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City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  845 ratings  ·  100 reviews
The rise and fall of the Venetian empire stands unrivaled for drama, intrigue, and sheer opulent majesty. In City of Fortune, Roger Crowley, acclaimed historian and New York Times bestselling author of Empires of the Sea, applies his narrative skill to chronicling the astounding five-hundred-year voyage of Venice to the pinnacle of power.

Tracing the full arc of the Veneti
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Hardcover, First US Edition, 418 pages
Published 2011 by Random House
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Keith
Roger Crowley's Empire of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World was one of my top ten reads in 2011. His latest book, City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire provides the prelude to the events described so well in Empire of the Sea. In telling the story of Venice's rise from backwards lagoon to the dominant commercial martime empire in the 1400s he tells the story of the Mediterranean and all of the powers which contested ...more
Dergrossest
Venice today is an Italian-Disneyland that provides little instruction as to its former economic grandeur and empire. This book provides a riveting description of the Stato del Mare’s rise to glory, its trading brilliance, its imperial expansion to every corner of the Western Mediterranean and its ultimate defeat due to maritime innovations and the failure of Christian Europe to put aside its petty differences and unite against the Moslem tide. The depictions of the battles and far-flung frontie ...more
Moonglum
This is an enjoyable history of a unique medieval empire—a republic based on trade. There is much wonder to be had that the things chronicled in this book actually did occur-- the old blind doge waving is banner outside the walls of Christian Constantinople in 1204, the yearly sensa (a ritual that takes place on an enormous gilded ship by which a doge confirms Venice’s connection to the sea), the just-in-time precision of the muda (a word which could be thought of as describing a trading enterpr ...more
Mae
I loved the subject matter of the book. I am glad to have read it. But it was not an enjoyable read. Something about the order bothered me. It seems that he was going chronologically, ( he was) but all of a sudden he would go back and forth. I have read many history books in my life, and studied history, but something about his back and forth lost me. It felt disjointed.
It was however a book based on original sources and I appreciated the effort and the information, it was just not fun, and usua
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Gordon
You have to give Roger Crowley his due: he is a great writer of narrative history. City of Fortune details Venice's golden age from 1200-1500, when the city-state ruled the seas in the the eastern Mediterranean and was powerful enough to conquer the Byzantines. With multiple European nations' armies participating in the Fourth Crusade, and with Venice providing the transport and the navy, the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204. With the loot, the territories and the trading rights that the ...more
Damian Streets
I'd always thought it odd that a tiny city like Venice kept popping-up in history books as a major power. Crowley explains how Venice grew to be a major empire on the back not of claiming land - but of owning trade routes.

I like history that downplays king-lists and battles won through the glory of God and destiny; and takes a more modern slant. Crowley does that pointing out the commercial realities of the Crusades, for example all the while the Crusaders were warring with the Turks they were t
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Eirik Nielsen
City of Fortune is a fantastic read. This is one of the most accessible history reads I have ever encountered. It is engaging and introduces the reader to a ton of amazing characters that are too often ignored by history.

This book focuses on the Mediterranean world pre De Gama sailing around the horn of Africa and specifically on the financial marvel that is the empire of Venice. Venice at this time is a capitalistic republic that rises from backwater town on the edge of Italy to the most power
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Owen
I loved this book. Just loved it. If you have any interest in history and adventure, you will enjoy this book. Crowley is a gifted storyteller, and had a magnificent story to tell. The characters he writes jump off the page, and the description of the fourth crusade is the first time that conflict ever made any sense to me. It was still an incredible human tragedy, but now I kind of understand how it happened (the lesson- make sure the people in charge are serviceable at math).

Every schoolchild
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Chris
I was collecting Kindle samples of books about Venetian history, and accidentally pressed 'buy' for this one. It was good value. Better than anything else I have read, it makes clear the economic and strategic logic behind the colonial activities of the Serene Republic. Every step in the tragic, disasterous Fourth Crusade is shown to make perfect sense in this book - a bungle generated ultimately by over-optimistic projections of how many crusaders would turn up. The unique circumstances that ma ...more
John Park
A fascinating, even gripping, account of an era and geographical area—the rise and fall of the Venetian empire—that were unfamiliar to me. (I assume the author has got his facts right. The book is meant for general readers, so the author lists sources but does not reference specific facts—though quotations can apparently be indentified on a website.) Crowley's prose is fluent and lively with only the occasional blemish such as an ambiguous pronoun and the trendy use of epicentre for centre.

The f
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Rich Mcallister
A lively history which I didn't know much about; most of history we read is English or at best Western Europe centered, and Venice looked toward the East. I really had never known how Venice got its monopoly on trade through the Eastern Mediterranean, and while I knew there was a botched Fourth Crusade that ended up sacking Constantinople, I never knew Venice was such a big part.

There's quite a lot of detail here, for a medieval history; of course much of it has to be based on sources that migh
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Robert Morris
Crowley weaves a great tale. He is clearly very familiar with the material, and he has covered aspects of this story elsewhere. Venice, and its battles, first with other Italian cities, and then with the Ottoman Empire, make for great stories. He brings the characters of the era to life in a rousing manner.

I gave this three stars rather than four because it over-promises a bit. Crowley's other books in this vein: 1453, which tells the story of a single battle, the conquest of Istanbul; and Empi
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Hadrian
Exciting and detailed narrative history of the rise and fall of Venice, the most Serene Republic, Married to the Seas, Europe's first economic superpower.

Crowley covers an unjustly ignored part of history, and he does so with a riveting style and generous quotations from primary sources. The sack of Constantinople and the Battle of Lepanto are especially vivid.

Very enjoyable history, and I'll have to get the 'sequels'.
Alex
Great account of the rise and fall of the Venetian trading empire. Heavy emphasis on the role Venice played in the role of the 4th Crusade and the Christian sacking of Constantinople. Book also covers Venice's role in colonizing Crete and the wars with neighboring Italian states that almost brought the state to utter ruin. Very enjoyable read.
হাঁটুপানির জলদস্যু
ইতিহাস নিজেই বরণিল, তার ওপর কষট করে রং চড়াতে হয় না, তবে পরচুর ঘষামাজা করতে হয়। ইতিহাস বরণনা কতো মসৃণ, গতিময় আর আকরষী হতে পারে, তা এ ধরনের বই না পড়লে ঠাহর করা মুশকিল। ভেনিস পরজাতনতরের উপনিবেশ বিসতার নিয়ে সংকষেপে জানার জনযে একেবারে লাগসই একটি বই। রজার করাউলি একজন সুপণডিত ও পরিশরমী লেখক, ভকত হয়ে গেলাম। ...more
James Adams
Crowley does an excellent job of describing the psyche of a people whose sole purpose is to make nothing and trade everything. Trading, securing ports whether by force or by negotiation, was the basis of all that happened in Venice. The city did not feed itself, did not clothe itself, did not house itself. But it was the richest city in the world in the highest degree of doing so. They built trading ships. They built fighting ships. They trained their children in math and languages. There was a ...more
Ray
A fascinating tale outlining how a city built by refugees in a swamp came to dominate trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

Venice thrived through the skill and daring of its merchant and sailors. It stabbed Byzantium in the back and gained a maritime empire in 1204, but this proved to be the seed of its own undoing - the resultant power vacuum did much to aid the rise of the Ottomans.

Gradually the Ottomans took control of the Venetian overseas bases, and the discovery of the sea route to the spic
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Breton
Once again Crowley impresses with his ability to add a personal touch to history. Instead of simply telling you what has already happened, he absorbs you in vivid battles and magnificent descriptions of historical cities in a way few authors can.

The book covers roughly 500 years of Venetian history--from humble beginnings, to rise, and then to fall. One of my only complaints would be that he perhaps spends too much time describing Venice's battles that landed them on top (though they are thrill
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Chris
While not quite as captivating as Crowley's "Empires of the Sea," "City of Fortune" is an informative and well written account of the rise and fall of Venice's empire in the Meditteranean. Late Medieval and Renaissance era history has long been an embarrassing gap in my historical education and Crowley, along with other books I have read in the past year, have helped significantly to fill that gap.

Crowley's gift is in giving context to every significant development you read about. While at time
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Jays
For as interesting as the subject matter is and as obviously well-informed as the author is on the subject matter (and given that I recently got the chance to go to Venice myself, so reading about it is TOTALLY cool), I still had a hard time paying attention during parts of this. That's not to say I couldn't follow it - I just couldn't keep my attention on the writing. My guess is that's partially the problems when your subject covers 500 years of history; it becomes hard to keep everyone straig ...more
Ken
Crowley is one of my favorite historical writers. In City of Fortune he gives a history of Venice's rise and fall. The early part of the book focuses on Venice's huge financial gamble of taking the crusaders to Egypt in the fourth crusade. Only they never got near Egypt, but rather took care of business by sacking one of their Christian recalcitrant partners. Next they attacked Constantinople and broke a chain blocking the harbor that had protected the city from naval attack for centuries. The P ...more
Michael
"Largely uninterested in the well-being of its subjects, centrifugal in nature and economically exploitative, it [Venice] foreshadowed what was to come" from European colonialism.

"City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas" chronicles the three centuries of Venetian maritime dominance, from the ill-fated Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499–1503, which saw the Ottoman Turks supplant the Venetians as the preeminent naval power in the Mediter
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Nick
A good first book on the history of The Republic of Venice, but I felt the pacing hurt. The first third or so was great, basically the rise of Venice from a backwater to sacking Constantinople. Learning the story of Enrico Dandolo was probably enough to justify the read. After that I thought it stumbled through the middle, the narrative was not very good, a lot of dropping snippets of history and events events events but not drawing them together into a cohesive narrative very effectively. It di ...more
Dean Hamilton
City of Fortune is a vivid, engrossing historical account of the rise (and eventual fall) of the the city of Venice. Crowley traces the establishment of Venice as a small trade port and pulls together the fine threads of profit, technology, commercialism, power and hubris that allowed Venice to build an empire, without any natural resources to draw upon but themselves.

"The sea was at once their protection, their opportunity, and their fate; secure in their shallow lagoon with its deceptive chan
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H.
Crowley is entranced by Venice. It has two great lures: the sea, and its status as a very modern state in medieval times. The two led it to become Europe’s first economic superpower. Venice was ideally located to provide the sea link between the great Middle East overland spice routes and continental Europe. In the time of feudalism and a landed aristocracy, Venice was a republic “run by and for entrepreneurs,” replacing “the chivalrous medieval knight with a new type of hero: the man of busines ...more
Converse
City of Fortune focuses on 3 centuries of Venetian history, from about 1200 to 1500. The beginning date marks the notable rise of Venice as a power in the Mediteranean, the end its decline. Venice did very well out of the Fourth Crusade (about 1204), which ended up attacking not a Moslem power, but the Orthodox Christian empire of Constantinople. Although Venice does not seem to planned that outcome (which is a different view from what I had previously understood), it definitely benefited beyond ...more
Marks54
This book is a history of the Venetian Empire, not a history of Venice. That is OK - it is an interesting story. The book charts the rise of Venice as a maritime trading state, its ascendance to dominance in trade with the Levant, the Byzantine Empire, and subsequently with the Ottoman Turks. The last part of the book charts the decline. Spoiler alert - Venice ends up losing its dominant position as the Ottoman Empire expanded and Portugal, Holland, and England developed ocean trade.

The book is
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Dan
I had no idea what to expect from this book. Going into it I was completely unaware of Venice's powerful past, it's governmental and social structures or it's prowess on the seas. Now, I feel well-versed in all of these areas, at least as they pertain to medieval Venice up through the Age of Discovery. Roger Crowley did an excellent job conveying the precarious nature of the republic's continuing existence throughout. Much was made of the yearly ritual in which the Venetian Doge ceremonially mar ...more
Erica
Situated in the middle between the East and West, Venice's rise to commercial power was a constant battle that Crowley manages to capture in this book. It wasn't just about being in the right place at the right time--it was a determined will to look beyond the major issues of the day - religious differences being a huge obstacle - to build a city out of nothing. Reading about the constant struggle they faced to be the masters of the Mediterranean was sometimes tedious. It seemed that there was n ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Roger Crowley's Empires of the Sea is a compelling account of the contest for supremacy on the Mediterranean in the 15th Century. As such, it is largely concerned with with battles at sea. City of Fortune iiis a masterly prelude, telling story of Venice and its bid to control the trade routes to which the central sea was so imprtant.

As in Empires of the Sea, there is a basic confrontation between Christian and Muslim, but Venice was also frequently at war with its trade rivals, Genoa and Milan.
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Roger Crowley was born in 1951 and spent part of his childhood in Malta. He read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul, where he developed a strong interest in the history of Turkey. He has traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging knowledge of its history and culture. He lives in Gloucestershire, England.
More about Roger Crowley...
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