The Treacherous Carraras


Under the 1337 treaty concluding the war with Verona and the Della Scala family, Venice received the sovereignty of Treviso and Padua, together with their territories. However, she ceded primary control of Padua and its territory, as well as the western domains of Treviso, to her wartime allies, the Carrara family of Padua. The Carraras had previously ruled Padua before it was attacked and captured by Verona. Returned to power, the Carraras soon showed themselves to be enemies, not allies, and Venice learned that she must defend the new empire she had acquired on the mainland.

When Venice became embroiled in a war with the Kingdom of Hungary in 1369-73, Padua and the Carraras allied with the Hungarians. The conflict was successfully resolved for the Venetians by a decisive military victory over the Hungarian forces. The Carraras withdrew from the conflict as well, but hostilities with another erstwhile Carrara ally, the Duke of Austria, persisted in the Trevisan countryside until 1376. The success of Venice in those conflicts only left the Carraras waiting for another opportunity for mischief.

Venice's final and climactic fourth war with Genoa, the dramatic War of Chioggia, erupted in 1379. As Genoa forces seized the town of Chioggia at the foot of the Venetian lagoon and seemed ready to capture Venice itself, Carrara and the Paduans--augmented by a Hungarian force--supported the Genoans by launching a blockade of Venice along the mainland shore to the west of the lagoon. Venice's stunning reversal of fortune and final complete victory at Chioggia did not eliminate the threat posed by Padua on the mainland. Exhausted by her wars, Venice elected to cede Treviso and her other mainland possessions to the Duke of Austria, whom she deemed to be less of a long-term threat than the Carraras. Venice retreated to her island fortress.

The problem of the Carraras was not so easily resolved, however. By 1382 the Paduans had Treviso under siege. They made to the Duke of Austria an offer he could not refuse: 100,000 ducats for Treviso and the other former mainland possessions of Venice. The Carraras seemed to have scored a remarkable diplomatic victory over Venice, but they soon found that in the field of diplomacy the Venetians had no equal.

By 1388, following complex diplomatic maneuvers, and various alliances and misalliances between Padua and Milan--the major Italian power to the west of Paduan territory--Venice achieved its own alliance with Milan, which had begun to feel threatened by Padua's territorial expansion westward in her direction. Milanese forces captured Padua and returned Treviso to permanent Venetian control, retaining Padua and its western possessions for itself. Venice's foothold on the mainland was restored. And the Carraras? Though briefly dispossessed from Padua by the Milanese, they would return for a final and fatal conflict.


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1998 C. I. Gable