Crouzet-Pavan, Elisabeth. Venice Triumphant, The Horizon Of A Myth.
Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
and London, 1999, 2002). 386 pp, $24.95.
Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan's Venice Triumphant,
The Horizon Of A Myth, is listed by its publisher as European History, and as such,
it is inappropriately labeled. Crouzet-Paven, who is a professor of medieval
history at the Sorbonne in France, has crafted a treatise on the development
of the city of Venice that cannot simply be categorized in terms of continental
history. The very nature of the city's geography ties its story to the sea.
A glance at some of the maps of this book, Venice and the Adriatic (59), and
Venice and the Aegean (68), confirm that this history of the city goes well
beyond continental Europe. While ample space is devoted to the construction
of the islands, the city and its infrastructure, much of the book is concerned
with the city's most influential factor, maritime commerce. So important was
this trade in Venice's development that related events and developments are
ever-present within the book. In acknowledging the role of maritime trade
in the city's internal politics, foreign policy, and economic growth, the
author has really created a book that would be better labeled as Mediterranean
Crouzet-Paven has published two other books on
this subject in recent years: Venise: Une invention de la ville
[Venice: The Invention of a City] and La mort lente de Torcello: Histoire
d'une cité disparue [The Slow Death of
Torcello: The History of a Vanished City]. Both were published in French and
have not been translated. As her first translated work, Venice Triumphant falls short of being a true World History book. To be sure,
the author writers a good history of the creation of the city's Latin Empire
in the Mediterranean Sea. She expertly describes a city that developed into
a maritime empire over the course of almost a millennium. In the wake of the
collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the author illustrates Venetian trade
links with the Byzantine Empire and the Dar al-Islam (61). Yet Crouzet-Pavan's
treatment of the acquisition, development and maintenance of the colonies
of the Latin Empire leaves something to be desired.
The author gives excellent examples of how the
major forces active in the world at the time played a dominant role in the
way the city grew. She traces the development of Venice, first as a city-state,
and then as an empire that had trading ports and colonies spanning three continents
and scores of islands in various seas (68). In the style of effective world
history that we have come to expect from contemporary historians, Crouzet-Pavan
links major events such as the Crusades, outbreaks of the plague, and the
capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks, to the city's fortunes. However,
these links are one-sided in favor of Venice and therefore are not fully developed.
Crouzet-Pavan makes only a cursory mention of the
role that Venetians played in the Fourth Crusade. This is unfortunate considering
how lucrative it was to the city, but it is indicative of the author's intent
to create a history of what Italians call Stato di mar. Venice obtained much
of its Latin Empire as a result of these actions. The city took control of
a sizeable portion of Romania, coastal holdings in the Ionian Sea, part of
the Peloponnese, Cyclades, and Sporades islands as well as trading stations
on Euboea, Gallipoli, and Rodosto in 1204 (67). The island of Crete became
a colony of Venice soon thereafter. While the acquisition of such a large
maritime empire is impressive and unrivaled to this point, the author makes
little attempt to analyze the impact this had on the region, but rather focuses
on the city itself. Because of this, this book falls a bit short of what we
have come to expect from World History.
| Equally impressive as the widespread ports of the
Latin Empire was the usage of the Venetian ducat as the coin of choice throughout
the region. By the mid-fourteenth century it had become the basic coin of
commerce and finance in the Mediterranean and just a century later it was
the most common coin of the markets of the near East (91). While financial
developments such as these and the Venetian banking system (a true innovation
that served only to facilitate large-scale transfers between accounts) are
fascinating, the author devotes less than a page to them. The author also
leaves underdeveloped the international politics that allowed Venetian merchants
to establish quarters in foreign cities, especially for their overseas employees.
Venetian quarters existed in the cities of Constantinople, Alexandria, and
a host of others throughout the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas but they are
barely mentioned. In addition, the multitude of wars and naval engagements
that Venetians fought (and usually won) in this era are left to footnotes.
As an outgrowth of trade, these conflicts could have proven useful to understanding
the city's foreign policy.
| The author's description of the trade routes that made the city into an international
power will, however, be quite useful to a World History class. The city developed
into a "silk port," serving as Europe's primary entrepôt for
the importation of luxury goods from China and the Far East (121). By 1317,
city merchants had set up regular maritime trade routes connecting Venice
with Flanders, London, Marseilles, and Bruges in the West and Constantinople,
Alexandria, and Kaffa in the East (78). Venetians had placed themselves at
the very center of major world trade routes and were profiting handsomely
as a result. As a geographical exercise alone, this chapter would be of good
use for students. Only an expert in Mediterranean geography would be able
to easily locate all of the islands that Venice claimed.
| The final chapters are devoted to the development
of the state and its internal politics. Crouzet-Pavan does an excellent job
in dealing with development of the city's complicated bureaucracy. She paints
an accurate picture of how officials managed such important issues as water
management, docking rights and fees, and duties on imports. The growth of
the city's governing body, however, is a story dominated by wealthy families
and complicated by the church. Although it is a fascinating story, Crouzet-Pavan's
approach makes it difficult to understand.
Spring Valley High School