Roger Crowley – City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas
Covering roughly 1200 to the mid-15th century, Crowley covers Venice’s rise and fall as one of the world’s major maritime trading powers. He writes vividly, quotes often from primary sources, and evokes an outward-looking, freewheeling, audacious cultural attitude in Venice–very different from the rest of Europe at that time.
That culture, more than a key geographical location, is a major reason why Venice was the richest city in Europe during this period. It fought with Genoa for that honor, sometimes violently.
Crowley also develops an important East-meets-West theme. Venice was involved in the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the sacking of Constantinople in the early 1200s. To give an idea of the Crusades’ bumbling nature, Constantinople was a Christian city at the time.
Tragic comedy aside, Venetian traders were some of Europe’s only ambassadors to the Near and Far East during this time. They brought back spices, fabrics, and other goods, sadly including slaves. By the 1400s, as the neighboring Byzantines were falling to the Ottomans, Venice found itself dealing with a new commercial and political rival.
Meanwhile, as the rest of Europe cracked open the Great Chain of Being and the Renaissance encouraged more modern attitudes to commerce and progress, Venice entered a period of relative decline as other cities began to catch up and even outshine it during the Renaissance.