The ancient Italian province of Venetia is of interest to us in the present inquiry as the source to which the first Venetians looked as the home of their fathers or of their own youth. It was a region of Northern Italy, which extended from the foot of the Alps to the Adriatic Sea; but its boundaries seem to have undergone changes. After its subjugation by the Romans, Venetia was considered as forming part of Cisalpine Gaul. The people are described as a commercial, rather than a warlike, community; and it is a curious circumstance that they displayed in their dress, like their insular descendants, a predilection for black...

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W. Carew Hazlitt


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THE ANCIENT ITALIAN PROVINCE OF Venetia is of interest to us in the present inquiry as the source to which the first Venetians looked as the home of their fathers or of their own youth. It was a region of Northern Italy, which extended from the foot of the Alps to the Adriatic Sea; but its boundaries seem to have undergone changes. After its subjugation by the Romans, Venetia was considered as forming part of Cisalpine Gaul. The people are described as a commercial, rather than a warlike, community; and it is a curious circumstance that they displayed in their dress, like their insular descendants, a predilection for black. An immense amount of confusion has arisen in the accounts of this country and its inhabitants by a failure to discriminate with proper care between the Veneti of America and their Adriatic namesakes. The former were remarkable for their proficiency in martial pursuits and their brave resistance to the Roman legions and navy; yet it is at the same time questionable whether the trade in amber conducted by Greeks and Phoenicians between Western Europe and the Baltic does not really belong to the Transalpine Veneti, who are also more likely to be the people among whom Herodotus relates that it was a custom to sell their marriageable daughters by auction.

There seems to be some plausibility in the suggestion that a colony passing in the course of migration from their native soil to Asia Minor, proceeded thence, in process of time, to Northern Italy, on the shores of which they formed numerous settlements. These colonists were called Tyrrhenians or Etruscans; they became the founders, at successive periods, of Spina at the mouth of the Po, and Hadria or Hatria in its vicinity, both of which attained the highest degree of commercial prosperity. No vestiges of the former are now visible, though the name may seem to have survived in the islet of Spinalunga, a later alluvial formation. The gradual deposits of nature have had the effect of removing Hadria to a distance of more than fourteen miles from that sea on which it once stood, and which still bears its name—the Hadria iracunda of Horace. Nor has the decline been recent; for even in the time of the Romans these places presented little more than the shadow of their pristine greatness.

In the Augustan age Venetia and Istria united to form the Tenth Legion; under Constantine, the two districts were reckoned as the seventeenth province of Rome. Venetia itself was divided, during the reign of the latter prince, into Prima and Secunda or Maritima, the last of which had long been known to the conquerors as the Gallicae Paludes. Venetia Maritima appears to have been bounded on the east by the Adriatic, on the north by the Julian Alps, on the west by an imaginary line drawn between the Adige and the Po, and on the south by the latter river.

The inclining plain of Northern Italy, which verges continually toward the sea, is irrigated by several rivers. Of these, the Livenza and Isonzo take their rise in the Alps; the Brenta, the Musone, the Piave, and the Adige in the Tyrol; while the Po, after receiving the tributary waters of the Alps and the Apennines, disembogues in the Adriatic at its western angle. That the strength and vehemence of the currents of these several streams would be greatly increased by the sloping nature of the country through which they flow, is sufficiently obvious; and it will also be easy to conceive the process by which, in their passage to the gulf, the force of the tide would loosen and remove the sand and mud accumulated on their shores, and deposit it as sediment at their respective confluences, which lay within a short distance of each other. This fluviatile drift, which served to attest the active and unrestricted operations of nature in that quarter, naturally assumed, in the course of ages, the form of mounds, or lid, while many acquired a degree of size and solidity which entitled them to the name of islands. The final result which was to be expected, however, from this large formation of new and artificial soil close to the terra firma, was that the whole intermediate expanse of morass, or lagoon, would have been girt by an unbroken belt of sand, and that an extensive tract of country would have been permanently reclaimed from the ocean; and this, indeed, was only obviated by the estuaries which along the upper coast of Northern Italy were created by the frequent confluence of opposite currents, and which, by a series of winding and deep channels, divided the lid at irregular intervals, at the same time affording a certain access to the wide and terraqueous tract which had now interposed itself between the true shore and the exterior margin of the Adriatic.

It was on these narrow strips of land, ill sheltered from the waves, yet by them only protected, of which it might have appeared that man would hardly care to dispute possession with the sea-fowl, that a few hundred stragglers, exiles from their native soil, were driven, in the fifth century of our era, by the force of adversity, to seek a temporary home; and on this unique site the fugitives laid the foundations of the proud and powerful Venice, by erecting here and there a few huts of mud and osiers.

In the singular encroachment of the land upon the water which was to be observed in the conformation of the Venetian lagoons, and the slow creation of a firm soil, where before there had been nought but liquid expanse, it was not unnatural for the men of that time to see an evidence of preparation for things that were to come. The remarkable changes which had taken place during the lapse of ages in that part of the coast might well seem to a less incredulous age than ours to point to the distant contemplation of a City of Refuge in the midst of the waves.

We are told by Strabo that in his day the country immediately contiguous to the Gulf of Adria was intersected in every quarter by rivers, streams, and morasses; Aquileia and Ravenna were then cities in the marshes; and it appears probable that, had not the inroads of the sea been checked by a circumvallation of dykes, the whole region would have presented the aspect of a salt-lake.

The climate of ancient Venetia was generally tepid, occasionally chilly. In the spring, the atmosphere was gratefully tempered by the sea-breezes; during the summer, the frequent recurrence of storms cleared the air, and deluged the plains; snow was rare and transient. The soil was rich and fertile: it was composed of ashes, dust, and bitumen, varied at certain levels by layers of salt. Salt also formed, with honey oil, fish, and wine, the staple commodities of the country.

After the successive fall of Spina and Hadria, three other cities, which had remained down to that time in comparative obscurity, acquired in their turn prominence and celebrity. Of these the most conspicuous in wealth and in industry was Aquileia. This place continued, for some length of time, to hold the first rank among the cities of Northern Italy. The river and maritime commerce of the Aquileians was equally considerable. Their traders penetrated by the Danube to Goritz and Belgrade, and perhaps even to Byzantium and the Roman colonies on the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Black Sea. The Po, the Tagliamento, the Livenza, the Adige, and the Brenta were covered with their carooes and freights. Their port was regarded as the general emporium of that part of the peninsula.

Other towns of leading importance at the same period were Patavium (Padua)—in the time of Strabo a manufacturing place of some note—Ravenna, Concordia, and Altinum.

The ancient port of Aquileia was the large island which extended along the upper margin of the salt lagoon to the south of Frijilili, and which was known as Grado. In the palmy days of Aquileia, with which it was connected by a mole of Roman construction, Grado seems to have been a place of some consideration. It is likely that it derived no small advantage from the unceasing traffic maintained by the Aquileians with every part of Italy. In the second century, or even earlier, the island formed a favorite residence of the bishops of Aquileia. who embellished it with orchards, pastures, vineyards, and olive-yards, and, in conjunction with Caprulae, one of the harbors of Altinum, it was frequently chosen as the quarters of the Roman array and the anchorage of the Roman fleet. More northward, and at a somewhat higher level, lay Torcello. In the time of the Romans, Torcello enjoyed considerable eminence. It was one of the ports of Altinum, the aristocracy of which were in the habit of resorting thither in the summer season for change of air. It was full of gardens and country-houses, and it was probably the fashionable watering-place of the day. Within quite recent times vestiges of Roman life and civilization have been recovered in excavating on the site of Venice for a variety of purposes, and there seems slight room for doubt that in remote ages the coast line was lower, and that the river silt and artificial embankment gradually and jointly buried many of the former human memorials of this locality, and obliterated many landmarks. It has been supposed that a branch of the Via Emilia passed or started very close to this point, and that here in the second century there was a Roman military station, since a grave discovered about six feet below the surface in the Bacino Orseolo bore the inscription: Milt. Coort. III, B. Centuria. The revolutionary changes, however, which have taken place on the present spot posterior to the Roman occupation, render it difficult to speak with confidence or to fix with certainty.

On the demise of Constantine the Great (337), his extensive dominions were divided among his three sons, Constantine, Constantius, and Constans. In 353 the violent death of his two brothers left the second son sole emperor. In 360, however, Constantius feeling incapable of sustaining the undivided weight of a vast and sinking empire was under the necessity of decorating his nephew Gallus with the purple, and of entrusting to his care the Eastern provinces. But the feeble and odious character of the new Caesar speedily procured his deposition and imprisonment in the fortress of Pola, where he died; and by the decease of Constantius himself in 361, the monarchy devolved on the accomplished Julian, who again was succeeded, after a reign of two years, by Jovian (363). The history of Rome from the accession of the last-named prince to the final partition of the empire forms a well-known page in history. The temporary check which the genius of Theodosius had given to the enemies of his country was far more than neutralized by a variety of influences. The Roman empire was overturned, in 409, by the Goths under Alaric.

Forty-three years later Attila or Etzel, king of the Huns, invaded Italy, where he hoped to find and to conquer a rich and feeble province, which the Romans, disunited by faction and enervated by luxury, seemed unable to protect. The horde of warriors, of whom Attila was the general and the sovereign, and which spread itself from the Caspian to the Danube, proudly traced their descent from the pastoral tribes which, two thousand years before the Christian era, were dwelling beyond the frontiers of China. As the newcomers, who, in the absence of fortified positions, had few or no obstacles to surmount, advanced toward the sea. the whole peninsula was laid waste and desolate; and the level plains of Lombardy, and the smiling fields of Umbria and Liguria, soon became a pre to invaders whose strange and uncouth mien was regarded by their victims with a feeling of pious horror. The maritime districts of Italy underwent, in their turn, a similar fate; and such of the inhabitants of those regions as had the courage and self-possession to effect their escape, sought shelter by a natural impulse in the neighboring lagoon. The Paduans fled to Malamocco and Rialto; those of Belluno and Feltre commenced the formation of a settlement to which they gave the name of Heracla. In Grade, which had hitherto been their Wapping or Leith, the Aquileians were happy to find an asylum for their wives and families. Eight miles from their native town of Concordia, in the Aquae Caprulanae, whose soil had hitherto yielded only to the footprints of the goatherds and their flocks, another colony founded the modern Caorlo. The inhabitants of Oderzo and Asolo betook themselves in the extremity of their distress to the Lido Cavallino (so called from its celebrated breed of horses), where they became the founders of a city, on which they bestowed the name of Jesulo or Equilo. Lastly, one third of the population of the once proud and opulent Altinum, unwillingly forsaking the banks of the Silis, set up a memorial of the home they had left behind them, by christening the six islands, on which they planted their new settlements, under the names of the six ports of their old home. Such was the origin of Torcello, Murano, Burano, Maggiorbo, Costanziaco, and Amiano.

The constituent elements of the new community, while they were slightly varied in regard to the place of immediate origin, bespoke the possibility of the early arrival at some definite scheme of policy borrowed from the system under which they had previously lived. Among the fugitives and exiles were persons of both sexes of the highest birth and of the most distinguished associations; and they brought with them to the lagoons some fruits of political training and some tincture of social cultivation. They were not barbarians or primitive aborigines, who had slowly to acquire the arts of civilized life, but men and women, who saw before them the arduous yet achievable problem of reconstructing on a fresh soil the shattered constitutional and social fabric which they had left behind them.

That the emigrants experienced meanwhile a long interval of wretchedness and poverty is almost unquestionable; and there is, at the same time, room for the hypothesis, that a certain number, to whose original pursuits and experiences their present home was more than ordinarily ill-adapted, endeavored, when the danger was removed, to retrace their steps. To what extent a reflux took place, we are left ignorant; and at any rate it was more than counteracted by the periodical succession of fresh irruptions and the slow growth of the insular settlement into habitability even for agriculturists and foresters.

The collapse of the Roman power under Romulus Augustus, numbering among its effects the withdrawal of Britain from imperial protection, may be said to have favored on the one hand the advance of the Saxon invaders and colonists to the shores of England, while on the other it exposed Italy to the aggression of the Huns and their successors. The incidents which accompanied the downfall of Rome formed the indirect basis of the rise of two empires, which were in turn to occupy a dominant position in the world—first, Venice, then Great Britain. On the ruins of the old Italy was to rise a new and even greater one, composed of different races, and governed by different conditions: not a single State, but a group of States, of which Venice was to become the foremost and almost the most durable, and to approach nearest to the Romans in a progressive policy of conquest and absorption.

It may be judged that in their choice of a government the members of the new commonwealth allowed themselves to be guided by the example of Rome herself, from which they in some measure traced their descent. At the outset the affairs of the exiles remained, it appears, under the management of Consuls elected at Padua; there was a brief interregnum, during which there was a sacerdotal government, presumably having its centre at Grado; and in 466 a convention of the principal citizens, finding, of course, that this species of administration was unsuitable, where the practical concerns of a trading and maritime society began to enter prominently into everyday life, assembled there, and formally constituted themselves into a Republic, with a Tribune for each island or each appointed division of the territory. The first political autonomy was therefore of ecclesiastical type, the consulate leaning on the mother-city, and lying more or less under its influence. The first Consular Triumvirate, which is traditionally reported to have been elected at Padua, and to have consisted of Alberigo Faliero, Tommaso Candiano (or Sanudo), and Zeno Daulo (or Dandolo)—names which circumstances render worthy of preservation—remained in office during three years; under the second, the dignity became triennial; and in 466 the Consuls were supplanted by annual Tribunes, who fluctuated in number, during a period of about 230 years, between one and twelve/ Of the nature and extent of an authority which has left few traces of its existence, it is of course difficult to form even an approximate notion: yet it is rational to suppose that at the outset these magistrates were required merely to administer justice and to preserve order; but it is quite worthy of remark that even at this early stage there was an incipient tendency to secure a balance of authority by the principle of nominating two officers either for the whole dominion or for the respective divisions of it, as at Sparta two kings were elected as mutual checks over each other; and this form of rule embraced an unrestricted jurisdiction over Church and State. At that primeval epoch, the general interests of the community were discussed and secured avowedly in periodical conventions (like the Roman Comitia), termed in the Venetian dialect Arrengo, composed of the whole adult male population of the islands, and long—indeed for centuries—held in the open air. Of such an assembly the desire to transform the right of public debate into a privilege or monopoly appears at least to be hardly predicable. But it is not difficult to trace in this representative system a fundamental want of compact organization. The Arrengo was manifestly too large and too factious an assembly to act in harmony, or to exercise a due control over public affairs. The weakness of the Legislature naturally strengthened the hands of the Executive; the Tribunes soon felt their power, and soon abused it; each aspired to absolute and undivided authority; and the nation had frequent cause to complain that their confidence was betrayed by a single magistrate who dared to infringe their dearest privileges.

The excesses of these annual magistrates, who indeed seldom bequeathed to those who came after them anything beyond the task of perpetuating civil discord and public misery, led, however, as a natural consequence, to several modifications at successive periods in the government. In 503, after forty-six years of confusion and discontent, an intelligent effort was made to centralize authority; one Gastaldo or Administrator was clothed by the national assembly with supreme jurisdiction; and this new form of administration endured through seventy-one years. In 574 the monarchic system fell into disrepute; a fresh revolution was wrought in the government, and the direction of affairs was then entrusted to ten Tribunes. Finally, in 654, two Gastaldo having been assigned to the island of Heracla, recently colonized by fugitives from Oderzo and other places in the vicinity, these magistrates were added to the existing number, which remained unchanged till the close of the seventh century.

The pressure of misfortune had not produced any impression of an enduring character on the higher, or permanently bettered the condition of the humbler, class of refugees. Sympathy might perhaps level for a while social distinctions: and want of shelter and food might unite men of different ranks, training, and associations, in obviating a common danger. But it is unsafe to believe that such an order of things continued to exist when the little colony grew into a city, and when its origin faded into a tradition.

During a long and peaceful reign of thirty-three years, Theodoric the Great was the lawgiver and the sovereign of a docile people, whose virtue and barbaric pride prompted them to imitate the arts and refinements of the nation which they had vanquished, and for a while, at least, to shun the vices which with those arts and those refinements had insensibly grown up. The Goths, who rapidly acquired the dominion of the vast region extending from Sicily to the Danube, and from Belgrade to the Atlantic Ocean, affected to disguise their power under the pleasing name of alliance or hospitality; and the wise moderation of their king led him to admit the Romans to the civil offices of the government, and not merely to tolerate, but to protect, the established religion of Italy.

Under the successors of this enlightened prince, the rapid decline of the empire which he had created, and the victories, of the illustrious Belisarius, lieutenant of Justinian, betrayed the gradual and furtive influence of climate and example over the susceptible mind of the Goth and the partial regeneration of a martial spirit in the breast of the Roman; and although the brilliant achievements of two later monarchs, or Vitigis and Totila, shed a parting ray of glory on the horizon, the commanding talents of the Eunuch Narses dispelled for ever the once-cherished hope of restoring to the Gothic kingdom of Italy the vigor and stability which it had possessed under Theodoric.

Among the well-known Letters of Cassiodorus, Pretorian Prefect of this great ruler, two derive a peculiar value from the fact that no other monuments exist of the state of Venice and the adjoining territory during the domination of the Goths in the Peninsula, and they indirectly testify to the recognition of the tribunal government alike by the Goths and by the Venetians. The first records a famine which visited the inhabitants about the year 520, and from which it appears that they were relieved by the humane interposition of Theodoric, who not only furnished them in their distress with every kind of provision, but permitted them to convert to their own use the corn and wine which they had collected, according to their annual custom, for the Royal Bouche. The second epistle, which is the more remarkable, was addressed in 523 to the imperial Tribunes of Venetia Maritima, who were therein exhorted not to neglect the transmission of the expected supplies of wine, oil. and honey from certain towns of Istria to the royal palace at Ravenna.

In point of substance and style, the latter exhibits a sense of power, softened by a love of figurative rhetoric; and its tone, though in a few places slightly authoritative, is, generally speaking, that of solicitation and advice. It portrays, in graphic but transparent colors, the delightful simplicity of Venetia and the Islands, whose people the writer fancifully likens to water-fowl passing an amphibious existence among the lagoons of the Adriatic; and on the whole, the letter, while it may be regarded as a fair model of Gothic composition, must be accepted as an unique historical document. At the same time it cannot but be suspected that, in giving publicity to a production which is certainly far too florid for a letter, far too vague and diffuse for a dispatch, the vanity of the author slightly outran the zeal of the magistrate, and that Cassiodorus was betrayed by a fondness for literary effect into the development of a simple note, until the note became an elaborate epistle.

“You,” exclaims the Prefect, “who own numberless boats on the confines of Ravenna, exhibit, I pray you, your devotion by transporting thither the tributes of Istria. It is added to your other blessings that a path is opened to you which is at all times exempt from danger: for when the winds rage, and the ocean is closed against you, it is left to you to sail up the pleasantest of rivers. Your ships fear not the sharp gusts. Towed by ropes, they skim along, and men assist the progress of the vessels with their feet. It is with satisfaction that I call to mind the manner in which your houses are situated. Venice on the south touches Ravenna and the Po; on the east it enjoys the prospect of the Ionian shore, where the tide in its flow and in its ebb alternately veils and uncovers the face of Nature. Here you live like sea-birds. Your houses are like the Cyclades, scattered over a watery expanse. To the waves of the ocean you do not hesitate to oppose a frail barrier of dykes, flanked by fascines of interlaced vine-stems. Your population knows but one means of subsistence—its fisheries. There the poor man and his rich neighbor live in equality. One kind of nutriment is common to all: one kind of dwelling shelters all. You do not quarrel about your Senates. Your salterns are your sole source of contention. Instead of ploughs, instead of pruning hooks, you turn cylinders. Thence arises all that you have and thence you procure the things which you have not. Among you money is struck in any fashion for the purchase of food. Any one is at liberty to seek gold; to find salt, there is no one but desires.”

From the language which the Prefect employs toward the subjects of his and their master, no certain conclusion can be formed as to the amount of deference which the adjacent little State of Venice considered it prudent to pay to so powerful and at the same time so generous a neighbor; but the Prefect’s letter has this other sort of value for us that it sheds a side light on the condition of the infant but growing Republic, and the mode of living of her people, just when the faintest glimpses are receivable with gratitude. Nor can there be any doubt that the letter was intended for communication to the Tribunes of the Republic as well as to the Gothic officials. Such a water service as is here indicated was exactly the homage which the first race of Venetians might legitimately offer to the Goths, and perhaps the only tribute which it was in their powder to pay. They had already, it may be presumed, gained a celebrity as pilots and mariners, who were known to excel in threading the sinuous and obscure channels of the lagoons; and, while the defense of the frontiers of their extensive dominions engrossed the attention of Theodoric and his successors, the latter not yet aiming at naval preponderance or maritime commerce, were not indisposed, perhaps, to accept the friendship of a small community which was too poor to gratify their cupidity, and too insignificant to tempt their ambition.

Yet, although the policy of the Goths toward the Venetians seems to have been characterized by uniform forbearance, the latter, sensible of their weakness and jealous of their freedom watched with extreme solicitude the progress of the war which broke out, shortly after the death of Theodoric, between his successors and the Greek Emperor. One instance, indeed, is recorded, in which their zeal carried them so far as to take an active share in the operations. In 550, Narses, the imperial lieutenant, whose headquarters were then at Ravenna, being desirous of effecting a junction with a large body of Lombard mercenaries whom he had received into his pay, and who were detained at Aquileia by a flood, solicited the aid of the Venetians, whose transports readily conveyed that valuable reinforcement to its proper destination. Two churches, one to St. Theodore, who appears to have been chosen by the islanders about this period as their tutelary saint, the other to the martyrs Menna and Geminian, were soon afterward erected at Rialto, on a plot of ground known as the Bruollo or Brolio, in the district of Gambarere, in commemoration of the service of the islanders, and as a token of the gratitude of Narses, by whose munificence Venice was placed in a position to indicate to future ages the origin and antiquity of her subsequently intimate connection with Constantinople. The character of the requital prepares us to believe that the service was highly appreciated, while the two timber churches probably represented the sole return for it, which was perhaps advisedly put in a complimentary form. The descriptions of costly materials used in these primitive structures are naturally suggestive of salvage from buildings on the terra Jirma either partially destroyed by invaders or partially dismantled by the inhabitants in anticipation of attack; and doubtless the Venetian pioneers acquired much acceptable help in this way, and were enabled by their naval skill and resources to transport the stones to their new destination. But the incident reveals a notable growth of resources on the part of Venice, and Narses learned, from the angry representations of the Paduans, that the colony in the lagoon was in part waxing prosperous and strong at their cost by the absorption of the coast and river trade.

After the death of Tejas, the task of constituting the Italian possessions of the Byzantine Court into a Viceroyalty or Exarchate devolved on the victorious general; and Narses, who became the first of the Greek Exarchs of Ravenna, was represented in all the towns or cities which still revered the majesty of the purple by a military Duke, whose authority was subordinate to the lieutenant of the Emperor. The successor of Belisarius governed and oppressed the Peninsula till the year 567, when Justin, alarmed by the murmurs of the Italians, sent Longinus in his stead. The supersession of Narses is said to have been due to the Empress Sophia. The former Exarch had during his term of office engaged in his service a body of Lombard mercenaries, as has been just mentioned; and he signalized his resentment at his dismissal by inciting that people to invade the peninsula, which they successfully did within a brief period.

There is no direct proof that the Prefect Cassiodorus ever paid an actual visit to Venice, although he is shown by his own expressions to have been fairly conversant with the topography of the islands and the condition of their inhabitants. Longinus, however, almost certainly went there, prior to his departure for Constantinople, in order to confer with the Emperor and receive general instructions; and the object of the new Exarch, apart from curiosity, was to procure the means of transport, which was readily granted to him and to prevail on the colonists to admit the suzerainty at least of his master, which the Venetians at first refused to do. For they declared that they had laboriously established themselves, as they had already told his predecessor, in that place, and made it what it was with the work of their hands in spite of all the dangers and hardships from Hun, Vandal, Goth, and Lombard; “and God,” quote they, “who is our help and protection, has saved us in order that we may dwell upon these watery marshes. This second Venice, which we have raised in the lagoons, is a mighty habitation for us. No power of emperor or prince can reach us save by the sea alone and of them we have no fear.” The reception of Longinus in or about 568 must have impressed him as powerfully and pleasantly as it today, through the old historian, impresses us. He was met by the people with great rejoicing, to the sound of bells, flutes, citterns, and other instruments, so that you could not have heard the thunder of heaven. The Exarch, so far as he was personally concerned, was favorable to their pretensions, and proposed an equitable compromise, to which the Republic acceded. It was on his return to Ravenna that he wrote to communicate his views. He confessed that he had found them a great and free people, and that they enjoyed perfect security. But let them promise to acknowledge the Emperor as overlord, and they should do so on their word of honor, without any oath of fealty. Which was settled, and representatives accompanied Longinus in the ship lent to him, returning home with the first regular treaty ever negotiated in the name of the people.

The Winili or Lombards {Longobardi) present themselves to our view, in succession to the Huns and the Goths, as conquerors and occupiers of the region lying in immediate proximity to Venice. Compared with that of the Goths, the Lombard dominion had a long duration; and during the 206 years which elapsed from the accession of Alboin, their first, to the deposition of Aistulph, their last king, that people gradually achieved the subjugation of Tuscany, Piedmont, Friuli, the Tyrol, the Milanese, Genoa, Mantua, Parma, and Modena, as well as a large portion of the Ecclesiastical States from Perugia to the Adriatic; and this ample superficies of territory was divided by the prevailing system of feuds into duchies, marquisates, and principalities, which the nobles taught their retainers to till with the plough, and to protect with the sword.

The Republic, on her part, contemplated with inquietude the rise of one monarchy after another on the skirts of the Lagoon; for the Venetians not unnaturally feared that as soon as these fresh usurpers had established themselves, they might form the design of adding the Islands of the Adriatic to their dominion, and thus of acquiring possession of the commercial advantages which belonged to the situation held by the settlers. For the Lombards, though not ranking among maritime communities, were not absolutely strangers to the laws of navigation, or to the use of ships, which might place them in a position to reduce to their sway a small, feeble, and sparsely populated area, separated from their own territories only by a narrow and terraqueous strait. Moreover, the predatory visits of Lupus, Duke of Friuli, whose followers traversed the Canals at low tide on horseback, and despoiled the churches of Heraclia, Equilo, and Grado, soon afforded sufficient proof that the equestrian skill of the strangers was capable of supplying to some extent any deficiency in nautical knowledge.

Venice at present formed a Federative State, united by the memory of a common origin and the sense of a common interest; the Arrengo, which met at Heraclia, the parent capital, at irregular intervals to deliberate on matters of public concern, was too numerous and too schismatical to exercise immediate control over the nation; and each island was consequently governed after the abolition of the primeval Consulate, in the name of the people, by a Gastaldo or Tribune, whose power, nominally limited, was virtually absolute. This administration had lasted nearly two centuries and a half, during which period the Republic passed through a cruel ordeal of anarchy, oppression, and bloodshed. The Tribunes conspired against each other; the people rebelled against the Tribunes. Family rose against family, clan against clan. Sanguinary affrays were of constant occurrence on the thinly-peopled lidi, and amid the pine-woods, with which much of the surface was covered; and it is related that in one instance at least the bodies of the dead were left to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey, which then yet haunted the more thickly afforested parts. In all parts of Italy, down to much later days, while the country remained more or less densely wooded, local and intertribal warfare in the forests was frequent and general, and one of the sources of sanguinary differences was the title to the unclear and inappropriate areas.

Jealousy and intolerance of the pretensions of Heraclia to a paramount voice in the policy of the community may be securely assigned as the principal and permanent source of friction and disagreement; but the predominance of that township seems to have resisted every effort of the others to supplant its central authority and wide sphere of influence; and during centuries it preserved its power through its ostensible choice as the residence of the most capable and influential citizens.

The scandalous and destructive outrages attendant on the sway of the Tribunes had become a vast constitutional evil. They sapped the general prosperity; they obstructed trade and industries; they made havoc on public and private property they banished safety and repose; and they impoverished and scandalized the Church.

At the same time the depredations of the Lombards, which grew in the course of time bolder and more systematic in their character, certainly indicated great weakness on the part of the Government. Yet it was equally certain that that weakness proceeded less from the want than from the division of strength.



THESE SACRILEGIOUS INROADS WERE NOT without their beneficial result; for they afforded those who might be disposed to institute reforms an admirable ground not only for bringing the matter more closely and immediately under the public observation, but they enlisted in the cause the foremost ecclesiastics, who might recognize in this internal disunion a danger of interminable attacks and depredations from without, if not an eventual loss of political independence; and accordingly, in the course of the spring of 697-8, the Patriarch of Grado himself submitted to the Arrengo at Heraclia a scheme, which had been formed by him and his friends, for changing the government. The proposal of the Metropolitan, which was, to a certain extent, a return to the principle adopted and tolerated from 503 to 574, was to divest the Tribunes of the sovereignty, and to have once more a magistrate, in whom all power might be concentrated. His title was to be Duke. His office was to be for life. With him was to rest the whole executive machinery. He was to preside over the Synod as well as the Arrengo, either of which it was competent for him to convoke or dissolve at pleasure; merely spiritual matters of a minor nature were alone, in future, to be entrusted to the clergy; and all acts of convocations, the ordination of a priest or deacon, the election of a patriarch or bishop, were to be subject to the final sanction of the Ducal Throne. In fact, the latter became virtually, and in all material respects. Autocrat of Venice, not merely the Tribunes, but even the hierarchy, which was so directly instrumental in creating the dignity, having now no higher function than that of advisers and administrators under his direction; and it was in matters of general or momentous concern only, that the Republic expected her first Magistrate to seek the concurrence or advice of the National Convention or Folkmoot.

In a newly formed society, placed in the difficult situation in which the Republic found herself at the close of the seventh century, and where also a superstitious reverence for the Pontiff might at present exist, apart from considerations of interest, it ought to create no surprise that the Patriarch and his supporters should have firmed an unanimous determination, and have taken immediate steps, to procure the adhesion of the Holy See, before the resolutions of the Popular Assembly were definitively carried into effect. It was a part of the incidence of succession to temporal authority, not a mere ceremonial or complimentary form, in all parts of Europe down to an infinitely later date. The Holy See was solicited, prior to the coronation of Henry VII and his union with Elizabeth of York, to grant its sanction, and to recognize the change of dynasty.

This measure simply indicates the character of the opinions which were received at the time in Europe, as well as the strong consciousness on the part of the Patriarch and those who acted with him, of the expediency of throwing the voice and countenance of the Church into the scale alike against the Tribunitial Oligarchy and against local jealousies and prejudices. There was perhaps in this case the additional inducement that the proposal to invest the Doge with supreme power and jurisdiction over the Church as well as over the State might seem to involve an indirect surrender, either now or life after on the part of the Holy See of some of its power, as a High Priest or Grand Pontiff, who was also a secular prince, might prove less pliant than an ordinary liegeman of the Church. But the men of 697 acted, as we must allow, sagaciously enough, when they presented their young country to the consideration of the Papacy as possessing a party of order, into which the Church entered, and from which it now stood conspicuously and courageously out to take this very momentous initiative. The creation of an ecclesiastical system had been one of the foremost aims of the first founders, who discerned in the transplantation of the churches of the terra firma and their familiar pastors to the islands the most persuasive reconcilement of the fugitives to a hard and precarious lot; and after all the intervening years it was the elders of the Church who once more stepped forward and delivered their views on the best plan for healing discord, and making life in the lagoons tolerable for all. They sought some system of rule, after trying several, which would enable them to live in peace at home, and to gain strength to protect themselves from enemies. They would have been the most far-seeing of human beings, if they had formed a suspicion of what kind of superstructure they were laying the foundation. The nearest model for their adoption or imitation was the Lombard type of government almost under their very eyes; and so far as the difference of local postulates suffered, it was that to which they had recourse, when they vested in their new chieftain undivided jurisdiction, but primarily military attributes and a title then recognized as having, above all, a military significance. The signal prominence of the ecclesiastical element in the early government of Venice was an exact counterpart of what we find in the annals of other European States, England included, in primitive times.

On the receipt of the desired reply, the Patriarch lost no time in calling on the National Assembly to follow up their late vote to its legitimate consequences; and the choice of the people fell on Pauluccio Anafesto, a native of Heraclia, whose name occurs here for the first time, but who may be supposed to have had some prominent share in promoting the late revolution. Anafesto was conducted to a chair which had been prepared for him in his parish church, and solemnly invested by the Metropolitan with the insignia of authority one of which is said to have been an ivory sceptre—a symbol and a material borrowed from the Romans, and at a later period in use in England at the coronation of a Queen.

This organic change in the government by no means involved the simultaneous extinction of the tribunitial office and title. But the truth is that the Tribunes continued (as in 503) to exercise municipal and subordinate functions many generations after the revolution of 697; each island of importance, such as Malamocco and Equilo, had its own Tribune, while of the smaller islands several contributed to form a Tribunate or Governorship; and the office, though neither strictly nor properly hereditary, still preserved its tendency to perpetuate itself in a limited number of families. It is only subsequently to the twelfth century that less is heard of the Tribunes; and the progress of administrative reform led to the gradual disappearance of this old federal element in the constitution.

In the time of Anafesto, the larger islands of the Dogado formed the seats of powerful factions; the disproportion in point of influence between the Crown and the Tribune of Malamocco or the Tribune of Equilo was but slightly marked; and the abolition of that magistracy was a much more sweeping measure than the first makers of a Doge would have dared to propose.

The military complexion of the Ducal authority was not confined to the personal character of the supreme officer of State, for under him, not as a novel element in the constitution, but as one which pre-existed side by side with the tribunitial system, served a Master of the Soldiers, whom there is a fairly solid ground for regarding as second to the Doge or Duke in precedence and above the civil Tribunes of the respective townships. To find in so small and imperfectly developed a State the two leading functionaries or ingredients deriving their appellations from a command and control over the rude feudal militia, might alone warrant the conclusion, that the most essential requirement of Venice, even when it had so far modified the form of administration, was felt to be the possession, under responsible direction, of a means of securing internal order and withstanding external aggression, if it were not the case that from the Gothic era onward we hear of “scholae militiae cum patronis,” manifestly the schools of instruction for the body over which the Magister militum presided. These seminaries existed in the days of the Exarch Narses, generations before a Doge was given to Venice. Yet, through all the time which has now elapsed since the first erection of a separate political jurisdiction, not only the Church, on which such stress was at the very outset laid, but a civil government, and regulations for trade and shipping, must have been active forces always tending to grow in strength and coherence. The Venetians, in constructing by degrees, and even somewhat at random, a constitutional fabric, very naturally followed the precedents and models which they found in the regions which bordered on them, and from which their forefathers had emigrated. The Lombard system, which was of far longer duration than its predecessors on the same soil, borrowed as much as possible from that which the invaders saw in use and favor among the conquered; and the earliest institutions of the only community not subjugated by their arms were counterparts either of the Lombard, the Roman, or the Greek customary law. The Doge in some respects enjoyed an authority similar to that which the Romans had vested in their ancient kings; but, while he was clothed with full ecclesiastical jurisdiction, he did not personally discharge the sacerdotal functions or assume a sacerdotal title. The Latins had had their Magistri popidi; and in the middle ages they recognized at Naples and at Amalfi a Master of the Soldiers: at Lucca, Verona, and elsewhere, a Captain of the People. But all these magistrates were in possession of the supreme power, were kings in everything save the name and the interesting suggestion presents itself that in the case of Venice the Master of the Soldiers, of whom we are to hear a good deal more hereafter, had been part of the tribunitial organization, if not of the consular one, and that one of the Tribunes officiated by rotation, bearing to the Republic the same sort of relationship as the Bretwalda bore to the other Anglo-Saxon reguli. There can be no doubt that Venice kept in view the prototypes transmitted by Rome, and learned at last to draw a comparison between the two empires; and down to the fifteenth century the odor of the Conscript Fathers lingered in the Venetian fancy.

Subsequently to the entrance of the Dux, Duke, or Doge on the scene, and the shrinkage of the tribunitial power to more departmental or municipal proportions, the Master of the Soldiers, whatever he may have been before, became a subordinate element in the administration. His duties almost certainly embraced the management of the militia and the maintenance of the Doge’s peace within the always widening pale of the Ducal abode. He appears to have held the same station here as the Tribune of the Cellars held in regal Rome and the Magister equitum under the Dictator. He was next in rank to the Crown or Throne.

Thus we perceive that, after a series of trials, the Venetians eventually reverted to the form of government which appeared to be most agreeable, on the whole, to their conditions and genius. The consular triumviri, not perhaps quite independent of external influences, were originally adopted as a temporary expedient. The Tribunes, who next succeeded, had duration of two hundred and fifty years. Their common fast are scanty and obscure; and we gain only occasional glimpses of a barbarous federal administration, which barely sufficed to fulfill the most elementary wants of a rising society of traders. They were alike, more or less, a machinery of primitive type, deficient in central force, and without any safeguards against the abuse of authority, without any definite theory of legislation and police. The century and a half which intervened between the abrogation of monarchy in the person of a tribune, and its revival in the person of a Doge (574-697), beheld the Republic laboring under the feeble and enervating sway of rival aristocratic houses, on which the sole check was the urban body subsequently to emerge into importance and value as the Militia of the six wards and its commandant, the Master of the Soldiers.

But while the institution of the Dogeship brought with it a certain measure of equilibrium and security, it left the political framework in almost every other respect untouched. The work of reform and consolidation had merely commenced. The first stone only had been laid of a great and enduring edifice. The first permanent step had been taken toward the unification of a group of insular clanships into a homogeneous society with a sense of common interests.

The late tribunitial ministry has transmitted to us as its monument little beyond the disclosure of a chronic disposition to tyranny and periodical fluctuations of preponderance. The so-called Chair of Attila at Torcello is supposed to have been the seat where the officer presiding over that district long held his court sub duo, while the Anglo-Saxon kings were being crowned in the open stone seat still preserved at Kingston-upon-Thames.

The Doge Anafesto appears to have pacified by his energy and tact the intestine discord by which his country had suffered so much and so long, and the Equilese especially, who had risen in open revolt, and had refused to pay their proportion of tithes, -were persuaded, after some fierce struggles in the Pineto or Pine Woods, which still covered much of the soil, to return to obedience. The civil war which had lately broken out between Equilo and Heraclia, was terminated by the influential mediation of one of the Tribunes; and the Lombards now condescended to ratify a treaty assigning to the Venetians the whole of the territory lying between the greater and the lesser Piave, empowering the Republic to erect boundary lines, and prohibiting either of the contracting parties from building a stronghold within ten miles of those lines. A settlement of confines between two such close neighbors was of the highest importance and utility. But a still more momentous principle was here involved. The Republic had exercised a clear act of sovereign independence. It had made its first Italian Treaty. This was a proud step and a quotable precedent.

At the same time, the long reign of Anafesto, which extended over twenty years (697-717), indicated the vacillating state of the public mind, still unprepared, as it seemed, to determine what form of government was most closely adapted to the nature of the country and the character of the people. Democracy had been a natural, almost an intuitive, tendency: monarchy can only be regarded as an equally natural experiment. Marcello Tagliano, Master of the Soldiers during the previous reign, was the next Doge, Heraclian chosen at Heraclia; and he appears to have governed satisfactorily till 726.

The third of the Doges, Orleo Orso of Heraclia, offers himself to our view as a man of intelligent ambition, who understood the multiplying wants and interests of a growing State. He had seen commerce and population increase within his memory greatly; he discerned a life and a spirit awakened everywhere, yielding good promise for the future. But he knew that the Republic had many powerful and unscrupulous neighbors, and that it could not be prosperous, unless it was secure. Venice appeared to him to have reached a stage in its progress, when its welfare, if not its actual existence, as a State must depend not alone on the resources which it had learned to create, but on its ability to protect and extend them. The Doge Orso comprehended his mission and his time. He improved the military schools, where the Venetian youth were instructed in the use of weapons and in the manipulation of projectiles and artillery; and there is an indication of an arsenal and of a palace at Heraclia, enclosed within a fortified pale, and devoted to official purposes as well as to the residence of the Doge.

In 735, Ravenna, which the successors of Narses still retained as their place of residence and as the seat of their Viceregal government, fell into the hands of Liutprand, who confided the defense and preservation of the conquest to his nephew Ildeprand, and to Perideus, Duke of Vicenza. The Exarch, Paul Eutychius, finding safety only in flight, met with a hospitable reception in the neighboring Lagoon; and his application to the Venetians for assistance was promptly seconded by a letter from the Roman Pontiff, who implored the Doge to co-operate with Eutychius in rescuing Ravenna from the Lombards. The visit of the Exarch was certainly such as might tend to give a new turn to men’s thoughts, for a stranger of such distinction had not set his foot in the city, so far as is known, since 5 68, when his predecessor Longinus was there. The Doge was naturally ambitious; a prospect now seemed to be opening before him of acquiring a reputation among his fellow-citizens, of which his tranquil reign had so far excluded the possibility; and he determined to advocate a compliance with the joint prayer of the Pope and the Exarch. His appeal was powerfully supported by the growing uneasiness with which the Republic regarded the preponderant power of the Lombard kings; and after becoming deliberation the Folk-moot decided on espousing the cause. In taking this adventurous step, by which it was exceedingly likely that they would incur the vengeance of a neighboring Power and a nominal ally, there can be no doubt that the Venetians were chiefly actuated by a desire to ingratiate themselves with the Court of which the Exarch was the representative: a people wise in their generation were sensible that it was of the utmost consequence to a community, to whom commerce was vital, to cultivate the friendship of the masters of Constantinople and the Euxine; and it was now, scarcely forty years after the establishment of the Dogeship, that the Republic contracted its first offensive alliance against the same Lombards whom a prior generation had been so anxious to conciliate, not only with the Greeks, but with the Pontiff, who forgot religious differences in the presence of a common enemy.

In the meantime, the Lombard king, having left a numerous garrison in Ravenna, under the joint charge of his nephew and of the Duke of Vicenza had drawn off his troops from that place, and lay at present encamped at some distance. The moment was therefore favorable to the prosecution of the enterprise. Still the prudent Doge determined to proceed with wary steps, and to have recourse to a stratagem. His design consisted in circulating a report that Eutychius had failed to carry his object, and, at the same time, in favoring a supposition that the small fleet, which was soon in course of preparation, was destined to sail on an expedition to the East; while, in reality, the Exarch proceeded to Imola, with the intention of raising an auxiliary corps, and the Doge was exerting every means in his power to be in readiness, on a given night, to act in concert with his new ally before the walls of Ravenna. The feint was ingenious, well executed, and successful at the same time that a few troops, under Eutychius, invested Ravenna on the land side, a small squadron under the Doge blockaded Classis (the part which lay toward the harbor) from the sea; and the Lombards, puzzled in which direction to turn their arms, situated as they were between two foes, found it necessary, after a brief though manful resistance, to evacuate the city. The Exarch was immediately reinstated in his viceroyalty; the anger of the Lombard king was mollified by the free release of his nephew; and the services of Orso were inexpensively rewarded by the Byzantine Court with the title of Imperial Consul.

The participation in the recovery of Ravenna, which was ascribed by his partisans in principal, if not exclusive, measure to the valor and ability of the Doge, had a natural tendency to aggravate a certain jealousy, already existing among the other townships, of the political supremacy of Heraclia, which this triumph was calculated to strengthen. There is no real ground for the supposition that the Doge misused or overstepped the authority which his fellow-citizens had reposed in him; but he was firm and energetic, and not only enjoyed the confidence of his friends and clients, but the sympathy and support of an only son, who shared his capacity and enterprising foresight. Some of the other communities, which comprised the Dogado, and particularly the Malamocchese and Equilese, viewed with real distaste and perhaps feigned alarm the absorption of power, not so much perhaps by one township as by one family, and a civil war, which had a duration of about two years, broke out very shortly between the Heraclians on one side, and Malamocco, succored by Equilo, on the other. Of the particulars we know next to nothing; but the result was, that Heraclia was vanquished, the gates of the palace forced, and the Doge assassinated (A.D. 737-8).

The unhappy end of Orso, accompanied by a sentence of perpetual banishment against his son, speaks more eloquently to us than any explicit document which we possess of the attitude and relation of parties in the Republic, speaks of a city already divided between two or three great feudal unions at a period when the islands were thinly peopled, and when much ground was covered with forest and under wood, and what Ave shall hereafter call Venice was almost uninhabited. The fate of the Orso was no passionate outburst of popular resentment, but a deliberate effort to wrest the sovereignty from a single township and a single member of it. It was a commencing struggle for the mastery between Heraclia and its rival Malamocco, and the latter for the present, at least, had gained the upper hand.