting them. The Crusades and the resulting development of trade with Asia led to the establishment of Venice as the greatest commercial center for trade with the East. The republic greatly profited from the partition of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 and became politically the strongest European power in the Mediterranean region. The growth of a wealthy aristocracy gave rise to an attempt by the nobles to acquire political dominance, and, although nominally a republic, Venice became a rigid oligarchy by the end of the 13th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries Venice was involved in a series of wars with Genoa, its chief commercial rival. In the war of 1378-1381, Genoa was compelled to acknowledge Venetian supremacy. Wars of conquest enabled Venice to acquire neighboring territories, and by the late 15th century, the city-state was the leading maritime power in the Christian world..

venice maps

The beginning of Turkish invasions in the middle of the 15th century marked the end of Venetian greatness. Thereafter, faced with attacks by foreign invaders and other Italian states, its power faded, and the discovery of a sea route to the Indies around the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in 1497-1498 accelerated the decline. In 1508 the Holy Roman Empire, the pope, France, and Spain combined against Venice in the League of Cambrai and divided the Venetian possessions among themselves, and although Venice reacquired its Italian dominions through astute diplomacy in 1516, it never regained its political power. In 1797 the Venetian Republic was conquered and ended by Napoleon Bonaparte, who turned the territory over to Austria. In 1805 Austria was compelled to yield Venice to the French-controlled kingdom of Italy but regained it in 1814. A year later Venice and Lombardy (Lombardia) were combined to form the Lombardo-Venetia Kingdom. The Venetians, under the Italian statesman Daniele Manin, revolted against Austrian rule in 1848, and a new republic was established. Austria, however, reestablished control a year later. In 1866, after the Seven Weeks' War, Venice became part of the newly established kingdom of Italy. Population (2005 estimate) 271,251.

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