Historical Context

During the mid-15th century the Republic of Venice constituted a vast territory organized into three principal areas: the Dogado, consisting of the Venetian lagoon as far as Grado and the Po Delta; the Stato da Mar, which included the eastern coast of the Adriatic, much of the Peloponnese, many Greek islands including Crete and Cyprus, and colonies on the Black Sea; and the Stato da Tera, the territories of the Venetian mainland as far as Bergamo, Friuli, and Polesine.

Venetian consulates and warehouses were present in most of the principal ports on the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic coast, in cities such as Tanais, Caffa, Constantinople, Alexandria, Beirut, Algiers, Lisbon, Bruges, and London. The Republic’s military successes in preceding centuries over Genoa, Constantinople, and several Islamic kingdoms guaranteed Venetian commercial dominance in the Mediterranean. From the Black Sea, from Alexandria and Beirut, Venetian galleys conveyed luxury goods imported from the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean—principally spices, textiles, and precious stones—throughout the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

The Senate of the Venetian Republic supervised not only the Arsenale, the great shipyard where mercantile and military galleys were built from timber cut from the forests of Cadore and Slovenia, but also ran the contracting system for the authorization, acquisition, and transport of cargo as far as London and Flanders. An articulated network of offices managed the recruitment and careers of the “oarsmen”: the sailors, soldiers, and officers required to run the dozens of galleys needed for trade, defense, and the Republic’s military conquests.