Enrico Dandolo

Doge of Venice 1193-1205


When he became the 39th Doge of Venice on the first day of January in 1193, Enrico Dandolo was already old, blind, and burning with ambition for the republic that he now headed.

How old was he? The answer is unclear. Some accounts say he was already 85 years old when he became Doge. His remarkable deeds over the next 11 years bring that age into question, however. Others have hypothesized that he may have been in his mid-70s when he became Venice's leader.

How blind was he? Again the answer is uncertain. Writing 30 years later, Geoffrey de Villehardouin--who had known Dandolo personally--stated, "[A]lthough his eyes appeared normal, he could not see a hand in front of his face, having lost his sight after a head wound." Although even this account may have become exaggerated by the gloss of time, it is clear in any event that Dandolo's sight was severely impaired.

Some facts about Dandolo are beyond dispute. Dandolo had served Venice in diplomatic and perhaps military roles for many years, with at least two expeditions involving the Byzantine Empire based at Constantinople. On one occasion, Dandolo accompanied a disastrous expedition led by Doge Vitale Michiel in 1171-2. Upon returning to Venice, Michiel was killed by an irate mob, but Dandolo escaped blame and was appointed as an ambassador to Constantinople in the following year, as Venice sought unsuccessfully to arrive at a diplomatic settlement of its disputes with Byzantium. Renewed negotiations begun 12 years later finally led to a treaty in 1186, but the earlier episodes seem to have created in Enrico Dandolo a deep and abiding hatred for the Byzantines.

As Constantinople was to learn in 1203 when Dandolo appeared at the mouth of her harbor leading the awesome fleet of the Fourth Crusade, Enrico Dandolo was the wrong man to anger.


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1998 C. I. Gable