- Men of Empire: Power and Negotiation in Venice's Maritime State
The city-state of Venice is enjoying a veritable resurgence of interest in academia for its ability to hold a republican constitution at home and for its capacity to maintain its influence abroad as a maritime power in a turbulent and constantly changing strategic environment in the Mediterranean. The exploration of Venice's ability to maintain its independent power base and prosperity has led to many research projects, and O'Connell's focus is on the complicated nexus of state power and personal influence that formed the basis of power and institutional linkages between Venice and its maritime dominions. The central thesis of O'Connell's book is based on the notion that the Venetian state relied on negotiations conducted through patronage, family connections, and the judicial system to bridge the gaps of geographic separation, local and regional particularism, and multiple languages and legal traditions within the scope of Venice's maritime space.
The book is divided into seven chapters dealing with the emergence of Venice in the fifteenth century as a first-class power. The opening chapter describes how Venice acquired territories in direct competition with the Ottoman Empire for control of what was emerging as "Turkey in Europe" or "Turkish Europe." Venetian imperial ambitions have several sources, from the benign to the traditional play of power politics. O'Connell highlights Venice's self-understanding as a natural maritime state as the source for true and perpetual dominion of the sea. The "myth of Venice" was carefully crafted to justify Venice's privileged position on the sea and perpetuated the notion that its rule was both benevolent and philanthropic in nature. The author points out that there are several interpretations of the ascendancy of Venice on the seas that spring [End Page 114] from geopolitical circumstance, competition from other powers, and the imperative of security. O'Connell, however, surmises that the springs of Venetian imperial ambitions rest neither on accident nor philanthropy. Rather, the Venetian state "worked actively to acquire and control territories beneficial to its own interests: to control the material and human resources of the Adriatic and Aegean in order to protect Venetian shipping and to bring honor and glory to the city." To build its maritime empire, Venice relied on a number of instruments of power, ranging from purchase to inheritance to military conquest and diplomacy. However, O'Connell points out that the common thread in the acquisition of empire was "the long-term, patient, and deliberate strategizing that created opportunities for imperial expansion." Venice relied on several instruments to expand its imperial reach, most notably negotiation from a position of strength and a skillful combination of diplomacy and military action to acquire its maritime empire. O'Connell judiciously explains how Venice's security and prosperity were linked to the maintenance of the city's maritime domains and how it built its regional empire piece by piece.
It is somewhat bewildering that the title of this book bears the term negotiation but contains only scattered references to the skillful diplomacy of Venetians, a reputation that this city-state's leaders enjoyed well beyond the shores of Europe. Indeed, Adda Bozeman, in her majestic but neglected 1960 study Politics and Culture in International History, writes that Venice's success in its "efforts to secure, first independence, then supremacy, and ultimately survival as a sovereign state . . . was due primarily to the continuous and methodical study of foreign affairs." Venice was known as "the school and touchstone of ambassadors" and as the "promised land of the ambassadors." Bozeman suggests that
the diplomatic genius of the Venetians developed in response to complex factors. It should be observed, first, that diplomacy is not a socially autonomous institution but an outgrowth of the society in which it is practiced. As such, it is bound to reflect and incorporate the political conventions by which the given state exists.1
Venice was not alone in the...