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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Venetians had special trading privileges


When

the second Mohammedan invasion threatened Europe, Constantinople, weak on land and impotent by sea, and deserted by the Christian nations of the west, was unable to put up a strong resistance. At last, in 1453, it was captured by the Turks, and became thereafter the capital of the Moslem power. Great as this catastrophe was, it cannot compare with what would have happened if the city had fallen to the Saracen, the Hun, or the Russian during the dark centuries when the nations of the west were scarcely in embryo. In the 15th century they were strong enough to take up the sword that Constantinople had dropped and draw the line beyond which the Turk was not permitted to go.

Although it has been the fashion since Gibbon to sneer at the Eastern Empire, it must be remembered with respect as the last treasure house of the inheritance bequeathed by Rome and Greece during the dark centuries of barbarian and Saracen. Even in its ruin it sent its fugitives westward with the manuscripts of a language and literature then little known, the Greek, and thereby added greatly to the growing impetus of the Renaissance. It is significant also that during its thousand years of life, as long as it kept its hold on the sea it stood firm. When it yielded that, its empire dwindled to a mere city fortress whose doom was assured long before it fell.

REFERENCES

CAMBRIDGE MEDIEVAL HISTORY, Vol. II., 1913.

THE HISTORY OF THE SARACENS, E. Gibbon & S. Ockley. HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, Edward Gibbon, ed. by J. B. Bury. THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE, E. A. Foord, 1911. MILITARY AND RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES, Paul Lacroix, 1874. HISTORY OF THE LATER ROMAN EMPIRE, J. B. Bury, 1889. HISTORY OF THE EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE, J. B. Bury, 1912.

CHAPTER V

THE NAVIES OF THE MIDDLE AGES [_Continued_]: VENICE AND THE TURK

The city-state of Venice owed its origin to the very same barbarian invasions that wrecked the old established cities of the Italian peninsula. Fugitives from these towns in northern Italy and the outlying country districts fled to the islets and lagoons for shelter from the Hun, the Goth, and the Lombard. As the sea was the Venetians' barrier from the invader, so also it had to be their source of livelihood, and step by step through the centuries they built up their commerce until they practically controlled the Mediterranean, for trade or for war.

As early as 991 a Doge of Venice made a treaty with the Saracens inaugurating a policy held thereafter by Venice till the time of Lepanto; namely, to trade with Mohammedans rather than fight them. The supreme passion of Venice was to make money, as it had been of ancient Phoenicia, and to this was subordinated every consideration of race, nationality, and religion. The first important step was the conquest of the Dalmatian pirates at the beginning of the 11th century. This meant the Venetian control of the Adriatic. When the Crusades began, the sea routes to the Holy Land were in the hands of the Venetians; indeed it was this fact that made the Crusades possible. As the carrying and convoying agent of the Crusaders, Venice developed greatly in wealth and power. With direct access to the Brenner Pass, she became a rich distributing center for Eastern goods to northern Europe. In all important Levantine cities there was a Venetian quarter, Venetians had special trading privileges, and many seaports and islands came directly under Venetian rule.


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