- Byzantium and Venice: The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Alliance
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For the Venetians the many islands and ports possessed or dominated by the city in the lagoons on the Balkan coast from the eleventh century provided secure shelter and logistical facilities for their shipping.
The sea-routes as far south as Ragusa lay amongst the islands and channels very close to the mainland, while south of the straits of Otranto lay inshore of Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante, all of which had their main medieval harbours on their east coasts. To secure these sea routes that formed the life-line of its trade with the Empire, Venice had to exhibit its might against any enemy naval activity that threatened to disrupt the normal flow of goods to and from its ports.
But what was the threat that the Normans posed for the Venetian trade in the second half of the eleventh century?
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Since their emphatic victory over the papal army of Leo IX at Civitate in , Norman expansion in continental Italy had reached its peak in with the three year siege and eventual capitulation of the city of Bari — capital of the Byzantine Catepanate of Longobardia. One of the greatest challenges that the Normans had to face since their arrival in Italy, the transportation of a large armed force by sea, was also overcome in May when a Norman force under the leadership of Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger landed near Messina in Sicily — a feature of great significance for the evolution of military thinking in the Mediterranean that further enabled them to impose a naval blockade in Bari and Palermo the capital of Muslim Sicily.
With the Normans holding the Italian side of the Adriatic, they could threaten the straits of Otranto. But their ambitions went further than that. In a Norman Count, Amicus II of Molfetta and Giovenazzo attacked the Dalmatian coasts and allegedly even managed to capture the Croatian King Kresimir, with the only option left to Venice being the launch of a naval expedition to flush him out.
Byzantium and Venice: The Rise and Fall of a Medieval Alliance
Before arriving outside the walls of Dyrrachium in June , Robert Guiscard had already taken the capital city of Corfu — along with the port on the opposite Epirotic coast, Butrinto — probably intending to have it as a forward supply base, while another side-expedition occupied the port of Vonitsa Bundicia , further south into the Amvrakikos Gulf. The loss of these forward bases, along with the threat posed against Dyrrachium — the port of entry for the Via Egnatia that led through Thessalonica and Adrianople to Constantinople, and a city that also had a large population of Venetian and Amalfitan tradesmen, were very worrying developments for the Venetians.
They could not permit them to have a free reign in the Adriatic and severely disrupt their trade with the east. For the Empire, the Norman invasion of Illyria happened to coincide with a period of great military decline, a result of the defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in and the replacement of the old thematic and tagmatic units with mercenaries. Concluding a peace treaty with the Seljuk Turks — thus recognising that the latter posed a more serious threat and had to be dealt with in the long-term — he understood that his first move should be to cut the Norman communication with Italy and trap the landing force from its main bases in Bari and Otranto.
In theory, the role of intercepting any Norman invasion fleet would probably have been assigned to the provincial fleets of Dyrrachium, Cephalonia and, perhaps, Nicopolis, that consisted of rather light ships not suitable for open-sea expeditions.
But the major naval bases in Cephalonia, Dyrrachium and Corfu had been abandoned, thus allowing only a small squadron of ships to patrol the area with no immediate effect. The years when Constantinople could launch large-scale expeditions against Crete , Cyprus and Sicily have come and gone.
After , the pax romana that had been established in the Byzantine seas turned the attention of the central government away from the seas, prompting a steady decline in the strength of both the Imperial and thematic fleets. The final blow came with their transformation from military to administrative provinces in the s, as it was the case with the land themata in Asia Minor. The Byzantine government was not only considering Venice as an early warning beacon for threats coming from the north and some sort of a buffer zone for its Dalmatian territories.
In other words, the Byzantines were more willing to have others to fight their wars than send naval detachments in a region far away from their main operational theatres closer to the capital. And as long as they provided them with rewards, the Venetians were more than willing to play that role. Our two main sources for the naval battles between the Venetians and the Normans in are Anna Comnena, the daughter of the Emperor Alexius writing between , and Geoffrey Malaterra , a monk commissioned by Roger Hauteville to write the conquest of Sicily by the Normans in the later years of the 11th century.
Anna may not had been an eye-witness of the events but her position in the Imperial Court brought her in daily contact with many leading figures of the Empire. Apart from her father and Emperor, she also had access to several other important officials like her uncle and governor of Dyrrachium George Paleologos, while she was able to gather useful information from eye-witnesses of the events and gain access to archive material in the capital.
The accounts of the ensuing naval battle between the Venetian squadron that arrived in the Illyrian waters, sometime in late July or early August, and the Normans are rather contradictory. According to the Alexiad , when the Venetian fleet arrived north of the besieged city, they refused battle on the first day. Malaterra had a rather different story to tell, presenting the Venetians as a cunning and crafty enemy.
The Normans immediately attacked the Venetians once they realised their arrival in Illyrian waters, and after a most violent naval battle, by sunset the Normans seemed to had won the day. By sunrise, the re-organised Venetian squadron attacked the unprepared Normans, forcing them to retreat while they were breaking the naval blockade imposed to the city, making effective use of the Greek fire. If Alexius had chosen to impose a land blockade as well, like he did twenty-six years later, the outcome of the campaign would have been different. The Venetians had promptly and willingly played their part as Imperial allies, but it was no fault of their own that Dyrrachium eventually fell to the Norman duke.
The only difference this time was that he found a joined Venetian-Byzantine fleet waiting to attack him. We are not informed about the number of ships that were sent by the Doge, but we should not expect a large expeditionary force since it only took the Venetians a few weeks to prepare and sail south. Our sources use vague terms like triremes and naves to describe the consistency of the Venetian fleet, although by reading the Alexiad we understand that both large vessels, like chelandia or types of dromons , and lighter and faster ships, like the galeai , would have been deployed.
During their first encounter, the Venetians managed to rout the Norman squadron, but Anna gives us few if any details about the course of the battle. Three days later the allied fleet attacked the Normans once more, trying to inflict a significant blow upon the relatively small Norman squadron of warships, but again their victory was not decisive enough to force Robert Guiscard to retreat back to Avlona.
With their small and fast ships sent back home, the Normans attacked. Completely surprised, the Venetians barely had the time to tie their ships together and form the pelagolimena , the defensive formation seen three years before at Dyrrachium. The Norman ships, being made much lighter the day before, took full advantage of their speed and mobility and overwhelmingly defeated the allied fleet.
For Venice this was a crushing and humiliating defeat. Anna mentions around 13, casualties, which is surely an exaggerated figure, and 2, prisoners. Probably the Duke wished to send a warning to the Venetians never to launch another naval campaign against his army. This gruesome method of psychological warfare proved very effective by Roger after the Battle of Misilmeri , when hardly any Muslims survived to bring the news of their defeat to the inhabitants of the Sicilian capital.
But the Venetians expected their reward for all the sacrifices they had made as allies of Byzantium. The text of the chrysobull which Alexius had promised to them in exists, albeit in an incomplete Latin version contained in later documents and in a brief summary in the Alexiad. Although there has been a debate regarding the dating of the document to or , its content is the most comprehensive and detailed charter of privileges that had ever been granted to the Republic by a Byzantine Emperor, thus forming the corner-stone of the Venetian colonial Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The chrysobull of may had granted the Venetians the privilege of having to pay their dues only to the highest official of the state, but now they were getting a permanent colony of resident traders on the Golden Horn, a number of buildings, churches and other properties were designated as Venetian and they also earned the right to trade in all parts of the Empire free of any charge, tax or duty payable to the Imperial Treasury.
It was a document designed to bring them back in Byzantine orbit, not as faithful subjects but rather as dependable allies by giving them the ability to open the door to the wealth of Byzantium and the Orient; and they made sure that these privileges were renewed and extended at intervals. Until the eve of the launching of the Fourth Crusade, Venice and Byzantium were partners in an alliance that had grown steadily for centuries. They both needed each other, though for different reasons.
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The Byzantines saw Venice as an early warning beacon and a sort of a buffer zone in the Adriatic, while its ships provided valuable transport means for Imperial expeditions and patrolled the Adriatic — tasks which the Byzantine navy was growing increasingly incapable of performing after the second half of the 11th century. The Doges were keen to keep the Adriatic free from enemy activity that could hamper their trade, but more and more on their own behalf rather than for the sake of the Byzantines.
Pass By: Piazza Umberto I, Capri, Island of Capri, Province of Naples, Campania -Along the way you can enjoy several stops for swimming and snorkelling, and a relaxing break with snacks, fruits and drinks offered on board. If you want, you can also visit the island by land or decide to have lunch in one of the many delicious restaurants on the coast accessible only by sea.
The skipper will suggest you the best one! Pass By: Porto di Sorrento, Sorrento, Province of Naples, Campania -Once back on board, relax en route to the departure point, sipping some Prosecco sparkling wine offered by your skipper. Skip the stress of finding a taxi or sharing a shuttle at the start of your trip. Simply enter your details when you book, pay in advance and then show your voucher to your driver when you'll meet the driver.
Sit back and enjoy the ride without worrying about taxi meters or getting lost. Price is per car and not per person. Your driver will meet you at the hotel lobby or airport. Travel in a private Mercedes for up to 4 passengers. Numbers are limited to a maximum of 4 people, our drivers pay attention friendly and professional, our comfortable minivans, and reasonable rates take the hassle out of getting to and from Naples.
Our guide will do the best to avoid waiting but please remember that Capri is one of the most chosen destination by most travelers Note. Go on Board the passenger coach and start with a drive along a road you may recognize from the movie Mamma Mia! Your first stop is the lovely village of Anacapri. Enjoy an optional visit own expense inside the impressive Gardens of Augustus, designed in terraces overlooking the sea and considered a testament to the rich flora of the island.
Meet your skipper at the port in Amalfi, Positano or Sorrento at the prearranged time and step aboard your private speedboat for a quick and fun transfer to Naples. Get comfortable on board the boat and soak up the stunning sights. Not only will you get views of the gloriously blue Gulf of Naples, but you'll also see the stunning Italian coast and the towering shape of Mt Vesuvius standing in the background, as well as the chic islands of Ischia and Capri.
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Sip on complimentary bottled water and soda at your leisure. Your transfer will be confirmed within 48 hours of booking, and you will be provided with a voucher to present to your skipper. You will need to contact the local supplier to confirm your departure time the contact details will be provided on your travel voucher.