Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Empires: Medieval Venice & Google

Great excitement! Roger Crowley's new book "City of Fortune, how Venice won and lost a naval empire" has just arrived. We had previously touched on the Venetian empire when talking about the medieval crusades as well as the siege of Constantinople. These articles had really just mentioned the "serene republic" in passing. Now we hope to look at it in more detail.

So why the reference to Google in this title of this post? Well, let us start by viewing the rise and fall of Venice. Venice was built on the wealth which came from the sea. In fact the bottom p
icture in this post, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, shows Neptune surrendering the wealth of the seas to Venice. Trade and commerce was all they had. Venice itself, whilst beautiful, was just an Island in a lagoon. To quote Roger Crowley:

"The City's prosperity rested on nothing tangible - no land holdings, no natural resources, no agricultural production or large population. There was literally no solid ground underfoot.Physical survival depended on a fragile economic balance.Venice was perhaps the first virtual economy,whose vitality baffled outsiders. It harvested nothing...and lived in perpetual fear that if its trade routes were severed, the whole magnificent edifice might collapse

So what we had was an extremely wealthy empire which dominated the eastern Mediterranean.
Without a dynasty (it was ruled by doges) there was less risk of the habitual problems from inheritance and royalty and who could have foreseen its demise? When the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 the main trade route to the east was cut off. Traders started to pursue alternative trade routes and in 1493 Christopher Columbus arrived in North America.

From this point on Venice started to become a side show and when Napoleon Bonaparte dealt the final blow to end the republic in 1797 all that remained was for Venice to quietly settle to a future as a tourist destination.

Now back to Google. These days the search engine seems omnipotent. It is part of everything which people do online and it becomes increasingly difficult to see a world without it.

However, just as Venice did nothing "wrong" other than to eventually be in the wrong place to take advantage of the New World, so there will possibly come a time when a change in technology or historical direction will sideline the empire built by Google. We can't know what that change will be but it will come and the world will move forward.

This is the flag of Venice

Here is the front of Roger Crowley's book

The painting referred to at the start of this post

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