Blog post 1
The complex political structure of the Republic of Venice in the period from 697 to 1797 was scarcely surprising at the time. Particularly, one takes into account that this political structure actually resulted from several successive stratifications. Not only did the structure result from these historically relevant stratifications, which occurred primarily between the 11th and 13th centuries, but it also grew out of the subsequent struggle for a ruling aristocracy. Furthermore, it entailed a well-balanced and mutual control between the various organs of the state of Venice. Broadly speaking, it is important to notice that since then, the political structure had never been the same. In other words, it had been changing over centuries. Bearing the above mentioned in mind, we are planning to divide our work into three phases which correspond to the following historical periods:
- The ducal period: The birth of the institution of the Doge and the subsequent formation of an elective monarchy, and his aborted attempt to transform it into a hereditary monarchy;
- The communal period: The creation of communal institutions that were limiting the power of the Doge, led to an aristocratic form;
- The aristocratic period: The end of the government system, the prerogative only for the patrician class.
The political structure of the Republic of Venice was very complex, as it can be seen in the Figure 1. During the first period, political organization had a form of real absolute monarchy where the Doge held all the power. Following a more detailed account, it is evident that the Doge was endowed with a court for the administration of justice, the Curia Ducis, and a board of crown, the Consilium Sapientes. At same time, he was adding control of the territory in its own officials, the ducal gastaldi (the ancient tribunes).
It was in this period of the rich history of the Republic of Venice that the patrician families began to contend for the throne harshly. Nevertheless, in an attempt to impose the inherited form of the Duke, these families ended up trying to free themselves desperately from the elective power of the assembly. It is then logical that while struggling for power they selected the mechanism which was supposed to introduce a shared reign of two peer sovereigns. By the same token, this structure emulated the similar structure advocated by the Byzantine Emperors.
The General Assembly, the Concio (created in 742) begins gradually to erode the power of the sovereign, finding a valuable ally in the Consilium Sapientes, which was actually the personal board of the Doge. The possibility of automatically transmitting the power was taken away from the sovereign. Due to this, the reign turned into the system that was controlled by the most powerful patrician families. Gradually, this system type inevitably led to the pyramidal organization structured on several levels. The Great Council was at the very base. This was scarcely surprising given the fact that the Great Council members were holders of the absolute sovereign power. Following this logical structure, the top was occupied by the Doge, a pure image of the majesty of the state. In order to provide a schematic and detailed representation of these levels of government, we would have:
- The Great Council (Maggior Consiglio)
- Senate (Senato), Council of Forty (Quarantia), Procurators of San Marco (Procuratori di San Marco), governors, commanders, ambassadors, commissioners, hundreds of smaller offices, and various committees;
- Board of Elders (Collegio dei Savi), Council of Ten (Consiglio dei X), Three Inquisitors of State
- Signoria of Venice (Serenissima Signoria)
- Minor Council (Minor Consiglio)
In the following weeks, our main task will be to visualize graphically connections between institutions in the Republic of Venice, as well as the interconnections they had. During the previous three weeks we have been collecting data from several sources. At the beginning of our project, we are going to use this acquired data in order to present the skeleton of the Venetian political structure for each of the aforementioned periods. Later on, as we progress thereby getting deeper insight about Venetian political system, we will try to enrich our graphical representation by adding new connections between the existing institutions as well as to add newly discovered ones on the lower layers of our representation of the above-mentioned political pyramid. At the end, we will present several graphs as well as Flash animation that will conjure up political structures from the beginning till the end of the Venice Republic. Our milestones are presented below.
February 27, 2014 – Start of the project
March 31, 2014 – Visualization of the ducal period
April 20, 2014 – Visualization of the communal period
May 14, 2014 – Visualization of the aristocratic period
May 28, 2014 – Presentation of our project at DH101 Demo Fair; End of the project.
 O’Connell, Monique, Men of Empire: Power and Negotiation in Venice’s Maritime State, 2009.
 Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 1986.