As Calm as the Lagoon, An analysis of the Venetian oligarchy from 1297 to 1509
Meer, M.Y. van
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The Venetian oligarchy endured from its cementing in 1297 to 1797. This stability set it aside from other Italian city-states who shifted from one governmental method to the next. The Venetian oligarchy endured through two centuries of existential threats and yet, despite these crises, remained largely the same. It never allowed the people a voice in their government like Genoa or resort to the rule of one man, such as in Milan. This raises the question of how it managed to do so. To answer this question, I will analyse the oligarchy of Venice using Darcy Leach’s analytical model and definition. Leach states that minority governments are only oligarchical if they act outside of their mandate. In the first chapter, I will analyse the ideals of the ‘Venetian Myth’ to determine what kind of behaviour was deemed illegitimate by the Venetians themselves in order to analyse the government in its own context. In the second chapter, Leach’s model is applied to the Great Council, the political body from which all members of legislative committees were drawn. The Great Council was the source of all power in the Venetian government and any excluded party would need to gain access to it to partake in the government. By identifying how the nobility maintained an image of legitimacy, I explain how they kept the Great Council closed off to outsiders without inviting an organized challenge by those excluded. The last chapter will analyse the position of the doge, the head of state and his political reach. The doge was the most powerful actor in Venice and, in theory, in a good position to seize full control of the state, yet none of the doges ever did so successfully. In the last chapter, I describe how this was prevented and what limitations there were on his office. These chapters will show how the Venetian oligarchy guarded itself against the rise of a single ruler and the involvement of the general population.