Venice

The Venetian Republic lasted one thousand years before it was finally overthrown by Napoleon in 1797. According to its constitution, it had a Great Council (about 2,500 men in the year 1500) which used a secret ballot for its elections. This group was unwieldy so most of the government was conducted by the Senate which had started with about 60 men and was later enlarged. Sixty of these were elected by the Great Council. There was a Council of 40 which also functioned as a court of appeals in criminal cases. By the end of the Republic, the number of senators had risen to 300 of whom 230 had the right to vote. However, these men had so many other duties that a quorum was just 70. A Senator's term of office was one year, but he could be re-elected over and over. The Senate was presided over by the Doge who had ten Councillors and State Attorneys as his aides. The Doge, six of the Ducal Councillors and three Heads of the Council of Forty, constituted the Signoria which was supplemented in wartime by military men. It directed matters to either the Great Council or the Senate for consideration.

In Othello, Desdemona's father, Brabantio, is a senator. It is the Doge, with the Senate, who sends Othello to Cyprus. In both Othello and Otello, Lodovico brings greetings from the Doge and the Senate, and they recall the General to Venice. Today one can see 'Desdemona's House' in Venice

Unlike their counterparts in other countries, the important men of Venice did not consider trade to be beneath their dignity. Venice and Genoa engaged in 'salt wars' to control the market for "men can live without gold and silver, but not without salt", and Venice also pursued forbidden trade with the Ottomans, much to her profit. The Republic's huge fleet supported its vast mercantile endeavors as well as engaging in war when necessary. At the heart of this great maritime nation was the Arsenale where assembly-line techniques were used to build ships with such incredible speed that the Venetians could quickly meet any threat. The ships were galleys, driven by sail, but they could be rowed by oarsmen for supplemental power. When Henry III of France visited, a galley was built and launched in the time it took him to dine.

To officiate in Venice, patriarchs of the church, as well as parish priests, had to be born in the Veneto (the country surrounding the city of Venice proper), and they were elected by Venetians. But military men were frequently foreign mercenaries such as the Florentine Cassio. The Captain General of the Sea, such as the Moor, Otello, was elected and could not be a native of Venice so that political ambition could not distract him from his duties. He was in charge of all naval affairs, including the procurement of supplies and the operation of the Arsenale, as well as actually leading battles.

Venice tried to maintain good relations with the sultan but the Ottoman navy was growing and controlled the eastern Mediterranean. In 1540, during the period in which she controlled Cyprus, Venice was forced to conclude a harsh treaty in which she lost a number of possessions. Although she remained independent, her decline had begun; she lost Cyprus to the Turks in 1571. In 1797, Napoleon declared war on Venice and the city was occupied by the French. They later turned it over to Austria. Eight years later, Napoleon took it back and added it to his Kingdom of Italy. The 1815 Congress of Vienna returned it to Austria. Finally, in 1866, the once proud maritime city became part of the United Italy.