Unveiling Complex Political Structure in Communal Period

Blog post 2

Over the course of the last few weeks we researched the first two historical periods in the Republic of Venice: (i) the ducal period and (ii) the communal period. The next steps in our plans were to finish the visualization of the ducal period and to start researching the communal period.

While we were extracting information needed for visualization of the ducal period, we ran into a problem of lack of data. In almost all literature we analyzed there existed no detailed description of political structure during this period. However, during this period it is clear that the Doge held absolute power and that there were four institutions who assisted him in ruling the Republic of Venice.


Politicasl structure in the ducal period
Political structure during the ducal period

Firstly, the Concio was established at the beginning of the ducal period (~ 742 A.D.) and functioned as the republic’s general assembly with the ability to elect the Doge. Secondly, judicial power was held by the Curia Ducis. Like most Venetian institutions of this period, the Curia was controlled by the Doge. Thirdly, administration was handled by the Ducal Gastaldi, officials who performed a similar role to the tribunes of Ancient Rome. Finally, one of the most important institutions was the Consilum Sapientes which held legislative power and from which later was created a vast number of institutions. In 11th century these institutions took a lot of power from the Doge and this event marks the start of the second period.

We then entered the next phase of our project with processing information of the communal period. This period started in 1032 when the Doge was beginning to weaken, surrendering power to the Concio and Consilum Sapientes (the members of the latter being themselves elected by the Concio). Later, as the Consilum Sapientes gained more and more power, new institutions such as the Maggior Consiglio, Quarantia, Minor Consiglio and Consiglio dei Pregadi, replaced the Consilum Sapientes. These new institutions had far more power than the Doge, who by this time functioned as little more than a figurehead, responsible for mostly ceremonial duties. The main functions of Consilum Sapientes were inherited by the Maggior Consiglio which became the highest organ of the Republic of Venice. Another of the most important institutions of this period was the Quarantia, which functioned as the government and supreme court. Administration of the most sensitive and urgent issues of the period was entrusted to the Consiglio dei Pregadi, a assembly of restricted membership. However, main control over the Doge was exerted by the Minor Consiglio which consisted of just six ducal councilors. In 1268 A.D. the new position of Grand Chancellor was established. As supreme head of the bureaucracy palatine he was the most important Venetian except for the Doge himself. Aside from these many institutions, the government of the city of Venice, called Commune Veneciarum, was also established during this period. The connections between all of these institutions are presented in the figure below.

Connections between institutions during the communal period
Connections between institutions during the communal period

This graph was created with Gephi, which is an interactive visualization and exploration open source platform for numerous networks and complex systems, using dynamic and hierarchical graphs. We used this software because it helped us to graphically represent imported data and to create our database, which can be used later for various purposes.

In the following weeks, we will continue with the visualization of the communal period and we will start to produce the graphical representation of political structure in the aristocratic period. We are planning to create graphs and diagrams (e.g. a Sankey diagram), which are showing not only functional connections between institutions but also historical connections between them. Also, we will attempt to represent intersection between institutions by showing their structure, as some of officials were members of many institutions, not just one. After finishing the third period, we are planning to expand our graphs and diagrams by adding smaller institutions such as regional ones.