Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Republic of Genoa

As long-time readers will know, the Principality of Monaco is very old amongst the modern States of Europe and has its origins in the Guelf-Ghibelline conflict of Genoa. But what exactly was this city-state on the sea from which our beloved Grimaldis sprung? “The Most Serene Republic of Genoa” came into being in 1005 on the Ligurian coast of the Italian peninsula. What started out as a minor city state grew over time to be one of the major commercial mini-empires of the Mediterranean with Genoese outposts stretching from Spain and North Africa, all of Corsica to parts of Sardinia, the Italian mainland, a number of Greek islands, a quarter of the East Roman capital of Constantinople and all the way to the Crimean Peninsula in what is now the Ukraine and ports in what is now Syria. Although it never reached quite the height of power that its rival across the peninsula, the Republic of Venice, did, Genoa was nonetheless a force to be reckoned with and the House of Grimaldi became one of the leading families of the oligarchic republic.

Originally an autonomous commune within the old Kingdom of Italy (the successor of the Lombard kingdom which sprang up after the end of Imperial Roman rule). The Republic of Genoa began to establish itself during the height of the Islamic expansion, starting with raids against the Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa. A number of victories broke Muslim rule over the Mediterranean and allowed maritime powers like Genoa and Venice to rise rapidly in importance, particularly as the Crusades were launched and Italian merchants were needed to transport knights, supply them and, sometimes most importantly, to fund them. Genoa itself contributed a great deal in these campaigns, even supplying warships and soldiers to participate in the fighting and in return the republic was given colonies and advantageous commercial treaties with the Crusader states. For the most part though, although Genoa gained some colonial footholds in certain ports, her real influence was in her economic power, through trade and commerce and not by direct rule.

Genoese galleys, upon which the state was built
As Genoa and Venice both grew in wealth and influence they naturally grew in rivalry with each other as well and often backed opposing sides in various conflicts. In the infamous Fourth Crusade, for example, Venice backed the Latin Knights whereas Genoa backed the Byzantine Emperor. When Constantinople was retaken Genoa benefited greatly from this investment and received many new ports in the Greek islands. It was not until the rise of the Kingdom of Aragon as a major Mediterranean power that the dominance of Genoa, by then mostly in the western Mediterranean, began to decline. However, even then, the Republic of Genoa began to rebound as a center of banking within the Spanish sphere of influence. Genoa sold Corsica to France and lost her last outpost on the African coast (the island of Tabarka) to the Bey of Tunis in 1742. Genoa had just started recovering from a disastrous war with the Austrians alongside Spain and France when Napoleon Bonaparte (himself a native of Corsica) led French revolutionary forces in conquering the Republic of Genoa and proclaiming the region the “Ligurian Republic” which was simply annexed by France a short time later. Unlike some other states, after the Napoleonic Wars the Republic of Genoa was not restored but her remaining territory ceded to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1815.

Doge of Genoa Giovanni Giacomo Grimaldi
The Republic of Genoa was, as stated, an oligarchic republic, ruled by a Doge (“duke” ) chosen from amongst the prominent merchant families and one of the most prominent was the Grimaldi family. In all, a member of the House of Grimaldi would hold the office of Doge of Genoa on twelve occasions throughout the history of the republic. The first of these was Cristoforo Rosso Grimaldi who was elected the 49th Doge of Genoa in 1535. Originally the Doge was elected by popular vote for life but later, after changes made by Andrea Doria, the Grand Council elected the Doge who served for a limited term. The last Grimaldi to hold the office was Pier Franco Grimaldi, elected in 1773 though due to the decline in Genoese fortunes, his was a very modest coronation and celebration. Much of his term was spent dealing with religious issues as this was when the Society of Jesus was being suppressed throughout Europe and trying to recover from the ‘Balilla Uprising’ and the war with Austria. After his term ended he served in the Ministry of War and then the Ministry of Holy Worship as the Church and the military had long been the most important parts of his life.

The branch of the family that eventually became the Lords and Princes of Monaco started out like most of the Genoese patricians, as fighting sailors and intrepid entrepreneurs. In charge of their Genoese galleys they had brought the King of Jerusalem and the King of Hungary to Egypt in the Fifth Crusade, they raided Venetian galleys in the intermittent war with that state, grow in wealth and status and finally fight the forces of Genoa itself on a number of occasions as the republic tried to reassert her claim to Monaco or when a rival political family gained power in the ‘serene republic’. The history of Genoa is a fascinating one, growing from a tiny, overlooked port to a commercial empire with merchant ships and war galleys operating from the Black Sea to the Pillars of Hercules, from the African coast to the English Channel. When eclipsed by Venice the city-state came back as the banking center for the Spanish empire and their colonial adventures in the Americas when the famous Andrea Doria was admiral-in-chief to the Hapsburg monarchs. Even today, traces of the maritime empire of Genoa can still be seen even in such far removed places as the fortress in Sudak, Ukraine to the famous Galata Tower in what is now Istanbul.

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