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Tracing the full arc of the Venetian imperial saga for the first time, "City of Fortune" is framed around two of the great collisions of world history: the ill-fated Fourth Crusade, which culminated in the sacking of Constantinople and the carve-up of the Byzantine Empire in 1204, and the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499 1503, which saw the Ottoman Turks supplant the Venetians as the preeminent naval power in the Mediterranean. In between were three centuries of Venetian maritime dominance years of plunder and plague, conquest and piracy during which a tiny city of lagoon dwellers grew into the richest place on earth.
Drawing on firsthand accounts of pitched sea battles, skillful negotiations, and diplomatic maneuvers, Crowley paints a vivid picture of this avaricious, enterprising people and the bountiful lands that came under their dominion. Defiant of emperors, indifferent to popes, the Venetians saw themselves as reluctant freebooters, compelled to take to the open seas because we cannot live otherwise and know not how except by trade. From the opening of the spice routes to the clash between Christianity and Islam, Venice played a leading role in the defining conflicts of its time the reverberations of which are still being felt today. Only an author with Roger Crowley s deep knowledge of post-Crusade history could put these iconic events into their proper context.
Epic in scope, magisterial in its understanding of the period, "City of Fortune" is narrative history at its most engrossing."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-11-07
- Reviewer: Staff
From a few isolated islands in Italy during the Middle Ages, Venice grew to the world’s greatest sea power, a position it held for 500 years. British historian Crowley (Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World) points out that, lacking land for agriculture, and well-positioned for sailing at the head of the Adriatic Sea, Venetians concentrated on trading. Preoccupied with commerce, they ignored the violent religious disputes of the era, but had no objection to violence in pursuit of profit. By 1000 C.E. Venice was thriving thanks to trading privileges with Constantinople, the wealthy capital of the Byzantine Empire. Despite this favoritism, Venice took rapacious advantage of the Empire’s decline, prospering despite innumerable bloody conflicts with its equally “pushy, pragmatic, and ruthless” rival, Genoa, and the advancing Ottoman Turks. Readers searching for cultural insights should read John Julius Norwich or Fernand Braudel; Crowley has written a rousing, traditional account that emphasizes politics, war, and great men, ending in 1500, when the voyages of discovery shifted the balance of power to Western Europe. B&w illus.; maps. (Jan.)