Venice was one of the wealthiest and most powerful maritime republics of Medieval and Renaissance periods. The republic’s merchant ships dominated the Black Sea and Mediterranean where they established numerous trading ports. The Venetians also established trading ports in Morea (Peloponnese) when they participated in the Fourth Crusade. They would lose these Greek colonies three hundred years later to the Ottoman Empire when the Venetians were driven from Morea in 1500. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History during that time.
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Morea: From Greek Rule to Ottoman Domination
Instead of campaigning in the Holy Land, the participants of the Fourth Crusade rampaged throughout the Byzantine territories in Greece and Anatolia in 1204. What was supposed to be a holy crusade became a bloody free-for-all. Two Frankish knights, Geoffrey of Villehardouin and William of Champlitte, decided to leave Constantinople for the other Latins to rule. They then led their followers from mainland Greece to Morea (the Peloponnese peninsula) in 1205. The Franks besieged the peninsula for many months until they finally dominated a large part of it in 1207.
Since the Venetians were the Latins’ partners in the Fourth Crusades, they received a great portion of Morea in the Partitio Romaniae of 1204. However, the two Frankish knights and their followers occupied the peninsula first, so it was not until 1207 that the Venetians were able to occupy the Morean port cities of Methoni (Modon) and Koroni (Coron). The Latin Empire was dissolved in 1261, but the Venetians still maintained a presence in Morea in the years that followed. The Republic of Venice later bought the Morean cities of Argos and Nafplio (Nauplia) in 1388. The Byzantine Empire and the Ottomans also claimed large portions of Greece.
By 1446, the Ottomans under Sultan Murad II managed to wrest a great part of Greece from the Byzantines. The Byzantine Empire completely crumbled in 1453 under the force of the Ottomans led by Murad’s successor, Mehmed II. By 1460, the Palaiologos brothers who governed Morea surrendered the peninsula to Mehmed II. The Venetians, however, continued to occupy Nauplia, Argos, Modon, and Coron. Because of its strong navy, the Republic of Venice remained one of the masters of the Mediterranean trade. Unfortunately for Venice, this domination would not last.
First Ottoman-Venetian War
Trade was something that Venice and the Ottoman Empire had in common, so they found it beneficial to maintain warm relations at first. But the Venetians became nervous when they saw that the Ottoman Empire had strengthened its navy to control the Black Sea. They knew that it was only a matter of time before the Ottomans would try to obtain their Morean colonies in order to dominate the Mediterranean.
The capture of Bosnia in 1463 and the attack on Lepanto (Nafpaktos) put Venice’s Adriatic and Aegean coast colonies in danger. The Republic declared war against the Ottomans in the same year. Venice gained a large part of the Peloponnese peninsula in the first few years of the war. It was generally successful for the Republic especially with their alliance with King Matthias of Hungary and the Albanian military leader, Skanderbeg.
The Venetian campaign against the Ottomans started to suffer from setbacks as the Turks were just too strong. The Venetians still possessed some of their Adriatic territories, but the death of Skanderbeg in 1468 left Venice without a charismatic ally in Albania. The First Ottoman-Venetian War dragged on for many years, but the scales tipped heavily in favor of the Ottomans. In 1475, the Ottoman navy (which improved considerably over the years) sailed deeper into the Black Sea. There the Turks annexed the Black Sea holdings of Genoa, as well as the port of Tana which was then held by Venice. The Genoans and Venetians could only watch helplessly as many Crimean ports became colonies of the Ottomans in the years that followed.
The years 1478 and 1479 were difficult for the Republic of Venice and its allies. The Albanian strongholds of Kruje and Shkoder (which served as buffers between the Turk-dominated region and Venice) fell to the Ottomans. The fall of the Albanian strongholds allowed the Turkish army to raid even as far as the Friuli region of Italy. Fearful that the Turks would raid into the city itself, Venice had no choice but to sue for peace in 1479.
Second Ottoman-Venetian War
Sultan Mehmed (the Conqueror) died in 1482, and a fight for the throne between his sons briefly put their plans for expansion on hold. The victor, Sultan Bayezid II, proved to be just as determined as his father in removing Venetian domination in the Aegean and Adriatic. In summer of 1499, the Ottomans under Bayezid II seized and occupied the port of Nafpaktos (Lepanto). The Turks were now dangerously close to Venice’s colonies in Morea. It allowed them to launch raids which later turned to full-scale naval attacks on Venetian ports of Modon, Coron, and Pylos.
Venice had no choice but to seek the help of the Republic’s usual allies: the Pope and the kingdom of Hungary. The alliance was ineffective as the Ottomans were able to seize Modon and Coron in 1500. In the same year, the Turks successfully drove out the Venetians from Morea. Cyprus, Crete, and Corfu remained in Venetian hands. Venice was not totally defeated by the Turks, but the Republic’s remaining colonies in the Mediterranean were still in danger. In 1503, Venice was once again forced to sue for peace with the Ottomans.
Arsdall, Anne Van, and Helen Moody. The Old French Chronicle of Morea: An Account of Frankish Greece After the Fourth Crusade. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015.
Dana, Charles Anderson., and George Ripley. New American Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, volume 16. D. Appleton, 1863.
Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.
Rosser, John H. Historical Dictionary of Byzantium. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012.
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