Venice – History of the Republic of Venice – Rise

The history of the Republic of Venice traditionally begins with its foundation at noon on Friday March 25, 421 by authorities from Padua who hoped to establish a trading-post in the region. This event was marked by the founding of the Venetian church of St. James. What is certain is that the early city of Venice, existed as a collection of lagoon communities which banded together for mutual defence from the Lombards as the power of the Byzantine Empire dwindled in northern Italy in the late 7th century.


Sometime in the first decades of the 8th century, the people of the lagoon elected their first leader Ursus, who was confirmed by Byzantium and given the titles of hypatus and dux. He was the first historical Doge of Venice. Tradition, however, since the early 11th century, dictates that the Venetians first proclaimed one Anafestus Paulicius duke in 697, though this story dates to no earlier than the chronicle of John the Deacon.

Rise of the Republic of Venice

Ursus’ successor, Deusdedit, moved his seat from Heraclea to Malamocco in the 740. He was the son of Ursus and represented the attempt of his father to establish a dynasty. Such attempts were more than commonplace among the doges of the first few centuries of Venetian history, but all were ultimately unsuccessful. During the reign of Deusdedit, Venice became the only remaining Byzantine possession in the north and the changing politic of the Frankish Empire began to change the factional division of Venetia.

One faction was decidedly pro-Byzantine. They desired to remain well-connected to the Empire. Another faction, republican in nature, believed in continuing along a course towards practical independence. The other main faction was pro-Frankish. A minor, pro-Lombard faction, was opposed to close ties with any of these further-off powers and interested in maintaining peace with the neighbouring Lombard kingdom, which surrounded Venice except on the seaward side.

Venice - gondolaGondola

Deusdedit was assassinated and his throne usurped. The usurper Galla Gaulo suffered a like fate within a year. During the reign of his successor, Domenico Monegario, Venice changed from a fisherman’s town to a port of trade and centre of merchants. Shipbuilding was also greatly advanced and the pathway to Venetian dominance of the Adriatic was laid. Also during Monegario’s tenure the first dual tribunal was instituted. Each year, two new tribunes were elected to oversee the doge and prevent abuse of power.

The pro-Lombard Monegario was succeeded in 764, by a pro-Byzantine Heraclean Maurizio Galbaio.

Galbaio’s long reign (764-787) vaulted Venice forward to a place of prominence not just regionally but internationally and saw the most concerted effort yet to establish a dynasty. Maurizio oversaw the expansion of Venetia to the Rialto islands. He was succeeded by his equally long-reigning son Giovanni. Giovanni clashed with Charlemagne over the slave trade and entered into a conflict with the Venetian church.


Dynastic ambitions were shattered when the pro-Frankish faction was able to seize power under Obelerio degli Antoneri in 804. Obelerio brought Venice into the orbit of the Carolingian Empire. However, by calling in Charlemagne’s son Pepin, rex Langobardorum, to his defence, he raised the ire of the populace against himself and his family and they were forced to flee during Pepin’s siege of Venice. The siege proved costly Carolingian failure. It lasted six months, with Pepin’s army ravaged by the diseases of the local swamps and eventually forced to withdraw. A few months later Pepin himself died, apparently as a result of a disease contracted there.

Venice thus achieved lasting independence by repelling the besiegers. This was confirmed in an agreement between Charlemagne and Nicephorus recognized Venice as Byzantine territory and also recognized the city’s trading rights along the Adriatic coast, where Charlemagne previously ordered the Pope to expel the Venetians from the Pentapolis.

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