The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage (英語) ペーパーバック – 1990/7/3
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For six centuries the Republic of Venice was a maritime empire, its sovereign power extending throughout much of the eastern Mediterranean – an empire of coasts, islands and isolated fortresses by which, as Wordsworth wrote, the mercantile Venetians 'held the gorgeous east in fee'.
Jan Morris reconstructs the whole of this glittering dominion in the form of a sea-voyage, travelling along the historic Venetian trade routes from Venice itself to Greece, Crete and Cyprus. It is a traveller's book, geographically arranged but wandering at will from the past to the present, evoking not only contemporary landscapes and sensations but also the characters, the emotions and the tumultuous events of the past. The first such work ever written about the Venetian ‘Stato da Mar’, it is an invaluable historical companion for visitors to Venice itself and for travellers through the lands the Doges once ruled.
This book gave me a very useful angle to look at the Venetian imperialist policy. The indignation at the Venice-led attack of Constantinople has become a trope in most of the texts describing the conquest, "Christians slaying Christians". The fact that the invaders and invaded belonged to the different creeds, Latin and Orthodox, just lingers somewhere on the margin. Morris brings it into the spotlight, and the overall picture looks a bit different now. A candidate to the Byzantine throne has promised the crusaders to lead the populace back to the Western Church. In a way the task of bringing the strayed flock into the hand of Rome could've been considered a mission no less worthy than fighting Muslims.
Also the description of the Venice's religious policies in her colonies was very revealing - the republic is considered to be a haven of tolerance, but evidently at the conquered maritime territories the people of different faith were not enjoying such a bliss. The pressure was less heavy on Jews and Gypsies here and there but only because these communities somehow made themselves almost immune to repression by contributing heavily to a colony's prosperity.
Well, as much as one is tempted to pass a moral judgement, to do so is infantile. Yes...the Venetians were not nice, and in a picture perfect world such a quaint and pretty city should have been breeding a better men, not these opportunistic adherents of Realpolitik. And if you have an interest in Venice that exceeds a plan of a 2-day visit to skim the sights, the books presenting a more accurate portrait of the republic and it's nation have a great value, "The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage" is definitely one of these.
P.S. I can't be sure about the book's accuracy in details, I have to take the author's word for it in all the instances except one: Morris writes that Peter the Great sent sea cadets to Dolmatia to become experienced sailors in 1626 - and the monarch was born in 1672. OK, it's almost nothing, it's not like putting some crucial event a century earlier or later, just lets hope there is not a lot of such lapses in the book.