The only seas Venice ruled were the Mediterranean and Black, but it dominated European trade from 1000 to 1500, an achievement that owes much to its citizens’ energy and freedom but mostly to their willingness to fight.
While mildly neglected compared to Britain and France, Venice receives a stirring account from British historian Crowley (Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, 2008, etc.). The author concentrates on its golden years and the wars that made them possible, passing over its great but less-pugnacious cultural accomplishments. Isolated by Adriatic’s lagoons, Venice escaped barbarian invasions that ended the Western Roman Empire. One of the few areas of Italy still ruled from Constantinople by the Byzantine Empire, it prospered throughout the Middle Ages. Despite its nominal subservience, Venice eagerly accepted an immense fee to build an massive fleet and transport the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204, after which it added many formerly Byzantine cities and islands to its growing trading empire. It continued to flourish despite competition from other Italian cities and encroachment from the steadily expanding Ottoman Empire. Between brutal naval wars with the Turks, it was happy to trade, a policy that outraged the Vatican and other Christian nations. After 1500, ships from Portugal, Spain, Britain and Holland began sailing across the Atlantic to America and around Africa to Asia, beginning Venice’s decline.
An action-packed political and military history that will remind readers of the Italian sea power that prevailed for centuries before Western European nations arrived on the scene.