The Republic of Venice

Engraving showing the Doge receiving foreign ambassadors

The Republic of Venice never had an actual formal constitution, much less a written constitution.

Neither did the Republic of Venice have any kind of foundational event. There was no special assembly, no vote, no declaration of independence. The early Venetians, while formally accepting Byzantine suzerainty, de facto started acting independently.

The Venetian state — and therefore also its offices and institutions — was changing continuously as conditions inside and outside of it changed, until it gradually found its form in the 1300s and 1400s.

Only one office — that of the Doge — existed from the earliest times, when it was a Byzantine title, until the end of the Republic in 1797. However, even that office went from having almost dictatorial powers over the state in the first centuries, to being a mere figurehead at the end.

Separation of powers

The idea that a state should have three independent branches — an executive, a legislative and a judicial — originated in the late 1600s and early 1700s. At that point, Venice had already existed for almost a millennium.

While it would be easy to think that the Signoria was an executive, the Pregadi a legislative organ, and the Quarantia a judicial branch, that was simply not how the Venetian state worked.

The Venetian state was organised differently, without such separation of powers.

Seats of government

The main seat of government of the Republic of Venice was — since the early 800s — the Palazzo Ducale and the wider area around Piazza San Marco.

Most of the central institutions of the Venetian state were located physically in the palace, while many secondary offices were first in the Procuratie Vecchie and then in the Procuratie Nuove, which flank the Piazza on two sides.

However, many offices related to trade, commerce and production were located in the Rialto area, where most of those activities were situated.


The ancient heartland of the Venetian state was the Dogado — literally the Duchy. It extended along the Adriatic coast, over what were lagoons in Late Antiquity, from Grado in the north to Cavarzere (Capo d’Argine) in the south. The entire area was around 130km long, and roughly 15km wide.

The Dogado was governed directly from Venice, as the entire territory was within a short journey from Venice. A Podestà served as a local representative in the main urban centres.

For the first half of the history of the Serenissima, the Dogado was mostly synonymous with the territory of the Venetian state. The only outside areas under Venetian control were parts of Dalmatia, in what is now Croatia.

Following the Fourth Crusade in the early 1200s, Venice acquired numerous overseas territories, which became the Dominio di Mar — the Sea Dominion or the Sea State. The Venetian state usually delegated the government of such territories to patricians for a limited period at a time.

Later — in the early 1400s — Venice conquered large mainland territories, which became the Stato di Terra Ferma or Dominio di Terra Ferma. These conquests were separated into reggimenti, each under a patrician rettore appointed for 16, 24 or 36 months at a time. A reggimento roughly corresponded to a major, fortified city with the surrounding area, so Padova, Verona, Vicenza, etc., were such reggimenti.

The people of the dominions were generally not considered Venetian citizens.

About the Venetian state

I have written numerous posts, articles, newsletters and lists related to the Venetian state. They are listed here.




Law and order

National narrative



Translated sources


Boerio, Giuseppe. Dizionario del dialetto veneziano. Venezia : coi tipi di Andrea Santini e figlio, 1829.

Da Mosto, Andrea. L'Archivio di Stato di Venezia : indice generale, storico, descrittivo ed analitico in Bibliothèque des Annales Institutorum, 5. Roma : Biblioteca d'arte, 1937.

Leggi e memorie venete sulla prostituzione fino alla caduta della Republica, a spese del conte di Oxford, 1870-72. Venezia, Tipografia del Commercio di Marco Visentini, 1872.

Mutinelli, Fabio. Lessico veneto che contiene l'antica fraseologia volgare e forense … / compilato per agevolare la lettura della storia dell'antica Repubblica veneta e lo studio de'documenti a lei relativi. Venezia : co' tipi di Giambatista Andreola, 1851.

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