Tracking Venice’s Maritime Traffic in the First Age of Globalization: A Geospatial Analysis

From Firenze University Press Book: Maritime Networks as a Factor in European Integration

Renard Gluzman, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Gerassimon Pagratis, University of Athens, Greece

The lifeline of international trade is provided by shipping — a sector that is considered by scholars as one of the four cornerstones that fostered globalization. Today, shipping lines are said to operate in a borderless environment where economic priorities are dominant. In this sense, transport geography has largely surpassed political geography and geopolitics. However, until the mid-twentieth century, the prospects of shipping were tied down to the level of economic activity of the place of registry; thus, the interplay between political change, fleet nationality and the evolution of shipping networks was crucial.

The present collaborative work in progress is an empirical attempt to verify this interplay with regard to the decline of Venice as a provider of shipping services to large parts of the Mediterranean and Atlantic world in the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth century. While a general trend of decline is outlined in many scholarly works, the complexity of the subject and its particularities are largely ignored. The yearly fluctuations in the volume and value of trade moving by sea are assessed only in relation to the auctioning of merchant galleys. Information on the movement of dozens of other round ships and hundreds of smaller vessels is so fragmented that, as yet, no scholar has put forward a comprehensive analysis of the fluctuations in Venice’s marine traffic over time.

For this reason the picture received, although significant and on the whole correct, oversimplifies the continuous interplay between Venice’s geopolitics, the evolution of shipping networks and trading volumes. On the basis of historical data on ship positions, extracted from archival sources, we create GIS-based online maps in order to conduct a geospatial analysis of the annual traffic intensity and movement patterns along regional and interregional sea routes linking the Venetian port system with Mediterranean ports. In this sense, the platform “simulates” modern real-time technologies used to visualize shipping trends per vessel types. Our aim is to examine to what extent shipping within the Venetian maritime state remained a closed system.

To do so, we address the following questions: How did political and economic factors, such as the oceanic discoveries, Ottoman expansion, piracy, and so on, affect the colonial–Venetian maritime network? How did ship-owners of different socioeconomic backgrounds and geographical origins negotiate their position within this maritime network? Related to these questions are the particular privileged-based legal status of a colonial ship, entangling empires and multiple identities, the practice of “flagging out”, and illegal traffic. The project aspires also to contribute to a discussion of larger issues related to the longterm effects of Venetian rule in its overseas territories on economic development, migration, cultural and ethnic identity in these possessions.


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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy