In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maritime Venice

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Urban Space, Architecture, and Ritual
  • Ethnic, Religious, and Cultural Identity

Renaissance and Reformation Maritime Venice
Monique O'Connell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0082


Venice’s location on its lagoon meant that it was oriented toward the sea from its earliest history. In the medieval period, the Venetian economy depended on commerce. Venetians dominated regional trade in commodities like salt and acted as middlemen in luxury commerce, transferring spices and textiles from the Byzantine and Islamic worlds to markets in northern Italy and above the Alps. These commercial interests grew into influence and direct political rule in some regions of the eastern Mediterranean. Venice’s official maritime presence overseas began with its domination of the eastern Adriatic in the 11th century and blossomed in the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to western Crusaders in 1204, when the city acquired the island of Crete and the Peloponnesian ports of Coron and Modon. Thus the economic and political histories of maritime Venice in the medieval and early modern period are intertwined. This entry focuses on maritime Venice’s history from the early 14th through the 16th centuries, although some works cited reach earlier or later. At the beginning of the period, Venice’s state-run galley system dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean and reached westward to Flanders. In the 15th century, Venice began a program of political and military expansion on both the mainland and in the maritime realms. By the later 16th century, competition from the Spanish and the Ottomans, the growing threat of piracy, and the discovery of the Americas all led to a shift in Venice’s role in the Mediterranean. Any scholar will notice the unusual linguistic complexity of the region’s historiography: many sources are in Latin or Italian, while the scholarship is in Italian, French, German, Greek, Croatian, Albanian, and English. This article focuses on contributions in English, Italian, French, and German; the majority of the international scholarly conversation is conducted in French and Italian, and anyone limited to studies in English will find it difficult to penetrate very deeply into the field.

General Overviews

The many languages and national historical traditions of the maritime state have meant that there are very few studies that treat the Venetian maritime state as a whole or in a synthetic manner. The geography of the maritime state and the contemporary appreciation of the region as a tourist destination have led to some romanticized depictions of the “stato da mar” (maritime state), as in Morris 1990 (cited under Individual and Co-authored Studies). After World War II, the historiography fragmented into Italian, Greek, and Yugoslav approaches, as in Ivetic 2000a and Ivetic 2000b (cited under Northeastern Adriatic). In western Europe, the postwar study of maritime Venice was deeply influenced by the French Annaliste school, resulting in an emphasis on the economic and commercial relationships within the maritime state: Thiriet 1959, cited under Individual and Co-authored Studies; Pertusi 1973, cited under Collections of Studies and Conference Proceedings; Beck, et al. 1977, cited under Collections of Studies and Conference Proceedings; and Tenenti 1999, cited under Individual and Co-authored Studies. The results of decades of in-depth research into Venetian shipbuilding, seafaring, and overseas commerce are summarized in Tenenti and Tucci 1991 (cited under Collections of Studies and Conference Proceedings). Gaetano Cozzi’s influential treatment of the legal and political framework in the Venetian state as a whole includes the maritime state, as seen in Cozzi and Knapton 1986–1992 (cited under Individual and Co-authored Studies). Over the last decade, a series of conferences have brought an increasingly international group of scholars together to discuss current themes in the study of the maritime state. The proceedings of these conferences, discussed in Collections of Studies and Conference Proceedings, are essential reading to understand recent developments in the field, which while retaining an interest in trade and commerce has also become more attentive to networks and negotiation, identity formation, and cross-cultural relationships. In this bibliography, works dealing with more than one of the regions under Venetian rule are listed under both of the subsections here, while works dealing with a specific region are listed under Overseas Possessions.

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