John W. Barker

title.none: Madden, Enrico Dandolo (John W. Barker)

identifier.other: baj9928.0408.003 04.08.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John W. Barker, University of Wisconsin, Madison,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Madden, Thomas F. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 298. $50.00 0-8018-7317-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.08.03

Madden, Thomas F. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 298. $50.00 0-8018-7317-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John W. Barker
University of Wisconsin, Madison

For decades, debate over the Fourth Crusade raged between two extremes. The "theory of accidents" claimed that the expedition's diversion to Constantinople resulted from a series of fortuitous circumstances, much as Villehardouin's history told it. The "conspiracy theory" assumed that the diversion was pre-planned, with one or another sinister individual or force behind it--the likeliest candidate being the Venetians and their wiley Doge, Enrico Dandolo.

Many have continued to hold to the latter theory and to that candidate, Byzantinists in particular. (Donald Nicol in his Byzantium and Venice, 1988, is essentially in that line.) But the "theory of accidents" was given new force in a modified reformulation launched by the late Donald E. Queller in his 1977 volume, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, 1204, following a number of shorter studies on the episode. Primarily a specialist in Medieval and Renaissance Venetian history, Queller numbered among his students Thomas Madden, with whom he collaborated on two articles and whom he directed in a dissertation on the pre-1202 life of Enrico Dandolo. With the benefit of that research, as well as new scholarly publication, to be drawn upon, Queller supervised Madden's preparation of a revised and augmented second edition of Queller's book, which appeared in 1997 (University of Pennsylvania Press), twenty years after the original and, alas, shortly after Queller's own death.

Now, having taken time out to produce A Concise History of the Crusades (1999), Madden has returned to his dissertation and has expanded it into a substantial book in its own right. Inevitably, it goes back over a great deal of the same ground already covered in the Queller/Madden book on the Fourth Crusade. But it is still very much a distinct undertaking.

Madden observes at the outset that "With the exception of Marco Polo, Doge Enrico Dandolo (1192-1205) is the best-known Venetian of the Middle Ages" (xiii). Among all the doges of Venice, he is one of the few, and certainly the first, about whom we know enough to justify a biography--to be sure, not a fully detailed life-story that is expected for a latter-day figure. There is so much we do not know, even with the data that Madden's copious archival research has revealed. As to the bulk of Dandolo's motivations and intentions there can only be speculation, but Madden is so steeped in the period and its mentalities that he is able to speculate with cautious plausibility.

By the best estimates, Dandolo was born around 1107 and was about ninety-eight when he died in 1205. His life thus spanned almost the entire twelfth century, the century that was decisive in Venice's conversion from a ducal principality to an oligarchic republic, capped by its conversion from a mercantile maritime city-state to a maritime empire. Through all of this, Enrico Dandolo and his family were at the center of events. As a result, this is almost two books in one. The second, of course, is about Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade. But the first, the one that is the freshest and most stimulating, finds in Dandolo's lifetime and career the armature on which can be reconstructed crucial Venetian developments of the century. In that sense, this book's title might well be "The Rise of Venice Seen through the Dandolo Family."

The first chapter, after depicting for us the medieval aspect of Venice (long before the familiar buildings of the Renaissance and beyond), Madden uses the Dandolo family as a paradigm of how a Venetian mercantile clan emerged to great prominence, when there were leading families but not yet a formal nobility. This is a valuable vignette of Venetian social history, and, along the way, a reminder of the Dandolo family's background in crusading. (There are a lot of Dandolos rolling around in this book: fortunately, a genealogical table of the Dandolo family is provided on p. 202, a helpful guide and a useful contribution to Venetian prosopography.)

The next two chapters trace the pivotal roles of two Dandolo brothers in two separate spheres of change in twelfth-century Venice. One is our doge's uncle and namesake, Enrico Dandolo, the Patriarch of Grado (1134-88), whose tumultuous career in some ways foreshadowed that of Thomas Becket in England a little later. Committed to church reform, he stood firm against a hostile doge, suffering exile and the temporary ruin of his family. But he won his cause and, in the process brought a clearer definition to the relations between church and state in Venice. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Vitale Dandolo, our doge's father, was at the center of Venetian political life during the third quarter of the century, serving as a ducal councilor, a judge, and a diplomat. He was caught up in the episode of Doge Vitale Michiel II's failed anti-Byzantine expedition and its aftermath--an episode so decisive in removing ducal election from any popular participation, and one that Madden has already elucidated in his previous articles. Vitale died on his final diplomatic mission, at over ninety, in Constantinople (as his son would do).

Our Enrico Dandolo only emerges clearly into light after his father's death in 1174, when he himself was about sixty-seven. Now a ducal councilor and diplomat in his own turn, Dandolo also at this time experienced the beginnings of the blindness whose nature and causes have been so greatly misrepresented but which is definitively explained here by Madden. Both Enricos, Patriarch and nephew, were very much on the scene at the famous "summit conference" between Pope Alexander III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1177. And, despite his visual handicap, the nephew undertook an important mission to Constantinople in 1183, to re-establish the Venetian quarter there in the aftermath of anti-Latin violence.

When in 1192 Enrico Dandolo was elected Doge, the choice was understandable in many ways, despite his handicap and age (about eighty-five). But it was perhaps intended as a gesture of respect for a venerable veteran of government, if one still under the shadow of his eminent uncle and father. At his age, he was probably not expected to have a long reign, and there was no premonition of the revolutionary incumbency that was to ensue. Madden uses his Chapter 5 to digress on the nature of the ducal office and the character of Venetian governmental institutions by 1192. He then devotes a chapter to the extraordinary first decade of Dandolo's dogeship. In that time he regulated foreign residences, created a landmark civil code, and reframed the Venetian coinage system--culminating in the creation of the silver grosso. In diplomacy, Dandolo steered Venice through rocky shoals with an eye to maintaining good standing with Byzantium.

With the advent of the Fourth Crusade--to which the remaining chapters (7-10) are devoted--we are at last have a more vividly delineated Enrico Dandolo, thanks to the rich literary documentation of that episode. Madden reminds us that this expedition provided a first and unprecedentedly massive test of the economic and institutional structure that Venice had achieved by 1202. Also, having traced them along the way, Madden makes vividly clear the background of experiences and perceptions that Dandolo and his Venetian contemporaries would have drawn upon as they entered into the great project: the model of the successful "crusade" of 1121; the admonitory example of the ill-advised and rash anti-Byzantine expedition of 1171-72; and Dandolo's own familiarity, from his time as an envoy there in 1174, with the situation of Alexandria--which was the originally--projected target of the planned Crusade.

In the treatment of the Fourth Crusade itself, we are, of course, on familiar ground. The actual account does not add a great deal to that already offered in the Queller/Madden book itself, much less in some vital articles on special topics Madden that has previously published. But we are able here to follow the course of the Crusade entirely through Venetian eyes for the first time, which is illuminating. Madden restates the point that Dandolo was the least likely of the leaders to seek the diversion from Alexandria to Constantinople, and he demonstrates the gambles in policy or judgment the doge was obliged to make at crucial points.

The most important contribution made by the book's latter part, however, is contained in the final sections. In his first edition of The Fourth Crusade, Queller had carried the story only up to the capture of Constantinople, with a brief epilogue on the aftermath. In Queller/Madden, the epilogue was omitted and the narrative went as far as the coronation of Baldwin I as the Latin Emperor. Here, Madden devotes a full chapter (10) to a highly individual account of Dandolo's role in the events after the capture and in the genesis of the Latin Empire--for which Dandolo sought, Madden insists, stability and viability, not the manipulatable weakness he is often accused of wanting for Venice's advantage. Madden presents fresh perspective on the installation of Tommaso Morosini as the new Latin Patriarch (180-83), and he gives the fullest clarification yet of the complex negotiations by which Dandolo arranged the purchase of Crete from Boniface of Montferrat and the eventual securing for the latter of the Kingdom of Thessaloniki (183-90).

Then, in an Epilogue, Madden takes a fresh look at Venice's emergence as a maritime empire after 1204. Indeed, he argues, Dandolo and his cautious fellow-Venetians "had a strong aversion" to the idea" (198). The territorial concessions given Venice were expected to be organized on the model established in such cities as Tyre--"a colony within a foreign state." The new podestal regime of Constantinople and any other territories seized by private Venetians were thus to be under the umbrella of the Latin Empire. Only in late 1206 did Venetians recognize that if, Venice did not make good on its claims to Crete, this large and strategic island would come under dangerously hostile Genoese control. Ironically, it was Enrico Dandolo's son, Ranieri, who would initiate the Venetian conquest of the island, at the cost of his own life. Thus, it was after Enrico's death, and not through his intentions but as a consequence of the claims to Crete that he established, that Venice's maritime empire was born.

If there is any weakness in the portrait that Madden is able to draw of the remarkable Dandolo, it is that he is vague about the interaction of spiritual and secular motives in the doge's operations during the Fourth Crusade. Madden is at pains to stress the genuine religious fervor in the commitment made to the crusade by the Venetians--too often accused of putting profit before piety. He asserts that Dandolo took his vow as a crusader "not merely for material gain but also for the salvation of his soul" (138), noting that he embarked upon the expedition "like a military commander, which is precisely what he became when he took his crusade vow." Though he still bore the title of doge, he no longer acted officially as such, having made his son Ranieri vice-doge in his place. He still took his vow seriously after the capture of Constantinople, seeking to be released from it by the Pope (179-80). In between, Dandolo's decisions along the way could always be construed as efforts to keep the expedition intact as a crusading force. Yet, Madden casts many of these decisions as entirely pragmatic (such as Dandolo's concurrence with the diversion to Constantinople), without ever quite squaring the practicality with spiritual obligations. There is some unfinished business here, perhaps: and it is exactly the examination of Venetian religious mentality, in its larger medieval context, that is Madden's future goal.

This is a very readable book. Madden sometimes slips into moderate American slang, which may confuse some, but the style is clear and direct. His command of the literature and the sources is comprehensive, bringing to bear much new archival research. No one working in the fields of Venetian, Byzantine, or Crusading history (in all three of which Madden is equally comfortable), much less medieval history in general, can ignore this book. With it, Madden more than ever stakes out his place as one of the most important medievalists in America at present.