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Venetian Rectors in Dalmatia on the Brink of War (1355) · 9 luglio 2007, 16:52 by SISAEM

Venetian Rectors in Dalmatia on the Brink of War (1355)

Suzanne Mariko Miller*

In 1355, Venice teetered on the brink of war with King Louis I of Hungary-Croatia. The prize of battle would be control of the eastern and northern shores of the Adriatic. Already, skirmishes between the Venetians and the indigenous magnates of Dalmatia (who owed fealty to the Hungarian crown) foreshadowed the war ahead. Venice prepared for war by increasing its military presence in the region, capturing the garrison town of Skradin and installing a permanent regional military commander. In the end, Louis the Great would confound Venetian expectations by sweeping down through the Friuli and the Trevisan March up to the edge of the Venetian Dogado. The king forced Venice to its knees and extracted from it the renunciation of its sovereignty over Dalmatia.
Since the mid-twelfth century, Venice had sent officials called ‘rectors’ to maintain its sovereignty over the eastern Adriatic coast. These men advanced Venetian interests in the cultural-frontier zone of Dalmatia and Istria, while serving as heads of states for the communes subject to Venetian rule. Scions of Venice’s most elite families, they often returned home after their terms to pursue illustrious political careers. Although we have communications from the doge and other Venetian authorities to these men from as far back as the twelfth century, letters from the rectors to the leaders of the Venetian state are rare for the medieval period. However, the missives sent from rectors in Zara (Zadar), Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Traù (Trogir), Sebenico (Sibenik), San Lorenzo (Lovrecica) and Pago (Pag) during the short period from May to December 1355 have been preserved. These letters, sent from borders of the Venetian empire, open a window onto the realities of administrative rule and imperial expansion in the eastern Adriatic.
By examining the concerns expressed by rectors in these letters, this paper discusses the political, cultural and economic developments in the two hundred years of Venetian administrative rule over Dalmatia that preceded 1355. The paper is divided into three sections: one on cultural tensions between Venetians, Dalmatians and Istrians; the second on the management of trade and the use of government officials to create networks of trust; and the third on the balance of power between Hungary, Serbia and Venice. All of these issues contribute to our understanding of how Venice gained, and then lost control of the northeastern Adriatic during the Middle Ages.

The paper will be published in Medioevo Adriatico, I (2007) edited by SISAEM.