Prof. David Kite
April 13, 2017
So for my final common assignment I chose to talk about the relationship between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The mutually beneficial relationship between the city-state and empire allowed both to gain massive wealth. Especially for the Ottomans, the relationship they had with Venice allowed them to become one of the most powerful political entities in the world. Together, Venice and the Ottoman Empire grew wealthy by facilitating trade: The Venetians had ships and nautical expertise; the Ottomans had access to many of the most valuable goods in the world.
Venice is essentially a city made up of islands tied together by canals. If there were ever a city to be literally built for ocean-going trade, it would be Venice. However, Venice didn’t have a lot of natural resources, so if they wanted to grow they had to rely on trade. The Venetians were renowned for their shipbuilding. When the crusaders needed ships during the Fourth Crusade, they headed to Venice. Not only could they build ships; they could also sail them to locations like Constantinople. The Venetians formed trade treaties with the Byzantines, and then when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans and became Istanbul, the Venetians were quick to make trade treaties with their new neighbors.
Before the Ottomans, Venice had experience trading with the Islamic world; it initially established itself as the biggest European power in the Mediterranean thanks to its trade with Egypt’s sultan in the lucrative pepper business. After the Ottomans captured Egypt, they pretty much controlled the flow of trade through the Mediterranean. The Venetians had centuries of experience as mariners, and also lots of boats, so the Ottomans were content to let the Venetians control the trade and carrying of goods while they just focused on making money from collecting taxes. This in turn, strengthened the relationship between both Venice and the Ottomans since they added value to each other.
The Ottomans were greatest in the 15th and 16th centuries under two famous sultans. The first was Mehmed the Conqueror, who helped expand Ottoman control to the Balkans, which is why there are Bosnian Muslims today. But Ottoman expansion reached its greatest extent under Suleiman the Magnificent. He took valuable territory in Mesopotamia and Egypt, thus securing control over the western parts of the Asian trade, both overland and oversea. He also defeated the king of Hungary and laid siege to Vienna in 1526. And he turned the Ottomans into a huge naval power. The Ottomans basically controlled about half of what the Romans controlled, but it was much more valuable because of all the Indian Ocean trade.
Possibly the most crucial result of the Venetian and Ottoman relationship, in regards to control of trade, was that it forced other Europeans to look for different paths to the riches of the East, which fueled huge investments in exploration. This relationship also established firm connections between Europe and the Islamic world, which allowed ideas to flow between cultures and economies. There have always been constant and intense administrative, diplomatic, military and cultural relations between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire from the late Middle-Ages to the modern age. Their adjacent borders and a common interest in the economic development of resources in the area led to the need for coexistence between the two states and common rules in order to protect this. Although profoundly different in terms of their institutional organization and territory, the Ottomans and the Venetians shared administrative styles and decisions aimed at strengthening an economic system where profits were to be made from trade between the two sides of the Mediterranean.
So in summary, throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Ottomans and Venetians were trading partners. The mutually beneficial relationship provided each with access to key ports and valuable goods. Though territorial wars occasionally interrupted their relationship, both empires relied on trade for their economic well-being. As a Venetian ambassador expressed, “being merchants, we cannot live without them.” The Ottomans sold wheat, spices, raw silk, cotton, and ash (for glass making) to the Venetians, while Venice provided the Ottomans with finished goods such as soap, paper, and textiles. The same ships that transported these everyday goods and raw materials also carried luxury objects such as carpets, inlaid metalwork, illustrated manuscripts, and glass. Wealthy Ottomans and Venetians alike collected the exotic goods of their trading partner and the art of their empires came to influence one another.