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City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire Paperback – August 2, 2012
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Crowley’s popular histories—this is his fourth—pivot around power politics of the Mediterranean Sea, circa 1453 (2005). Venice is the player this lively narrative focuses on, specifically during the three centuries, from 1200 to 1500, in which it was at the apex of its sway over maritime trade. Accenting the city-state’s mercantile spirit, Crowley supports his narrative of the period’s numerous naval wars with explanations of the commerce they were fought to command. Acquiring an imperial archipelago in the process of serving as spice broker between Europe and Asia, Venice reached around Greece to Constantinople and as far as southern Russia. Anchored by fortresses, linked by galleys, Venice’s commercial empire faced challenges from Mongols, Genoa, and Ottoman Turks, and the diplomatic and military means by which Venice addressed those threats provide the most vivid passages and personalities in Crowley’s account. Had Vittorio Pisano not defeated Genoa in 1380, Venice might not be the tourist attraction of today. A deft writer, Crowley renders the Venetian part in late medieval times interesting indeed to history buffs. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The rise and fall of Venice’s empire is an irresistible story and [Roger] Crowley, with his rousing descriptive gifts and scholarly attention to detail, is its perfect chronicler.”—The Financial Times
“[Crowley] writes with a racy briskness that lifts sea battles and sieges off the page.”—The New York Times
“Crowley chronicles the peak of Venice’s past glory with Wordsworthian sympathy, supplemented by impressive learning and infectious enthusiasm.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A pleasure to read . . . a gripping story.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Fascinating . . . [Crowley writes] absorbingly and accessibly for all readers of history.”—Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
City of Fortune has four focal points--the Fourth Crusade, the great struggle for dominance over commerce in the Mediterranean between the Venetians and Genoese, Venice's subsequent rise as the dominant commercial power in the eastern Mediterranean, and the struggle with the Ottoman Empire that led to Venice's decline.
The Venetians were never the most pious of people, but the Pope had no one else to go to for the Fourth Crusade. Only the seafaring Venetians had the naval capacity to transport a Crusade by sea. Venice agreed to transport 4,500 knights and horses and 20,000 foot soldiers in 450 transport ships accompanied by 50 war galleys. It was an incredible commitment that required 2 years of effort by the entire city. The Venetians, as always, had their own commercial interests in mind when negotiating the deal. One has to admire the audacity of a people who respond to a request by the pope to transport crusaders by ship by asking permission to trade with the Muslim world in return!
The novelty of the Venetian focus on trade is dwarfed only by the novelty of their interest in engaging with the Islamic world. And they were instrumental in both creating an opportunity for the Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor and in decimating the economic importance of the southeast Mediterranean Islamic states. They did the first by playing a role in the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (a long, and fascinating, story told in the first quarter of the book). They did the second by pumping goods from the Islamic world into the West, leading to both the shifting of production across the Mediterranean and to the Portuguese seeking another route to India.
The first half of the book is the more interesting. The events of the Fourth Crusade and Venice's wars with Genoa are captivating. Its truth is stranger than fiction stuff. The events of the second half cannot compete on that measure, but if you're both a history and business junky like me, the story of Venice's commercial rise is still compelling. Having spent so much time with the Venetians and seen them accomplish so much, it is almost painful to watch how ineffectual they ultimately were in combating the Ottoman Empire.
Crowley has a great subject, and he takes full advantage. I would heartily recommend City of Fortune to anyone with an interest in not only Venetian and Mediterranean history, but also in European, medieval, or Islamic history. Venice played a integral role in each.
This review is of the Kindle edition. The illustrations, and there are many, look good on the Kindle. Approximately 20% of the book is devoted to notes and a bibliography. Unlike some Kindle books, the notes (for quotations only) include links that allow the reader to jump from the note to the quote in the main text (without endnotes, however, you cannot jump directly from a quote in the main text to the note).