Part 2 of 2VENETIAN INTELLIGENCE
What was the Venetian political intelligence method? The classical Venetian predicament is that of the weaker power attempting to play off two or more major empires. This was the case when the Venetian power was in its very infancy, and survival depended upon playing off the Langobard Kingdom of Italy against the Byzantines. This ploy was later replaced by the attempt to play the Byzantines off against the Carolingian Empire in the West, an attempt that almost misfired when the army of Charlemagne under Pippin laid siege to Venice inside its lagoons. That siege, however, was not successful.
In the eleventh century, the Venetians successfully incited the Norman barons operating out of Sicily under Robert Guiscard to attack Byzantium, and then moved in to offer the desperate Byzantines protection. The price for that protection was indicated by the famous Golden Bull of 1082, a decree of the Byzantine Emperor by which Venice acquired tax customs-free access to the whole of the eastern empire, where the Greeks themselves had to pay a tax of 10 percent on their own transactions. Thus began a hatred for Venice among the Greek population which persists down to the present day.
In the sixteenth century, Venetian strategic doctrine was to play the Ottoman Turks against the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs, and then to correct any residual strategic imbalance by playing the Hapsburgs off in their turn against the French. Sometimes Venice attempted to play the Portuguese rival power off against the Dutch. Later this was expanded to include playing the Dutch against the English, and the English against the French.
The Venetians also goaded forces out of the East to attack Christendom. Venice was the manipulator of Saracens, Mongols, and Turks, and got along with the slave-trading factions in each of these groups about as well as a power like Venice could get along with anybody. In particular, the Venetians were more willing to see territory -- excepting Venetian territory -- be occupied by the Turks than any other power. Venice was thus the past master of the more exotic permutations of the stolid old British dividi et impera, "divide and conquer."
But the essence of their strategic doctrine was something more abstruse, something sometimes described as the "collapse of empires" scenario. Venice parasitized the decline of much larger states, a decline that Venice itself strove to organize, sometimes in a long and gradual descending curve, but sometimes in a quick bonanza of looting.
Venice was repeatedly confronted with the problem posed by a triumphant enemy, at the height of his power, who would be perfectly capable of crushing the Serenissima in short order. This enemy had to be manipulated into self-destruction, not in any old way, but in the precise and specific way that served the Venetian interest. Does this sound impossible? What is astounding is how often it has succeeded. In fact, it is succeeding in a very real sense in the world today.
The most spectacular example of Venetian manipulation of the dumb giants of this world has gone down in history as the Fourth Crusade. At a tournament in the Champagne in 1201, the Duke of Champagne and numerous feudal barons collectively vowed to make a fighting pilgrimage to the sepulcher of Our Lord in Jerusalem. Here they were to reinforce a French garrison hard-pressed by the Turk Saladin. For many of them, this involved penance for certain misdeeds, not the least of which was a plot against their own sovereign liege, the king.
Reaching the Holy Land required transportation, and the French knights sent Geoffrey of Villehardouin to Venice to negotiate a convoy of merchant galleys with an appropriate escort of warships. Geoffrey closed the deal with the Doge Enrico Dandolo, blind and over eighty years old. Dandolo drove a hard bargain: for the convoy with escort to Jerusalem and back, the French knights would have to fork over the sum of 85,000 silver marks, equal to 20,000 kilograms of silver, or about double the yearly income of the King of England or of France at that time.
When 10,000 French knights and infantry gathered on the Lido of Venice in the summer of 1202, it was found that the French, after pawning everything down to the family silver, still owed the Venetians 35,000 marks. The cunning Dandolo proposed that this debt could easily be canceled if the crusaders would join the Venetians in subjugating Zara, a Christian city in Dalmatia, across the Adriatic from Venice. To this the knights readily agreed, and the feudal army forced the capitulation of Zara, which had been in revolt against Venice.
At this point Dandolo made the crusaders a "geopolitical" proposal, pointing out that the emperor of Byzantium was suspected of being in alliance with the Saracens, and that an advance to the Holy Land would be foolhardy unless this problem were first dealt with. As it happened, the Venetians were supporting a pretender to the Byzantine throne, since the current emperor was seeking to deny them their trading privileges. The pretender was the young Alexios, who promised the knights that if they helped him gain power, he would join them on the crusade with an army of 10,000 Greek soldiers.
Thus, from 1203 to 1204, Constantinople was besieged by the joint Franco-Venetian expeditionary force, which finally succeeded in breaking through the fortifications along the Golden Horn, the bay on the north side of the city.
Byzantium was sacked in an orgy of violence and destruction, from which the Venetians brought back as booty the four bronze horses which generally stand on the Basilica of St. Mark, but which are often exhibited in other cities. Count Baudoin of Flanders was place on the throne of a new concoction titled the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The doge of Venice received a piece of the action in the form of the title Lord of Three Eighths of the Latin Empire. Venice took over three-eighths of Constantinople, a permanent Venetian colony with its own battle fleet. Lemnos and Gallipoli came into Venetian hands. Crete was annexed, and were Naxos and related islands, and the large island of Euboa, which the Venetians called Negroponte. On the Ionian side, the Venetians appropriated Modon and Koron and several islands up to and including Corfu. All Venetian trading privileges in Greece were restored.
The loot brought back from the sack of Constantinople was greater than anything Europe would see until the Spanish treasure fleets from the New World several centuries later. Venice had acquired a colonial empire of naval bases, and was hegemonic in the eastern Mediterranean. To top it all off, the sultan of Egypt had paid a substantial bribe to Dandolo to keep the Crusaders out of Palestine in the first place.
For the human race, the Fourth Crusade was an unmitigated tragedy. The hypertrophy of Venetian power in the Mediterranean was one of the decisive factors ensuring the later defeat of Emperor Federigo II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily. The Venetian puppet "Latin Empire" was overthrown by the Paleologues in 1261, but by that time Federigo was gone. By 1266-68, Federigo's two sons and their Ghibelline supporters were defeated by Charles of Anjou, and the last representative of the Hohenstaufen dynasty was beheaded in the public square of Naples. The triumph of the Black Guelphs had become irreversible.
A further contributing factor in this tragedy was doubtless the Mongol hordes. At about the time the Venetians were sacking Constantinople, Ghengis Khan ruled over an empire that extended from Korea all the way to Iran, and which was rapidly advancing to the West. Batu, a nephew of Ghengis, defeated the Bulgarians in 1236, captured Kiev in the Ukraine in 1240, and swept into Poland. In Silesia in 1241 the German and Polish feudal army, including the Teutonic Knights, was annihilated. Later in the same year the Mongols defeated the Hungarians. The Mongols did not, for reasons that are not clear, advance further westward, but the Mongol Golden Horde that imposed its hegemony over Russia was the beginning of Russia's economic and cultural backwardness. For some loosening of the Mongol yoke, the Russians would have to fight the titanic battle of Kulokovo Field on the Don in 1380.
In these Mongol victories, there was something more than mere numerical superiority at work, as one historian sums up the case:
The Mongols did not sweep in wildly and suddenly, like reckless barbarians. No indeed, they advanced according to careful plan. At every stage, the Mongol generals informed themselves ahead of time about the state of European courts, and learned what feuds and disorders would be advantageous to their conquests. This valuable knowledge they obtained from Venetian merchants, men like Marco Polo's father. It was thus not without reason that Polo himself was made welcome at the court of Kublai, and became for a time administrator of the Great Khan.
So the great Marco Polo, and the Venetian family from which he came, was responsible for directing the destruction of Ghengis Khan against Europe. The omnipresent Venetian intelligence was also a factor in the Mongol destruction of the Arab cultural center of Baghdad in 1258.
Friedrich Schiller and William Shakespeare both analyze the manipulative methods employed by the Venetian secret intelligence establishment; both considered Venetian intelligence one of their most formidable enemies. Much of Schiller's writing is dedicated in various ways to fighting the Venice-Genoa-Geneva combination that had held the financial reins of King Philip II of Spain.
Schiller's direct treatment of Venice is a fragment of a novel titled Der Geisterseher ("The Ghost Seer"). Its central character is a Sicilian charlatan, expert at bringing the spirits of the departed back into the world for the thrill-seeking nobility at seances. This Sicilian charlatan is a figure for a whole class of Venetian intelligence operatives, like Count Cagliostro, the mountebank who claimed to be the reincarnation of the leading Mason of ancient Egypt. Another of this breed was Emanuel Swedenborg. After Schiller's time, this category swelled considerably with theosophists like Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Henry Steel Olcott, and with that archapparitionist Rudolph Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophy movement and the Waldorf schools.
In Schiller's tale, a young German prince in Venice for the grand tour is subjected to a series of manipulations by a sinister, masked Armenian, who informs him, before the fact, of the death of a close relative hundreds of miles away. At a gambling den, a young Venetian patrician picks a quarrel with the prince, who fears for his life until he is ushered into one of the chambers of the Council of Ten, where the offending patrician is strangled before his eyes. He comes into contact with the Sicilian mountebank, and then spends weeks attempting to ascertain the identity of a mysterious beauty he has seen at church.
He begins to frequent a semi-secret free-thinking club, called the Bucentoro after the golden ship used by the doge on occasions of state. At least one cardinal is also a member of the Bucentoro. He takes to gambling, loses heavily, and contracts immense debts. In the meantime, rumors are spread at his Protestant court that he has become a Catholic, which leads to his repudiation by his entire family. At the end of the fragment, his life has been ruined, and his death is imminent.
Shakespeare's "Othello, The Moor of Venice" is a more finished analysis of the same technique. It was written and performed shortly after 1603, when the Venetians and Genoese had acquired vast powers in England through the accession of their puppet James I to the throne.
Othello is a Moor, hired out to Venice as a mercenary, and at the apex of his power, having just won a victory over the Turkish fleet attacking Cyprus. He enjoys the full confidence of the Senate, and has just married Desdemona, the daughter of a patrician. Othello, the "erring barbarian," is however something of a dumb giant: his proficiency in the arts of war is unmatched, but his emotional makeup tends decidedly toward the naive and infantile. He has no real insight into affairs of state, or into psychology. Above all, he is superstitious and has a propensity for jealousy.
All of these weaknesses are systematically exploited by "honest Iago," a member of Othello's staff who is determined to destroy him. Iago is the figure of the Venetian intelligence officer, an expert in what he calls "double knavery" -- the art of manipulation. He sets out to destroy Othello using an accurate psychological profile of the Moor, and exploiting above all Othello's naive willingness to trust his "honest Iago." Iago's modus operandi is to:
Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me,
For making him egregiously an ass
And practicing upon his peace and quit
Even to madness.
Iago uses his throwaway agent, the dupe Roderigo, for financing and services. He sets up scenes where he cons one participant with one story, briefs another participant with a different story, brings them together in a controlled environment, and exploits the resulting fireworks for his overall strategy. He sets up a fight between Roderigo and the drunken Cassio that leads to the wounding of Montano by Cassio, who is ousted as chief lieutenant by Othello. After this, he manipulates Desdemona's naive desire to help Cassio regain his post into prima facie evidence that Desdemona is an adulteress. Iago is then able to goad Othello all the way to killing Desdemona and, finally, himself.
At the center of the play are epistemological questions of truth and proof. In Act 3, Iago drives Othello wild with innuendoes about Desdemona's alleged adultery, and makes him commit to the murder of Cassio, all without the slightest shred of proof. What Othello then regards as definitive proof of adultery, sufficient to motivate the murder of Desdemona, is a handkerchief which Iago obtains and plants on Cassio. This handkerchief is an object of deep emotional and superstitious importance for Othello, as it had been given by his father to his mother. It had been his first love token for Desdemona. When he sees it in the hands of Cassio, he is ready to kill.
Iago is well aware of Othello's epistemological weakness. When he first obtains the handkerchief, he gloats:
I will in Cassio's lodging lose this napkin,
And let him find it. Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ; this may do something.
Shortly thereafter, Othello demands certainty that Desdemona is betraying him. What would be definitive proof, Iago asks?
Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape upon --
Behold her tupp'd?
This kind of certainty, he says, is impossible to obtain, but he offers an inductive- deductive substitute:
But yet, I say,
If imputation and strong circumstances,
Which lead directly to the door of truth,
Will give you satisfaction, you might have't.
In the final scene, we can agree with Iago's wife Emilia that Othello is a gull and a dolt, a "murderous coxcomb ... as ignorant as dirt." But the lesson is that not only Othello, but all those who love not wisely but too well, who, "being wrought" and "perplexed in the extreme," are potential victims of Venetian intelligence.DESTRUCTION OF THE RENAISSANCE
Since the Venetian oligarchy relied for its survival on the secret weapon of political intelligence manipulation, its primary strategic targets were first and foremost dictated by epistemological rather than military criteria. Fleets and armies, even in the hands of a powerful and aggressive enemy state, could well redound to Venetian advantage. The real danger was a hostile power that developed epistemological defenses against manipulation and deceit. In the face of such a threat Venice did -- and does -- kill.
The Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, perhaps the greatest outpouring of human creativity in history, represented such a threat to the Serene Republic, and in a more concentrated form than it had ever faced before. The threat arose from the epistemological warfare and alliance system of the great Cosimo de' Medici of Florence and his successors. Venice mobilized every resource at its disposal to destroy the Renaissance. After decades of sabotage, going so far as to arrange the ravaging of Italy by foreign armies, Venice succeeded.
The potential political and epistemological power of the Italian Renaissance are best identified in the ecumenical council of the Church convened in Florence in the year 1438. The council, first convened in Ferrara, was moved to Florence at the urging of Cosimo de' Medici, who held power from 1434 to 1464. Cosimo was the major financial and political sponsor of the proceedings.
Cosimo was a self-declared enemy of Venice. On one occasion he wrote, "Association with the Venetians brings two things which have always been rejected by men of wisdom: certain perdition and disgrace."
The council had to deal with the ongoing crisis in the western church, which had been exacerbated by the struggle between the Council of Basel and Pope Eugene IV, who had been driven out of Rome by a revolt. In the East, the Ottoman Turks were beginning to recover from the crushing defeat that the Turkish Emperor Bajazet had suffered in 1402 at the battle of Ankara at the hand of Tamerlane the Great. The first, unsuccessful, Turkish siege of Constantinople had already been mounted in 1422.
The hope held out by the Council of Florence was to implement Nicolas of Cusa's program of the Concordantia Catholica -- a community of principle among humanist sovereign states for cultural and economic development, against Venetians, Turks, and all enemies of natural law. To Florence came the Emperor of Byzantium, John VIII Paleologue, accompanied by his advisor Gemisthos Plethon and Plethon's student, Archbishop Bessarion of Nicea. The Latin delegation was titularly headed by Pope Eugene IV, heavily dependent upon the support of Cosimo de' Medici at that time. This delegation was dominated in outlook by men like Nicolas of Cusa, Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo Bruni, Cardinal Capranica, and Aeneas Piccolomini of Siena, later Pope Pius II. The Greek and Latin delegations were each profoundly vitiated by powerful Aristotelian factions, but this was still one of the most impressive assemblies in history.
The culmination of the council was an impassioned oration by Plethon on the antithesis between Plato and Aristotle, a speech which went far beyond anything ever heard in the West. Marsilio Ficino, himself a participant at the council, tells the story of how Cosimo de' Medici, while listening to Plethon, made up his mind to create the Platonic Academy in Florence.
The most immediate question to be addressed was the reunification of the Roman and Greek churches, abrogating the mutual excommunications issued by the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople in 1054. The contending theologians debated the question of the "filioque" in the Latin credo, attempting to resolve the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, as the Greeks argued, or from the Son as well, according to the Roman view. The Greeks eventually agreed to recognize the correctness of the Latin position, although they declined to modify their own credo accordingly. The Paleologue emperor intervened repeatedly in these discussions, stressing that there were no real differences in doctrine, and that anyone who let nonexistent divergences stand in the way of common action against the Turks was a worse traitor than Judas. In the end a purely formal reunification of the two churches was attained, but it remained a dead letter.
Even so, Cosimo and his cothinkers came close several times to welding an alliance capable of dominating the world, and the first to pay the price of their success would have been the Venetians. Medici Florence was at the center of a network of trade and finance that was beginning to rival Venice, with the crucial difference that the Florentines were the producers, thanks to Cosimo's dirigism, of the textile products they offered for sale. The Duchy of Milan would shortly come under the domination of the condottiero (mercenary commander) Francesco Sforza, installed in power with the help of the Medici, and an enemy of Venice. In 1461 the humanist Louis XI would take the throne of France. This new king was determined to apply the concepts of statecraft developed in Italy, and considered the Venetians "insolent merchants." In 1460, the humanist Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini would be elected Pope Pius II; in the meantime he was in a position to influence Frederick III of Hapsburg, the Holy Roman Emperor.
The Venetian reaction to this potential for the implementation of an ecumenical Grand Design on the platform of the Italian Renaissance humanists was, predictably, to bring on the Turks once again. During all these years the Turks possessed a combined warehouse-residence-safehouse in Venice, the Fondaco dei Turchi, which facilitated dealings between the doge and the sultan. Spurred on by Venetian financing and Venetian- procured artillery, the Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror laid siege to Constantinople and captured it in 1453. The Turks were aided by the Greek patriarch, who had pronounced the defense of the Paleologue dynasty a heretical cause. Finally, it was the Genoese troops who opened the gates of the city to the forces of the sultan. Hardly a coincidence was the burning of the library of Constantinople with its matchless collection of Ionian and Platonic codices, most unavailable anywhere else since the library of Alexandria had been destroyed some fifteen centuries earlier. In their own sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Venetians had declined to appropriate these manuscripts.
The destruction of Byzantium by the Turks gave the Venetians a slogan with which to organize their war against the Renaissance. Since the Roman Empire had finally ended, it was left to the Venetians to arrogate to themselves the task of building a new Roman Empire. The foundation of a new Roman Empire became, in Venice, from the middle of the fifteenth century on, the leading obsession of the oligarchs.
"The Venetians are called new Romans," confided the patrician Bernardo Bembo to his diary. Francesco Sforza of Milan wrote that the Venetians were:
"obstinate and hardened, always keeping their mouths open to be able to bite off power and usurp the state of all their neighbors to fulfill the appetite of their souls to conquer Italy and then beyond, as did the Romans, thinking to compare themselves to the Romans when their power was at its apex."
Machiavelli wrote that the Venetians had "fixed in their souls the intention of creating a monarchy on the Roman model." This is corroborated by a dispatch of the ambassador of Louis XII of France at the court of the Emperor Maximilian I some years later, which described the Venetians as:
"traders in human blood, traitors to the Christian faith who have tacitly divided up the world with the Turks, and who are already planning to throw bridgeheads across the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, and Tagus, and the Ebro, attempting to reduce Europe to a province and to keep it subjugated to their armies."
These megalomaniac plans of the Venetians were no secret. In 1423, the Doge Tommaso Mocenigo had urged upon his fellow oligarchs a policy of expansionism which would make them the overlords "of all the gold and of Christendom."
The most penetrating indictments of the Venetians during this period were issued by Pope Pius II Piccolomino, who tried in vain to force Venice into joining a crusade against the Turks. A Venetian saying of this period was Prima son Vinizian, poi son Cristian. (I am a Venetian first, then a Christian.") In his Commentaries, Pius II excoriates the Venetians for their duplicitous treachery, and establishes the fact that they are a pagan, totalitarian state. The Venetians, he says, have acted in their diplomacy:
"with the good faith characteristics of barbarians, or after the manner of traders whose nature it is to weigh everything by utility, paying no attention to honor. But what do fish care about law? As among the brute beasts aquatic creatures have the least intelligence, so among human beings the Venetians are the least just and the least capable of humanity, and naturally so, for they live on the sea and pass their lives in the water; they use ships instead of horses; they are not so much companions of men as of fish and comrades of marine monsters. They please only themselves, and while they talk they listen to and admire themselves.... They are hypocrites. They wish to appear as Christians before the world, but in reality they never think of God and, except for the state, which they regard as a deity, they hold nothing sacred, nothing holy. To a Venetian, that is just which is for the good of the state; that is pious which increases the empire.... What the senate approves is holy even though it is opposed to the gospel.... They are allowed to do anything that will bring them to supreme power. All law and right may be violated for the sake of power."
During many of these years Venetians were in a tacit alliance with the Turks. When, for example, a revolt against Venetian rule in Albania was started, threatening the Venetian naval base at Durazzo, the Venetians made a deal with the Turks to crush the revolt. On one occasion Pius II received the Venetian ambassador to the Roman court and condemned Venetian policy with these words:
"Your cause is one with thieves and robbers.... No power was ever greater than the Roman empire and yet God overthrew it because it was impious, and He put in its place the priesthood because it respected divine law.... You think [your] republic will last forever. It will not last long. Your population so wickedly gathered together will soon be scattered abroad. The offscourings of fishermen will be exterminated. A mad state cannot long stand."
In 1464 Pius II, despite a serious illness, traveled from Rome to Ancona to personally lead a crusade against the Turks. He wished to force the hand of the Venetians, who had promised him a battle fleet. He died shortly after the Venetian warships arrived, and Venice thereupon pulled out of any serious fighting against the Turks. But his attack on "the mad state" was on target, then and now.
During the first half of the fifteenth century, much Venetian energy was devoted to a rapid expansion up the Po Valley toward Milan. They seized Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, and Bergamo, reaching the Adda River, just a few miles from Milan. With Milan under Venetian control, the "new Romans" could bid fair to dominate northern Italy and then the entire peninsula.
Cosimo de' Medici, as we have seen, secured a Florence-Milan alliance by supporting the claims of Francesco Sforza, fighting a war against Venice to do it. Basing himself on this Florence-Milan axis, Cosimo then proceeded to create an uneasy peace in Italy that was to last forty years. This was the Italian League, formed at the Peace of Lodi in 1453, which united the leading powers of Italy, the pope, Naples, Milan, Florence, and Venice, ostensibly in an alliance against the Turks, who had for a time held a toe-hold in Apulia. In reality, the Italian League was a Florence-Milan-Naples combination designed to check Venetian expansionism. In this it proved effective, giving the Renaissance almost half a century of time to develop under the longa pax of the Medici.
During these years, stymied in Italy, the Venetians concentrated on overseas expansion, including the conquest of Cyprus. But on the death of Cosimo's successor, Lorenzo the Magnificent, they began their systematic campaign to destroy the civilization of the high renaissance. Their basic premise was that, given their own inability to devastate the centers of Renaissance culture and economic development, they must concentrate on duping the overwhelming military forces of European states like France, Spain, and the other Hapsburg dominions into accomplishing this task for them.
The most competent contemporary observer of these matters was Niccolo Machiavelli, active somewhat later in the post-Medici Florentine diplomatic service, and a factional ally of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentino. Machiavelli noted that the two most dangerous forces in Italy around the turn of the century were the Venetians and the pope. His own hatred was directed especially against Venice, firstly because of the stated Venetian intention to subjugate Italy in a new Roman Empire. Secondly, Venice more than any other state relied on armies of mercenaries, and thus embodied precisely that practice which Machiavelli knew had to be extirpated, in favor of citizen-soldiers, if Italy was to be saved from humiliating subjugation to the likes of the Hapsburgs.
Machiavelli pointed out that the disintegration of Italy began when the Venetians succeeded in turning Lodovico il Moro, successor of Francesco as Duke of Milan, making him their agent of influence. Lodovico was responsible for the first major invasion of Italy in many years when he agreed to support the claims of Charles VIII of France to the Kingdom of Naples. This was the French king whom his father, the great Louis XI, considered a hopeless imbecile. In 1494 the French army crossed the Alps, accompanied by a Genoese advisor we will meet again later: Giuliano della Rovere.
This was enough to bring about the fall of the Medici regime in Florence, to the advantage of the Pazzi, Albizi, and related oligarchs of that city. These oligarchs immediately sought to crush the Florentine Renaissance using the regime of the demented Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola, who set up a theocracy a la Khomeini. Savonarola proudly trumpeted that his rule was based on sound Venetian principles; his family was closely related to the Padua Aristotelian community. As for Charles VIII, he went on to establish a tenuous hold on Naples.
Several years later, in 1498, the Venetians repeated this maneuver, with the variation that this time it was they who blatantly invited the French to cross the Alps. This time the pretext was the French claim to the Milanese dukedom, and the dupe was a new French king, Louis XII. The French army knocked out Milan in 1500, a fatal blow to the Renaissance cultural ferment associated there with Leonardo da Vinci. Shortly thereafter, Louis XII decided to compensate the Hapsburgs with Naples. Naples accordingly became the first beachhead of what would shortly become a totally destructive Hapsburg hegemony in Italy.VENICE AND GENOA COMBINE
For Venice, so far so good: Florence, Naples, and Milan had been ruined. But ironically, the same dumb Valois and Hapsburg giants which had taken out three dangerous rivals were now to turn like Frankenstein's monsters on the wily new Romans. Venetian manipulations were about to boomerang in the form of an alliance of all of Europe against Venice.
This was the famous crisis of the War of the League of Cambrai, which was assembled in 1508-1509. The opposing coalition was made up of the pope (by then the Genoese Giuliano della Rovere, as Julius II), the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, France, Spain, Savoy, Mantua, and Ferrara. The announced purpose of this alliance was to expunge Venice from the face of the earth.
It nearly worked. At Agnadello, near the Adda River, the Venetian mercenary army was crushed by an army composed predominantly of Frenchmen. The Venetians were driven all the way down the Po Valley to Padua, and they soon lost that as well. Machiavelli exulted that on the day of Agnadello, the Venetians lost everything that they had conquered in more than 800 years. Machiavelli was himself engaged in operations against Venice, bringing a grant of Florentine cash to the aid of the Franco-Imperial forces holding Verona.
With nothing left but the lagoons, the Venetian position was desperate. The doge sent a message to the pope asking for mercy, and announcing that Venice would vacate territory taken in the past from the Papal States.
Inside Venice, Agnadello brought on an orgy of hysterical self-flagellation among the terrified patricians. The banker Girolamo Priuli wrote in his diary that Agnadello had been a punishment for the sins of the Venetian nobility, among which he numbered arrogance, violation of promises, lechery in nunneries, sodomy, effeminate dress, and luxurious and lascivious entertainments. Antonio Contarini, newly appointed patriarch of Venice, gave a speech to the Senate in which he characterized the Serenissima as a thoroughly amoral city. The defeat was a punishment for the city's sins, he said. Nunneries were catering to the sexual needs of the rich and powerful. Homosexuality was so widespread that female prostitutes had complained to him that they had earned so little during their youth that they had to keep working far into their old age.
But more significantly, the shock of Agnadello set into motion a strategic review in the Venetian intelligence community which led to very far-reaching conclusions, some of which were not obvious before several decades had gone by.
The first Venetian ploy was to attempt to dismember the Cambrai coalition. They started with Pope Julius II. This pontiff was, as already noted, Genoese. Genoa and Venice had engaged in a series of highly destructive wars up till about the end of the fourteenth century, but after that, Genoa gravitated toward the status of junior partner and close associate of the Venetians. The Venetians had bested the Genoese by virtue of superior connections in the East, but otherwise their was a broad area of agreement.
The symbol of Genoa was St. George the dragon-slayer, in reality no saint at all but a thinly disguised version of Perseus saving Andromeda by slaying the sea monster, a legend that is centered on the coast of Lebanon. The "George" is said to come from the Gorgon Medusa, whose head Perseus was carrying.
Perseus is in turn nothing but a westernized variant of Marduk, the Syrian Apollo, a deity associated with the most evil forces of ancient Assyria and Babylon. The Venetians had their own Marduk cult, although subordinated to St. Mark, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, home of a Dominican monastery and today of the Cini Foundation, one of the highest level think tanks in the world. The modern British preference of Gorgons is too well known to need comment.
What probably accounted more directly for Julius II's decision to reverse his alliances was a deal mediated with the Venetians by Agostino Chigi, the Siena Black Guelph banker from whose financial empire the infamous Siena Group of today derives. He proposed that the Venetians stop buying alum, needed in textile and glass manufacture, from the Turks, but contract for a large shipment at higher prices from the alum mines at Tolfa in the Papal States -- mines for which he, Chigi, was acting as agent. To sweeten the pot, Chigi offered the Venetians tens of thousands of ducats in much-needed loans.
The Venetians, fearing a rapid French offensive, accepted. Their own state finances were in total shambles. Only the Chigi loan allowed them to hire enough Swiss mercenaries to hold out against the French and the Imperial Landsknechte.
To provide a plausible cover for his move, Julius II suddenly discovered that the real issue was not Venice after all, but the need to expel the barbarians (primarily the French) from Italy. Julius stipulated an alliance with Venice. He then set up the slogan of Fuori Barbari! (Kick the Barbarians out!) which is still recorded by credulous writers of Italian school books as the beginning of the struggle to unify Italy. Even the Venetian mercenaries, mostly Swiss, began using the battle cry of "Italy and Freedom!"
Thus the post-Agnadello crisis was overcome. Some years later the Venetians tried the same tactic in reverse, this time with more lasting success. By 1525 the prevalent barbarians in Italy were the forces of Emperor Charles V, who had defeated the French at Pavia, capturing King Francis I. The French lost their hold on Naples and Milan. At this point Doge Andrea Gritti, whose portrait by Tiziano speaks volumes about his personality, decided to agitate once again the banner of Italian freedom. This took the form of the Holy League of Cognac "for the restoration of Italian liberty," uniting France, Venice, Milan, Florence, and the Papal States under Pope Clement VIII Medici. After having set up this alliance, designed to play the French against Charles V once again to destroy Medici-controlled Rome, the last intact Renaissance center, the Venetians retired into defensive positions to await the outcome.
Venetian capacities to manipulate Charles V were formidable indeed. The emperor's bankers and intelligencers were the Fuggers of Augsburg, a banking house and a city that must be regarded as Venetian satellites, within a context of very heavy Venetian control of the cities of the Danube valley. Virtually every young male member of the Fugger family, and of their colleagues the Welsers as well, was sent to Venice for a period of apprenticeship at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. This was the case with Jacob Fugger the Rich. Venice was the pivot for Fugger metals trading, especially toward the East.
Thus, the Venetians stayed in their phony war posture against Charles V, while the imperial army of Lutheran Lanzi under Georg Frundsberg devastated Italy. The sack of Rome in 1527 was the direct outcome of this combined Venetian diplomacy and manipulation. To make Charles V's triumph complete, the Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria, commanding the French fleet, defected to the imperial side. A Doria coup in Genoa then established a permanent de facto alliance with Venice.
In 1530, Charles V was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy in a ceremony at Bologna. Garrisons of imperial troops were shortly stationed in every major city. Thanks to the tenacious policy of the Venetians, the main centers of the Renaissance had been subverted or destroyed. Venice was the only major Italian state which had retained real sovereignty. With the end of the Renaissance, Venice could feel free to start a delphic Renaissance among the throngs of intellectuals seeking asylum in the lagoons.THE CREATION OF THE JESUITS
The "long autumn of the Italian Renaissance in Venice" during the rest of the sixteenth century was only one deployment among several. Another was the promotion of the Protestant Reformation. The more immediate controllers of Martin Luther have yet to be identified, but this is something of a secondary matter. Luther's agitation in Wittenberg was merely one more example of protests against the papacy and the Curia that had been chronic and endemic for decades. What gave Luther and the rest of the Protestant reformers real clout was a publicity and diffusion of their ideas that owed much to the Venetian publishing establishment. The Venetian presses quickly turned out 40,000 copies of the writings of Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, and the heresiarch Juan Valdes, especially popular in Italy.
Pope Leo X publicly denounced the University of Padua as the hotbed of inspiration of the German disease of Lutheranism. Clearly, Venetian interest was well-served by a schismatic movement that would embroil Germany, France, and the rest of Europe in a series of easily profiled conflicts. In addition, a conflict between reformers and counter-reformers, all owing allegiance to Aristotle, would severely undercut the influence of Erasmus and others like him.
Venetian influence on both Reformation and Counter-Reformation can be seen most clearly in the remarkable career of Gasparo Contarini, who did not let the fact that he was a Protestant in theology, well before Luther, prevent him from founding the Society of Jesus.
Contarini was the scion of one of Venice's most prestigious LONGHI families. The Contarinis had produced seven doges, and Gasparo had his sights set on being the eighth, before he was tapped to serve Venice as a member of the College of Cardinals. He served the Serene Republic as ambassador to the court of Charles V, and as ambassador to the Vatican, where he took a role in setting up the Medici Pope Clement VII for the 1527 sack of Rome. Toward the end of his life, Contarini was sent as papal legate to the Imperial Diet at Regenburg, where he represented the Roman point of view in debates with schismatics like Melancthon. There, he had a hand in destroying any compromise between the Lutherans and the Emperor Charles, which would have helped to end the bloodshed and dissension of the Reformation years.
What does this sublime Venetian patrician have to do with the founding of the Jesuit order by that itinerant and deranged mystic, Ignatius of Loyola? Ignatius was the creature of Venice, and of Contarini in particular.
In 1521, Ignatius was wounded while fighting the French in one of the wars of Charles V. During his convalescence, he underwent his much-touted mystical crisis, after which he took up the life of a hobo. Making his way around Europe seeking funding for a pilgrimage to the holy land, Ignatius found his way to Venice, where he camped out in St. Mark's Square and lived by begging.
One evening the Venetian oligarch Marcantonio Trevisan was sleeping in his golden palace, and had a vision. An angel came to him asking, "Why are you sleeping so soundly in your warm bed, while in the square there is a holy man, a poor pilgrim who needs your help?" Trevisan rushed downstairs to find Ignatius, who became his house guest, fleas and all.
After that, Ignatius was given an audience with the doge, Andrea Gritti, who offered him passage to Cyprus on a Venetian warship as first leg of his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ignatius continued his travels, but soon returned to Venice to develop relationships with other members of the oligarchy. These included Gasparo Contarini's nephew Pietro, who became a recipient of Ignatius' patented brainwashing treatment, the Exercitationes Spirituales.
Then Ignatius made his way to Rome. Here he became the protégé of Gasparo Contarini, who had been appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Paul III Farnese. The cardinal took the Exercitationes Spirituales, and appointed Ignatius his personal confessor and spiritual advisor. By 1540, Contarini had personally interceded with the pope against Ignatius' enemies within the church hierarchy to ensure the founding of the Society of Jesus as a new Church order. In June 1539, Contarini personally traveled to the pope's summer residence at Tivoli, and prevailed on the pontiff to let him read aloud the statutes of the new order composed by Ignatius. The pope must have been favorably impressed by something. His approving comment Hic est digitus Dei, ("Here is the finger of God"), has become a feature of the turgid Jesuit homiletics.BIRTH OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT
An ironic postscript to this story is that later the Venetian oligarchy decided that it simply would not do to be too closely identified with the benighted excesses of the Spanish and the papacy they so thoroughly dominated. In the years around 1570, accordingly, Venice became the site of the first example in Europe of what the French later termed "salons" for socializing and literary discussion: the Ridotto Morosini, sponsored by the ancient family of the same name. Here the seeds were sown that would later produce free-thinking, l'esprit libertin and the Philosophes -- in a word, the Enlightenment. The Ridotto Morosini salon was in favor of tolerance and science, against everything doctrinaire and narrow. They sheltered Galileo against the Inquisition. Out of the Morosini salon came one of the rare public factions in Venetian political history, the so-called Giovani.
The Giovani, in contrast to their rivals, the Vecchi, were in favor of profound innovations in Venetian foreign policy. They wished above all to cement alliances with the countries to whom they felt the future belonged: France, England, and the Netherlands. The Vecchi, they said, were paralyzed by too much fear of Spanish power, and not ready enough to tangle with the people.
The Giovani were able to implement their program in 1606, when the Pope (now Paul V, Camillo Borghese) strenuously objected to the arrest by Venice of several ecclesiastics in its territory. The Borghese pope placed Venice under the interdict, and proceeded to excommunicate government officials. The main supporter of Venice internationally was James I, the Stuart ruler of England.
At the same time, the powerful Venetian propaganda apparatus swung into action, under the leadership of a Servite monk named Paolo Sarpi, whose lack of noble birth kept him from public office. Sarpi was the Venetian contact man for Sir Francis Bacon.
Sarpi had been in Rome, where he had been associated with Nicholas Bobadilla, one of St. Ignatius' original hard core. He had been a friend of Bellarmino, later the Jesuit-general, and his direct adversary during the Interdict affair. He was close to Galileo, who called him "my father." Sarpi had lent a hand in the construction of Galileo's telescope. Sarpi was lavish in his praise of Gilbert's treatise on magnetism. He was also the author of an Arte di Ben Pensare, which is curiously similar to the writings of John Locke. Sarpi admitted in private to being "a Protestant."
He engaged in a long pamphlet war with Bellarmino, and topped this off with a muck-raking History of the Council of Trent, which needless to say whitewashed the role of Venetian intelligence in the Counter-Reformation. The noise created around the whole affair was so great that some people forgot that it had after all been the Venetians, specifically Zuane Mocenigo, who had consigned Giordano Bruno -- also of Ridotto Morosini -- into the hands of the Inquisition just a few years before.METASTASIS
The policies of the Giovani, propagandized by Sarpi and Doge Leonardo Dona' during the struggle around the Interdict, corresponded to a metastasis of Venice's power and influence through the world. The Venetians and their Genoese Doria-faction associates were busily shifting their family fortunes into more profitable locations, not tied to the fate of what was rapidly becoming a third-rate naval power.
The Venice-Genoa partnership is in evidence first of all in the banking side of the Spanish looting of the New World. Venice got control of the silver coming from the Americas, shifting to a silver standard from the previous gold standard in the middle of the sixteenth century. This silver was used to pay for the spices and other products from the East.
Venice was extremely liquid at this time, with about 14 million ducats in coins in reserve around 1600. At about the same time, incredibly, the Venetian regime had completed the process of paying off its entire public debt, leaving the state with no outstanding obligations of any type. This overall highly liquid situation is a sure sign that flights of capital are underway, in the direction of the countries singled out by the Giovani as future partners or victims: France, England, and the Netherlands.
The Genoese around the St. George's Bank received virtually the entire world's circulating gold stocks. The two cities teamed up starting around 1579 at the Piacenza Fair, a prototype of a clearing house for European banks, which soon had a turnover of 20 million ducats a year. This fair was a precursor of the post-Versailles Bank for International Settlements.
In 1603, Venice and Genoa assumed direction of the finances of Stuart England, and imparted their characteristic method to the British East India Company. It is also this tandem that was present at the creation of the great Amsterdam Bank, the financial hinge of the seventeenth century, and of the Dutch East India Company. Venice and Genoa were also the midwives for the great financial power growing up in Geneva, which specialized in controlling the French public debt and in fostering the delphic spirits of the Enlightenment.
The Venetians, in cooperation with the restored -- that is, degenerated -- Medici interests, began a major move into maritime and other types of insurance. These ventures live on today in the biggest business enterprise associated with Venice, the Assicurazioni Generali Venezia, one of the biggest if not the biggest insurance and real estate holdings in the world.
On May 12, 1797, the Gran Consiglio obeyed Napoleon's ultimatum and voted itself out of existence. Four thousand French infantrymen paraded on St. Mark's Square, where foreign troops had never before in history been seen. The golden Bucentoro was burned and the gold carted off. The Venetian "Republic" was finished, but it continued most emphatically to exist in less visible but highly effective forms.
One particular of the last years of Venice is of special interest to us: During the American Revolution about 3000 Venetian naval personnel, corresponding to about one-third of the total available strength, were serving with the British Royal Navy.
Commenting on the liquidation of Venice, the great Neapolitan Neoplatonic Giuseppe Cuoco wrote:
"I don't know what will happen to Italy, but the fulfillment of the Florentine secretary's prophecy in the destruction of the old, imbecilic Venetian oligarchy will be a great boon for Italy always."
The reference, of course, is to Machiavelli.
On the other side, William Wordsworth lamented the demise of "a maiden city," the "eldest child of liberty."POST MORTEM
Unfortunately, all the obituaries were premature: Venice has continued to be very much alive. During the nineteenth century and up to our own time it has been the most important single incubator for fascist movements. With its military and financial power largely emigrated elsewhere, Venice's importance for political culture is now greater than ever.
Examples of this are inexhaustible. Richard Wagner wrote part of Tristan und Isolde while living in the Palazzo Giustinian on the Grand Canal. One story has it that the leitmotif of the Liebestod was inspired by the mournful call of a gondolier. At the end of his life Wagner moved to Palazzo Vendramin Callergi, where he died. This building, presently a gambling casino, was also the home of Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founder of the Pan-European Union. Friedrich Nietzsche loved Venice, returned there incessantly, and dedicated certain poems to the city which today can still be used in lieu of a powerful emetic. Venice was an inspiration for Lord Byron, for Thomas Mann, and so on.
Other examples abound of how the Venetian oligarchy's cultural and political influence has reached down into the modern era:
* When British East India Company retainer Thomas Malthus published his Essay on Population he was plagiarizing from the Venetian Giammaria Ortes, who produced, around 1750, a fully developed version of the argument that geometric population growth outstrips the much slower arithmetric progress of food production.
* John Ruskin, the leading ideologue of the British Dark Ages faction, began his career with a raving treatise on architecture, The Stones of Venice (1851). This volume popularized the notion that a "Venetian Gothic" style had been developed in the better times of the city's history (which for Ruskin ended in 1418) and it was used systematically to discredit the Golden Renaissance.
* A turn-of-the-century new Roman Empire faction led by Venetian Count Volpi di Misurata, who was known as the doge of his era, sponsored the fascist Mussolini supporter Gabriele D'Annunzio to drum up enthusiasm for a new crusade into the Balkans and the East. Volpi became finance minister in Mussolini's cabinet, along with a very large number of other Venetians. D'Annunzio incited the Italians to take back Trieste, the rest of Italia Irredenta, and the Dardanelles, bringing on to center stage the so-called Parvus Plan for dismemberment of the Ottoman and Russian empires, which is generally recognized as the detonator of World War I. It is possible that the turn-of-the-century super spook Alexander Parvus was ultimately employed by Venice.
* The Societe Europeenne de Culture, a think tank created in 1950 through the efforts of Venetian intelligence operative Umberto Campagnolo, has for the past three decades pulled intellectuals from both East and West into organizing for an "international culture," based on rejecting the existence of sovereign nations. The SEC counted among its members the cream of the postwar intelligencia: Adam Schaff of Poland, Bertolt Brecht of East Germany, Georg Lukas of Hungary, and Boris Paternak of the Soviet Union, as well as Stephen Spender and Arnold Toynbee, Benedetto Croce and Norberto Bobbio, Julian Huxley and Thomas Mann, Francois Mauriac, and Jean Cocteau. Later, the SEC launched the Third World national liberation ideology.
Today, the Club of Rome is the institution that represents the most concentrated essence of Venetian influence and the Venetian method. The Club of Rome wants to convince the great powers and peoples of the world to commit collective suicide by accepting the genocidal doctrine of zero growth. It also hopes to abolish the sovereign nation as a vehicle for economic growth and scientific progress.
Club of Rome founder Aurelio Peccei has just written a new book titled One Hundred Pages For the Future, a global review of the impact of the Club of Rome, and particularly since its 1972 release of the zero-growth model Limits to Growth was published, a series of social movements has sprung up under the sponsorship of the ideas in the book. These -- the women's movement, the peace movement, Third World national liberation movements, gay rights, civil liberties, ecologists, consumer and minority rights, etc. -- must now be welded together into one movement for a single strategic goal: the implementation of a zero-growth international order.
The Venetian problem remains with us today. Truly, the most urgent task of this generation of mankind is to definitively liquidate the horror that is Venice.