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Book Review


Crouzet-Pavan, Elisabeth. Venice Triumphant, The Horizon Of A Myth. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1999, 2002). 386 pp, $24.95.

     Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan's Venice Triumphant, The Horizon Of A Myth, is listed by its publisher as European History, and as such, it is inappropriately labeled. Crouzet-Paven, who is a professor of medieval history at the Sorbonne in France, has crafted a treatise on the development of the city of Venice that cannot simply be categorized in terms of continental history. The very nature of the city's geography ties its story to the sea. A glance at some of the maps of this book, Venice and the Adriatic (59), and Venice and the Aegean (68), confirm that this history of the city goes well beyond continental Europe. While ample space is devoted to the construction of the islands, the city and its infrastructure, much of the book is concerned with the city's most influential factor, maritime commerce. So important was this trade in Venice's development that related events and developments are ever-present within the book. In acknowledging the role of maritime trade in the city's internal politics, foreign policy, and economic growth, the author has really created a book that would be better labeled as Mediterranean History. 1
     Crouzet-Paven has published two other books on this subject in recent years: Venise: Une invention de la ville [Venice: The Invention of a City] and La mort lente de Torcello: Histoire d'une cité disparue [The Slow Death of Torcello: The History of a Vanished City]. Both were published in French and have not been translated. As her first translated work, Venice Triumphant falls short of being a true World History book. To be sure, the author writers a good history of the creation of the city's Latin Empire in the Mediterranean Sea. She expertly describes a city that developed into a maritime empire over the course of almost a millennium. In the wake of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the author illustrates Venetian trade links with the Byzantine Empire and the Dar al-Islam (61). Yet Crouzet-Pavan's treatment of the acquisition, development and maintenance of the colonies of the Latin Empire leaves something to be desired. 2
      The author gives excellent examples of how the major forces active in the world at the time played a dominant role in the way the city grew. She traces the development of Venice, first as a city-state, and then as an empire that had trading ports and colonies spanning three continents and scores of islands in various seas (68). In the style of effective world history that we have come to expect from contemporary historians, Crouzet-Pavan links major events such as the Crusades, outbreaks of the plague, and the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks, to the city's fortunes. However, these links are one-sided in favor of Venice and therefore are not fully developed. 

     Crouzet-Pavan makes only a cursory mention of the role that Venetians played in the Fourth Crusade. This is unfortunate considering how lucrative it was to the city, but it is indicative of the author's intent to create a history of what Italians call Stato di mar. Venice obtained much of its Latin Empire as a result of these actions. The city took control of a sizeable portion of Romania, coastal holdings in the Ionian Sea, part of the Peloponnese, Cyclades, and Sporades islands as well as trading stations on Euboea, Gallipoli, and Rodosto in 1204 (67). The island of Crete became a colony of Venice soon thereafter. While the acquisition of such a large maritime empire is impressive and unrivaled to this point, the author makes little attempt to analyze the impact this had on the region, but rather focuses on the city itself. Because of this, this book falls a bit short of what we have come to expect from World History. 4
     Equally impressive as the widespread ports of the Latin Empire was the usage of the Venetian ducat as the coin of choice throughout the region. By the mid-fourteenth century it had become the basic coin of commerce and finance in the Mediterranean and just a century later it was the most common coin of the markets of the near East (91). While financial developments such as these and the Venetian banking system (a true innovation that served only to facilitate large-scale transfers between accounts) are fascinating, the author devotes less than a page to them. The author also leaves underdeveloped the international politics that allowed Venetian merchants to establish quarters in foreign cities, especially for their overseas employees. Venetian quarters existed in the cities of Constantinople, Alexandria, and a host of others throughout the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas but they are barely mentioned. In addition, the multitude of wars and naval engagements that Venetians fought (and usually won) in this era are left to footnotes. As an outgrowth of trade, these conflicts could have proven useful to understanding the city's foreign policy. 
     The author's description of the trade routes that made the city into an international power will, however, be quite useful to a World History class. The city developed into a "silk port," serving as Europe's primary entrepôt for the importation of luxury goods from China and the Far East (121). By 1317, city merchants had set up regular maritime trade routes connecting Venice with Flanders, London, Marseilles, and Bruges in the West and Constantinople, Alexandria, and Kaffa in the East (78). Venetians had placed themselves at the very center of major world trade routes and were profiting handsomely as a result. As a geographical exercise alone, this chapter would be of good use for students. Only an expert in Mediterranean geography would be able to easily locate all of the islands that Venice claimed. 
     The final chapters are devoted to the development of the state and its internal politics. Crouzet-Pavan does an excellent job in dealing with development of the city's complicated bureaucracy. She paints an accurate picture of how officials managed such important issues as water management, docking rights and fees, and duties on imports. The growth of the city's governing body, however, is a story dominated by wealthy families and complicated by the church. Although it is a fascinating story, Crouzet-Pavan's approach makes it difficult to understand. 
Chris Ferraro
Spring Valley High School

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