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Merchant republic

From EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

Territories of the Republic of Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries
Expansion of Genoa in the Mediterranean Sea
Trade routes and warehouses of the merchant republic of Ancona

The Merchant Republic is the collective name of a number of important city-states which flourished in Italy and Dalmatia in the Middle Ages. Traditionally, the major four were Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice, whose coats of arms appear in the flag of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy). These city states competed with each other both militarily and commercially. From the 10th to the 13th centuries they built fleets of ships both for their own protection and to support extensive trade networks across the Mediterranean, and had an essential role in the Crusades. As they found themselves in competition, these republics engaged in shifting alliances and warfare. A modern scholar has referred to Venice as a "city without territory" and a "merchant republic." It is said that "the government was that of a joint-stock trading company, the Doge its president, the Senate its board of directors, the populace its shareholders".[1]

The four classic merchant republics in Italy listed above, are usually listed in that order, reflecting the temporal sequence of their dominance. However, other towns in Italy also have a history of being merchant republics, though historically less prominent. These include Gaeta, Ancona, Molfetta, Trani and, in Dalmatia, Ragusa and Zara. "Lord Novgorod the Great", as it was called by the Russians, was a rich Russian merchant-republic in the thirteenth century. It extended its dominion over vast territories in the northern parts of the country, but it continued to invite princes from the House of Rurik to be its military governors and thus remained linked with the rest of the nation.[2]

The merchant republic were city-states. They were generally republics in that they were formally independent, though like the rest of medieval Europe subject to the powers of the Holy Roman Empire and/or the Catholic Church. All these cities during the time of their independence had similar (though not identical) systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. The welfare of a merchant republic was not compatible with the caprice inseparable from monarchy, which would subordinate trade to politics, diplomacy, fiscalism, and war. The 'state' that was built on traditional political institutions and the inherited and developing economic structure was far too atomistic and too vulnerable to harbour plans such as those attributed to it by Colbert.[3]

The merchant republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. The Fourth Crusade, notionally intended to ‘liberate’ Jerusalem, actually entailed the Venetian conquest of Zara and Constantinople, which transformed the city from a merchant republic to a maritime empire. No other event in the Middle Ages had so profound an impact on Venice.[4]

Each of the merchant republics over time had dominion over different territories, including many of the islands in the Mediterranean, especially Sardinia and Corsica, lands on the Adriatic coast, and in the Near East and North Africa. The idea of a nation is peculiar to a merchant republic accustomed from early times to negotiating with other states for the privileges of extraterritoriality and concessions of a commercial nature. Thus, Venice had begun to construct its network of "colonies" in the eastern Mediterranean in the wake of the Crusades.[5]


  1. Broadening the Horizons of Chinese History: Discourses, Syntheses, and Comparisons. M.E. Sharpe. 1999. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-7656-0348-7. Retrieved 27 August 2013. Search this book on
  2. Nicolas Zernov (1978). The Russians and Their Church. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-913836-36-1. Retrieved 26 August 2013. Search this book on
  3. Michael Moïssey Postan; Edwin Ernest Rich; H. J. Habakkuk; C. H. Wilson (1967). The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. CUP Archive. p. 531. ISBN 978-0-521-04507-0. Retrieved 25 August 2013. Search this book on
  4. Thomas F. Madden (1 April 2008). Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. JHU Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-8018-9184-7. Retrieved 26 August 2013. Search this book on
  5. Yedida Kalfon Stillman; George K. Zucker (1993). New Horizons in Sephardic Studies. SUNY Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-4384-2131-5. Retrieved 27 August 2013. Search this book on

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