The Records of the
Venetian Senate
on Disk, 1335-1400

Edited by Benjamin G. Kohl

The Medieval Review

Renaissance Studies


The Medieval Review, November 13, 2002
Reviewed by Alan M. Stahl

MUCH OF the vitality of fourteenth-century Venice depended on its relations within the eastern Mediterranean, and the Venetian archives have copious material on the region. This information is all the more precious to historians in view of the relatively few other extant medieval archives from the Balkans, Byzantium and the Islamic world. As the Venetian Senate was the organ of government charged with dealing with foreign relations, its records have long been exploited for the history of its neighbors to the east. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scholars have mined the Senate's registers and published extracts relating to specific topics or geographical areas. Publication of the complete records of the Senate was begun in 1960 with the rubrics to the lost first fourteen volumes and continued in 1962 with a detailed calendar of the earliest two surviving registers, covering the years 1332 through 1334. No further volumes have appeared.

Benjamin Kohl has now provided scholars convenient access to much of the information in the fourteenth-century Senate enactments by scanning all published documents into a database, editing them according to more-or-less uniform standards, and making the database available on a single CD, with search capability for the texts themselves and for standardized introductory summaries of each piece of legislation. On the basis of microfilms made in the 1950s for Kenneth Setton and currently available by inter-library loan from the University of Pennsylvania’s Henry Charles Lea Library, he has given consistent foliation to the entries and has supplied valuable information lacking from some of the editions such as the names of officials who introduced various motions and the numerical votes on them. The 4,389 texts included on the CD are derived from 86 separate publications, many lacking in even large research libraries.

Texts were scanned using Optical Character Recognition on the printed editions. In view of the limitations of this application, and the lack of a software thesaurus for medieval Latin, the transition from printed page to disk seems to have been quite successful. A comparison of several printed texts with those on the CD reveals an average of about one scanning error per entry of the type familiar to those using OCR software: “eum applieuerit” for “cum applicuerit” in Kohl 2864; “Amorce” for “Amoree” and “denoc” for “donec” in Kohl 2892; “deterent” for “deberent” in Kohl 2899, etc.

While an attempt has been made to standardize punctuation and format, some individual editors’ decisions have been maintained, including whether to use “u” or “v” as the consonant. Errors in transcription by the original editors have sometimes been retained, such as the omission of “nostrum” near the end of Kohl 2864, and Kohl’s expansions of words left abbreviated by the original editors are not always accurate, as in the case of his “ducatatos” for “duc” in Kohl 2896. The mistaken readings by Loenertz of two of the names of the proposers of Kohl 2892 (“de Vidono” for “de Vidorio” and “Lauro” for “Lauredano”) are preserved on the disk.

The texts reproduced on the CD represent only those which have appeared in print. In his introduction, Kohl notes that the contents are particularly rich in information on Venice’s Aegean colonies and the Balkan territories to its east and estimates that one-third of the documents in the registers are included in his texts. In order to gauge how accurate a representation the CD gives of the original records, I have compared Kohl’s texts with the microfilm of the Misti of the Senate (borrowed on ILL from Penn) for the Venetian calendar year that runs from March of 1383 through February of 1384. The CD includes the texts of 57 documents for this year, of which two are partial and indicated as such by the use of ellipses in the text. The Senate register itself has 435 enactments for the same period, though some are a single sentence in length and many are special provisions for individual citizens. The bias that Kohl notes in the published documents for Venice’s colonies and eastern neighbors is evident in this selection: the greatest concentration of documents on the CD (18) concern the colony of Crete, while seven documents treat relations with Croatia and six with Albania.

Only two enactments bear on the internal governance and economy of Venice and only one deals with relations with western neighbors. Among the important pieces of legislation lacking on the CD are provisions concerning relations with Byzantine and Islamic rulers and numerous diplomatic exchanges with Padua, Verona, Ferrara, Florence, Milan and Savoy that reflect the growing importance of the Italian mainland on Venetian politics. Also absent are twenty-one enactments relating to the disposition of the island of Tenedos in the Dardanelles (the immediate provocation of the recent war between Venice and Genoa) and twenty relating to Venetian fleets of merchant galleys throughout the Mediterranean. Even within the areas of greatest concentration, the documents reproduced are not entirely representative: four enactments relating to Crete are lacking, and Kohl 2885 (following the original edition by Theotokes) reproduces the rejected proposals for the disposition of state lands on the island and omits the enacted legislation.

One of the great advantages of having texts in an electronic format is the ability of users to search for keywords. The search of the texts themselves is quick and powerful, though of course name identifications are subject to the vagaries of the spellings in the original Latin documents. The headnotes provided by Kohl are intended as metatags for more efficient searches, and again the search engine performs well. Kohl has done an admirable job standardizing names, though both ‘Ghisi’ and ‘Ghizi’ appear in the headnotes, as do ‘Sanudo’ and ‘Sanuto’. A few of the summaries in the headnotes (e.g. Kohl 2861 and 2862) are not accurate reflections of the texts....

The full publication of the enactments of the Venetian Senate remains a major desideratum for a wide range of medieval historians. Projects are in place for the publication (in print) of the registers before 1350 by teams in Venice and in Paris, but the records from the second half of the century are not likely to appear in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, scholars have an extremely valuable and convenient resource in the compilation of existing editions that Kohl has provided on this CD.


Renaissance Studies 17.3 (Sept. 2003): 562-64
Reviewed by Michael Knapton, Udine University

TIGHTER DEFINITION of the Venetian Republic’s ruling group, set in motion in 1297, was matched by institutional changes. The Great Council’s legislative activity rapidly dropped from mainline to sporadic and residual, while a mixture of formal delegation and de facto appropriation of powers promoted the Senate to the principal seat of debate and lawmaking; there was short-lived competition by the Quarantia, soon destined to a mainly judicial role. In the course of the fourteenth century the Senate was very occasionally replaced in policy-making by temporary councils, created for specific issues and/or for limited periods. It therefore became the Republic’s most significant institution of government, and scholars have long recognized the fundamental importance of its deliberations, preserved in Venice’s Archivio di Stato, as an historical source.

The main series used for recording Senate deliberations in the fourteenth century is the series mixtorum; it survives in the form of indices for registers 1-14 (covering 1293-1331), and then summaries of registers 15-16, while registers 17-44 contain full texts for the years 1335-1400. There are also five fourteenth-century volumes of the series secreta, for the years 1335, 1345-8, 1348-51, 1376-7, and 1388-97.

The Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, assisted by a prestigious editorial board and funded by the Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, has promoted a new project to publish a critical edition of all the mixtorum registers up to 1381; its first volume is due to come out in late 2003. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first ever seemingly viable project for so large a portion of the Senate’s early records. The meritorious series of the Fonti per la storia di Venezia, published slowly but steadily since 1947, have included editions of the deliberations of councils of state, in particular the first five registers of the Council of Ten (created in 1310, with responsibility for state security), but no Senate material as such. Fourteenth-century registers of the Quarantia’s deliberations have been published by Lombardo, though constituting a relatively poor historical source for general purposes.

Probably the amount of work and funding necessary to tackle the early Senate registers has so far been the main obstacle to any realistic project for their systematic publication: previous efforts have been cumulatively fairly numerous, but fragmentary in aim and/or effect. Apart from attempts at complete editions which foundered almost at their inception, most have extrapolated documentation relevant to single themes, periods, or places, making for an uneven distribution in relation to the overall coverage of Senate decisions, as well as forcing scholars seeking an alternative to the archive reading room to hunt down a multiplicity of often elusive publications. The majority of these editions in fact date back to the later nineteenth century, which also means they were produced with varying standards of textual accuracy and critical back up.

While the Istituto Veneto critical edition gets under way (hopefully with the prospect of a CD-ROM version), Kohl’s CD-ROM will save much time for scholars unable to visit the archive, and willing to content themselves with the selection and the quality of the transcriptions done by their predecessors. It is a spin-off from his long years of research on Renaissance Italy; especially the work conducted for his 1998 monograph Padua under the Carrara, 1318-1405, which required systematic recourse to Venetian sources. His texts in this electronic edition are based on the best of the previous publications of Senate deliberations, subjected to checking and correction (via microfilm of the registers for such features as their date and foliation, with partial revision of the actual transcription, aimed mainly at eliminating errors and attaining greater formal consistency between the single texts. The choice of the CD-ROM format in fact corresponds to something less than, and different from, a rigorous critical edition. The result is in any case a very useful document collection, containing 4379 deliberations from the series mixtorum and secreta for the years 1335-1400 — roughly one-third of the original registers’ contents.

Kohl’s CD-ROM contains eight sections: an historical guide to the Senate in fourteenth-century Venice, a reader's guide, a listing of abbreviations and bibliography, a gazetteer of places mentioned in the documents, a glossary of administrative and commercial terms, a list of the Senate registers used, a chronology of fourteenth-century Venetian history, and the Senate deliberations themselves. The software, based on the FileMaker Pro programme, is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh; this and other basic information is provided in a clearly set out accompanying booklet. Testing confirms the user-friendliness of the database, especially the validity of its multiple search parameters: by fondo, register, date, and range, as well as by keywords and strings within the documents. All records are preceded by headnotes in English identifying the action taken, the purpose of the enactment, the office, the place, and sometimes the individuals involved: all refer to the printed editions used, and have also been assigned a consecutive Kohl numbering for simplicity of reference, while comprehension of the historical context is aided by references to the relevant literature.

This electronic edition is also a strong encouragement to render Venetian archival data more generally available to scholars and other users via information technology. It is worth adding that Kohl deserves further credit on this score, for his action to improve the long-restricted accessibility of the database already compiled by Venetian archive staff from the Segretario alle voci (registers recording elections of patricians to public office, fundamental for prosopography and many other types of historical enquiry). This database, covering the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, at last seems likely to become generally available, while Kohl is an active party to work now in progress on the creation of its sister, due to contain the pre-1500 data. It would indeed be a great step forward if Venice’s Archivio di Stato, meritorious in so many other ways, followed the example of the Florence archive in rendering vast and ever-growing amounts of material readable online.



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