01 July 2011

Under the shade of Your Signoria

15th C Venetian lion, Negroponte

Last March at the Renaissance Studies Association, there was a series of panels on the Venetian stato da mar.  In a discussion on terminology, I suggested that  "protectorate" might appropriately be used at times to describe Venetian rule. I was told firmly that "protectorate" was unacceptable -- without being allowed to offer any evidence, and several people used the word "oppression" conflating the many varieties of administration in the stato da mar with that of Crete and going along with various trends in "post-colonial" studies.

Now a certain amount of oppression is in the eye of the beholder, and I think you have to accept that nearly everyone in the 15th century was, in 21st century terms, oppressed by someone else.  But the Venetian città or terre in the Morea, which is the part of the stato da mar on which I feel entitled to make pronouncements could not have survived with very much comparative oppression happening at all.  The ratio of Venetians to Greeks was very small indeed, and Greeks oppressed by Venetian rule were perfectly capable of voting with their feet and going to the Greek-ruled Despotate.

What you find is the opposite.  They slipped into Venetian territory on occasion and the Despotate regularly asked for them to be returned.  Venice tended to respond that all were welcome in Venetian terre. Massive evidence from the mid-1300s through the Ottoman conquest describes persistent exploitation, raiding of, and violence against Greeks in the Despotate by Greek archons, and the arbitrary infliction and collection of taxes. They raided Greeks in Venetian territories, too, and you get a snapshot of such an event in the Argos petition

You see Despots occasionally remitting taxes on the archons and frequently on Monemvasia and on monasteries, but never on those who worked the land and who paid their taxes to the archons.  A. Kontogiannopoulou has a horrific article in the 2009 volume of Revue des Études Byzantines detailing the tax burden extracted by the last Palaiologues. In contrast, quite a few edicts from Venice lift various traditional taxes on the land-working class for the terre of Methoni, Koroni, Nauplion, and Argos, and what you see over and over in the letters of Bartolomeo Minio is Venetian pacification of the Greek and Albanian residents, not oppression.

We have a number of instances in which people ask to be taken under Venetian protection, "under the shade -- sub umbra -- of Your Signoria" which my imagination, because of that wonderful lion above, changes to "under the wings of your lion." Here are some:

In 1388 citizens from Nauplion asked for Venetian rule as protection from Nerio Acciauoli, tirannus crudelissimus -- they had come into the hands of a young woman who probably had never seen Nauplion and who certainly could have given no protection (Venice wanted Nauplion anyway). In the summer of 1423, Adam de Melpignano, a baron of Achaia, asked to be taken into Venetian protection, as did Rosso Bua, leader of an Albanian clan.  In 1426 Theodoros II Palaiologos asked Venice to take the whole Morea under its protection. In 1428, Archbishop Pandolfo of Patras asked Venice to protect Patras against the Despotate. In 1456 Demetrios Laskaris Asan asked Venice to take over the territory of Mouchli, which Venice refused to do -- it was too far inland, and he had already given it to Mehmed in 1454.  At the same time Athens asked for Venetian protection-- also no go, and Joannis Spagnoli asked for protection of Damala, Fanari, and Ligurion.  Venice took those: Fanari and Damala were on the coast and Ligurion was a nice bridge between the coast and Nauplion territory. 

In 1465 archon Petro Bua put his territory and people under Venetian protection -- this was early in the Venetian-Ottoman war, and at the same time the Greeks governed by Micheli Rallis asked for Venetian protection from Rallis' harshness, as did the town and castle of Longanico. A group of Moreotes who took refuge on Tocco-ruled Zante during the war put up the flag of S. Marco in the face of an Ottoman assault. The Kladas brothers put Vordounia under Venetian protection, and when Kladas declared his private war against the Turks in October 1480, he carried the flag to claim that protection.  Much earlier, in 1410, Mauricius Spata used it in Arta.

It worked better at some times than others, and I am not arguing for Venetian benevolence in the stato da mar, though when you track through the records of the families of Greeks and Albanians who died for Venice and look at Venetian generosity to their children and grandchildren the word seems quite reasonable.  I am arguing for a more responsible use of evidence.  I go back to Bartolomeo Minio.  He was keenly aware of the burdens Venice placed on the people in Nauplion territory, and when he had to call a corvée, he labored with them, carrying stone and lumber.  He wrote, "I want to do what I can to help these poor people."  And he was remembered, 150 years later, in Greek tradition, as a protector:

At that time, the governor of the place, that is, the Venetian, with all the people of Nauplion, did all the building, and built the walls around, just as they appear today . . . and the governor of the place, the Venetian, gave benefits and many gifts . . .
Τότε ὁ Ἀφεντὴς, ἤγουν ὁ Βενετζιάνος, μὲ τὸν λαὸν ὃλον τοῦ Ἀναπλίου, ἔκαμε πᾶσαν οἰκονομίαν καὶ ἔκτισαν τριγύρον τὰ τείχη, καθὼς φαίνονται ἒως τὴν σήμερον . . . καὶ ὁ Αφεντης` τοῦ τόπου ὁ Βενετζιάνος ἔδοκεν εὐγερσίας καὶ χαρίσματα πολλὰ τῶν Χριστιανῶν ὅπου ἧρχονταν ἀπὸ ἐκατοικοῦσαν μέσα εἰς τὸ Ἀνάπλι καὶ ἔδωκε καὶ ταῦτην τήν χάριν.


  1. A remarkable case of Venetian protection is that of Corfu. The island voluntarily placed itself under Venetian protection in 1386 -- and stayed in Venetian hands until 1797. Though some years afterwards Corfu became formally Venetian, many of the privileges and peculiarities of the Corfiot system of government -- rooted in Byzantine times -- remained in force.

    Where can I find more info on Adam de Melpignano and Rosso Bua?

  2. I have no idea for either of them. The names Each appears once by name in Venetian documents. For Adam, after that once, documents show years of bickering with the Principality of Achaia over "Moline, Nicline et Sancte Elie" which were his villages at the edge of Methoni territory. (Sathas I.#93) Bua does not appear in the often erroneous genealogy given in Hopf, Chroniques Greco-Romanes, unless "Rosso" is a nickname.


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