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City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
Roger Crowley
Progress: 605/823 pages
A History of Venice
Peter Dimock, John Julius Norwich

Just some interesting quotes from the book (to be updated)

City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire - Roger Crowley

The sea was at once their protection, their opportunity and their fate; secure in their shallow lagoon with its deceptive channels and treacherous mud flats that no invader could penetrate, shielded if not insulated from the surge of the Adriatic, they wrapped the sea around them like a cloak. They changed its gender from the masculine, mare, to the feminine mar in the Venetian dialect and every year on Ascension Day they married it. This was an act of appropriation – the bride and all her dowry became property of the husband – but it was also one of propitiation. The sea was danger and uncertainty. It could and did smash ships, hasten enemies and periodically threaten to overwhelm the defences of their low-lying city. The voyage could be terminated by an arrow shot or a rising sea or disease; death came in a shroud weighted with stones and dropped into the lower depths. The maritime relationship would be long, intense and ambivalent; not until the fifteenth century did the Venetians seriously question whether the marriage should be with land rather than water and during this time they moved up the gradient from eel trappers, saltpanners and bargemen on the slow inland rivers of north Italy, to merchant princes and coiners of gold. The sea brought the fragile city, existing like a mirage on its tenuous oak pilings, riches beyond measure and a maritime empire as splendid as any. In the process Venice shaped the world.


about the Pope Innocent bargaining with Venetians and how his jurist training showed:



The city had long existed at an oblique angle to pious Christian projects. He [Pope] gave the Venetians a carefully worded permission, framed to exclude transaction in any war materials, which he proceeded to enumerate: ‘[we] prohibit you, under strict threat ofanathema, to supply the Saracens by selling, giving or bartering, iron, hemp, sharp implements, inflammable materials, arms, galleys, sailing ships, or timbers’, adding with a lawyer’s eye, to snuff out any legal loopholes the devious Venetians might seek to exploit, ‘whether finished or unfinished …’


funny measurements


A succession of towers alternated on the inner and outer walls, so close that ‘a seven-year-old boy could toss an apple from one turret to the next’.


on how to make your army bigger when you are vastly outnumbered and desperate


The Byzantine army seemed so huge that ‘if they were to go out into the countryside to engage the Greeks, who had such a vast number of men, they would have been swallowed up in their midst’. In desperation, they turned out all their servants, cooks and camp followers, dressed in quilts and saddle cloths for armour, with cooking pots for helmets, brandishing kitchen utensils, maces and pestles in a grotesque parody of a military force – an ugly Brueghelesque vision of an armed peasantry. These men were tasked with facing the walls.


 The much-maligned (that is, deconstructed) code of chivalry in action (also military ethics could overrule both military discipline and obedience due the liege lord):


... it was pointed out to Baldwin, leader of the crusader army, that they would soon be out of reach of help if battle were engaged. He signalled a strategic withdrawal. The command was not well received. Within the chivalric code of knighthood, retreat was a smirch on honour. A group of knights disobeyed and continued the advance. [...] Those around Baldwin were shamed by the spectacle of others riding forward in their place. They beseeched him to countermand the order: ‘My lord, you are acting with great dishonour by not advancing; you must realise if you do not ride forward, we will not stay at your side.’ Baldwin signalled a fresh advance.


UPD On the sack of Constantinople by the crousaders:


crowbarring open the tombs, they gazed on the face of the great Justinian, builder of Hagia Sophia, dead for seven hundred years. His corpse was not decomposed in the airtight tomb. They looked upon this sight as if it were a miracle – then looted the body for its valuables.


Where the Frankish crusaders hacked up and melted down, the Venetians picked their plunder like connoisseurs,carrying back to the lagoon intact works of art to beautify and ennoble the city.


Yes, it is one of the distinctions between civilized people and barbarians when both engage in fully uncivilized behaviour.