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Venice (Italian: Venezia, Venetian: Venexia) is the capital of the region of Veneto and the province of the same name in Italy. Its population is 271,663 (census estimate January 1, 2004). The city is included, with Padua (Padova), in the Padua-Venice Metropolitan Area, population 1,600,000. It has a nickname, "Queen of the Adriatic".
The city stretches across numerous small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. The population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia; the historic city of Venice (Centro storico) inhabitants are around 62,000, while approximately 176,000 people live in Terraferma (literal firm land, it means the extra-lagoon areas) and 31,000 live in other islands of the lagoon.
The Venetian Republic was a major sea power and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important centre of commerce (especially the spice trade) and art in the Renaissance.
According to legend, Venice was founded in 422 by Roman refugees fleeing from the Goths. However, no historical records exist about the origins of Venice. The city was probably founded as a result of the influx of refugees into the marshes of the Po estuary following the invasion which ravaged northern-eastern Italy starting from that of Quadi and Marcomanni in 166-168, who destroyed the main center in the area, the current Oderzo. The Roman defenses were again overthrown in the early 5th century by the Visigoths and, some 50 years later, by the Huns led by Attila. The last and most enduring was that of the Lombards in 568: this left the Eastern Roman Empire a small strip of coast in the current Veneto, and the main administrative and religious entities were therefore transferred in this remaining dominion. New ports were built, including those of Malamocco and Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. The Byzantine domination in central and northern Italy was largely wiped out by the conquest of the Exarchate of Ravenna in 751 by Aistulf. In this period the seat of the local Byzantine governor (the "duke", later "doge") was located in Malamocco: the settlement in the islands of the lagoon increased probably in correspondence with the Lombard conquest of the Byzantine territories. In 775-776 the bishopric seat of Olivolo (Helibolis) was created. During the reign of duke Agnello Particiaco (811-827) the ducal seat was moved from Malamocco to the best protected Rialto (Rivoalto, "High Shore") island, the current location of Venice. Here were subsequently built the monastery of St. Zachary, and the first ducal palace and basilica of St. Mark, as well as a walled defence (civitatis murus) between Olivolo and Rialto. In 828 the prestige of the new city was increased by the stealing of the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, which were placed in the new basilica. The patriarchal seat was also moved to Rialto. As the community continued to develop and as Byzantine power waned, an increasingly anti-Eastern character emerged, leading to the growth of autonomy and eventual independence.
After 1070 years, the Republic lost its independence when Napoleon Bonaparte on May 12, 1797, conquered Venice during the First Coalition. The French conqueror brought to an end the most fascinating century of its history: It was during the Settecento (1700s) that Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture, and literature. Napoleon was seen as something of a liberator by the city's Jewish population, although nowhere else in Italy had they lived over the centuries with lesser restrictions than in Venice. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city.
Venice became Austrian territory when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 12, 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798. It was taken from Austria by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. In 1848-1849 a revolt briefly reestablished the Venetian Republic. In 1866, following the Seven Weeks War, Venice, along with the rest of Venetia, became part of Italy.
After 1797, the city fell into a serious decline, with many of the old palaces and other buildings abandoned and falling into disrepair, although the Lido became a popular beach resort in the late 19th centuries.
By 1303, crossbow practice had become compulsory in the city, with citizens training in groups. As weapons became more expensive and complex to operate, professional soldiers were assigned to help work merchant sailing ships and as rowers in galleys. The company of "Noble Bowmen" was recruited in the later 14th century from among the younger aristocracy and served aboard both war-galleys and armed merchantmen, with the privilege of sharing the captain's cabin.
Though Venice was famous for its navy, its army was equally effective. In the 13th century, most Italian city states already were hiring mercenaries, but Venetian troops were still recruited from the lagoon, plus feudal levies from Dalmatia and Istria. In times of emergency, all males between seventeen and sixty years were registered and their weapons were surveyed, with those called to actually fight being organized into companies of twelve. The register of 1338 estimated that 30,000 Venetian men were capable of bearing arms; many of these were skilled crossbowmen. As in other Italian cities, aristocrats and other wealthy men were cavalrymen while the city's conscripts fought as infantry.
By 1450, more than 3,000 Venetian merchant ships were in operation, and most of these could be converted when necessary into either warships or transports. The government required each merchant ship to carry a specified number of weapons (mostly crossbows and javelins) and armor; merchant passengers were also expected to be armed and to fight when necessary. A reserve of some 25 (later 100) war-galleys was maintained in the Arsenal. Galley slaves did not exist in medieval Venice, the oarsmen coming from the city itself or from its possessions, especially Dalmatia. Those from the city were chosen by lot from each parish, their families being supported by the remainder of the parish while the rowers were away. Debtors generally worked off their obligations rowing the galleys. Rowing skills were encouraged through races and regattas.
Early in the 15th century, as new mainland territories were expanded, the first standing army was organized, consisting of condottieri on contract. In its alliance with Florence in 1426, Venice agreed to supply 8,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry in time of war, and 3,000 and 1,000 in peacetime. Later in that century, uniforms were adopted that featured red-and-white stripes, and a system of honors and pensions developed. Throughout the 15th century, Venetian land forces were almost always on the offensive and were regarded as the most effective in Italy, largely because of the tradition of all classes carrying arms in defense of the city and official encouragement of general military training.
The command structure in the army was different from that in the fleet. By ancient law, no nobleman could command more than twenty-five men (to prevent against sedition by private armies), and while the position of Captain General was introduced in the mid-14th century, he still had to answer to a civilian panel of twenty "wise men". Not only was efficiency not degraded, this policy saved Venice from the military takeovers that other Italian city states so often experienced. A civilian commissioner (not unlike a commissar) accompanied each army to keep an eye on things, especially the mercenaries. The Venetian military tradition also was notably cautious; they were more interested in achieving success with a minimum expense of lives and money than in the pursuit of glory.
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