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The maritime republics (Italian: repubbliche marinare) were city-states which flourished in Italy and Dalmatia during the Middle Ages. The best known are the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Republic of Pisa, the Republic of Ragusa, and the Republic of Amalfi. From the 10th to the 13th centuries they built fleets of ships both for their own protection and to support extensive trade networks across the Mediterranean, giving them an essential role in the Crusades.
- Number 1
- Overview 2
Origins and development 3
- Amalfi 3.1
- Pisa 3.2
- Genoa 3.3
- Venice 3.4
- Ancona 3.5
- Ragusa 3.6
- Pisa and Venice 4.1
Venice and Genoa 4.2
- War of Saint Sabas and the conflict of 1293–99 4.2.1
- War of Chioggia 4.2.2
- Land battles and gathering in the Holy League 4.2.3
Genoa and Pisa 4.3
- Allied against Arabs 4.3.1
- First War between Pisa and Genoa 4.3.2
- Second War 4.3.3
- Defeat of Pisa 4.3.4
- Amalfi and Pisa 4.4
- Venice, Ancona and Ragusa 4.5
- See also 5
- Notes 6
- Bibliography 7
The best known maritime republics in Italy are Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice; less well known are Gaeta, Ancona, Noli and on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, in Dalmatia, there was the important Republic of Ragusa, centered on the city of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik, Croatia).
The maritime republics were city-states. They were generally republics in that they were formally independent, though most of them originated from territories once formally belonging to the Byzantine Empire (the main exceptions being Genoa and Pisa). During the time of their independence, all these cities had similar (though not identical) systems of government, in which the merchant class had considerable power.
The maritime republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, providing transport and support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. The Fourth Crusade, originally intended to liberate Jerusalem, actually entailed the Venetian conquest of Zara and Constantinople.
Each of the maritime republics had dominion over different overseas lands, including many Mediterranean islands, and especially Sardinia and Corsica, lands on the Adriatic, Aegean Sea, and Black Sea (Crimea), and commercial colonies in the Near East and North Africa. Venice stands out from the rest in that it maintained enormous tracts of land in Greece, Cyprus, Istria and Dalmatia until as late as the mid-17th century.
Origins and development
The economic growth of defence, providing themselves substantial war fleets. Thus, in the 10th and 11th centuries they were able to switch to an offensive stance, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Byzantine and Islamic maritime powers and competing with them for the control of commerce and trade routes with Asia and Africa.
The independent cities formed autonomous Republican governments, an expression of the merchant class that constituted the backbone of their power. The history of the maritime republics intertwines both with the launch of European expansion to the East and with the origins of modern capitalism as a mercantile and financial system. Using gold coins, the merchants of the Italian maritime republics began to develop new foreign exchange transactions and accounting. Technological advances in navigation provided essential support for the growth of mercantile wealth. Nautical charts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries all belong to the schools of Genoa, Venice and Ancona.
The Crusades offered opportunities for expansion. They increasingly relied on Italian sea transport, for which the Republics extracted concessions of colonies as well as a cash price. Venice, Amalfi, Ancona, and Ragusa were already engaged in trade with the Levant, but the phenomenon increased with the Crusades: thousands of Italians from the maritime republics poured into the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, creating bases, ports and commercial establishments known as "colonies". These were small gated enclaves within a city, often just a single street, where the laws of the Italian city were administered by a governor appointed from home, and there would be a church under home jurisdiction and shops with Italian styles of food. These Italian mercantile centers also exerted significant political influence locally: the Italian merchants formed guild-like associations in their business centers, aiming to obtain legal, tax and customs privileges from foreign governments. Several personal dominions arose. Pera in Constantinople, first Genoese and later (under the Ottomans) Venetian, was the largest and best known Italian trading base.
The history of the various maritime republics is quite varied, reflecting their different lifespans. Venice, Genoa, Noli, and Ragusa had very long lives, with an independence that outlasted the medieval period and continued up to the threshold of the contemporary era, when the Italian and European states were devastated by the Napoleonic Campaigns. Other republics kept their independence until the Renaissance: Pisa came under the dominion of the Republic of Florence in 1406, and Ancona came under control of the Papal States in 1532. Amalfi and Gaeta, though, lost their independence very soon: the first in 1131 and the second in 1140, both having passed into the hands of the Normans.
Amalfi, perhaps the first of the maritime republics to play a major role, had developed extensive trade with Byzantium and Egypt. Amalfitan merchants wrested the Mediterranean trade monopoly from the Arabs and founded mercantile bases in Southern Italy and the Middle East in the 10th century. Amalfitans were the first to create a colony in Constantinople.
From 1039 Amalfi came under the control of the Principality of Salerno. In 1073 Robert Guiscard conquered the city, taking the title Dux Amalfitanorum ("Duke of the Amalfitans"). In 1096 Amalfi revolted and reverted to an independent republic, but this was put down in 1101. It revolted again in 1130 and was finally subdued in 1131.
Amalfi was sacked by Pisans in 1137, at a time when it was weakened by natural disasters (severe flooding) and was annexed to the Norman lands in southern Italy. Thereafter, Amalfi began a rapid decline and was replaced in its role as the main commercial hub of Campania by the Duchy of Naples.
In 1016 an alliance of Pisa and Genoa defeated the Saracens, conquered Corsica and gained control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A century later they freed the Balearic Islands in an expedition that was celebrated in the Gesta triumphalia per Pisanos and in the Liber Maiorichinus epic poem, composed in 1113–1115.
Pisa, at that time overlooking the sea at the mouth of the Arno, reached the pinnacle of its glory between the 12th and 13th centuries, when its ships controlled the Western Mediterranean. Rivalry between Pisa and Genoa grew worse in the 12th century and resulted in the naval Battle of Meloria (1284), which marked the beginning of Pisan decline; Pisa renounced all claim to Corsica and ceded part of Sardinia to Genoa in 1299. Moreover, the Aragonese conquest of Sardinia, which began in 1324, deprived the Tuscan city of dominion over the Giudicati of Cagliari and Gallura. Pisa maintained its independence and control of the Tuscan coast until 1409, when it was annexed by Florence.
Genoa began to gain autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire around 1096, becoming a medieval commune and participating in the First Crusades. Initially called Compagna Communis, the denomination of republic was made official in 1528 on the initiative of Admiral Andrea Doria.
The alliance with Pisa allowed the liberation of the western sector of the Mediterranean from Saracen pirates, with the reconquest of Corsica, the Balearics and Provence.
The formation of the Compagna Communis, a meeting of all the city's trade associations (compagnie), also comprising the noble lords of the surrounding valleys and coasts, finally signaled the birth of Genoese government.
The fortunes of the town increased considerably when it joined the First Crusade: its participation brought great privileges for the Genoese communities, which moved to many places in the Holy Land. The apex of Genoese fortune came in the 13th century with the conclusion of the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261) with the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. In exchange for aiding the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople, this led to the ousting of the Venetians from the straits leading to the Black Sea, which quickly became a Genoese sea. Shortly afterwards, in 1284, Pisa was finally defeated in the Battle of Meloria.
In 1298 the Genoese story of his travels to Rustichello da Pisa, his cellmate. Genoa remained relatively powerful until the last major conflict with Venice, the War of Chioggia of 1379. It ended in victory for the Venetians, who finally regained dominance over trade to the East.
After a gloomy 15th century marked by plagues and foreign domination, the city regained self-government in 1528 through the efforts of Andrea Doria. Throughout the following century Genoa became the primary sponsor of the Spanish monarchy, reaping huge profits, which allowed the old patrician class to remain vital for a period. However, the republic was independent only de jure, as it often fell under the influence of major neighboring powers, first the French and Spanish, then the Austrians and Savoyards. It was finally subdued by Napoleon in 1805 and annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815, destroying the economy and forcing the emigration of the best workers and most of the rural population to the Americas.
The Republic of Venice, also known as La Serenissima (The Most Serene), came into being in 421 as a result of the development of trade relations with the Byzantine Empire, of which it was once formally a part, albeit with a substantial degree of independence. Venice remained as ally of Byzantium in the fight against Arabs and Normans.
Around the year 1000 it began its expansion in the Adriatic Sea, defeating the pirates who occupied the coast of Istria and Dalmatia and placing those regions and their principal townships under Venetian control. At the beginning of the 13th century, the city reached the peak of its power, dominating the commercial traffic in the Mediterranean and with the Orient. During the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) its fleet was decisive in the acquisition of the islands and the most commercially important seaside towns of the Byzantine Empire. The conquest of the important ports of Corfu (1207) and Crete (1209) gave it a trade that extended to the east and reached Syria and Egypt, endpoints of trading routes. By the end of the 14th century, Venice had become one of the richest states in Europe. Its dominance in the eastern Mediterranean in later centuries was threatened by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in those areas, despite the great naval victory in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 against the Turkish fleet, fought with the Holy League.
The Republic of Venice expanded strongly on the mainland, too. It became the largest of the maritime republics and was the most powerful state of northern Italy until 1797, when Napoleon invaded the Venetian lagoon and conquered Venice. The city passed between French and Austrian control over the next half-century, before briefly regaining its independence during the revolutions of 1848. Austrian rule resumed a year later, and continued until 1866, when the Veneto passed into the Kingdom of Italy.
Included in the Papal States since 774, Ancona came under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire around 1000, but gradually gained independence to become fully independent with the coming of the communes in the 12th century. Its motto was: Ancon dorica civitas fidei; its coin was the agontano.
Although somewhat confined by Venetian supremacy on the sea, Ancona was a notable maritime republic for its economic development and its preferential trade, particularly with the Byzantine Empire. It enjoyed excellent relations with the kingdom of Hungary and was an ally of the Republic of Ragusa. Despite the link with Byzantium, it also maintained good relations with the Turks, enabling it to serve as central Italy's gateway to the Orient. The warehouses of the Republic of Ancona were continuously active in Constantinople, Alexandria and other Byzantine ports, while the sorting of goods imported by land (especially textiles and spices) fell to the merchants of Lucca and Florence.
In art, Ancona was one of the centers of so-called Adriatic Renaissance, that particular kind of renaissance that spread between Dalmatia, Venice and the Marches, characterized by a rediscovery of classical art and a certain continuity with Gothic art. The maritime cartographer Grazioso Benincasa was born in Ancona, as was the navigator-archeologist Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli, named by his fellow humanists "father of the antiquities", who made his contemporaries aware of the existence of the Parthenon, the Pyramids, the Sphinx and other famous ancient monuments believed destroyed.
Ancona always had to guard itself against the designs of both the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. It never attacked other maritime cities, but was always forced to defend itself. It succeeded until 1532, when it lost its independence after Pope Clement VII took possession of it by political means.
In the first half of the 7th century, Ragusa began to develop an active trade in the East Mediterranean. From the 11th century, it emerged as a maritime and mercantile city, especially in the Adriatic. The first known commercial contract goes back to 1148 and was signed with the city of Molfetta, but other cities came along in the following decades, including Pisa, Termoli and Naples.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa came under the dominion of the Republic of Venice, from which it inherited most of its institutions. Venetian rule lasted for one and a half centuries and determined the institutional structure of the future republic, with the emergence of the Senate in 1252 and the approval of the Ragusa Statute on 9 May 1272. In 1358, following a war with the Kingdom of Hungary, the Treaty of Zadar forced Venice to give up many of its possessions in Dalmatia. Ragusa voluntarily became a dependency of the Kingdom of Hungary, obtaining the right to self-government in exchange for help with its fleet and payment of an annual tribute. Ragusa was fortified and equipped with two ports. The Communitas Ragusina began to be called Respublica Ragusina from 1403.
Basing its prosperity on maritime trade, Ragusa became the major power of the southern Adriatic and came to rival the Republic of Venice. For centuries Ragusa was an ally of Ancona, Venice's other rival in the Adriatic. This alliance enabled the two towns on opposite sides of the Adriatic to resist attempts by the Venetians to make the Adriatic a "Venetian Bay", which would have given Venice direct or indirect control over all the Adriatic ports. The Venetian trade route went via Germany and Austria; Ancona and Ragusa developed an alternative route going west from Ragusa through Ancona to Florence and finally to Flanders.
Ragusa was the door to the Balkans and the East, a place of commerce in metals, salt, spices and cinnabar. It reached its peak during the 15th and 16th centuries thanks to tax exemptions for affordable goods. Its social structure was rigid, and the lower classes played no part in its government, but it was advanced in other ways: in the 14th century the first pharmacy was opened there, followed by a hospice; in 1418 the trafficking of slaves was abolished.
When the Ottoman Empire advanced into the Balkan Peninsula and Hungary was defeated in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Ragusa came formally under the supremacy of the sultan. It bound itself to pay him a symbolic annual tribute, a move that allowed it to maintain its effective independence.
The 17th century saw a slow decline of the Republic of Ragusa, due mainly to an earthquake in 1667 which razed much of the city, claiming 5000 victims, including the rector, Simone de Ghetaldi. The city was quickly rebuilt at the expense of the Pope and the kings of France and England, which made it a jewel of 17th-century urbanism, and the Republic enjoyed a short revival. The Treaty of Passarowitz of 1718 gave it full independence but increased the tax to be paid at the gate, set at 12,500 ducats.
Austria occupied the Republic of Ragusa on 24 August 1798. The Peace of Pressburg of 1805 assigned the city to France. In 1806, after a siege of a month, Ragusa surrendered to the French. The Republic was finally dissolved by order of General Auguste Marmont on 31 January 1808 and was annexed to the Napoleonic Illyrian provinces.
Relationships between the maritime republics were governed by their commercial interests, and were often expressed as political or economical agreements aimed at shared profit from a trade route or mutual non-interference. But competition for control of the trade routes to the East and in the Mediterranean sparked rivalries that could not be settled diplomatically, and there were several clashes among the maritime republics.