Home / Tag Archives: Venice

Tag Archives: Venice

The Revival of Town Life and the Growth of Learning

middle ages

Pierre watched the merchant caravan clatter down the narrow dirt road that led through the manor. Pack mules threaded their way to avoid the deep puddles, while the horses strained as they pulled the creaking two wheeled carts. Pierre envied the merchants as well as the sturdy bowmen who guarded the caravan. During his seventeen years Pierre had never been more than a few miles from the manor where he had been born a serf. He was not free to move around as were these merchants who were city folk. Was it true, as Pierre had heard, that a serf who escaped to a town or city and lived there for a year and a day was forever free? He wondered. The merchant caravan disappeared around the bend in the road. Should Pierre follow it? To stay on the manor meant a serf’s life — a life of back-breaking toil. That night after dark, his mind made up, Pierre slipped unseen across the fields and onto a narrow  path that led over the surrounding hills. For two nights he walked as rapidly as he could, sleeping fitfully in deep thickets during the daylight hours. Soon after sunrise on the second morning the forest trail led to a wider road, an hour’s journey out of the city of Lacourt. Pierre helped to free an oxcart bogged down in the mire of the roadside ditch and then trudged toward Lacourt in the company of the grateful driver. The young serf’s eyes grew wide with wonder at the unfamiliar sights as he approached the outskirts of the city. Completely encircling it was a wall of stone four times the height of a man. At one point the wall was pierced by a gateway, its great oaken doors swung back. Through the opening Pierre could …

Read More »

The Counter Reformation 1521-1648

loyola

THE BLAST OF MUSKETS and the clang of swords against armour echoed across the plains of Italy, Spain and the Lowlands. Warriors of the king of France were clashing with the Spanish infantry and German knights of the Holy Roman Emperor. Control of the nations of Europe was the prize both nations sought. They schemed and plotted; their generals planned campaigns; their soldiers marched out to victory or defeat. Victories counted for little, for much of Europe’s future was decided by another, different kind of war – a war for the minds and souls of men. Village squares and royal council chambers, churches, university lecture halls and schoolrooms were the battlefields of this new war. Its troops were armies of preachers whose battle-songs were hymns and whose weapons were Bibles and textbooks. Reformers were on the march, Lutherans and Calvinists. Their thundering voices shook the domes of ancient cathedrals and wakened bishops dozing in their palaces. The Reformers won no easy victories‚ however. The forces of the pope were also on the march and the strongholds of the Church were well defended. Frightened by rebellions in Germany and Switzerland, the Catholic leaders in Rome took further measures to strengthen the Church. “There is but one way to silence the Protestants’ complaints‚” a learned churchman told the pope “and that is not to deserve them.” Lowly monks and the powerful cardinals alike began to talk of reform, of hard work, of honesty and godliness. Gradually there were deeds to match the talk — a great Church house-cleaning that one day would be called the Counter-Reformation. Meanwhile, in Europe’s towns and colleges‚ new soldiers of the Church appeared. Their uniforms were the simple black robes of monks, but their minds were as keen as dueling swords — much too sharp and smooth, …

Read More »

Venice, City in the Sea 1350 – 1590

venice

The houses of Venice are “like sea-birds half on sea and half on land,” said Cassiodorus. An officer of a king of the Goths, Cassiodorus saw Venice in 537. It was a little settlement of huts built on the mud-flats in an out-of-the-way lagoon. Its people were refugees‚ Italians who had been driven from their homes by a horde of barbaric invaders. They were safe in the lagoon, for no stranger could navigate the treacherous channels. For the sake of safety, they were content with comforts that were simple at best. “In this place,” Cassiodorus said, “rich and poor are alike — they all fill up on fish.” A thousand years later, when Venice had become the richest and most powerful city in Italy, it was still a place of refuge from the wars and turmoil of the mainland. The lagoon was still an unbeatable defense. Instead of streets, there were canals and the city’s mansions, marble palaces and gold-peaked churches still hovered above the water like sea-birds, perched on 117 islands linked by nearly 400 bridges. In every way, Venice belonged to the sea and for many years the sea belonged to Venice. The descendants of the settlers commanded mighty warships that ruled the eastern Mediterranean. With their great merchant galleys, they were the lords of the trade-routes of the Adriatic and Aegean Seas and they sailed the Atlantic to England and Flanders. In the Middle Ages, the Venetians built and manned the hundreds of ships that took the Crusaders to the Holy Land — and they saw to it that the knights captured a few colonies for Venice along the way. Through the years, these colonies multiplied into an ocean empire until even Constantinople, the capital of the old Roman Empire of the East, paid homage to the …

Read More »

Florence in the Golden Age 1469 -1498

Savonarola

Lorenzo de’ Medici was far from handsome. His skin was sallow, his eyes had a short-sighted squint and his nose was flat and wide. His voice was high and thin. Like every man in his family, he had the gout. Yet there was grandeur in everything Lorenzo did. He loved art and books, music and poetry and women. He delighted in sports, hunting and galloping across the brown Tuscan hills. He dealt with ambassadors like a prince, his palace was the gathering-place for the great men of Italy and his city won renown for both its scholars and its carnivals. No wonder, then, that people called him Lorenzo the Magnificent. Visitors to Lorenzo’s city found the streets jammed with people, and marveled at the splendid buildings. There were hundreds of shops and houses, dozens of churches and palaces. Even the bridges over the River Arno were lined with little stores and homes. The busiest spot in all the bustling city was the Mercato Vecchio, or the Old Market. This was the gathering-place of shopkeepers, the men who were the smocks and fur caps that marked them as members of the lesser guilds. Here were the grocers with their little booths, the butchers, the fishmongers, the apothecaries and the barbers, who shaved their customers in the midst of the crowd. The most important businessmen met in another square, the Mercato Nuovo, or the New Market. It was not as noisy here and most of the men were dressed in the long dark gowns and bright hoods of the merchants. In the shops and under awnings, the guildsmen displayed the goods they sold to all of Europe — richly dyed wool and Silk, velvet, taffeta, damask, satin and cloth-of-gold. Just off the New Market was the street of the grain-dealers and not …

Read More »

The Town and the Guild 1100 -1382

guilds

ONE FINE SPRING MORNING, in the French town of Troyes, in the county of Champagne, a bell rang out through the clear air. The people streaming along the road to the town knew why the bell was ringing; it signaled the start of another day of the fair. Now they walked faster or whipped up their horses, anxious not to miss any of the excitement. Most of them were merchants, who had come to buy the goods that were on display. Some were lords and ladies, who hoped to find gleaming silks from the Orient, or fine Spanish leather, or rich furs from Russia. The rest were peasants and workmen; they had little money to spend, but they might buy a few small things and they would enjoy the clowns, minstrels and jugglers who performed for the crowds on the streets. The fairs of Champagne, held at several towns in that county, had their beginning early in the twelfth century and continued for more than two hundred years. The feudal lords of Champagne, who were called counts, realized that the fairs brought many benefits to them and their people and wisely did everything they could to make Champagne a center of trade. They built spacious warehouses and pavilions for the storage and display of merchandise. To make it easier for merchants from various parts of the world to do business, the counts set up booths where the money of one territory could be exchanged for the money of another. They established a special court to settle disputes over business dealings and their troops protected travelers from the bandits who roamed the roads. The counts themselves profited from all this, for they collected fees from the merchants and traders who took part in the fair. Champagne’s location made it easy to …

Read More »

The Crusades 1096-1260

crusade

ON A COLD NOVEMBER DAY IN 1096, a great crowd of people gathered in a field at the town of Clermont in France. They had come from miles around and near them were pitched the tents they had put up for shelter. For some days, Pope Urban II had been holding a great council of cardinals, bishops and princes. Today he was to speak to the people and so many wanted to hear that no building was large enough to hold them all. A platform had been built in the center of the field and as Pope Urban stepped up on it a hush fell over the crowd. Pope Urban was a Frenchman and he spoke to the people around him as fellow Frenchmen. “Oh, race of Franks,” he said, “race beloved and chosen by God . . . set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed. . . .” “From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. . .” The people knew what he meant. He was speaking of the Holy Land, that lay on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here were the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and Damascus. Here Jesus Christ had lived and preached and had been crucified; here Christianity had begun. Here were many sacred shrines and during the Middle Ages thousands of Europeans …

Read More »

The Fall of Byzantium A. D. 992-1453

BYZANTIUM

THE LONG struggle between the churches of the East and the West was only one of the many serious problems that weakened the empire and led to its downfall. Trade was another of its problems. Much of goods imported from the eastern world was sold to the west through Byzantine markets. A ten percent tax was collected on an imports and exports as well as on all goods passing through the Bosporus. This was one of the empire’s most important ways of collecting taxes. However, this rich flow of tax money began to get smaller and smaller in the tenth century after Basil II gave Venice, the chief port of the west, a reduced tax rate. He did it with the understanding that the large fleet of Venetian merchant ships would police the Adriatic Sea and carry troops for the empire whenever necessary. Then, in the eleventh century, the empire lost Asia Minor to Turks of the Seljuk tribe. Asia Minor was the backbone of the empire. It had served as a buffer state against invaders from the east and had provided food and materials for the empire, as well as manpower for the army. It was a serious loss from which the empire never recovered. In the twelfth century, Thebes and Corinth fell to Norman invaders. They carried off the silkworms and weavers to Italy, thus breaking the empire’s monopoly on Silk. Byzantium also suffered at the hands of the crusaders, who conquered a part of Asia Minor from the Turks as they passed through on their way to Palestine. Instead of returning this territory to the empire, they divided it and made independent kingdoms out of Antioch and Edessa. From then on, much of the eastern trade passed through these cities and was carried to the West on …

Read More »

Byzantine Glory A.D. 610-1057

Byzantine

The period from 610 to 717 was one of the darkest in Byzantine history. During that time, the edges of the empire crumbled under the pressure of powerful enemies. A people from northern Italy, the Lombards, conquered more than half of Italy. In central Arabia, the Arab tribes had joined together under the religion of Mohammed and marched against their neighbors. They took the kingdom of Persia, invaded Palestine and in 658 captured Jerusalem. The conquering Moslems, as the followers of Mohammed were called, swept on and soon took over Syria and Egypt. They marched along the northern shore of Africa and took Carthage in 697, then sailed across the Mediterranean and captured Spain. By this time the empire seemed all but doomed. It had been reduced to Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula and southern Italy. Shortly after Leo III had been crowned emperor he was forced to defend Constantinople during the Arab siege of 717-718. Later he drove them back on the Taurus front. After saving the empire from the Arabs, he organized the country into military districts and placed a military government over each of them. This system, together with Justinian’s fortresses, made the empire’s defenses stronger than ever before. The empire reached the height of its glory under Basil I and his descendants, a period lasting from 867 to 1057. Most of the emperors of this period were brilliant military leaders and good administrators. Under them the empire regained its strength, beat back the Arabs in South Italy and in the East forced the Arabs back to the Euphrates, overran Cilicia and Syria, and pushed down into Palestine to the gates of Jerusalem. On the European side, Basil II crushed the mighty empire of the Bulgars. DIPLOMACY AND TREACHERY Byzantine emperors often used treachery to weaken their …

Read More »

The Great Justinian A.D. 532-565

justinian

THE STREETS of Constantinople were thronged that Tuesday morning in January of 532. Public buildings were closed. Shops on the Street of the Silversmiths were barred and shuttered. The barracks at Strategium were occupied by regiments of soldiers which had recently arrived from the frontiers. The soldiers had orders to stay in their quarters, for this was a day of the people. It was the opening day of the great chariot races at the Hippodrome. Most of the people in the crowded streets wore winter cloaks and carried their lunches. Ordinary citizens did not wear Roman togas, for that was the dress of high officials. There were beggars in rags, shaven Bulgars wearing iron-chain belts, oriental merchants in turbans and flowing robes, black-haired Asians with pointed beards, Russians in furs and seamen from Genoa and Venice. At the Hippodrome, groups of local farmers led by priests were among the first to take their seats in the marble tiers above the vast arena. Banners whipped in the wind as the tiers filled up. Latecomers jammed the promenade that ran along above the highest of the tiers. The usual first-day excitement gripped the huge crowd, about forty thousand in all, but something was missing. People looked more serious than usual and spoke to each other in low voices. It was plain that they were uneasy. Their uneasiness had to do with the peasant from Macedonia who had been ruling over them for several years as Emperor Justinian. This first day of the races was the time when people could meet their emperor face to face and express their feelings toward him. They had some strong feelings about Justinian. They feared him, too, and that was the reason for their uneasiness. RIOT AT THE HIPPODROME Justinian knew that the people were complaining, but they were …

Read More »
Translate »