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City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,357 ratings  ·  223 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
Hardcover, First US Edition, 418 pages
Published 2011 by Random House
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Sean Gibson
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Venice was the Blockbuster Video of medieval empires.

Like Blockbuster, Venice’s nigh-maniacal embrace of cultural homogeneity and prioritization of brand and bottom line at the expense of individual recognition and initiative led to it achieving categorical economic dominance on what, at the time, constituted a global scale. Also like Blockbuster, whose ubiquity and be-kind-rewind hegemony were obliterated in an instant by a single innovation (namely, streaming video over high-speed internet
"City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas" by Roger Crowley is a fascinating account of the Venetian empire between the years 1200 and 1500. This book is not a dry recitation of dates, names, and battles. I found it to be an engaging narrative about a remarkable city and its exploits throughout the Mediterranean.

Constantinople was the key to Mediterranean commerce during this time period. Whoever controlled Constantinople controlled Mediterranean commerce. The Venetians were the dominant
Edoardo Albert
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of the places where we live are obstinately, resolutely earth bound: think of maundering suburbs, the plate-glass high rises of financial centres, the re-gentrified areas of inner cities. None of these suggest anything other than themselves: places where people live, sealed off from heaven above and oblivious of hell below. But there are a few places where the places of this world are suggestive of and open to the worlds above and below. Most of these are natural places, thin places where ...more
Gumble's Yard
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 2012
Excellent tale of Venice – concentrating on its maritime empire. The book starts with the Fourth Crusade and how Venice first of all diverted the crusade to clearing the Dalmatian coast and so gaining mastery of the Adriatic and then profited greatly from the division of the spoils from the sack of Constantinople where it used its existing maritime and commercial knowledge to ensure it took control of key ports and waterways (while eschewing the land based pseudo-kingdoms that its rivals ...more
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
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Crowley's book on Venice is about the Stato da Mar, and as such, is exactly one of the things I've been on the lookout for.

The first section starts with Venice's mercantile rise, and then goes into the story of the Fourth Crusade. He's fairly neutral on everyone's participation later on, but it's interesting to see a version that's sympathetic to Venice for the beginning of it all. He doesn't quite out-and-out blame Villehardouin for it either, but his over-inflated request for transport to the
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
entertaining account of crucial moments from Venice's past and its heyday as a sea power until history (in the guise of the Ottoman Empire dominance of the seacoast and later subjugation of Egypt which under the Mameluke regime was the main commercial partner of Venice after Byzantium lost its Eastern trade and Portuguese voyages to India and the east which opened the Oceanic route for the Atlantic powers) turned against it in the 1500's and it slowly descended into a minor also-ran state by the ...more
Nov 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Roger Crowley and Venice, you can just hear my money flying away from me, but I don't care. I knew after finishing 1453 that I just had to read this man's collected work because I have yet to find a popular history writer who has the level of depth, narrative ability, balanced historical bias, and general concern for the puplic and professional face of History. Plus, I mean, like, it's Venice dude.

City of Fortune did have the same level of Dynamism that 1453 had, but this book is still an
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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 ...more
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nobody but nobody writes history like Roger Crowley. I've now read all of his books and hope he writes more. I find military history mildly interesting, but only if the author makes clear why the material is significant to the lives and circumstances of real people. Crowley covers the history of medieval Venice, which might seem like a smallish topic until you realize, thanks to Crowley, that the role Venice played in the fate of Constantinople, Alexandria and other major cities, the critical ...more
Primarily about La Serenissima's development as a sea power, it's eventual domination of the Eastern Mediteranean and the eclipse of its infuence by the Ottoman Empire. Not a book to read if you are interested in the politial institutions or society of Venice, but good for what the author's focus.
Jeff Beardsley
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Having visited the spectacular city of Venice several times, it has been on my list to read a history of the Stati del Mare for some time. Roger Crowley’s “City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas” fit the bill perfectly for this read. While the book does not cover the breadth of Venetian history (for example, only touching on the mythical roots of the origins of the city built upon sand flats in a lagoon), it covers the most important period of time which formed Venice into the fantastical ...more
Coleen Dailey
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this book a few months ago when I was hoping to go to Italy. That trip is on hold for a while, but I decided to finish the book. This is a overview of how Venice became masters of trade in the Mediterranean, competitors to Genoa, enemies of many in Italy, and how they lost is all to the Ottoman Turks. If you like Italian history, this is a good book to read about one area of the country.
Oct 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty interesting book most of the time but a step down from Crowley's usual work. His book on Lepanto was the peak of his work but this book isn't exactly a steep drop off. I just think he had trouble telling a consistent story. Unlike his previous books which focus on one or two big events, this book tried to tell a story over 500 years. As a result the pace of the book felt herky-jerky. Some parts are fascinating and a few parts are dull. The parts that are fascinating are the ones that ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italian-spring
Well-written and entertaining read. Wished the history was more comprehensive (three hundred years --1500 to 1797--left off!). Also, wished there were more maps.
Paul Edlund
Interesting but a little dry.
Todd Payne
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful, readable history of the Venetian empire's rise and fall.
David Billow
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Five stars off the strength of Part I covering the 4th Crusade. Part II does lull somewhat with endless battles with Genoa and bland overviews of Venetian politcal/administrative organization. Part III becomes interesting again as the Venetians deal with a rising Ottoman Empire.
Peter Staadecker
A difficult book to rate. While the subject matter is fascinating, if you're not inclined towards detailed histories the 425 page blow-by-blow details can become tedious or worth skimming over.

The subject matter is one I was previously ignorant of:

Venice in it's heyday (1200 CE to mid 1400's CE) was the preeminent trading power of Europe, the preeminent maritime power of the Mediterranean, and the preeminent colonizer of the Mediterranean.

Venice built a merchant empire based on the spice
Aug 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a great narrative history chronicling the Venetian trading enterprise roughly from 1000-1500 CE. Overall, it gave me a great picture of what was happening in the trading cities of the eastern Mediterranean in the late middle ages, a world I only knew hazily about.

Roger Crowley appears to be a full time history writer, but not an academician. This book has a great bibliography (both newer English language editions, and primary sources in many languages) but it is by no means an academic
Jan 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lovely, reads like a novel
Ernest Spoon
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The zenith of Venice's history is it successful persecution of the War of Chioggia, June 1378 to December 1379, when against all odds, lead by able commanders Vettor "Father" Pisani and Carlo " the Unconquered" Zeno, the city-state of the lagoon defeated a tripartite alliance lead by the republic's ancient commercial and naval rival Genoa. This was the Republic of Venice's finest hour and the birth of a maritime empire in the eastern Mediterranean not seen since that of ancient Athens.

Nearly a
John McDonald
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There never was a city like Venice, a city which reigned supreme in war, trade, banking, and even the art of creating trade monopolies. Popes and Princes alike sought Venice's wealth, manpower, and manufacturing abilities to wage war--Venice produced more ships more rapidly than any other power and charged handsomely to do so.

At the heart of it all, though, was the willingness of the Doge and the city's political and wealthy elites to wage war. War, after all, determined the trade routes which
John Dzwonczyk
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another great book by Roger Crowley. This chronicles the rise of Venice from about 1000-1500. The arc of the story takes it past Venice’s apex, around the mid-15th century and to its eventual semi-vassalage by the Ottomans at the turn of the 16th century.

Along the way, Venetian success has many causes, among them patriotism, domestic unity, and a system organized to maximize profit as much as possible. Importantly, it was a practitioner of realism, even in a much more realistic way than realism
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not as good as his book on Constantinople. For one thing it does not really start at the beginning. Only later in passing we learn that the city was found in 482. But how did she emerge? Because Venice is already a powerful republic in 1200 when the action starts with the preliminaries to the Fourth Crusade. So Venice had the ships and the crusaders did not have the promised money. So Venice made them attack a christian rival city at the Dalmatian coast. And then they decide to take the City of ...more
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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.