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City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
Roger Crowley
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A History of Venice
Peter Dimock, John Julius Norwich

On Venetians in Byzantium, 12 C


With this wealth came arrogance – and resentment. ‘They came’, said a Byzantine chronicler, ‘in swarms and tribes, exchanging their city for Constantinople, whence they spread out across the empire.’ The tone of these remarks speaks a familiar language of xenophobia and economic fear of the immigrant. The upstart Italians, with their hats and their beardless faces, stood out sharply, both in manner and appearance, in the city streets. The charges levelled against them were many: they acted like citizens of a foreign power rather than loyal subjects of the empire; they were fanning out from their allotted quarter and were buying properties across the city; they cohabited with or married Greek women and led them away from the Orthodox faith; they stole the relics of saints; they were wealthy, arrogant, unruly, boorish, out of control. ‘Morally dissolute, vulgar … untrustworthy, with all the gross characteristics of seafaring people’, spluttered another Byzantine writer. A bishop of Salonica called them ‘marsh frogs’. The Venetians were becoming increasingly unpopular in the Byzantine Empire and they seemed to be everywhere.

Now some nine hundred years later there are no more Byzantines and only a handful of Venetians in their backwater museum of a city (undeniably and breathtakingly beautiful, though), but something never changes.


"Besides, they called me speckled frog."

"Worm—earth-worm, and yellow to boot."