Featuring Henry Hallam
Introduction to Venice Defeats Genoa:
Henry Hallam (1777 – 1859) wrote View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages from which this passage is taken.
During the Middle Age the Mediterranean Sea was Western Europe’s main connection with the rest of the world. The Italian city-states dominated the trade routes. Two cities were above the others. This is the story of how one of those two finally came out on top. And now, Henry Hallam.
|The Grand Canal of Venice
circa 1760 by Francesco Guardi
Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Genoa did not stand alone in this war. A formidable confederacy was raised against Venice, which had given provocation to many enemies. Of this Francis Carrara, seignior of Padua, and the King of Hungary were the leaders. But the principal struggle was, as usual, upon the waves. During the winter of 1378 a Genoese fleet kept the sea, and ravaged the shores of Dalmatia. The Venetian armament had been weakened by an epidemic disease, and when Vittor Pisani, their admiral, gave battle to the enemy, he was compelled to fight with a hasty conscription of landsmen against the best sailors in the world.
Entirely defeated, and taking refuge at Venice with only seven galleys, Pisani was cast into prison, as if his ill-fortune had been his crime. Meanwhile the Genoese fleet, augmented by a strong reënforcement, rode before the long natural ramparts that separate the lagunes of Venice from the Adriatic. Six passages intersect the islands which constitute this barrier, besides the broader outlets of Brondolo and Fossone, through which the waters of the Brenta and the Adige are discharged. The Lagoon itself, as is well known, consists of extremely shallow water, unnavigable for any vessel except along the course of artificial and intricate passages.
Notwithstanding the apparent difficulties of such an enterprise, Pietro Doria, the Genoese admiral, determined to reduce the city. His first successes gave him reason to hope. He forced the passage, and stormed the little town of Chioggia, built upon the inside of the isle bearing that name, about twenty-five miles south of Venice. Nearly four thousand prisoners fell here into his hands–an augury, as it seemed, of a more splendid triumph.
In the consternation this misfortune inspired at Venice, the first impulse was to ask for peace. The ambassadors carried with them seven Genoese prisoners, as a sort of peace-offering to the admiral, and were empowered to make large and humiliating concessions, reserving nothing but the liberty of Venice. Francis Carrara strongly urged his allies to treat for peace. But the Genoese were stimulated by long hatred, and intoxicated by this unexpected opportunity of revenge. Doria, calling the ambassadors into council, thus addressed them: “Ye shall obtain no peace from us, I swear to you, nor from the lord of Padua, till first we have put a curb in the mouths of those wild horses that stand upon the place of St. Mark. When they are bridled you shall have enough of peace. Take back with you your Genoese captives, for I am coming within a few days to release both them and their companions from your prisons.”
When this answer was reported to the senate, they prepared to defend themselves with the characteristic firmness of their government. Every eye was turned toward a great man unjustly punished, their admiral, Vittor Pisani. He was called out of prison to defend his country amid general acclamations. Under his vigorous command the canals were fortified or occupied by large vessels armed with artillery; thirty-four galleys were equipped; every citizen contributed according to his power; in the entire want of commercial resources–for Venice had not a merchant-ship during this war–private plate was melted; and the senate held out the promise of ennobling thirty families who should be most forward in this strife of patriotism.
The new fleet was so ill-provided with seamen that for some months the admiral employed them only in manoeuvring along the canals. From some unaccountable supineness, or more probably from the insuperable difficulties of the undertaking, the Genoese made no assault upon the city. They had, indeed, fair grounds to hope its reduction by famine or despair. Every access to the Continent was cut off by the troops of Padua; and the King of Hungary had mastered almost all the Venetian towns in Istria and along the Dalmatian coast. The doge Contarini, taking the chief command, appeared at length with his fleet near Chioggia, before the Genoese were aware. They were still less aware of his secret design. He pushed one of the large round vessels, then called cocche, into the narrow passage of Chioggia which connects the Lagoon with the sea, and, mooring her athwart the channel, interrupted that communication. Attacked with fury by the enemy, this vessel went down on the spot, and the Doge improved his advantage by sinking loads of stones until the passage became absolutely unnavigable.
It was still possible for the Genoese fleet to follow the principal canal of the Lagoon toward Venice and the northern passages, or to sail out of it by the harbor of Brondolo; but, whether from confusion or from miscalculating the dangers of their position, they suffered the Venetians to close the canal upon them by the same means they had used at Chioggia, and even to place their fleet in the entrance of Brondolo so near to the Lagoon that the Genoese could not form their ships in line of battle. The circumstances of the two combatants were thus entirely changed. But the Genoese fleet, though besieged in Chioggia, was impregnable, and their command of the land secured them from famine.
Venice, notwithstanding her unexpected success, was still very far from secure; it was difficult for the Doge to keep his position through the winter; and if the enemy could appear in open sea, the risks of combat were extremely hazardous. It is said that the senate deliberated upon transporting the seat of their liberty to Candia, and that the Doge had announced his intention to raise the siege of Chioggia, if expected succors did not arrive by January 1, 1380. On that very day Carlo Zeno, an admiral who, ignorant of the dangers of his country, had been supporting the honor of her flag in the Levant and on the coast of Liguria, appeared with a reënforcement of eighteen galleys and a store of provisions.
From that moment the confidence of Venice revived. The fleet, now superior in strength to the enemy, began to attack them with vivacity. After several months of obstinate resistance, the Genoese–whom their republic had ineffectually attempted to relieve by a fresh armament–blocked up in the town of Chioggia, and pressed by hunger, were obliged to surrender. Nineteen galleys only, out of forty-eight, were in good condition; and the crews were equally diminished in the ten months of their occupation of Chioggia. The pride of Genoa was deemed to be justly humbled; and even her own historian confesses that God would not suffer so noble a city as Venice to become the spoil of a conqueror.
Though the capture of Chioggia did not terminate the war, both parties were exhausted, and willing, next year, to accept the mediation of the Duke of Savoy. By the peace of Turin, Venice surrendered most of her territorial possessions to the King of Hungary. That Prince and Francis Carrara were the only gainers. Genoa obtained the isle of Tenedos, one of the original subjects of dispute–a poor indemnity for her losses. Though, upon a hasty view, the result of this war appears more unfavorable to Venice, yet in fact it is the epoch of the decline of Genoa. From this time she never commanded the ocean with such navies as before; her commerce gradually went into decay; and the fifteenth century–the most splendid in the annals of Venice–is, till recent times, the most ignominious in those of Genoa. But this was partly owing to internal dissensions, by which her liberty, as well as glory, was for a while suspended.
This ends our passage on Venice Defeats Genoa by Henry Hallam from his book View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages published in 1866.
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