Venice in Greece

By the time the Fourth Crusade arrived in Venice the city was already an important player in the Balkans. The activities of Dalmatian pirates had forced the city to occupy coastal areas in the Adriatic and develop a strong fleet. Most of the northern territories were lost to Hungary in a war between 1097 and 1102. The Hungarians repulsed an attempt to retake them between 1172 and 1196. The alliance with Byzantium ended when Venice supported the Normans in 1170 seizing Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and Chios.

It was the capture of Constantinople which turned Venice into an imperial power. Carefully selecting strategic ports, largely ignoring the hinterland, Venice carved out an empire based on the lucrative trade routes along the Adriatic and Aegean. Eventually including Crete, purchased for 30lbs of gold. Venetian naval power was challenged in this period by Genoa. It took three major wars (1253-99, 1353-55 and 1378-81) before the Genoese fleet was captured and Venetian maritime supremacy assured.

Venetian power was dependent on its fleet. By the end of this period Venice had 3000 merchant ships many of which could be easily converted into warships or transports manned by 36,000 sailors. War galleys escorted trading vessels in a convoy system. Tactics had switched from ramming to firepower with Greek fire, catapults, bombards and crossbows.

The overseas possessions became heavily fortified and defended by communal crossbow armed militias (30,000 men) supplemented by local feudal forces. Mercenaries formed an increasing part of Venetian armies following the Italian condotta system. The Arsenal in Venice had 16,000 workers, a third of the city's active male population.

In the twenty years following victory over the Genoese in 1380, Venice expanded its territory to include most of Dalmatia, Corfu, the Greek Morea, Cyclades and Dodecanese islands. Despite several rebellions they held onto Crete and eventually gained Cyprus in 1489. The middle ages were the high tide of Venetian expansion. From the 16th century Venice would be on the defensive