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7-08-2015, 21:27

Venice and istria

In the early stages of imperial rule in Italy Venetia et Istria constituted a single province but at some stage in the seventh century it was divided in two. Istria embraced most of the peninsula, but its northern limits are uncertain, since it came under continual pressure from Lombards, Avars and especially Slavs. Extremely little is known of it during the imperial period, and it fell into Lombard hands for brief periods in or soon after 751 and again between 768 and 772. By 774 it was once more in the eastern emperor’s possession, but at some stage in the late eighth century it was conquered by the Franks, possibly at the time of Charlemagne’s victory over the Byzantines in southern Italy in 788.62 It is all the more ironic that the most informative document on the society of Byzantine Italy survives from this obscure region and from the period immediately after imperial rule. In 804 three Frankish missi met at Riˇzana with the patriarch of Grado, the duke of Istria, the local bishops and 172 representatives of the local towns to examine the rights and exactions customary in the times of the Greeks. The resulting report, known as the Plea of Riˇzana (or Risano) reveals the considerable local power exercised by the landowners and their leaders (primates); their attachment to their military offices (such as tribune) and to the titles obtained from the eastern empire (hypatos or consul); and the relatively low level of taxes paid to the empire.63 Istria’s neighbour to thewest,Venetia, remained under Byzantine authority and experienced the most dramatic development in our period. The area also presents serious problems because the evidence is scanty and often late and unreliable. The islands of the lagoon from Chioggia in the south-west to Grado in the north-east had received an influx of refugees at the time of the Lombard invasion of 568 and became the predominant element of the Byzantine province of Venetia when the mainland city ofOderzo fell to the Lombards and the residence of the magister militum or governor was transferred to Eraclea (also known as Cittanova). The area followed the general pattern of Byzantine Italy, with political and economic power concentrated in the hands of a local elite drawn from the ranks of the imperial garrison but increasingly identified with local interests.Within the islands, however, economic activity must have been based on fishing and local trade as much as agriculture. It was probably as a result of its growing trading role that the duchy was able to make an agreement with the Lombard king Liutprand which defined its boundaries on the mainland.64 The area’s distinctiveness was fostered by the existence of its ecclesiastical structures separate from the mainland under the authority of the patriarch of Grado. According to later tradition, a period of a century and a half of rule by the indigenous nobility of tribuni was followed by the election of the first local doge or duke, supposedly in 697 or c. 715.65 In reality this event only occurred in 727, with the election of the Eraclean leader Ursus, and it was part of a more general process. As we have seen, many provinces elected their own duces that year as a result of general discontent with the policies of Emperor Leo III (see above, p. 441). The step also turned out not to denote a decisive break with the empire, since Ursus was soon recognised by the Byzantines as an autonomous dux with the title of hypatos, and the area’s continued loyalty to the empire was demonstrated by the help given to the exarch Eutychios in recovering Ravenna in the 730s. As elsewhere, the decline of imperial authority and mounting pressure from the Lombards led to an increase in conflict between local factions. The details of these are obscure, but they appear to have stemmed from rivalries between different families and islands, as in 742 whenMalamocco revolted against the capital, Eraclea, and elected as duke Deusdedit, the son of Ursus. These internal pressures were exacerbated by the powerful presence of the Franks in the region from the 770s on. Venetia and Istria were not included in the papal claims to former imperial territories expressed in the ‘donations’ of Pippin from 754 and 756 (see above, p. 444), but they did figure among the lands promised to Pope Hadrian I by Charlemagne in 774. Loyalty to Byzantium nevertheless remained paramount, and was reflected in the use of imperial titles and customs. For example, the family of Maurizio Galbaio was probably following imperial practice when the founder’s son and later his grandson were coopted as dukes. Meanwhile Frankish power in the region was further enhanced by Charlemagne’s takeover of Friuli and Istria and defeat of the Avars, and certain factions found it expedient to side with the newwestern empire. Such a pro-Frankish group seized power in the person of Obelerius in 802. When Charlemagne recognised Venice as a Frankish fief under his son, Pippin, king of Italy, Nikephoros I (802–11) retaliated by sending a fleet under the command of the patrikios Niketas. A compromise was reached whereby Obelerius’ position as doge was confirmed and he accepted the title of spatharios as an imperial official. A truce between the two empires was signed in 807. However, hostilities broke out again whenObelerius showed renewed signs of disloyalty to the empire and a second Byzantine fleet came into conflict with the Franks. Pippin intervened and sacked several of the settlements of Venice shortly before his death in July 810. In the face of this crisis the Venetians sank their differences and established a new centre of settlement and administration at Rialto under a new doge, Agnello Partecipazio (or Particiaco). Local opinion had shifted decisively in favour of attachment to Byzantium,66 and Venetia was recognised as Byzantine territory by the treaty agreed between the Frankish and eastern empires in 812. Venice benefited from its new-found stability to develop into an important emporium – trading in the luxury items of the east; exporting western timber, slaves, salt and fish; and serving as the empire’s listening post in the west. The growth and sophistication of Venice’s commercial role is reflected in the will of Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio, who died in 829: in addition to extensive property-holdings, it lists investments in long-distance trading ventures.67 Venice’s relations with Byzantium remained cordial, with widespread use of Byzantine titles and fashions, but in practice the province was increasingly independent. The doges also wished Venice to enjoy ecclesiastical independence, especially after the suffragan sees of the patriarchate ofGrado were placed under the patriarch of Aquileia by the council ofMantua of 827. In the following year the body of StMark was seized in Alexandria by Venetian seamen and deposited in a new basilica adjoining the ducal basilica in Rialto. The city’s new patron rapidly became a symbol of Venetian pride and independence. The middle years of the ninth century were a period of both danger and opportunity for Venice. The Byzantine and western missions to the Slavs helped open up new areas to Venetian enterprise, but also led to new tensions which complicated Venice’s position as a middleman. Even more serious was the wave of naval raids launched by the Arabs of North Africa. Venice’s growing naval strength was called upon by the Byzantines to help combat these attacks on Sicily in 827 and in theAdriatic in the 830s and 840s. In 840 a treaty was signed with Lothar I, guaranteeing Venice’s neutrality, boundaries and right to trade freely. Frankish recognition of Venice’s power and independence was reflected in confirmations of the agreement in 856 and 880 and by a state visit by Louis II to the city in the former year. At the same time Venice faced new dangers from Slav disorder and piracy within its Istrian and Dalmatian spheres of influence and from the reassertion of Byzantine power in the Adriatic following the reconquest of Dalmatia in 868 and of southern Italy from 876 onwards. Yet Byzantium continued to recognise the need for Venetian naval assistance, especially when a planned alliance with the Franks against the Arabs fell through. In 879 an imperial embassy travelled to Venice to confer upon Doge Ursus I Partecipazio gifts and the title of pr¯otospatharios. Ursus I’s dogeship also saw the creation of iudices as magistrates and advisers to curb the doge’s authority and the establishment of new bishoprics, including Torcello. From the late ninth century, therefore, many of the characteristic features of medieval Venice were in place, including some distinctive constitutional arrangements, a marked independence in outlook and government, and wide-ranging naval and commercial activities. Yet the city retained its powerful if ambiguous links with the east.

 

 

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