A thousand-year-old empire

An extract from Dave’s article ‘The Early Life of Casanova’, one of the six articles on the site which are available free to all.

“Casanova was born at a time when the thousand-year-old, sea-borne empire that was Venice was no longer the political, military and commercial powerhouse that it had once been. By the end of the seventeenth century it was managing to hold its own against the existential threats of the Ottoman Turks and the Austrian Empire but the current of history was running against it.  At sea, Spain, France, England and even the Dutch were the dominant players, including in the Adriatic.  The Venetian navy and its legendary shipyards, upon which the glory of the Serenissima had been built, were hopelessly out of date.  Their ships were slow and more vulnerable to the Barbary pirates compared to the modern, and far more expensive, galleons of the northern and Atlantic nations. Unsurprisingly, merchants abandoned oared galleys, preferring foreign sailing ships, although the military persevered: the shortcomings of old-fashioned galleys were less exposed over the shorter distances and more benign sailing conditions of the Mediterranean.  From the mid-seventeenth century, Venice did attempt to update its fleet, through hire, purchase and manufacture, but the number of modern warships at their disposal remained relatively small.

Nonetheless, eighteenth-century Venice was still wealthy and, in some ways, thriving.  In 1783, in terms of trade, more tonnage was going through the city than in its entire history, while also going through the city in larger numbers than ever before were the aristocrats of Europe.  This centre of tolerance and sophistication was the destination par excellence in the age of the Grand Tour. Whether it be music, art, theatre, books, churches, sculpture, gambling or the pleasures of the flesh, Venice catered for the most demanding of tastes. If you had money, Venice would help you to spend it.  The state was politically stable and the population as a whole was broadly content despite some internal tensions caused by disgruntled minor nobility.  Most importantly of all, in the eighteenth century it managed    pretty much to stay out of the wars that were depleting the treasuries of the rest of Europe.”

‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is now freely available here.

27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.

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