The Republic of Venice and its Evolution into a Powerful Economy

The Republic of Venice, known as La Serenissima, was one of the most iconic and maritime countries. It left so many traces across the surrounding countries on the Mediterrean sea while existing from 697 AD until 1797 AD.

The long time of its influence took the numerous seaside spots in today’s Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Greece, Albania and Cyprus under the government of the city of Venice. The Venetian language still survives.

Its influence was based upon noble families and trade power. Located on the Adriatic sea, it spread the Empire that can be compared to the Roman Empire.

The most exquisite power of its trade was salt. As salt served as the most effective way to preserve food, it developed a high level of importance. The salt was protecting the food from bacteria and from rotting.

Salt was the natural product of the vast seaside oasis and it was even produced artificially. The salt was exchanged for food and other products.

History of Venice

The city of Venice was established in 421 AD by the rule of Padua, though there is not any written evidence of it. The founding of Chuch of Saint James is linked with the first days of the Venetian Republic.

Church of Saint James (Chiesa di San Giacomo dall'Orio) in Venice
Church of Saint James (Chiesa di San Giacomo dall’Orio) in Venice- photo by ZonzoFox

German invasions were followed by the fall of the Roman Empire. Immigrations of the Lombards were defined by the power of Ravenna. The Lombard invasions started in 568 AD, after which the main Byzantine city of Oderzo fell to the Lombards. The Duchy of Venezia or Dogado was formed, which consisted of the city of Venice and adjacent towns from Loreo to Grado.

The Venice Republic was divided into sea states and mainland territories. The town of Eraclea in the Venice lagoon was the initial siege of the first dodges. The name comes from its founder, Heracles, who is stated by the Greek mythology. Eraclea still stays as one of the main seaside resorts in the Venice region. It’s known by its pinewood and spectacular natural formations made of sand or the Lagoon of the Dead.

The role of Eraclea was replaced by Malamocco in the 740s. The Rioalto group of islands shapes today’s heart of Venice, which was properly urbanized in the 9th century. The Island of Olivolo or today’s S.Pietro in Castello was one of the first inhabited places in the Rioalto group, which is linked by a bridge with the main islands of the group. The castle from the 6th century is an important part of its history.

The Frankish Empire ruled the divisions of Venice, balancing between the pro-Byzantine one and the one that proclaimed self-independence.

The slave trade was pretty current at that time between Italy and Northern Africa.

The Carolingian Empire, in 804, became the next dominant force in Venice. Venice was officially recognized as Byzantine territory along with dynamic trading rights.

Early Middle Age

Though formally united, Venice experienced the dominance of the Byzantines. The ducal capital of Malamocco was replaced by an island of the Rivo Alto group close to the church of Santi Apostoli. The urbanisation of Rivo Alto islands started to happen along with the construction of the bridges, canals, fortifications and significant stone buildings. The modern Venice is being born.

Village of Malamocco in the Venice lagoon
Village of Malamocco in the Venice lagoon- photo by GetYourGuide

The influential military force is the next step in the establishment of Venice. The trade of Christian slaves was interrupted by the Pactum Lotharii, which continued another chain of slave trade. It included the massive trade from Eastern Europe. 60 galleys joined the failed mission of transitioning the Arabs from Crotone.

Istrian cities officially fell under Venetian rule. The Narentine cities of southern Dalmatia were conquered by the Byzantine Empire while the Republic of Venice with its power in Dalmatia. Though remaining neutral, Venice was balanced between the Byzantine and Roman Empires. The Republic of Venice was consequently liberated from taxes, which resulted in growing wealth.

High Middle Ages

These were the years of wealth and prosperity when trade became the focus of the Venice Republic. After expanding to the Adriatic Sea, Venice tried to conquer the coastal towns of Syria with 200 ships.

Venice experienced trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire. Venice Arsenal was built in the 12th century as the large national shipyard. Not something that can relate to today’s gondola.

Today's building of Venice Arsenal
Today’s building of Venice Arsenal- photo by Venice Tourism

In the 12th century, the city of Zara (or Zadar in Croatia), in the virtual battle for independence, decided to stay against Venetian rule. Thus, it became under the dominion of the papacy and Emeric, the king of Hungary. The separation from Hungary was followed by the treaty of 1199.

14th century

The Venetian power evolved after the slow failure of the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and the final fall of Constantinopol in 1453. The Venetians occupied Constantinopol already in 1204, after the fourth Cruisade.

Crete finally fell under Venice in 1204, forming the Kingdom of Candia, which lasted 450 years.

By the end of the 14th century, Venice expanded across the adjacent Italian towns like Mestre, Treviso or Bassano del Grappa.

Lovely town of Treviso near Venice
Lovely town of Treviso near Venice- photo by The Guardian

After the war with the Genovese from 1350 till 1381. Venice finally won, establishing its position in the eastern Mediterranean. Genoa acquired Venice to lose some territories like Treviso that was taken by the Carraresi family or Conegliano, which fell under Austria.

Further and most important expansion included the Dalmatian coast, which was ended by the treaty of Zara in 1358.

15th century

At the beginning of the 15th century, further expansion in Northern Italy occurred, which included Vicenza, Belluna, Padua, Verona and Este. The Dalmatian coast was defined by the Venetian prevailing identity which covered its streets and language. Regarding Istria, the Venice authorities took their power, though the cities of Pula, Koper and Izola stood against Venice rule but in vain.

Venice took advantage of the civil war in Hungary while King Ladislaus of Naples was selling his rights to the Dalmatian towns. The navy of 3300 ships took control of the newly installed venetian towns, including Verona and Padua.

Venice experienced its golden years under the duke Francesco Foscari. Another war against Milan defined the independence of the cities of Milano, Florence, Bologna and Cremona. The Golden Ambrosian Republic was founded in Milano. The Peace of Lodi in 1454 established further boundaries between Milan and Venice. It confirmed the belonging of the Bergamo and Brescia to Venice.

Bergamo town in Lombardy
Bergamo town in Lombardy- photo by Flying Fork Tales

After the fall of Constantinopol, Venice kept some trading privileges. Venice formed a few alliances with Hungarian and Persian leaders trying to occupy the Greek islands and Bulgary.

After trying to conquer Ferrara but was defeated, Venice won Gallipoli in Apulia in southern Italy. A few battles with the Pope Innocente XVII and Austrian and French leaders resulted in the Alliance with Spain.

17th century

The beginning of the 17th century defined the loss of the economic power that belonged to the Venice Republic. After the conflicts with the Church, Venice experienced wars with the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 17th century.

In the meanwhile, turbulence in Spain caused the possible lowering of Venice’s dominance. Not only wars, the plague appeared in 1630, which caused the death of 50,000 people in Venice. To celebrate the end of the plague and, remark gratitude, the first stone church was built, named Santa Maria della Salute.

Santa Maria della Salute Church in Venice
Santa Maria della Salute Church in Venice- photo by Visitare Venezia

New wars in the second half of the 17th century included the one with the Ottoman Empire and the Cretan War that lasted 25 years. Consequently, Venice lost Crete and other overseas territories while they maintained the power of Dalmatia.

In the battle between the Turks on the fabulous Croatian coast of Dalmatia, Venice still kept its possessions. Sebenico took the special battle where the Turks lost power. The Morean War, known as the Sixth Venice-Ottoman War, led to the loss of Crete while trying to gain the Morea peninsula in southern Greece.

Trying to keep a strong alliance with France and Habsburg, Venice slowly experienced its decline.


With the last Turkish-Venetian war in December 1714, Venice finally lost its power. Many Greek islands came under the Turks, among which Tinos, Aegina and the ancient town of Corinth. After trying to conquer Corfu Turks were defeated and Venice lost Morea.

The Tuscanian port town Livorno became Venice’s new rival. Mighty Ancona and Trieste went out of the Venice hands. Even the Venetian fleet lost its numbers as it was a small number by 1796, so further conquering had no value.

City of Livorno in Tuscany
City of Livorno in Tuscany- photo by Get Your Guide

The Venetian possessions in the Balkans were taken by Austria and France took Lombardy. Venetian Province was the last successor of the famous Mediterranean country which was formed by the Habsburg Monarchy in 1797. It lasted only a few years.

Economic power of Venice

Trade and salt

The economic power of Venice was based on trade, which took its significance into the pretty unusual item: salt. The salt was used to protect the food from bacteria, practically the only way to preserve it.

Salt warehouse in Venice, Punta della Dogana
Salt warehouse in Venice, Punta della Dogana- photo by Venice and its lagoons

The natural wonder of the sea that encircled Venice produced even more lagoons that were created artificially. Salt had the role of oil, making it a perfect exchange for food and other rare products.

Fiscal benefits and freedom of movement

Venice was a country built on trade linking the Sacred Roman Empire with the Eastern Roman Empire. Its privileged role was a response to the defensive actions of the Byzantine Empire against Arabs and Normans.

More than that, fiscal benefits brought a tremendous increase in wealth. The trade in Venice included spices, perfumes, precious fabrics and glass. Spices that arrived from India created the zenith of Venice in the 15th century.

Glass decoration at Murano island
Glass decoration at Murano island- photo by WanderWisdom

Rialto Bridge was particularly popular with the German traders where life burst on its own note. The testimony of German merchants in Venice is building the edifice named Fondaco dei Tedeschi, depicting the typical German art.

Glass production bloomed to the point where it was framed by monopoly and even focused on only one island- the popular Murano. Murano was not only the perfect artisan of glass, but the rich world of the small island.

Sustainability and environmental protection

The sustainability and economic success of the Serenissima are the result of a profound strategy of planning.

The environmental focus of Venice was based on the natural relationship between man and sea. Two opposing elements of land and water created the delicate balance of ecological life. The construction of channels played a vital role in natural exchange of water and economic success.

Canals of Venice
Canals of Venice- photo by Venice Events

Many rivers that created the lagoon of Venice resulted in muddy waters. That was a serious threat to the existence and trade of the Serenissima. Since 1336, artificial canals have purified the area of the Venetian lagoon. In this way, Venice’s trade became more safe and the area clear.

The power of independence

Independence and sustainability were the core values that kept Venice alive for 11 centuries. Even strong conflicts could not stop the constant desire for the legendary bloom. The respect for the Vatican City and rebellions of many Italian states against the power of Venice only increased its position.

Vatican City
Vatican City- photo by Travel Triangle

Cultural Significance in Anthropology

The mighty Mediterranean spirit searched for a way to put the roots beyond the elegant city of Venice, to spread the dust of its authentic rhythm. The illusion of romantic water alleys reveals the secrets of artistic canals.

Though pretty incredible how many wars the Republic of Venice has led, self-independence and constant growth expressed the influence that colors even today’s life, especially in Croatia. La Serenissima has its impact on almost invisible economic products and traffic. Salt has become like gold, the most natural ingredient with the most effective stories.

The way the economy of Venice has changed nowadays shows how history and tourism have become almost the only significant lifestyle. Manufacture became the source of its power, Venice established the principles that govern economic wisdom.

Venice is a model where “the world out of a box“ can be an effective educational motivation, where learning to live in the moment becomes power. Not leaning on the past defines creativity that needs to be discovered not only collectively but individually.

Venice became an example of how to add a personal touch to the economic situation and how to dominate it.

Fantastic fact that foreign merchants could act freely as locals opened the doors to economic bloom and made the country so unique. The perfect geographic position between Eastern and Western Europe, even within the Middle East, enabled the constant flow of dynamic movement. In that movement lies the key to Venice’s prosperity.

The fact that Venice was not always so elegant and rich with palaces spreads the inspirational journey of self discovery.

Glass production expresses the rare local production, though book production and sugar plantation pave the path to authentic creativity. Trade is what established the unique world of the Republic of Venice, the world that still sleeps uncovered. Venice deserves to be discovered in its proper light and unique message to the world.

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