Venice, Genoa and the Aegean
DOI link for Venice, Genoa and the Aegean
Venice, Genoa and the Aegean book
Venetian involvement in the Aegean can be broadly divided into four phases. In the first phase Venice was one of a number of Italian merchant cities seeking to gain an edge in the trade of luxury commodities from the east for which there was a growing demand in western Europe. Her provision of naval support for the Byzantines and the crusader states helped provide her merchants with a privileged position in Constantinople and some of the commercial centres of the Aegean world. The privileges might be capriciously altered or withdrawn by the host government, occasionally resulting in considerable loss of life and property by her merchants. This seemed to end in the second phase when Constantinople passed under Latin control in 1204 and the Aegean seemed about to become a Venetian lake. The focus on the Venetians as the villains of the Fourth Crusade is not as sharp as it once was, but certainly the merchants of Venice gained a virtual monopoly in Constantinople and the Black Sea, possession of the ports and maritime cities, like Modon, Coron, Negroponte, Karystos and the island of Crete, which she required to protect and supply her shipping lanes to Egypt and Syria.1 The recovery of Constantinople by the Greeks in 1261 and its successful occupation with considerable Genoese assistance meant the loss of this most-favoured-city status and a period of nearly 100 years of intense commercial rivalry with Genoa. Four wars were fought with the Genoese between 1258 and 1381 over the control of the Black Sea trade and its Aegean approaches. These wars provoked some major naval engagements
involving considerable fleets in the Aegean area. Such was the battle of Settipozzi (Spetsopoulos) off Nauplia in 1263, and that off Kastro near Negroponte in 1350. The years of peace were marked by state-sponsored piracy along the Aegean sea-lanes. Such was the value of the Aegean commercial zone and its position in the trade network of the Levant. Commodities brought to the west still included luxury items, but there was a growing demand for less costly goods at competitive prices, like alum, wax, salt, wine, olives, and wheat. The final phase was closely connected with the Turkish entry into the Aegean world, of which Venice was the first western power to take note, in the opening decades of the fourteenth century. From then on Venice virtually operated a protectorate of Christian powers in the Aegean, garrisoning cities like Athens, Argos, Nauplia, Navarino, Monemvasia, Naupaktos and Patras when their rulers could no longer maintain their defence. These protectorates were extended not solely with an eye to the Turk but also to prevent Genoese adventurers from tendering for their defence should the Venetians fail to respond.