Sites of mediation

From the lagoon to the Golden Horn. Commodities, actors, spheres of influence between Venice and Constantinople (1400–1500)

Dissertation project by Benedikt Bego-Ghina, M.A.

Sub-project in Research Module 4
‘Entangled world’ – Venice, the Ottoman Empire
and Byzantium in the Renaissance

Contemporaries viewed the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 as a momentous historical event, an assessment adopted by subsequent generations of European historians. The Ottoman Empire was posited as the ultimate foe of Christian Europe, which reinvented itself in the Renaissance as the rediscoverer of the knowledge of antiquity.

The planned dissertation project will test this narrative of an opposition between East and West using the example of the maritime republic of Venice, which, not least because of its economic interests—through all the political vagaries of the fifteenth century– cultivated numerous connections to the eastern Mediterranean. It will be juxtaposed with the experiences and perspectives of actors who, out of varying motivations, moved as a matter of course between Venice and the Golden Horn, whether as officials, traders, ambassadors or voyagers. The project will explore what scope of action the actors had within economic, social, political and cultural relations and how they were continually renegotiating it.

Venice’s involvement in the northeastern Mediterranean during the fifteenth century, which was not limited to Constantinople alone, but also encompassed the Greek islands and the trading bases on the Black Sea, brought the maritime republic into close contact with the Byzantine and then the Ottoman Empire. Venetian interests and politics were not simply complementary to Byzantine or Ottoman interests and politics, but rather closely entangled with them, which will be demonstrated for selected actors.

The sources to be explored for the project include Venetian diaries and chronicles and the official records of representatives of the maritime republic at the court of Constantinople. In addition, the project will compile a representative and meaningful sample of Venetian citizens who led their lives between East and West, and study them based on personal writings with the help of microhistorical approaches. This compilation may be expanded to include the citizens of other Italian cities with similar backgrounds. The study will focus on their concrete experiences in this transcultural environment and the behaviour that was dependent on it, in both the Levant and after their return home.