Venice – Regression to the Mean

IH Season 1: Venice, episode 6: Regression to the Mean

Welcome to Italian Histories. I’m Jordan Bradley and this is Venice, Episode 6: Regression to the Mean

Last episode we met the pirates of the Adriatic, and saw Agnello Participazio successfully rebuild Rivoalto and the rest of the lagoon, and forge a new Venetian identity with the acquisition of the relics of San Marco from Alexandria. Again, this is one small episode in 1,700 years of Venetian history as we know it, but the importance of this new icon to creating a unified lagoon that would be Venetian, and an independent state that would be neither Roman, nor Byzantine, nor French, nor German, but, as my favorite Venetian baker says, “tutta un altra cosa,” – a completely different thing – can’t be overstated. Neither can the importance of connecting San Marco with Ducal power, rather than with the Patriarch or Bishop as tradition expected, be overstated. This was a refounding in every essential sense of the word.

Speaking of Venetian bakers, I was able to go to Italy earlier this year with my mom both for her birthday, and to honor my kid sister, Moira’s, memory. In 2019; Moira and I started planning a trip to Italy for her 30th birthday in April of 2020. Unfortunately, before COVID could ruin those plans, she died from a fast-acting brain tumor. It meant a lot to me and my mom to take Moira’s cameras (she a was professional photographer) and take some of the pictures for her that she was never able to take herself. While we were in Italy, we spent a few days in Venice and I fell in love with fritelle. They are these fried balls of dough with various dried fruits rolled in, and then rolled in sugar. Crispy on the outside, and soft and fragrant on the inside. MMM, chef’s kiss. On one of our trips to a small corner bakery in search of one of these lovely fritelle, I saw what I thought were sfogliatelle. Sfogliatelle are these cone shaped pastries that are traditionally filled with citrus-scented ricotta, and then dusted with powdered sugar. They are explosively crunchy with a soft flavorful center and traditionally hail from further south in the Campania region around Napoli, but you can find them all over now with a variety of fillings like cream, marzipan, and custard. Making the mistake of thinking that the sfogliatella shaped pastry was a sfogliatella, I asked for one in addition to the fritella, and because I spoke Italian, I was kindly disabused of my misunderstanding. A sfogliatella, I was told, is shaped like a shell, and is filled with ricotta. A codina, which they had in this fine venetian establishment, was filled with a sugar base and shaped like a tail, hence its name codina (little tail). Now that you know this, I can assure you that they are completely different things. Haha, “ti guiro, sono tutta un altra cosa.” I’ve done research since, I got home to learn more about the origine of codine, but I have not been able to find anything definitive, but it is such a great insight into the mind of an Italian. If you look at the deserts side by side, the little tail of a codina is going to look a lot like the shell of the sfogliatella, but the fillings where different (don’t tell Venice, but ricotta is better) and more importantly the stories are different, and I loved the correction.

As for the city outside its bakeries, Venice was glorious – we just wandered, stretched and strained our necks in every church and cathedral we came across, ate amazing food, watched the preparations for Carnevale, went to a Serie B calcio match, learned to row a gondola, worked with molten glass, and bought a new suitcase so I could bring home the window shopping – including a new five volume history written by local author Giovanni DiStefano. It is excellent so far and has been helpful for me in finding answers to so many questions I have from these early centuries of Venetian history. I’m really happy to have found it in a nice book shop down the street from Piazza San Marco.

And since I’m starting with tangents, once more aside before we jump into this episode: I want to say thank you to the hundreds of you who have listened to every episode so far. I had been talking about doing this podcast for years, and shortly after I started writing the first episodes, my wife left me in catastrophic fashion, which has fed some serious struggles with depression and anxiety. I also started a new job this year and was still running our family businesses until I sold it late this summer, and I have been struggling to find the right schedule and routine to write and the produce episodes up to the standard I’d like with equipment and resources I have. All this to say, first, I am so grateful for my friends who have supported me through this divorce and encouraged me to keep returning to this project; second, if you are hurting, you are not alone and there is help available. I am very grateful for my therapist who has helped me not just get though this time, but get better, and continue to heal; and third, I have learned so much respect for the people who have produced their own podcasts and run these as passion projects that have inspired me to finally do the same, and I’m grateful that whoever you are, that you’ve found this podcast and are enjoying it. I’ve struggled and failed to produce regular episodes for a year and half now, but I see new listens every week and have been grateful. Thank you for sharing it with your friends. I love Italy and it makes me happy to share that love with you, and I’m going to work on getting the momentum back to share these with you regularly.

Now, returning to Venice at the death of Doge Agnello Partecipazio: History teaches us a hard lesson – that those who rely on the virtues of a single man for good government will always be disappointed, because good men are hard to find, and good men with political virtue are even harder to find, and they always die, so that, even in the best case scenario, like the one Venice just prospered in, you are only one generation away from disaster.

Agnello, for all of his virtues, was just like his predecessors in his efforts to make the Doge an hereditary office. While his oldest son, Giustiniano was away in Constantinople, Agnello elevated his next son Giovanni to Co-Doge. When Giustiniano returned, he was so upset that he moved his family out of the Ducal palace. Agnello, in an attempt to reconcile with Giustiniano, deposed Giovanni and elevated Giustiniano to Co-Doge. After that still wasn’t enough to make Giustiniano happy, Giovanni was banished to Zara, modern-day Zadar in Croatia. Giovanni, understandably, did not take this well, escaped and travelled around Europe until word reached Venice that he was seeking an audience with Emperor Louis the Pious.[1] These kinds of audiences tend to lead to foreign invasions, so the Doges Agnello and Giustiniano sent ambassadors to Emperor Louis and asked for the refugee to be returned to Venice. Once Giovanni was returned, he was sent off to Constantinople with his wife. A more prestigious exile, but still exile.

Giustiniano, as mentioned last episode, oversaw the culmination of the plan to bring San Marco to Venice, and associated the saint with ducal authority. He also received an envoy from the Byzantine Emperor asking for assistance from the Venetians against a Saracen invasion of Sicily. This was a more general term in these times to describe those who professed Islam, but we’ll get into the details of who the Saracens were and of that battle in Season Two when we go to Sicily, but for now, what matters to us is that this is the first historical indication of the strength and reputation of the Venetian fleet as it was asked to come to the aid of the Byzantines not only outside the lagoon, but also outside the Adriatic sea, and the prestige it brought to Venice was not insignificant. These are both great achievements, but they were Giustiniano’s only achievements, because he died after only ruling for two years.

Knowing that he was going to die, and not having children of his own, Giustiniano recalled Giovanni, the despised younger brother who is the poster child for nepo-babies everywhere, and made him co-doge, again flaunting the idea of some form of popular selection of the doge that his father flaunted in appointing him. A number of high-ranking Venetians were not happy about Giovanni’s appointment, so they conspired to bring back Obelerio Antenoreo after almost 20 years in exile in Constantinople and restore him as Doge.

Doge Giovanni learned about the plot, but could not find Obelerio, so he burned the two islands where support for the conspiracy was the strongest – Malamocco and Vigilia. This flushed out Obelerio and he was captured and hung. Obelerio’s brother, Beato, vowed revenge, and for his troubles was decapitated and had his head displayed on a pike as a traitor. At this point, Giovanni seems to have become aware of having overplayed his hand and, when he heard of a new conspiracy rising against him shortly after having so forcefully quashed this one, he fled Venice for the protection of the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor. In his absence, a tribune from the pro-Constantinople faction, Pietro Caroso, was placed in the Ducale role. Caroso’s hold on power was tenuous though because of the same factional conflict. He was never recognized as a Doge, and he was under constant threat. 30 of Venice’s leading citizens, and all partisan’s of the pro-Partecipazio faction, smelled the metaphorical blood in the water and organized an uprising after 6 months to retake the government. They showed a small degree of mercy, and no small deference to Constantinople, by merely blinding and exiling Caroso, rather than killing him. His three primary counselors were not so fortunate and were murdered.

Doge Giovanni was welcomed back with a festival-like atmosphere and a false peace settled on Venice for the next four years, as the direct shows of force disappeared, but the self-serving and uninspiring rule of Giovanni continued to cause tensions within the upper classes. The lost ships and profits from increasing piracy finally lit the unforgiven and long simmering embers of the burned cities of Malamocco (which was rebuilt) and Vigilia (which never was) and a new conspiracy organized against Giovanni. He was finally captured outside a church where he was helping to officiate the ceremonies, deposed, and forcefully shaved bald on top of his head like a monk – to tonsure, which is a fun verb to have in your arsenal – and made to wear a monk’s habit and exiled to a church in Grado, where he would soon die.

For their next Doge, the factious Venetian tribunes chose Pietro Tradonico. We know that he came from an outsider’s lineage, his family having moved from Istria – the peninsula south of Trieste that is now in modern-day Croatia – to Aquilea, and then Rivoalto. He was illiterate and had to use the medieval tradition of signing his documents with a signum manus – a personalized design that stood in for his signature. But he was well-known and well-trusted enough to be elected as the 13th Doge by at least a small majority of the competing factions even if the exact reasons he was chosen have been lost to history. An extra peculiarity of his place in the history books: all the records of the time simply call him Doge Pietro, while it was not until a couple centuries later that a famous chronicler, Giovanni Deacono – John the Deacon as he appears in English history books – started adding the surname Tradonico. I generally have preference for respecting formal titles, but I like the hominess of Doge Pietro, and I’d like to imagine that it shows some virtue worth celebrating that the focus was on his name and not his family’s. But enough of my conjecture – whatever the reasons for choosing Pietro, he was a man on the rise with powerful connections.

Venice was faced with almost constant external threats to which Doge Pietro energetically responded…with mixed results. On the unequivocally positive side, in 840 Doge Pietro met with the King of Italy, Lothair I, in Pavia, a town south of Milano, and signed the Tratatto di Pavia, also known by its Latin name, the Pactum Lotharii. This agreement ratified previous treaties and left Venice free from imperial taxes and control at all ports, on all rivers, and all land that Venetian merchants traversed. This is a tremendous amount of freedom and highlights the reach and importance of Venetian trade to the Holy Roman Empire. The treaty also gives us a map that shows the extent of the Venetian State and the Doge’s control. I have not found a physical map from this time period, but I’ll draw up one the best I can as an overlay on a modern map and put that in the show notes on the website. I don’t mean to overwhelm you with a list of names, but I think it is very cool that the now 18 island communities of the lagoon are named here in the treaty and I’ll read them off for you here so you have pronunciation when you check out the map: Rialto, Olivio/Castello, Murano, Malamocco, Albiola, Chioggia, Brondolo, Fossone, Loreo, Torcello, Ammiana, Burano, Cittanova/(già Ereclea), Fine, Equilo/Jesolo, Caorle, Grado, and Cavarzere. Lastly, the treaty also ratified previous expressions of Venetian independence and specifically identified Venice as Dux Venticorum, giving Venice the acknowledgment of its rights as an independent political state – a practice that remains foundational to international law today.

Map of cities Venetian cities mentioned in the pactum Lotharii
I was unable to locate Fine, and I might be wrong about the location of Fossone (it is a lost city), and I marked the other named cities that have been lost to the elements over time.

Doge Pietro also received numerous honors and titles from the Byzantine emperor as Venice was asked to come to the Empire’s service in fighting the Saracens. It was not immediately clear at the time, but history recognizes Doge Pietro as the first Doge that was fully independent from the Eastern Empire. As I read the various histories, it is easy to read Pietro’s outsider and unknown status as an intentional choice to put Venice on a stronger independent footing, which is something historians for Venice have long done, but I’m not convinced the choice was as intentional as some claim, and even if it were the choice of the Venetian tribunes, voting for a desired end and achieving it are two different things, and Doge Pietro deserves some credit for making this independence happen, especially when just a few short years before the Eastern Empire still had the pull to appoint a tribune amongst all the factional strife.

In addition to this international independence, evidence of important state building activities start showing up during Doge Pietro’s rule. We’re a couple hundred years away from the establishment of the first proper Zecca di Venezia, or state mint, but there are coins from Doge Pietro’s time that show efforts to normalize state currency, as well as a regulate mail service that controlled not only its own communication, but could also place bans on communication from one region to another. Lastly, the Doge’s family paid for the construction of La Chiesa di San Polo. You can still visit the square and the church by this name, though it has undergone rebuilding over the centuries.

On the mixed bag and unequivocally negative side, though energetic in his military responses, the results were poor. In 838, the Saracens laid siege to Brindisi, an important port in modern day Puglia in Southern Italy at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea, that was controlled by the Byzantines and facilitated commerce between the Italian peninsula and the Eastern Empire. The Byzantines asked Venice for their assistance in breaking the siege, but the city still fell, Venetian support notwithstanding. The Saracens had reached an agreement with Napoli around this time and that allowed them to focus on other important ports and quickly move up the peninsula. In 839, the Saracen’s used this agreement to their advantage and laid siege to Ancona, another important port city roughly 190 miles/300 kilometers south of Venice, and the Venetian fleet was defeated, and Ancona sacked and razed. In 840, the Venetians were asked to join an attack on Taranto, another port in Puglia, to help break the Saracen siege. The Saracens played rope a dope and feigned a retreat toward Crotone, where they strung out the Byzantine and Venetian fleets before turning to attack, defeating the Byzantines and putting the Venetians on the run. The Venetians suffered multiple defeats as they were chased back up the length of the Adriatic, until they reached the mouth of the Po river and the topography of the lagoon gave the Venetians an advantage. The Saracens did not retreat, but swung across to the east side of the Adriatic in a move that if not successful in flanking the Venetians, would pin them in the lagoon and cut off their profitable lines of commerce. Doge Pietro himself went out with the fleet to defend against this threat, and though Venetians suffered significant losses in these battles, they were able to win and repel the Saracens. Doge Pietro took the opportunity of being on the Dalmatian coast with a victorious fleet to address piracy problems personally and made an alliance with the Dalmatians on the coast against the Narentian pirates…that lasted about as long as the remaining Venetian fleet was in the harbor. Not because the Pirate leader was not true to his word, but because pirates that don’t generally have back up plans or economically viable alternative career paths. A disgruntled pirate took the old adage, “no honor among thieves” as permission and killed the pirate leader. Piracy was quickly restored under new management and Doge Pietro’s next effort at personally leading the fleet against the pirates again failed.

In 842 the Saracen threat ran rampant up the peninsula, pushing up through Calabria and Puglia until they once again threatened to pin the Venetians into the lagoon. The battle was extremely bloody and costly on both sides, and the Slavs in the region, seeing the opportunity to really stick it to the Venetians, readied their fleet and set out to attack the wounded remains of the Venetian fleet. Fortunately, the Saracens withdrew from the battle and what was left of their forces returned to focus on central Italy, which allowed the Venetians to regroup and disengage but not exactly retreat from the slavs and pirates. But the threat remained constant for years with the Slavs becoming so brazen as to raid Caorle and attack the lagoon itself – something they were far more competent in doing from their own river hideout experience than any previous Venetian adversary.

This failed military record is without a question a black mark on Doge Pietro’s rule, but I want to emphasize that this was part of the mixed bag of his rule. Even after all these defeats, Venice was still rising in esteem and raising its importance in international imperial politics. In 855, Pope Benedict III fled to Venice for protection from the Antipope Anastiasius. An antipope is a person making competing claims to have legitimate authority to rule the church, and was effectively the leader of the opposing army in Catholic civil wars. We’ll dive deeper into those in our season on the Papal States. For now, Pope Benedict’s refuge in Venice gives us three great tidbits. One, the independence it had from its military, political, and theological sources was sufficient to protect a Pope in a Civil War. Two, the Pope was extremely grateful for the protection and when he returned to Rome he gave La Chiesa di Santa Zaccaria, and the convent who had housed him, a number of important relics which only further augmented Venice’s prestige. And lastly, in response to these great gifts given to the monastery, the Abbess, Agostina Morosini, gave the Doge a new Ducal Crown. The crown – berretto dogale – was quilted with lines of gold sequins, had 24 orient pearls around the brim, a large diamond at the top of the crown, a ruby in front, and in the middle a cross made of 23 emeralds, of which the five in the transverse of the cross were so exquisite that they were described as “di una lucentezza sfolgerante,” a dazzling or blazing shine. This crown was of such value that it was only worn at coronations, but it showed the great wealth of Venice and became the model for every piece of Ducal headwear thereafter. La leggenda del corno dogale, the legend of the ducal crown was born.

In 856 the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Lothair II, acknowledged all the rights in the Pactum Lotharii, and then in 863 came personally to the Lagoon to see its reputed beauty and way of life, and he helped officiate the baptism of Co-doge Giovanni’s daughter. In medieval politics, this was serious state building, but even this triumphant occasion for Venice turned out poorly for Doge Pietro.

Shortly after Emperor Lothair II left, co-Doge Giovanni died. I am unable to find what he died of, the records just say it was suddenly. And the sudden loss of any projected stability with the loss of aging Doge Pietro’s heir sent the factional conflict alight once again, and in under a year Doge Pietro was stabbed to death as he exited Santa Zaccaria and conflict exploded in the streets. When it was safe, the monks snuck outside and recovered the Doge’s body and buried him in the church.

Important changes were happening in Venice though, and you can see those structural and societal changes come to the front following the assassination of Doge Pietro. Investigations were made, three judges were quickly nominated, and trials were held that ultimately led to the execution or exile of condemned individuals and in some cases their kids to Constantinople and the Holy Roman Empire. The same factional and self-interested violence which had been roiling in Venice since its foundation was still here, but this is the first organized effort – both socially and institutionally – to take away the rewards of gaining power through a malevolent uprising.

We also see that the new Doge, Doge Orso Partecipazio I was elected by judges and counselors, not by tribunes, which shows an important shift in the political hierarchy of Venice and the removal of the vestiges of Eastern rule and social influence through the tribunes. One record identifies Doge Partecipazio I as “a man of great wisdom and profound piety, and a lover of peace.”[2] He issued a ban on slave trading in Venice, and he was far more successful in his efforts against the pirates, himself leading a successful fleet to defeat the Slavs, Croats, and Dalmations in 880. During his reign, Venice also faced a rising threat of competition and loss of market share from Comacchio, an emerging power on the mouth of the Po river. The Venetians engaged in a medieval corporate take over, heavy on the hostility, and sent the fleet to decimate Comacchio. They did not eradicate Comacchio in a single blow – this will go on for another 50 years or so – but this was an incredibly important step in securing what would grow into their empire, and it is easy to overlook in all the tumult of this era.

Like the Doges before him, Orso’s son Giovanni was made co-Doge, but unlike the co-rulers before him, the appointment was not simple nepotism or hereditary rule. After leading a fleet of 30 ships to a successful campaign against the Saracens, it is recorded that he was voted to the office by popular consent. So when the Doge died of natural causes, Giovanni Partecipazio II slid seamlessly into his place.

Doge Giovanni II continued to apply pressure on Comacchio and sent one of his brothers to Rome to ask Pope Giovanni VIII for permission to govern the city. The city’s current count, who stood to lose all his lands, serfs, and income if Venice took over governing, was not happy with this plan and instead chose to capture the envoys, and then return the brother to Venice, but mortally wounded, to notify Venice of his displeasure with their request. In retaliation, Doge Giovanni II razed the land around Ravenna, putting everything a ferro e fuoco, to the sword and fire, and then occupied the land. Pope Adriano III (Popes don’t last long these days, so we’ll go through three in this story) was afraid that the Holy Roman Emperor, who had given the Papacy the lands, would take them away if Papacy did not defend them, so he excommunicated the entire lagoon. This meant that not only were the individuals themselves excommunicated, but no church activities were allowed anywhere in the lagoon – no baptism, no eucharist, no confession, no bells. You all can go straight to hell is, I believe, the loose translation of the Latin. When Adriano died, the Venetians were hopeful the new Pope, Stefano V, would lift the excommunication, but they were quickly disabused of that hope, and it was only lifted once they returned the lands they occupied in Comacchio to the count and the Papacy that the excommunication was ended.

In 887, Doge Giovanni Partecipazio II asked for and received permission to abdicate for health reasons and turn the Dogeship over to his brother Orso, who himself immediately declined the offer to be Doge. The same day, a number of powerful and influential Venetians quickly organized themselves and went to Pietro Candiano and took it upon themselves to elect him Doge. Doge Candiano had a great reputation as a mediator between the factions of Venice that allowed the swift move to place him in power to go unchallenged. He quickly organized a fleet to sail against the Narentian Pirates, and was promptly killed in the battle. He was the first Doge to die in battle, and the Narentians added insult to injury by imposing a tribute payment on the Venetians that will last over a century.

Following this tragic turn, the assembly asked Giovanni to return as Doge, which he did, but again had to ask leave shortly there after for health problems. He also refused to name a successor, again showing that a fear of nepotism was causing a change in mores in Venice. But we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, because the nephew of Doge Pietro Tradonico, the one murdered in front of San Zaccaria, was elected as the next Doge. Pietro Tribuno brought some much needed stability as the 9th century wound to a close, but was also capable of fast action and quality leadership when, at the turn of the century, the Hungarian Magyars, began raiding and then overran the Northern Italian plains and set their sights on capturing Venice. Their barbarism bordered on inhumane, with reports of cannibalism in some records of the time. Doge Tribuno directed the construction of fortifications around the political center of the lagoon, the island sections at the heart of what we call Venice today, but in the time it took to build those walls, the Magyars had captured and sacked Cittanova, Equilio, and Altino to the North, and then cirled down to the south of the lagoon and sacked Cavarzere, Chioggia, Pellistrina, and any other settlements on their way as they pushed up the lidi to the heart of the lagoon. Fortunately for the Venetians, once the Magyars had reached that far, they were forced to fight on the lagoon, and their hide-covered wicker basket technology that got them across rivers quickly was no match for the sturdy construction of the Venetian fleet. Doge Tribuno recognized the fortune of this victory and continued to build more defenses around the heart of the lagoon, strengthening the walls and adding an iron chain that could be drawn tight across the Grand Canal to add additional protection should an enemy with proper sea faring capacity arise against Venice.

After Doge Tribuno died of natural causes in 911, a rather remarkable life achievement for a Doge so far, his son Domenico assumed his place as ruler, but only provisionally. He is not included on the lists of Doges, and many historians have commented on the strange lack of records and explanation for leaving the ducal seat vacant during this time. Whatever the reason, after 8 months, a replacement was finally elected and the transition appears to have been peaceful. Doge Orso Partecipazio II, no relation to any of the previous Partecipazi, led Venice through a relatively peaceful period of 20 years and maintained the increasingly difficult balance of remaining allies to both the Holy Roman Empire of the west and the Byzantine Empire of the east.

After 20 years of maintaining this balance though, Doge Orso Partecipazio II renounced the dogeship and became a monk al Monestero dei Santi Felice e Fortunanto, for another 20 years. I think his renunciation of the dogeship was due to the increasing pressure on that balance between the pro-east and pro-west factions within Venice, and the increasing pressure on Venice to follow the western model of feudalism because of its geographic proximity, but that is just my reading of the situation.

Whatever the case, the next doge, Doge Pietro Candiano II, rang in the changes. First, having learned from their excommunication the last time the Venetians had an open conflict with Comacchio and captured it, this time they burned it to the ground after another conflict over the salt trade led to Comacchio ambushing and taking several Venetians prisoner. For the feudal lords of the Papal States, there was nothing left to claim, and it would take several hundred years for Comacchio to rebuild.

Doge Candiano II then started a strategy that would see Venice build a chain of free ports that would allow Venice to become an empire. In 933, the Doge laid siege to the port of Capodistria and asked them to accept Venice’s protection and allow Venice free passage and tariff free selling in order to lift the blockade. Capodistria, modern day Koper in Slovenia – sorry, I don’t know proper Slovenian pronunciation – had itself been a free republic since the 568 invasion of the Lombards, and shared a number of important, foundational elements with Venice – it was tied to the story of the arrival of the argonauts, it was a former Roman city, and it had managed to stay independent until this point. But Doge Candiano II didn’t let sentimentality and similarity slow him down. Venice needed more safe ports, more places to take on water and supplies, more places to seek safe refuge, and more places to sell goods. Subjugating a city state, and following the model of vassalage down the coast would allow Venice to expand without coming into military conflict with powerful feudal lords, or upsetting the balance of their relationship between the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires.

Following Doge Candiano II’s death, Pietro Partecipazio was elected Doge and has two claims to fame. First, the tenuous one is that he asked for his surname to be changed to Badoer, a name which DiStefano says shows his ancestral ties to the Eastern Empire, and other historians say was inserted to give an aristocratic family that will rise to prominence in the thirteenth century a more rooted place in Venetian history than they actually had. That we have no evidence that the story is true, other than it has been told with no basis for a long time, is *chef’s kiss* so Venetian. The second is, I think, the best – Doge Pietro Partecipazio oversaw the building of the first hospital in Venice which took care of the sick, but also housed the poor, pilgrims staying Venice for the next leg of their journey, and orphans. I quite like that expansive understanding of a hospital.

In 942 Pietro Candiano III succeeded in accomplishing by election of L’Aregno, the ruling council which was becoming more organized and stable, what his father had failed to do by hereditary appointment, and became the next Doge. He quickly moved to defend the position of the Patriarch of Grado from a recent raid by the Patriarch of Aquilea and laid siege to the whole city until the Patriarch of Aquilea publicly recognized his wrong and promised not to do anything else to upset the Doge or Venetian lands in the future.

His most famous victory would come after il Rapimento delle Spose Veneziane – the kidnapping of the Venetian Brides. We have seen Venice protected by the seemingly impenetrable lagoon from a variety of foreign threats in the 500 years we have covered so far, but the inexperience with the lagoon was not a difficulty for the Narentian pirates. The Venetians, following ancient tradition[3] and celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of San Marco, would have a public marriage ceremony where twelve women would bring the most valuable portions of their dowry that were easily portable and would be married off to great public fanfare, like a glamourous bachelorette auction, but far more offensive to our modern sensibilities. The Narentian pirates, aware of the social calendar and the riches present at the event, and emboldened by their success attacks at the periphery of the lagoon, went all in with a surprise attack on the wedding itself. There are two different accounts of the story: in one, the pirates sneek into Olivolo/Castello, ambush the ceremony, kill anyone who reacts to their attack, and then flee with the brides and their dowries; in the other, the pirates ambush the boats on their way to the ceremony and capture the brides and all their possessions and flee directly from there. But both stories end the same way: the pirates intention was to sell the brides as high value slaves to buyers in the Levant, but Doge Candiano III quickly organized a fleet and chased the pirates down, catching them near Caorle, rescued the brides, and left no survivors. This was such a famous victory that the annual celebration of it lasted until war with Chioggia in 1379 finally brought it to an end, and I phrase it that way because the increasing splendor and expenditure of the festival caused issues within Venetian society to such a degree that formal efforts to reduce the size and scope of the festival had been ongoing for a hundred years before the annual festival ended.

The most noteworthy event of Doge Candiano III’s rule had little to do with him and everything to do with the outside world. In 952, Italy officially became a feudal subject of the German crown when Otto the first convened the Diet of Augsburg and organized and redistributed his feudal holdings, and consolidated the Italian lands under the King Berengario II. This was not an act of generosity, but one in search of better management, which still didn’t happen as desired until 962 when Otto descended to Rome and was crowned Emperor by the Pope. We’ll get into details of what the Italian fiefs looked like between Charlemagne and Otto, and the relationship between the Papacy, the Italian crown, and the Holy Roman Empire in other seasons. For Venice, it is important that we see that Italy had been completely carved up and claimed by foreign rulers, and that Venice was free from those foreign claims, and had special privileges in commerce in addition to that freedom from feudal rule. It was also completely bordered on terraferma, the Venetian name for the mainland, by feudal estates that were in turn owned by a single force that could subsume all of Venice.

This state of affairs enhanced the long-standing conflict between eastern and western facing factions in Venice. By 958, Doge Pietro Candiano III, who held to the maritime tradition as the future of Venice, was in open conflict with his son and Co-Doge, Pietro Candiano IV, who was a partisan of the terraferma and sought after the riches of feudal lordship, were in almost open civil war. 132 conspirators were executed and placed on pikes in the public squares, and Doge Candiano III sent his son to Guido in exile for his betrayals. Pietro Candiano IV, not the least bit chastised, cozied up with the Marchese di Ravenna, the son of the King Berengario II, and offered him six warships to help him attack Venice and capture his father. Doge Candiano III died of a heart attack shortly thereafter in 959, which prevented the use of force, but the partisan of terraferma took the opportunity to go and recover Pietro Candiano IV from exile, where it is recorded that a public assembly was called, but the voting was done by the bishops and abbots, churchmen also long known to be partisans of terraferma because of the Catholic Church’s support of feudalism, and doctrinal disagreements with the eastern empire’s church.

Doge Pietro Candiano IV quickly set about strengthening his friendship with and Venice’s relationship to the Holy Roman Emperor. These included items like again banning all slave trade in Venice, which hurt the pro-Byzantine factions and Venetian traders, but strengthened trading privileges within the Italy and the Holy Roman Empire. He also forced his first wife into a convent and married Walandra, the daughter of the Duke of Spolenta, and the niece to the Emperor Otto. This gave him incredibly valuable lands on terraferma, but it also posed an existential threat to Venice. Under feudalism, the right to rule is derived from birthright, and marrying into the feudal system also put Venice under existential threat of losing their freedom, to be part of a dowry, or a piece of a foreigner’s portfolio. It also led to him expending Venetian resources defending and expanding his feudal estates. Lastly, Doge Candiano IV was very successful in consolidating political and religious power for himself in Venice and the surrounding terraferma, having his brother placed as the Count of Padova, wedding his daughter to a very wealthy Venetian who we will see become Doge in short order, and placing his son as the Bishop of Torcello, by blinding his competition, and then procuring him the office of the Patriarch of Grado.

Doge Pietro Candiano IV was particularly effective at exercising the force to make and keep his plans, but he did not win the hearts of his opponents or bring unity to the factions of Venice. He was true to his alliances to the feudal interests, and part of that truth was a lot of self interest over Venetian interests – the lands acquired in marriage were his, and he used his own mercenary guards to protect himself from the Venetian people. In 976, the opportunity to challenge Doge Candiano IV’s rule came and the aristocratic faction opposed to his rule did not waste the opportunity. The Emperor himself was dealing with a revolt in his own lands, and while his most powerful ally was occupied, a public uprising was organized, arson was planned on the house across from the Ducal palace and set once there was a favorable wind, and the Ducal palace quickly caught fire. In his attempts to flee, the Doge found his mercenaries useless against the fire and his exits blocked, forcing him to choose between the flames and the mercy of his conspirators. He was captured, along with his still nursing heir, and both were impaled with spears and then their bodies drug to the public slaughterhouse. The mob let Walandra leave Venice, as without the child or her husband, she could make no feudal claim to rule Venice and with that existential threat quashed, it was more dangerous to anger the Emperor by killing her than to let her leave in peace.

So we will leave Venice for now, its Ducal palace destroyed and 300 surrounding buildings, including prominent churches, burned in the uncontrolled blaze, its Doge’s corpse only saved from further defilement by a nobleman who thought of the infamy such behavior would bring on Venice herself, and the city itself free and prosperous, but also deeply troubled by piracy and even more threatened by factious interests that hold fundamental disagreements on the future direction of the lagoon. We’ve covered a lot of history in this episode, but I think discussing all these men in one sitting helps see this problem of individual leadership that Venice is struggling with, and some of the institutional changes they are trying and cultural changes they are experiencing as they try to find a way forward toward a more stable, peaceful, and profitable regime that the residents of the lagoon all crave.

Next episode, we will meet the rarest of men – a head of state who goes on to be canonized as a saint.


[1] The Italian here is Ludovico il Pio, and in older Italian manuscripts I’m seeing Lodovico. The German is Ludwig der Fromme. The successors also went by Lothair even though that is translated into Ludovico in all the Italian texts I have. So in the end, I have no idea what this guy called himself, but he was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and second in the line of the Carolingian dynasty.

[2] Distefano vol 1 144

[3] Call back to Herodotus in episode 1!

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