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Venetian Merchants

Venetian Merchants

Summary of the Venetian Merchants

Initially, Venice took advantage of the salt trade. Later, because the Venetian Republic was located along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, its merchants were well-positioned for maritime trade there and in the Mediterranean. They traded with other European cities, the Byzantine Empire, the Middle East, and North Africa and traveled across the Eurasian landmass to China. Some key industries and trade included:

  • textiles,
  • book publishing,
  • and importing goods such as spices.

The ruler of the Venetian Republic was known as a doge—a chief magistrate. The doge was an elected position but remained a life-long ruler. Venice exhibited considerable independence compared to other cities within reach of the Church of Rome.

Eventually, the Venetian Republic declined due to competition and the discovery of new trade routes to the West Indies and North and South America. In the 19th century, Venice joined Italy during the process of Risorgimento—the unification into a single state.

History of the Venetian Merchants

Before the Middle Ages, international trade across Eurasia thrived across crucial trade routes.

  • One of the most important routes was the Silk Road. The Silk Road comprised several trade routes and functioned as a network. This network linked Europe with the Middle East, Central Asia, and China. The Silk Road operated between 130 BCE and 1453. Merchants exported many things from China, for instance, spices and gunpowder. Marco Polo and his family were the most well-known Medieval merchants from Venice to use the Silk Road.

Main Activities of the Venetian Merchants

In the 9th century, the Byzantine Empire exerted significant control over Venice. At one point, in 807, the Byzantines even replaced the Venetian doge with their governor. Soon, however, Venice rose to prominence under the control of the Participazio family.

For example, Agnello Participazio was Venice's doge (811-827) from a merchant family from Heraclea in Byzantium.

Venetians built many canals and island reinforcements during his reign, giving that city its modern appearance.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, Venice became one of the key players in Europe. It was a very wealthy city because Venetian merchants controlled trade between Europe and the countries in the Eastern Mediterranean (Levant). Venetian merchants also operated in the Adriatic Sea.

In the 12th century, Venetian merchants received preferential treatment in the Byzantine Empire. Indeed, Marco Polo's father and uncle, wealthy Venetian merchants, resided in Constantinople for a time.

Venetians played a crucial role in the Crusades. During the First Crusade (1095-1099), Venetian ships helped take cities along the coast of present-day Syria. Ordelafo Faliero, the doge of Venice, also led the Venetian fleet to help the Crusaders claim Sidon, located in today's Lebanon.

Venetians were also prominent participants in the Fourth Crusade (1204). Their leadership points to Venice's significant political power at this time. Venetian ships were used to travel to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Christian Empire). Their knights also arrived in Byzantium along with their French counterparts.

Unlike the first three Church-sanctioned Crusades targeting the Muslim Middle East, the Fourth Crusade got derailed into attacking and looting the fellow Christians of Constantinople. This change of plans happened after the son of the overthrown Byzantine Emperor Isaac II, Alexius IV, asked the Venetians for help fighting his uncle, the usurper Alexius III.

Two years earlier, Enrico Dandolo, the doge of Venice, sought to recapture the port of Zara, located in present-day Croatia, from the Hungarian king. The Crusaders succeeded in taking Zara. This military feat led to ex-communication by Pope Innocent III, who called the Fourth Crusade because the King of Hungary belonged to his Church.

Excommunication was the proper removal of the right to belong to the Church for a major transgression, especially in the Middle Ages.

Famous Venetian Merchants

The most famous Venetian merchants were Marco Polo and his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo.

Marco Polo and the Venetian Merchant Route

Marco Polo (1254-1324) was a traveler, explorer, author, and diplomat.

His father and uncle were wealthy and business-savvy merchants who managed their business out of Constantinople and were involved in trade with the Middle East. They also traveled along the Silk Road routes through Eurasia. When Marco was a teenager, his father and uncle returned to Venice. In 1271, the two men took 17-year-old Marco on a journey across the continent, ultimately leading them to China.

Frequently Asked Questions about Venetian Merchants

Venetian merchants traded a variety of goods, including spices, gunpowder, salt, and porcelain. Venice also had a thriving book-publishing and textile industries.

The Venetian merchants were one of the dominant powers in the Mediterranean Sea. They traded with many countries along the Silk Road, including those in the Middle East, and North Africa, as well as China and different European cities. They also traded with the Byzantine Empire until the Genoese replaced them as the preferred trade partner in 1261.

The Venetian merchants were one of the dominant powers in the Mediterranean Sea. They traded with many countries along the Silk Road, including those in the Middle East, and North Africa, as well as China and different European cities. They also traded with the Byzantine Empire until the Genoese replaced them as the preferred trade partner in 1261. They were also famous for participating in the Crusades, especially the Fourth Crusade against the Byzantine Empire in 1261. 

Venice was a successful trading center for a variety of reasons. Its merchants came to dominate the Mediterranean Sea and took advantage of the Silk Road trade network traveling from Europe to China. Textile and book-publishing industries also thrived in that city for a time. Venice was also an independent city-state that generally defined its own politics. 

The Venetians gradually built up their fleet of ships which they used both for trade and for military pursuits like the Crusades. 

Final Venetian Merchants Quiz

Question

What is a Medieval city-state?

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Answer

A Medieval city-state is an independent city that effectively functions as a state.

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Question

What was the ruler of the Medieval Venetian Republic called?

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Answer

Doge

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Question

Who was one of the most famous Medieval Venetian merchants?

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Answer

Marco Polo

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Question

Which Crusade did the Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo control?

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Answer

The Fourth Crusade

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Question

What was the 19th-century unification of Italy called?

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Answer

Risorgimento

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Question

Along the coast of which sea was the Venetian Republic located?

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Answer

Adriatic Sea

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Question

Where did the merchants Marco Polo and his family spend much of their time abroad?

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Answer

China

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Question

Which major Eurasian trade route network did Venetian merchants use?

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Answer

Silk Road

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Question

How long did the Latin Empire of Constantinople last?

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Answer

1204-1261

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Question

What items did merchants bring back from China?

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Answer

Spices and gun powder

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