crushed between its inland neighbour and its maritime rival Genoa (battle of Meloria, 1282).
Apart in its constitutional development from all other towns in Italy, and it might be added, in Europe, stands Venice. Almost alone among Italian cities its origin does not go back to Roman times. It was not till the invasions of Hun and Langobard that fugitives from the Venetian mainland took refuge among the poor fishermen on the small islands in the lagoons and on the lido—the narrow stretch of coast-line which separates the lagoons from the Adriatic—some at Grado, some at Malamocco, others on Rialto. A number of small communities was formed under elected tribunes, acknowledging as their sovereign the emperor at Constantinople. Treaties of commerce were concluded with the Langobard kings, thus assuring a market for the sale of imports from the East and for the purchase of agricultural produce. Just before or after A.D. 700 the young republic seems to have thrown off the rule of the Byzantine dux Histriae et Venetiae and elected a duke (doge) of its own, in whom was vested the executive power, the right to convoke the popular assembly (concio) and appoint tribunes and justices. Political unity was thus established, but it was not till after another century of civil war that Rialto was definitely chosen the seat of government and thus the foundation of the present city laid. After a number of attempts to establish a hereditary dukedom, Duke Domenico Flabianico in 1032 passed a law providing that no duke was to appoint his successor or procure him to be elected during his own lifetime. Besides this two councils were appointed without whose consent nothing of importance was to be done. After the murder by the people of Duke Vitale Michiel in 1172, who had suffered naval defeat, it was deemed necessary to introduce a stricter constitutional order. According to the orthodox account, some details of which have, however, recently been impugned, the irregular popular meeting was replaced by a great council of from 450 to 480 members elected annually by special appointed electors in equal proportion from each of the six wards. One of the functions of this body was to appoint most of the state officials or their electors. There was also an executive council of six, one from each ward. Besides these, the duke, who was henceforward elected by a body of eleven electors from among the aristocracy, would invite persons of prominence (the pregadi) in order to secure their assent and co-operation, whenever a measure of importance was to be placed before the great council. Only under extraordinary circumstances the concio was still to be called. The tenure of the duke’s office was for life. The general tendency of constitutional development in Venice henceforward ran in an exactly opposite direction to that of all other Italian cities towards a growing restriction of popular rights, until in 1296 the great council was for all future time closed to all but the descendants of a limited number of noble families, whose names were in that year entered in the Golden Book. It still remained to appoint a board to superintend the executive power. These were the avvogadori di commune, and, since Tiepolo’s conspiracy in 1310, the Consiglio dei Dieci, the Council of Ten, which controlled the whole of the state, and out of which there developed in the 16th century the state inquisition.
While in all prominent Italian cities the leading classes of the community were largely made up of merchants, in Venice the nobility was entirely commercial. The marked steadiness in the evolution of the Venetian constitution is no doubt largely due to this fact. Elsewhere the presence of large numbers of turbulent country nobles furnished the first germ for the unending dissensions which ruined such promising beginnings. In Venice, on the contrary, its businesslike habits of mind led the ruling class to make what concessions might seem needful, while both the masses and the head of the state were kept in due subjection to the laws. Too much stability, however, finally changed into stagnation, and decay followed. The foreign policy of Venice was likewise mainly dictated by commercial motives, the chief objectives being commercial privilege in the Byzantine empire and in the Frankish states in the East, domination of the Adriatic, occupation of a sufficient hinterland on the terra firma, non-sufferance of the rivalry of Genoa, and, finally, maintenance of trade-supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean through a series of alternating wars and treaties with Turkey, the lasting monument of which was the destruction of the Parthenon in 1685 by a Venetian bomb. At last the proud republic surrendered to Napoleon without a stroke.
The cities of southern Italy do not here call for special attention. Several of them developed a certain amount of independence and free institutions, and took an important part in trade with the East, notably so Amalfi. But after incorporation in the Norman kingdom all individual history for them came to an end.
Rome, finally, derived its importance from being the capital of the popes and from its proud past. From time to time spasmodic attempts were made to revive the forms of the ancient republic, as under Arnold of Brescia in the 12th and by Niccolò di Rienzo in the 14th century; but there was no body of stalwart, self-reliant citizens to support such measures: nothing but turbulent nobles on the one hand and a rabble on the other.
In no country is there such a clear grouping of the towns on geographical lines as in France, these geographical lines, of course, having in the first instance been drawn by historical causes. Another feature is the extent to which, in the unruly times preceding the civic movement, serfdom had spread among the inhabitants even of the towns throughout the greater part of the country, and the application of feudal ideas to town government. In some other respects the constitution of the cities in the south of France, as will be seen, has more in common with that of the Italian communes, and that of the northern French towns with those of Germany, than the constitutions of the various groups of French towns have among each other.
In the group of the villes consulaires, comprising all important towns in the south, the executive was, as in Italy, in the hands of a body of consules, whose number in most cases rose to twelve. They were elected for the term of one year and re-eligible only after an interval, and they were supported by a municipal council (commune consilium, consilium magnum or secretum or generale, or colloquium) and a general assembly (parlamentum, concio, commune consilium, commune, universitas civium), which, however, as a rule was far from comprising the whole body of citizens. Another feature which these southern towns had in common with their Italian neighbours was the prominent part played by the native nobility. The relations with the clergy were generally of a more friendly character than in the north, and in some cases the bishop or archbishop even retained a considerable influence in the management of the town’s affairs. Dissensions among the citizens, or between the nobles and the bourgeois, frequently ended in the adoption of a podestat. And in several cities of the Languedoc, each of the two classes composing the population retained its separate laws and customs. It is matter of dispute whether vestiges of Roman institutions had survived in these parts down to the time when the new constitutions sprang into being; but all investigators are pretty well agreed that in no case did such remnants prove of any practical importance. Roman law, however, was never quite superseded by Germanic law, as appears from the statuts municipaux. In the improvement and expansion of these statutes a remarkable activity was displayed by means of an annual correctio statutorum carried out by specially appointed statutores. In the north, on the other hand, the carta communiae, forming as it were the basis of the commune’s existence, seems to have been considered almost as something sacred and unchangeable.
The constitutional history of the communes in northern France in a number of points widely differed from that of these villes consulaires. First of all the movement for their establishment in most cases was to a far greater degree of a revolutionary character. These revolutions were in the first place directed against the bishops; but the position both of the higher clergy and of the nobility was here of a nature distinctly more hostile to the aspirations of the citizens than it was in the south. As a result the clergy and the nobles were excluded from all membership of
- H. Kretschmayr, Geschichte von Venedig, vol. i. (Gotha, 1905).