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The History Of Medieval Venice History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Venice is well-known all around the world as arguably the most beautiful and romantic city to have ever existed with breathtaking architecture and rich culture. A city where its population is as buzzing as its economy, Venice is growing economically alongside its population. In addition, Venice has a very intriguing history dating back to the start of the middle ages when its architectural status was at its highest, its society was flourishing as a result of good governance, and its economy was among the great city-state in Italy. This paper is written with the intention of letting the readers know about the economic and political conditions of Venice during the medieval period, and allowing them to be captivated by the fascinating and rich culture of the medieval Venetian society. Therefore, this research paper will illustrate the golden era of Venice that is the medieval period, and look into more detail the condition of the Venetian population, economy, government, society, culture, and, of course, architecture.

Medieval Venice

Population of Venice

In the early middle ages, the population in Venice was low and there were only a few people living in the whole city. However, in the 6th century there was a group of people called the Lombards who attacked the mainland, then lots of people fled to the islands which sharply increased the population (Hodgkin, 1905). In addition, its population was continuing to grow steadily after the success of its economy which brought along investors such as trading centers and ships sailed to and from its ports. Unfortunately, the population decreased rapidly in the late middle ages because there were wars between Venice and the Italian city of Genoa, which was a powerful competitor to Venice.

Economic Activities

Venice turns into a city-state between the 9th and the 12th Centuries. It was one among the four famous Maritime Republics in Italy. Venice became a major naval power, exerting influence over commercial activity throughout Europe and the centre of trade between Western Europe and other regions in the world. Venice’s wealth and power depend on the skill of controlling trade in the Mediterranean. In the 6th century, Venice is an imperial power that controlled the commerce on Mediterranean Sea. Hence, during that time Venice gains more and more benefit. This wealth would not have been achievable without the naval force which constructed by the Arsenal (Frederic, 1973).

Druing the Middle Ages beside the arsenal (Naval Power) the products such as spices, groceries, linen… ect. These are an important things which are medieval navigators imported had been offer in order to exchange the value metals in bars rather than coins. In the same period, many new productions were introduced to Europe that came from the Eastern lands. Thereafter, the trade and commerce changed to consist of different productions, especially spices from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and other great cities, which became an important commerce and trading centres because of their strategic location. All the products were carried across the Mediterranean to the Italian seaports and then on to the major towns and cities in Europe. (“Economic in Venice,” n.d.).

The structure of Venice’s government

The Doge

The Doge was the head of magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for more than a thousand years. Doges of Venice were chosen for life by the city-state’s aristocracy. The privileges of the doges were not defined with exactness, however, the position was assigned to members of the inner circle of the powerful Venetian families, after several doges had associated a son with themselves in the ducal office, and this tendency was in relation to a hereditary monarchy, which was checked by a law and decreed that no doge had the right to associate any member of his family with himself in his office, or to name his successor (Benigni, U. (1912).

In the early years of the republic, the Doge led Venice in an autocratic fashion, but later the powers of the doges were limited, a pledge the doges had to take when elected. As the result, the power was shared with Major Council or Great Council, which composed of 480 members taken from patrician families, so that the Doges could do nothing without the Major Council and the Major Council could do nothing without him.

The Great Council

The Great Council of Venice or Major Council, in Italian was Maggior Consiglio, originally the Consilium Sapientis, and in Latin for “Council of Wise Men”. Moreover, the power of the Great Council was to create the laws and elected members of other councils, passed legislation, and made judicial decisions. As such, it was the central of power in the Venetian government. For instance, Council of Ten and Forty was elected by the Great Council.

Minor Council

In the 12th century, in order to diminish the Doge’s powers the aristocratic families of Rialto established the Minor Council in 1175.And The Minor Council was called the Ducal Council or Council of Six as well. The 6 ducal councilors, one for District of the city, remained in office 8 months, were renewed 2 times in 3 and 3 and were not re-elected two years before they were passed. The Doge was able to open the personal correspondence, to discuss the hearing and only in the presence of at least 4 ducal councilors. The function was the most senior Vice-Doge, in the absence of the Most Serene Prince.

The Minor Council was together with the Doge and the 3 ends of the Criminal Forty (or heads of the Council of the Criminal Forty, voting on many issues and the possibility of replacing a ducal counselor if he was absent), formed the Venetian Signoria (up the 1423 Commune Veneciarum ), the supreme executive body of the Republic, set to preside over the Senate, the Great Council and the Council of Ten, taking the advice in these proposals to be debated in accordance with the Elders.

Social Problem and culture activities

Social problem

There are a number of people who play many roles, and did many different tasks in society. In the Venetian society, there are many poor workers who were employed in the city. They did many works such as building ships and working in industries. Under the class of worker, there were groups of prostitute, poor people and beggars which often seen roaming around the city. Moreover, in Venice, there are many residents, foreigners, merchants, travelers and refugees. Besides these people, women also had many roles in the Venetian society during that time. In the society, women must obey their husband and father. In middle and lower social class, women had more rights than women in nobility bad bourgeoisie. Women in Venice can own properties and join all public activities. In addition, women can be nuns, out of their house, widows and convents. In the Venetian society, there were also some religious problems. There were majority of people that established Catholicism until the 18th century. In sum, the Venetian citizens had many activities to do in order to contribute to their society. (Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, 2004).

Culture activities

Cultural activities in medieval Venice were also very fascinating. Artistic activities and printing in Venice were great compliments to the Venetian culture. Venice was a center of artistic activities that is why there were many people who were historians, mathematicians and philosophers. These activities turned Venice into the major printing center of Italy. One of the Venetian printers was Aldus Manutius who was a printing shop owner. In 1499, he established modern punctuation and printed many books such as the Hypnerotomachai Poliphili which was the most beautiful book of Renaissance. Besides Aldus Manutius, there were many people such as Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione and Tintoretto who completed many things in art. Besides art and printing, music and performing art were also the jewels of medieval Venice. Venetian musicians played an importance role in Italian music. In the middle age Venice was called the Republic of Music. There was music everywhere that is why Venice became the music center of Europe which was marked by a style of characteristic composition and development of the Venetian poly choral style with the composers. Ottaviano Petrucci published music as soon as technology was available and that was how he attracted composers from all around Europe. In addition to arts and music, medieval Venice was also famous for its fabulous fashion and shopping. In early 14th century, there were many young men who worn tight fitting with multi colored hose which was the design indicating the Compagnie della Calza. Related to Senate, they used sumptuary laws in order to change fashion to circumvent the laws. Then the colorful garments were worn which spread the style of men’s slashed fashion in 15th century. Finally, Language and literature was also a symbol of medieval Venice. Roman, which was spoken by more than 2 million people, was used as an official language of Venice. Literature in Venice was the best one during middle age because during that time, there were many famous writers such as Marco Polo who was initially a merchant. He wrote series of books which shared an important knowledge for people from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia such as China, Japan. Therefore Social and culture activities turned Venice into a famous city in Europe during Middle age. The activities of the people and the characteristics of the culture really show that social and cultural activities play important roles in medieval Venice. (Margaret, 2004).

Venetian Architectures

Venice is well-known as the world’s most beautiful for its breathtaking architectural designs such as the structures of medieval churches and castles like Doge’s Palace and the church of San Giovanni Battista. Derived from the medieval period, Venetian architecture focuses mainly on the famous Gothic style which incorporates finely-made buttresses, well-designed arches, and amazingly sculpted piers. The exact origin of the Gothic theme is still questionable; however, one general term to describe where it was actually founded is Franco-Norman meaning that the theme was originated in France by the work of the French and the Normans, Vikings who settled down in the northern part of France during the middle age. Most old buildings in present-day Venice such as palaces and churches are proofs of the influences that Gothic theme had on medieval Venice which can be seen by observing particular parts of those buildings like their buttresses and arches.

Doge’s Palace

Situated on a plain where an old stockade and lighthouse once existed, the Doge’s Palace, which used to be the castle that resided the members of the Venetian Republic, is one of Venice most spectacular buildings with great history and magnificent architectural designs. In the 14th century, an architect was hired to come up with a blue print for a design of a fortified castle; the name of the architect was Filippo Calendario and the design was for the Doge’s Castle (“Doge’s palace,” n.d.) The construction of the palace was split into two with the eastern part of the palace only took about 40 years to complete, whereas the construction of the western part lasted for more than a century; thus, the entire palace was completed in 1450.

The architecture of the palace, on the other hand, is even more magnificent than the palace’s own history. The article: Doge’s palace stated that, apart from the same Gothic theme, Doge’s Palace has a very unique characteristic from the other major infrastructures in Venice because of its order of the sections. Most Venetian Gothic buildings were built with walls of solid bricks as their foundation and the loggias, sections of a building where many spaces are exposed to the outsiders, were constructed on top of the walls, while Doge’s Palace is the exact opposite. Moreover, the “Porta della Carta” of Doge’s Palace, the gate to the palace, was created by using a mixture of Byzantine style and Gothic theme portraying the famous Venetian Gothic windows, and the statues of a lion with wings as a reminder of Saint Mark and Francesco Foscari who was the 15th century Doge of Venice. The inside of the palace is divided into three sections: the basement, the first, second, and third floors. The basement used to be a jail for criminals who were about to be executed stay before their final judgment day, whereas the first floor was reserved for the chancellor. In addition, a huge hall where the Venetian leaders used to hold meetings resides on the second section of the palace, and last but not least, the third floor contain the “Sala del Collegio,” a private office of the Doge that was used as a meeting place with ambassadors. Therefore, Doge’s Palace used to be a very important place for the Venetian Republic which explained the amazing history that it holds, and with the addition of the unique architectural designs, Doge’s Palace really is something special.

Ca’ d’Oro

Small as it is, Ca’ d’Oro, formerly known as Palazzo Santa Sofia, or “House of Gold” is one of Venice’s most beautiful building with its majestic floral Gothic design engraved to the building’s outer surface by the legendary father-son architect duo, Giovanni Bon and Bartolomeo Bon. Founded in 1430, Ca’ d’Oro was home to a very rich Venetian who went by the name of Marino Contarini (“Ca’ d’oro,” n.d.) Since then, it was passed down from one owner to another and eventually reached the hands of Baron Giorgio Franchetti who did an amazing job at keeping the beautiful designs of the building intact.

Ca’ d’Oro is famous for its uniquely organized outer structure and magnificently sculpted exteriors which reflected the medieval floral Gothic theme. According to the article: Ca’ d’Oro, the building itself was split into two parts; the loggia acting as a pier where the Venetian river can gain access to the building’s ground floor, and the solid brick walls. Because the loggia part of Ca’ d’Oro is connected to the river displaying its beautiful arches, it became one of the most must-see architecture of Venice. In addition, the floral designs incorporated with precious gems on the loggia side of the building by the Bons also gave Ca’ d’Oro the luxurious looks that the Gothic style is known for having. Furthermore, its windows and balcony show a mixture of flowery leaves patterns that flattered the exteriors part of the building. Thus, for a castle that has had many private owners, Ca’ d’Oro is a masterpiece that had managed to stand its ground while preserving its spectacular structure and designs which made it famous.

St. Mark’s Basilica

Founded in 828 by Giustiniano Particiaco, St. Marks Basilica or Basilica di San Marco was once a Christian sanctum for the Doge of Venice, but after 1807, it was crowned the title of cathedral of Venice (“St. mark’s basilica,” n.d.). Like many other old cathedrals, St. Mark’s Basilica had a very intriguing history dating back to when the cathedral was built, which was intended to serve as the beholder of the body of the evangelist of Venice, Saint Mark. In 976, St. Mark’s Basilica was set ablaze, and most of the interior designs and artifacts were forever ruined by the fire, which led to its immediate but temporarily closure that turned out to be 100 years long. Nevertheless, it was rebuilt and finally reopened to the public again in 1094; then it went on to claim the title of cathedral of Venice in 1807.

Despite having the Byzantine as its initial theme, St. Mark’s Basilica underwent some dramatic changes to its architectural design after the fiery incident that almost annihilated the whole building. The cathedral was then redesigned with the intention of incorporating Gothic style to its arches and buttresses. The first noticeable part of Saint Mark’s Basilica exteriors is the Byzantine style buttresses and the Gothic style arches. The article: St. Mark’s basilica stated that the buttresses were added on annually once the Venetians leaders came back from their conquests and brought back pillars and buttresses to decorate the cathedral. On the other hand, St. Mark’s Basilica’s arches were remodeled, after it was set on fire, to have a Gothic taste to its design which can be seen in the decoration of the five amazingly painted portals. The interiors of Saint Mark’s Basilica consist of naves on both sides of the building, mosaic of old stories, a type of artwork by connecting small colorful pieces of materials to make a picture, put together on the ceilings, and precious items such as the Golden Pall, a mixture of gems onto a golden panel, and the Tersoro or simply known as the Treasury. Overall, because of its rich history and spectacular designs, Saint Mark’s Basilica is one of the main cathedrals in Venice; as a matter of fact, it is also the most famous of all the churches in Venice.


In conclusion, medieval period was arguably the most successful period Venice’s history. During that time, Venice’s economy was at its highest with the possession of ports that were considered the centre of all trading activities between Western Europe and other parts of the world, commercial powers that allowed Venetian to control the Mediterranean Sea with its huge army. In addition to its economy, Venice also had a strong and organized government which was divided into three sections: the Doge, the great council, and the minor council, all of which were in charge of different areas of the government. Despite some issues within the Venetian society, the cultural values of Venice were flourishing; as a result, many famous arts and paintings were created, and various books and literatures were written and distributed. Finally, Venice’s architecture, which had stood the sands of time and presented Venice with the name: the world’s most beautiful city, was at its peak during the middle ages. Ranging from castles to churches, Venetian buildings showed class and breathtaking designs that incorporated the Byzantine style and Gothic theme to make one masterpiece combination. Therefore, medieval time Venice was probably its golden era for every aspect of the city was on a level of its own; as a result, even though its height was lost, Venice became more than just a city after the middle ages; it has become the most beautiful city in the world.

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