Travelers who come to Venice (Venezia) are embraced by the desire to immerse themselves in the mysterious atmosphere of this ancient and, in a sense, magical city. Its centuries-old history is full of mysteries and imbued with the special spirit of aristocracy. In this regard, the stories about the Doges of Venice, the rulers of the Republic, who provided greatness, prosperity and glory to their city-state, seem very interesting.
Doge (doge) was called the head of the Most Serene Republic of Venice (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia). The title itself comes from the Latin word "dux", translated into Russian meaning "leader, lord." The honorary public office was elective and lasted 1,100 years. During this time, the Republic of St. Mark ruled 120 Doges. You can find a complete list of Venetian Doges on a special page on Wikipedia.
The formation and development of the Doge Institute
Tradition has it that the first Venetian Doge was Paolo Lucio Anafesto, but there is no documentary evidence of this fact.
The approximate date of the beginning of his reign is 697 year. By this period, Venice was mired in internal political contradictions caused by the ongoing conflicts of powerful local clans. It was necessary to combine the interests of the elite, and to direct its forces to combat the external threat coming from the Lombards and Slavs.
The appointment of Paolo Lucio Anafesto took place after a meeting of residents of the Venetian lagoon (Laguna di Venezia), organized at the initiative of a patriarch from the nearby city of Grado, and was approved by the Byzantine ruler.
Initially, the Doges, endowed with unlimited power in political, military and church matters, were proteges of the Eastern Roman Empire. This situation persisted during the early Middle Ages, and was explained by the fact that Venice was under the jurisdiction of Byzantium.
After that, the post of head of the city-state underwent significant transformations, and began to be formal. By the eleventh century, when the Republic of St. Mark gained autonomy and significant weight on the political map of the world, the figure of the Doge no longer had its former significance. Over time, the management of financial and military affairs was carried out by elected deputies of the Grand Council (Maggior Consiglio) - the main body of state power, and legislative functions and many political issues fell on the shoulders of members of the Senate.
How to choose the Doge of Venice and who to be elected?
The holder of a high title could only become a representative of a wealthy and influential family who had behind him many years of successful experience in public service. The candidates were people of venerable age who proved to be skillful diplomats and wise military leaders.
At the same time, despite attempts to establish a monarchy in Venice, which implied a hereditary transfer of power, the principle of the election of the ruler of a city-state remained. The complex procedure for appointing a doge took its final form in the 13th century. In 1268, rules were approved that included 11 stages of voting in order to take into account the interests of all elites. The electoral system functioned unchanged until the last days of the existence of the Republic of Venice.
Doge Position Features
The position of the Venetian Doge implied a lot of restrictions, while it ruled out the possibility of personal enrichment and any privileges for members of the ruler's family. Moreover, the fortune of the head of the Venetian Republic often became a source of financing lush city holidays, ceremonial processions, military campaigns and other government events.
Neither the doge, nor his relatives could own real estate located in the territory of another country. His children did not have the right to marry foreigners, and his wife was not allowed to conduct business and accept gifts from overseas merchants.
The Doge’s life was constantly monitored by members of the Council of Ten (Consiglio dei Dieci), who collected incriminating information through informants and proxies. Cases of embezzlement of state property could be considered both during life and after the death of the ruler.
Particular attention was paid to the rule of law. So, it was thanks to the work of secret judges and punishers in 1355 that the 55th Venetian Doge, Marin Faliero, who tried to monopolize supremacy through a coup d'etat, was accused of high treason. This sad story from the history of the Republic of Venice was immortalized five centuries later, in 1867, by the Italian painter Francesco Hayez.
Doge ceremonial duties
The Doge has always been a central figure in all the ritual processions and celebrations held in Venice. From the 12th century, a tradition was formed to perform the “Betrothal with the Adriatic Sea” ceremony, which survived until the fall of the Republic of St. Mark.
The celebration was held annually, coincided with the church holiday of the Ascension of the Lord, and was timed to coincide with legendary events when the 26th ruler of Venice, Pietro II Orseolo, triumphantly conquered the northwestern territories of the Balkan Peninsula.
By tradition, the doge came out on his magnificent 30-meter golden gallery called "bucintoro" (bucintoro), and prayed to the water element, asking for favor with the locals. After the ring of the ruler was thrown into the sea, as a sign of the power, greatness of Venice and its inextricable connection with the Adriatic.
The main symbol of the power of the Venetian Doge was a special headdress (Corno Ducale), reminiscent of the shape of a hat with a horn.
A kind of cap was traditionally sewn from heavy brocade with gold threads, sometimes it was upholstered in luxurious velvet. The doge’s headdress was often decorated with a scattering of large gemstones: rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls. The ruler of Venice received a hat during the inauguration ceremony, and was required to wear the symbol of power without taking off. For ceremonial events, an elegant version of the headdress was provided, in ordinary situations the doge wore a more modest cap sewn from velvet.
Every year, on Easter Day, the abbot of the San Zaccaria Convent presented the ruler of the city with another headdress made for him by novices.
Venetian Doge's Palace
The residence of the ruler was the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale). Within its walls, there were also meetings of the Grand Council, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. Here the Secret Inquisition also did its work. Doge was given 11 rooms, while most of them were used as reception rooms.
The majestic building of the current palace, decorating Piazza San Marco Square, is made in the Gothic style. Its construction began around the XIV-XV centuries on the site where the first Doges' residence, which has not been preserved to this day, stood still in 810. Today, the palazzo serves as a museum, and the luxurious interiors of its huge halls annually attract millions of art and history lovers.