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the third venetia

Dawn of the Third Venetia | Part 1 – A History of The Veneti

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The word ‘Italy’ is a geographical expression, a description which is useful shorthand, but has none of the political significance the efforts of the revolutionary ideologues try to put on it, and which is full of dangers for the very existence of the states which make up the peninsula

Klemens Von Metternich, in a letter to Austrian ambassador to France of April 1847.

The Prince von Metternich gives us a definition that is not negative in itself, since it does not deny the existence of one or more nations within the Italian peninsula, a place unique in the world for its geographical, climatic, ethnic, linguistic and historical peculiarities. But precisely because of these peculiarities, so diverse along the peninsula, we cannot speak of a single italian nation.

Then why is the Italian peninsula ruled by a single government today, except for the enclaves of San Marino and the Vatican? The process of unification of Italy is the result of several wars that took place during the 19th century and ended – ruinously – with the two World Wars. A conquest plan supported by powers outside of Italy itself, embedded in the complex European political scene of that time.

The newborn Italian state, in order to assert itself and secure its own existence, had to oppose the affirmation of the existing identities of the Italian peninsula, to erase them and replace them with a new, artificial concept of nationhood. Nowadays this struggle is still ongoing, and these “local identities”, enemies of the Italian state, are none other than the real italian nations.

You read that correctly, Italy is actually inhabited by several nations, each with different outlooks and propensities.

We will now focus on Venice, the most “Indo-European” of these nations in almost every respect, one of the oldest in the world in terms of territorial, racial and cultural continuity. Its people live in a land of incredible diversity and have left an indelible mark on human history throughout their three thousand year history.

Keywords

Before discussing the concept of Third Venetia, we need to clarify what is Venetia. Some definitions, to better understand what we are talking about, are needed:

Venetia is the name given to the land around the Gulf of Venice (the northern end of the Adriatic Sea), defined both by its natural boundaries and by the blood, history and culture of the Venetians who have inhabited it. It is bounded by the River Adda to the west, the Karst plateau to the east, the Alps to the north and the River Po to the south.

map of the third venetia
Map of Venetia with Latin names.

The Veneti (Venetians) are native European people living mainly in the region of the same name and in southern Brazil. This ethnonym includes, besides the main Venetian ethnicity, various minorities that consider themselves part of Venetia by virtue of ethnocultural affinity, territorial and historical proximity and language, such as the Histri.

Vénesia (Venice) is the most famous Venetian city, founded during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and built on the famous lagoon for the defensive advantages it gave the Venetians, as the Roman authority could no longer protect them. It became a protectorate of the Eastern Roman Empire after the Greco-Gothic War (535-554), eventually gaining independence and rising to become the capital of the Serenissima Republic of Venice. As it expanded, Venice assumed the role of protector of the rights, customs and identity of the Veneti, maintaining their ancestors’ entrepreneurial character.

Veneto can have two meanings: one to indicate a singular male member of the Veneti people, the other as the administrative region of the Italian state that is partially based on the borders of Venetia.

Northern regions of the Republic of Italy.

The History of Venetia

The Ancient Veneti (1200 BC – 421 AD)

The people who would give Venetia its name were the Veneti (or Venetkens, as they called themselves), an Indo-European population who settled in northern Italy during the Bronze Age. Their name probably comes from the proto-Indo-European “wenet-“, which can mean either “the loved ones” or “the fighters”. Their name has also been associated with the colour light blue (venetus in Latin).

They moved from Central Europe along the Amber Road, whose trade they probably oversaw, and settled at its southern terminus (the upper Adriatic).

amber road ending with third venetia
The Amber Road

Once settled, they organised themselves into a confederation of many city-states and became renowned traders and craftsmen. Their horses, in particular, were coveted by many rulers and used by athletes in the Olympic Games. Overall, they produced a civilisation that was fully integrated into the classical world, while maintaining a material culture and religious practice distinct from its neighbours.

Settlements of the Veneti in third venetia
Settlements of the Veneti in Antiquity

Their relations with the Romans were friendly from the start, as they both had an interest in stopping the Celtic expansion in the peninsula. During the Second Punic War, they remained loyal to Rome even when the other peoples of the region sided with Carthage. In the following centuries, the Veneti would be gradually integrated by the Roman Republic as equals, with full citizenship.

Early history of Venice (421 – 815)

Even though they assimilated into Roman culture in the following age, as soon as the imperial authority waned in the V and VI centuries, they quickly moved to ensure their autonomy and self-sufficiency. Fleeing from barbarian invasions, the Veneti on the mainland moved to the lagoon, a safer place where they founded modest settlements.

These same settlements would serve as military bases and support for the re-establishment of imperial authority in the VI century, when the Eastern Roman Empire re-conquered the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths and later lost most of it to the Lombard invasion.

settlements of third venetia 600 AD
Settlements of Venetians in the lagoon around 600 AD

The age of migration, as in the rest of Europe, would mark drastic shifts in settlement patterns, and many of the ancient Venetian cities would decline and be abandoned in favour of new ones on the coastline, eventually forming a kind of federation that would take many generations to find its meaning, while existing as a political and economic hinge between East and West.

After the so-called Ducal period, in which local aristocrats tried to take power as Doges with the support of either the Franks or the Byzantines, the aristocracy finally asserted itself and limited the power of the Doge. In the same period, at the beginning of the IX century, after the Pax Nicephori (815), the budding Republic was recognised by its former masters in the East and its capital was moved to the island of Rialto (810).

The Middle Ages (815-1509)

During the middle ages, this budding civilization on the lagoon would go from a mere byzantine military district, to an autonomous entity capable of independent military initiatives – often cooperating with its former masters in Constantinople – to the dominant power in the Mediterranean, demonstrating its power and influence in many instances and extending its direct control to many islands and territories in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Republic of Venice and its territories ca. XI century.

From the start, the institutional development of the Republic would be aristocratic, and oriented to maritime commerce as its most important focus. The fortunes of the Serenìsima would come from the union of public and private interests, in a way that made Venetians work together for the Common Good.

The Venetian government assisted private enterprise by organizing and financing military campaigns to secure and protect trade routes, as well as establishing colonies and trade outposts in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions. These ventures were often supported by the private sector, where wealthy merchant families and individual investors provided the necessary capital for trade expeditions and maritime enterprises. The Cołegansa, a form of limited partnership, exemplified this collaboration, allowing private investors to fund trading voyages while entrusting merchants with their execution.

Furthermore, the state facilitated commerce by investing in essential infrastructure, such as shipyards (the famed Arsenal of Venice), warehouses, and navigational aids. The government also established regulatory frameworks and commercial laws that promoted fair trade practices and protected investors’ interests. By intertwining public policy with private enterprise, Venice created a synergistic environment that maximized its maritime potential, leading to extensive economic growth and territorial expansion, ultimately establishing itself as a dominant maritime republic.

By the XI century the mechanism was well established, and the Crusades would be a great opportunity for both expansion and profit, with Venice being the main provider or ships and passage to the East. Despite centuries of cooperation against saracen pirates, the first conflicts with the Eastern Roman Empire would begin in this period, focused on tariffs and trading rights. Venice would gain many privileges through its utility to Byzantium, but the enormity of these concessions would weigh on the Empire, pushing subsequent emperors to revoke them periodically, sparking a conflict that was, in hindsight, inevitable.

commercial ports of third venetia
Commercial ports of Venice in the Byzantine Empire

Historians have remarked that Venice and Byzantium could be considered two parts of the same entity which drifted apart gradually, but started competing for the same thing: power over the Aegean and Adriatic Seas and the profits from the trade over these bodies of water. Thus the disaster of the Fourth Crusade, whose consequences we still have to deal with today, was in some way fated to happen with the rise of Venice.

In the next centuries, Venice would assert itself over the other powers of the Mediterranean – notably Genoa after its defeat in 1381 – as well as expanding to other islands of the Mediterranean.

At the beginning of the XV century, geopolitical and commercial necessities – but likely socioeconomic developments in the aristocracy – would force the Republic to shift its focus to the venetian hinterland. During the following century, the Republic would extend its control to many cities – a century-long process of usually voluntary submission (similar to the roman deditio) of the cities of modern-day Veneto, Friuli and eastern Lombardy. Said cities would keep governing themselves, and the respect of their internal autonomy would form the legal basis of Venice’s dominion over them.

From the Zenith to the End (1509-1797)

Venice’s expansion on the mainland would continue until the beginning of the XVI century, when a coalition directed by the Papal States and comprised of virtually all major european powers would begin a war against the Republic with the aim of stopping its expansion and divide the spoils of war.

Initial members of the League of Cambrai

After the defeat at the Battle of Agnadello (1509), Venice would employ its diplomatic influence to pit one power against the other, managing to avoid disaster, not only surviving as the only independent state in the peninsula, but also maintaining all the territories previously acquired.

After this war, Venice would assume, roughly, its final form, while it’s nemesis appeared on the horizon: the Ottoman Empire, the virtual antithesis to the Serenìsima, would occupy most of Venice’s energies to be contained, just as the Arab Caliphate’s expansion was checked by the Eastern Roman Empire centuries prior.

While the early modern period could be considered the zenith of Venice’s power and influence, the Republic was gradually losing its dynamism. Once the epitome of commercial and naval innovation, its institutional development would become more and more oligarchic with each passing century. This trend, starting arguably from its inception and being the key to its success for centuries, would gradually become its weakness, as the aristocracy’s outlook would become more and more set in its ways, failing to rise to the new challenges.

Excluded from the developing Atlantic trade, being on the front line against the Ottoman menace and increasingly encroached by the bigger european powers, the Republic shifted its focus to defending it’s possessions, as its ruling class preferred to invest its capital in the safety of landowning rather than in the more risky naval ventures that once made the Serenisima the master of the Mediterranean.

By the XVIII century, with the peace of Passarowitz (1718), the centuries-long conflict with the Ottomans ended, as Venice would assume its final form and begin its golden century, growing increasingly neutral to the geopolitical events in Europe, while its society expressed some of the finest examples of painting, architecture, music and sculpture.

The Republic of Venice after the Peace of Passarowitz

In 1797, the revolutionary storm that engulfed Europe would not spare the Republic, who for decades had been maintaining an increasingly untenable neutrality. At last, it incurred the wrath of Napoleon – a man of Modernity that probably could not tolerate an alternative to what he represented – the Leviathan of the modern nation-state.

On May 12th 1797, 1100 years since its founding, the Great Council of Venice would be forced to vote to abolish the Republic, hoping to spare the population from further violence.

Venetia under Austrian rule (1797-1866)

As the fires of revolution died, Europe was reorganised to ensure stability. It’s not clear why, while many states were created or expanded to act as buffers (such as the Netherlands or Savoy), Venetia was not allowed to exist as an independent state.

Instead, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was created as a dependent state of the Austrian Empire, with a unique status compared to other territories. It retained a degree of autonomy as a kingdom, with its own government, legal system and administration – albeit under Austrian supervision.

As can be seen on the map, the Istrian territories were excluded from the new state.

Austrian third venetia
Austrian Venetia

However, the spectre of revolution and the idea of Italian unification – a movement inspired and financed by Freemasonry – would destabilise the Austrian Empire and the Italian peninsula. Led by the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, the most powerful Italian state at the time, this movement would try to drive Austria out of Italy.

The revolutions of 1848 across Europe would see the proclamation in Venice of the ephemeral “Republic of San Marco”, led by Daniele Manin. Manin was a controversial figure: on the one hand, he invoked the legacy of the Venetian Republic against foreign “oppression”; on the other, he would eventually found the National Italian Society, an association that would coordinate the various conspiratorial groups with the ultimate aim of uniting Italy under the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.

In 1866, the already established Kingdom of Italy would set its sights on Venice and join Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. Italy would suffer crushing defeats, both on land at Custoza (24 June) and at sea at Lissa (20 July), where the Austrian navy, manned mainly by Venetians and Istrians (even orders on board ships were given in Venetian), defeated the Italian navy, superior in men and resources. According to tradition, when the victory was announced, the crews threw their caps in the air and shouted “Viva San Marco! (“Hurrah for St Mark!”), the traditional Venetian cry of victory.

The “Plebiscite” of 1866

Despite the military defeats, Italy found itself on the winning side – thanks to Prussian victories on the northern front. Austria, not having been defeated by Italy, would cede Venetia to France, who had a mediating role in the peace talks, with the condition that it could be ceded to Italy only with the consent of the Venetian population.

The peace of Vienna (1866) had recognized the right to self-determination of the Venetian people, a right that would be completely disregarded by Italy, who made sure to employ every measure at its disposal to manipulate the results of the plebiscite.

The candidates of the commission proposed by France to represent the Venetian people were in reality trusted men of the Kingdom of Italy, who obtained their role through a combination of intimidation, bribery and other “mafia-like” methods described by the same figure responsible in his memoirs – general Genova Thaon di Revel.

On October 17th, a royal decree containing the modalities of the vote was published in the papers, causing the protests of the French Commissioner Edmond Le Bœuf, who claimed a violation of the treaty, and affirmed that he wouldn’t cede Venetia to Italy under such conditions. The Italian government would manage to placate the French official with fake reassurances.

Two days later, October 19th, in a proclamation articulated by Commissioner Le Boeuf, he declared: “On behalf of His Majesty the Emperor of the French and by virtue of the full powers and mandate conferred upon me […] we declare to restore Venetia to itself, so that the populations, masters of their destinies, may freely express, through universal suffrage, their will regarding the annexation of Venice to the Kingdom of Italy.

However, Revel also delineates the intriguing moments that ensued. “Having said this, Count Michiel, on behalf of the Commission, acknowledged General Leboeuf’s restoration of Venetia to itself”.

From the French commissioner’s objections, the fears and admissions of the Italian commissioner, the wording of the cession formula used, it’s clear that France ceded Venetia to itself, in accordance with the international agreement, granting it the right to self-determination through a self-managed popular consultation.

Thus, the plebiscite was supposed to be freely organized by the three representatives of the Venetian populations, who were accorded a special international status, with the full option of “independence,” which was strongly feared by the Italian government. Fearing potential autonomous or even republican aspirations for Venetia, the italian government devised “mafia-like” oppressive methods, as we now know, to deny the Venetians the right to self-determination as recognized, guaranteed, and sanctioned by the Peace of Vienna on October 3rd, 1866.

On the ground, however, the Italian army had already occupied the Venetian territory, and on October 19th the same general Thaon di Revel would boast in a telegram, about how “The Royal Italian flag waves from the masts of St. Mark’s Square, greeted by the frantic shouts of the exultant population”.

General Revel’s dispatch

The vote itself was a farce, mirroring other plebiscites in other regions of Italy occupied by the Piedmontese armies: a public vote, worded to leave no option for Venetia’s independence, restricted to only some Venetian citizens while allowing Piedmontese soldiers above 16 years of age to vote, with controlled voting procedures.

All this, accompanied by intimidation of the notable Venetian citizens, arrests of dissenters (including priests), and overall manipulation of the public by Piedmontese army who had already taken control of the government buildings. The results of the vote, as you can expect, were typical of a banana republic: 641.758 votes for the annexation, 69 votes against.

Venetia under Italian occupation (1866-present)

“Fatta l’Italia, bisogna fare gli Italiani” / “We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.”

attributed to Massimo d’Azeglio

This iconic phrase, is still true today as it was right after the unification of Italy.

Venetia in the years following the annexation had to suffer the inept governance of a bureaucratic class of foreigners coming from Piedmont. As in the rest of Italy, the governing structures of Piedmont would be imposed everywhere with little regard to the local society and economy.

Infamous among many of these laws, was the “Tassa sul Macinato” (grist tax) of 1868, a significant fiscal measure implemented with the express aim of increasing fiscal revenue. The tax targeted the grinding of cereals, imposing a levy on mills based on the quantity of grain processed. The tax had a profound impact on the rural areas of Northern Italy and Venetia was disproportionately affected by the tax, who caused an increase of the cost of essential foodstuffs such as bread, which was a staple in the diet of the local population. This increase in food prices hit the poorer segments of society hardest, exacerbating existing economic hardships and fueling widespread discontent, sparking revolts.

The intrusive nature of the tax administration, which included the installation of meters in mills to monitor grain processing, further contributed to public resentment, leading to tax evasion, smuggling and frequent conflicts between mill owners and tax officials. This oppressive tax environment created a climate of instability and frustration among the rural population that continues to this day.

Perhaps the most iconic effect of this measure was the Pellagra Epidemic, a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) and tryptophan, became prevalent as the population relied more and more on untreated maize to feed itself. The disease causes dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia, and can be fatal if untreated. In Europe, maize was not commonly treated through nixtamalization, a process that makes its nutrients bioavailable, leading to widespread niacin deficiency.

The grist tax directly exacerbated the pellagra epidemic, also contributing to general malnutrition and weakening immune systems. By the late 19th century, pellagra had become endemic in rural Venetia, causing high morbidity and mortality rates, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and illness, deeply affecting the social fabric of the region. The economic pressures caused by the grist tax likely played a critical role in prompting emigration from Venetia. Faced with rising living costs, reduced profitability of agricultural activities, and a general sense of disenfranchisement, many Venetians sought better opportunities abroad.

And so they did: between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a significant number of Venetians emigrated, primarily to the Americas – both North and South. Countries like the United States, Brazil, and Argentina became popular destinations for many Venetians, who not only worked in their new countries, but founded many cities and communities.

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