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  • Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice
  • Nikolas Jaspert
Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. By Thomas F. Madden. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2003. Pp. xix, 298. $49.95. ISBN 978-0-801-87317-7.)

Historiography in general has not been kind to the leaders of the so-called Fourth Crusade that, although directed against Egypt, ended with the conquest and sack of Constantinople in 1204. In particular, Enrico Dandolo—the doge who led the Venetian fleet—has often been portrayed in clearly negative terms. Dandolo was already blind and in his mid-eighties when he was elected to dogeship in 1192, a position he held until his death in 1205. His age; the events surrounding the Crusade of 1202–04; and the consequent, unfavorable renderings by Greek authors have all contributed to Dandolo’s tarnished image as a wily, calculating old fox who effectively aimed at destroying the Byzantine Empire from the outset. Thomas F. Madden does not hide his intention of offering a more positive view of the famous doge and fully succeeds in doing so. But this study is far more than a defense of Dandolo or a new study of the Fourth Crusade, for Madden has chosen a new and profitable approach to Dandolo and his times. First, he has set the famous doge in the wider context of the Dandolo family history by closely describing the latter’s rise during the course of the twelfth century. The book thus becomes a case study for the history of the Venetian oligarchy as a whole. Second, Madden doggedly sticks to a decidedly Venetian perspective. Thus, more than the biography of a single person, what emerges is a history of Venice in the second half of the twelfth century, a period that saw the “Serenissima” change from a merchant republic into a maritime empire. Obvious as such an approach might be, it has hitherto not been fully explored, as it requires an excellent knowledge of the republic’s published and unpublished sources. Madden knows the Venetian archives and the narrative sources well enough to be up to the challenge, as his comprehensive collection of documents and his thorough reading of the texts illustrate; he is also well acquainted with the ample Italian, English, French, and—by no means common—German scientific work in the field.

Madden advances in ten roughly chronological steps. He starts with the rise of new leading families in the tenth and eleventh centuries, before centering on the Dandolo family. Dandolo’s two most famous relatives—his namesake and uncle, the patriarch of Grado, and his father, Vitale Dandolo—are rightfully treated in some detail, as they played an important role in the reform of the Venetian church and the Venetian state respectively. The dangers such prominent activities could entail are vividly illustrated by the family’s exile and the destruction of its property in 1147. However, Dandolo’s father succeeded in bringing the family back to the forefront of Venetian politics. Dandolo’s commercial dealings are described against the background of Venice’s ventures in overseas trade and crusading in the Levant. The future doge’s rise was thus due both to his family background and to his own ability as a merchant and politician. During his dogeship, Dandolo effectively [End Page 333] brought about a series of domestic reforms such as the introduction of a code of law and a new coinage. These activities are particularly important, as Dandolo’s dogeship has tended to be read exclusively with reference to the crusade. Full-text translations and in-depth treatment of important documents such as the doge’s election promise of 1192 or the instructions for ambassadors to Constantinople from 1197 help convey a more balanced view. Contrary to a popular assumption, neither Dandolo nor his fellow Venetians were exclusively bent on profit-making: Madden gives due attention to Venetian piety, as illustrated by the citizens’ interest in relics, and succeeds in showing how much the doge and the population were anxious about their spiritual well-being. Worry of a different sort—that concerning the fate of fellow Venetians living in Constantinople—is convincingly proven to have been a major...


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pp. 333-335
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