The overall purpose of this essay is to explore the specific skills, innovations, core competencies and competitive advantages that helped the medieval city-state of Venice to become a regional superpower. This exploratory research is purposed to provide a new insight into the statehood of Venice in the beginning (ca. 1200 AD) in order to ascertain how small countries can be much more successful than big countries. Besides the exploratory part, the current study also utilizes explanatory elements of research.
As it is expected, the exploratory format of research, reinforced by explanatory elements, assists the progress of uncovering the reasons why Venice was more successful than many large states of that time, as well as the reasons why no bigger powers could merely subjugate Venice through the appropriation of its wealth by force. In addition to theorizing, the present work has applied significance, because it is also directed at verifying what strategic lessons for contemporary countries and business entities can be drawn from the success of the medieval city-state of Venice.
To that end, it is expected that current study will provide comprehensive answers to a series of research questions. The primary question of essay is purposed to illuminate the specific skills, innovations, core competencies and (resulting) competitive advantages that helped a city of merely 100,000 inhabitants in the beginning (ca. 1200 AD) to become a regional superpower. The secondary question of essay deals with the reasons why bigger powers did not simply take Venice and its wealth by force. Finally, the tertiary question of essay concerns strategic lessons for countries and companies to be drawn from the success of Venice.
The thesis statement is: Venice (ca. 1200) managed to become a regional superpower because of its unique capability to take initiative and maintain leadership in all political and economic advancements of that time.
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The key objective of this part of essay is to explore the specific skills, innovations, core competencies and (resulting) competitive advantages that became preconditions for Venice to becoming a regional superpower in the beginning (ca. 1200 AD). Prior to discussing the internal factors of the regional powerfulness of the Republic of Venice in the High Middle Ages, it is essential to underline that in the 13th century Venice became a maritime empire (Bing & Landon, 2012). Thus, a successful fusion of the republican form of governance and imperial form of the distribution of sovereignty and autonomy of regions within the state makes the Republic of Venice (ca. 1200 AD) a unique example of medieval statehood.
Historical evidence suggests that Venice gained its political autonomy from the Frankish king and Byzantine emperor in a gradual manner and, thus, it learned to value its freedom and independence (Brouwer, 2008, p. 147). To protect its freedom and independence, Venice was forced to develop a unique system of political regime. As a matter of fact, Venice had jurisdiction over all its citizens under the aegis of the doge. The doge combined the responsibilities of the military and political leader. According to Brouwer (2008), dogeship commenced as a tenured, hereditary position. Doges were empowered to lead the armies in battles and, at the same time, were authorized to carry out judicial and political responsibilities.
Besides, Frankopan (2012) emphasizes that the power of a doge was not confined to the territory of Venice, because he also was given jurisdiction over Croatia as a result of a subsequent expansion of Venetian authority. Further, it was reinforced by the doge being granted the right to pass the new imperial honors to his successors (Frankopan, 2012, p. 76). The ubiquitous centralized hereditary power of the doge provided Venice with competitive advantages both in the time of war and in the periods of peace.
The exclusiveness of Venice as a medieval republic and maritime empire is reflected not only in the specificities of its political and legal regimes, but also in the numerous advancements, new skills, core competencies and (ensuing) competitive differences, that were developed individually or receipted from other countries. A number of inventions in the socio-economic sphere can be viewed as an important prerequisite of Venice’s prosperity and power in the period of the High Middle Ages.
A special emphasis must be placed upon the exclusiveness and superiority of the Venetian guilds and special skills of the Venetian artisans. According to Lane (1973), Venetian craftsmen in the Middle Ages were renowned for their ‘mysterious’ craft, based to a limited degree on manual dexterity, and, largely, on in-depth knowledge of formulas for mixtures and heating, coupled with the skills in evaluating the conditions of materials by taste, looks, feel, and smell (p. 157).
The scholar unfolds that “the composition of the batch still standard for modern bottle and window glass is practically identical with that used by the Venetians for their glass in the Middle Ages, having remained unchanged throughout the history” (Lane, 1973, p. 157). In other words, the Venetian glass industry is only one of many examples of how special skills of the Venetian craftsman made Venice the leader in the market. Lane (1973) unveils that the Venetians had the benefit of good sources of supply due to its status of the maritime trading superpower and, thus, the superiority of Venetian glass over that manufactured in other countries was the use of soda ash that had been imported in large quantities from Syria.
As far as the question of innovations is concerned, it is possible to discern multiple accomplishments which underline the status of Venice as a maritime trading superpower. One of the unique fulfillments worth highlighting is the exclusiveness of the Venetian architecture. In 13th century, the government of Venice got rid of the city’s early Romanesque buildings and smaller Byzantine structures to make room for internationally recognized Gothic grandeur (Bing & Landon, 2012).
However, in contrast to France and other 12th century superpowers which utilized the Gothic style to exhibit their status in an attractive and favorable manner, Venice surpassed its neighbors not with the height of soaring spires and flying buttresses, but by giving birth to its own version of Gothic. Hence, Venetian Gothic underscored the status of the Republic as a maritime trading superpower by igniting admiration, thought, and final realization that all those exquisite buildings became possible due to the fact that the city-state of Venice had been trading across the Mediterranean region with partners from Syria to Morocco. The stable exchange of building components, aesthetic ideals, and engineering innovations resulted in a creative cross-pollination in Middle Eastern and Western architecture (Bing & Landon, 2012).
To continue, Frankopan (2012) asserts that the unique Venetian architecture was utilized by the government not only as a means of assertion of its status, but also as a way of stimulating business and trade. Hence, the author acknowledges that major construction and restoration works in Venice were carried out in conjunction with the exclusive use of Venetian traders in a range of other Mediterranean ports from which the essential construction materials were shipped. In other words, the exquisite architecture of Venice, built of overseas materials, provided Venice with a substantial competitive advantage over other Italian city-states of the eastern Mediterranean (Frankopan, 2012, p. 77).
The last but not the least, the power and prosperity of the Venetian Empire (1200-1670) is also enrooted in the predisposition of Venetian traders and craftsmen to focus on the transborder trade in luxury goods, such as Sicilian raw silk, by cooperating with other countries’ traders and craftsmen. There is historical evidence that, in close collaboration with Dutch companies and Flemish traders, the Venetian merchants were capable to ensure the profitability of their involvement in the purchase and transit of the luxury products (Engels, 1997, p. 191).
After the major factors affecting the status of Venice (ca. 1200 AD) as a regional superpower have been identified, it is deemed wise to shift focus to the reasons why bigger and more aggressive countries appeared to be incapable to take Venice and its wealth by force. First and foremost reason stems from the fact that Venetians were excellent negotiators and diplomats.
Historical evidence unveils that the majority of rivals often viewed by Venice as “a paradox through its ability, as a money-minded republic, to defeat so often warlike feudal and Renaissance princes” (Nicolle, 1989, p. 5). This statement implies that, albeit medieval Venetians were frequently considered money-minded rather than militarist, they somehow managed to overwhelm more prepared and warlike feudal neighbors. Besides, the medieval Venetians also managed to withstand the relentless offense of the Ottoman Turks by turning the advances of the Turkish army to their own benefit.
Analyzing the relationship between the Venetians and Ottoman Turks, it is possible to come to the conclusion that the former appeared to be successful in driving off major interventions not because they were flawless warriors, but rather because of very effective diplomatic and trading policies. There is evidence that the Venetians were masters of negotiations and, thus, could persuade their potential enemies to refrain from invading plans in exchange for economic opportunities. On the other hand, by preserving good relations with strong military powers such as the Ottoman Empire that would otherwise become dangerous enemies, Venice succeeded in directing the Turkish expansion against its neighboring competitors; the Turkish advances substantially undermined commercial perspectives of other Italian city-states (Nicolle, 1989, p. 5).
However, it is imprudent to overestimate the negotiating and diplomatic competencies of the Venetians as the prerequisites to the safety and security of Venice under the conditions of constant threat of invasion. There is no doubt that the Venetian Empire (1200-1670) had sufficient military might to deal with any menace from bigger powers (Ridyard, 2004, p. 93). To start with, Venice had very strong and rich military elite capable to actualize an effective defense strategy in case of necessity (Nicolle, 1989, p. 5).
Furthermore, the Venetian army earned significant military experience as a result of prolonged and fierce military campaigns, especially overseas. Nicolle (1989) unfolds that in 1204 the Venetian army was instrumental in seizing the Byzantine capital of Constantinople as an outcome of the Fourth Crusade. As a matter of fact, the Venetian army appeared to be more effectively equipped and prepared for long-term overseas military campaigns as compared to other Western European powers (DeVries & Smith, 2012, p. 93).
The historians highlight that the success of the majority of Western military enterprises in the eastern Mediterranean was dependent on the ability to carry war-horses to remote locations by sea. This predicament had obviously been resolved by the Venetians in the 12th century who developed bigger ships and “a system of carrying adequate drinking water” (Nicolle, 1989, p. 6). This accomplishment confirms the superiority of the Venetian military equipment to that of many bigger powers.
There is no doubt that the power of the Venetian Empire depended on its fleets, both military and peaceful. The scholars unravel that the Venetian fleets were commanded by an admiral who was counseled by two government-appointed civilians (Nicolle, 1989). Also, it needs to be noted that, notwithstanding the tightened chain of command, captains of the Venetian vessels were authorized to act at will in order to ensure efficacy and proactivity of their enterprises.
Given all the above facts, it is possible to infer that bigger powers could not take Venice (ca. 1200 AD) and its wealth by force, not because the latter had a bigger army or fleet (as a matter of fact it did not) that could provide an effective defense, but rather because the Venetian military learnt how to operate in preemption in order to drive off the enemies at the early stages of their brooding on invasion. For example, the Venetian Empire (1200-1670) utilized a system of naval patrols to take the most sensitive maritime sectors under control both to diminish the risk of hostile infiltrations and to cut off enemy supplies.
Another salient feature of Venetian naval power that scarred away Venice’s potential enemies was the ability of Venetians to mass-produce ships in much faster and cost-efficient manner. As a matter of fact, the Venetians were capable to build more ships by using much less wood. This helps to understand that the Venetians had supremacy not only in finances, but also in the ways those finances were spent. They managed not only to surplus their wealth by way of accumulating profits from the maritime trade, but also to economize their expenses by utilizing advanced and cost-effective methods of production.
In summary, it needs to be reiterated that an effective combination of economic supremacy and military efficacy had made the Venetian Empire a difficult target for bigger powers. The historical evidence illuminated an intrinsic inclination of the Venetians to weigh all the risks of any enterprise, while the Venetian military was found to be predisposed to preemptive action against its potential enemies in lieu of waiting for the right time to respond.
After having analyzed the specific skills, core competencies, innovations, and (ensuing) competitive advantages of Venice, it is deemed possible to reflect on strategic lessons for present-day countries and corporations to be drawn from the success of the medieval city-state of Venice.
The first and foremost strategic lesson to be taken into consideration is that the republican form of governance and imperial form of state administration are not incompatible. In relation to contemporary states, this lesson suggests that decentralization is not always the best option for economic prosperity and military supremacy. Contrariwise, the example of the Venetian Empire ignites a thought that even a small but centralized country may succeed if it maintains a prudent balance between democratic institutions and executive bureaucracies. In other words, officials must not only adhere to the general standards and rules, but also be allowed to act at will and proactively.
The same lesson is applicable to companies and corporations. The unique status of the medieval Venice as a republic-empire may be effectively receipted and extrapolated in the domain of corporate relationships. Thus, on the one hand, big corporations may utilize the Venetian model of republic-empire when there is a central headquarters in the home country and affiliate structures in numerous host countries. In accordance with the Venetian experience, it is incumbent on the corporations to focus on profitable enterprises by ignoring unprofitable ones. In addition to this, companies should encourage proactive behavior of their employees and managers in order to take preemptive actions with regard to existent challenges and threats instead of simply responding to problems.
The next strategic lesson to be drawn from the Venetian experience is that modern-day countries should find and maintain reasonable balance between military and peaceful initiatives. In other words, it is imprudent for a country to focus on the development of its military in detriment to the civil sectors of economy, and vice versa. The study of the accomplishments of the Venetian Empire (1200-1670) reveals an interesting regularity that, albeit the medieval city-state Venice was frequently considered the country of merchants and craftsmen, it had effective naval logistics, advanced war equipment, and sophisticated military strategy and tactics.
In view of the above, it is possible to make inference that the issues of security and safety should constitute every country’s (or company’s) priority if such country (company) aims at attaining the same competitive advantages as the Venetian Empire (1200-1670) did. Historical evidence suggests that, for six hundred years, the Republic of Venice was a maritime empire, as its sovereign power was established in the biggest part of the eastern Mediterranean, encircling islands, coasts, and isolated fortresses (Morris, 1990).
As the foregoing discussion must suggest, any serious initiative to take a proliferated network of colonies under control would have been futile unless the Venetian government had taken strenuous efforts to adjust the country’s military infrastructure and potential to the protection and fostering of logistics, communication, and trade, even between the most remote points of destination. Therefore, the issues of security and safety should be considered fundamental for either a company, or a country.
The third important lesson drawn from the Venetian experience is that neither a country, nor a company can secure a competitive advantage over its rivals unless it manufactures its own different products of higher value and competitive advantage. As far as Venice is concerned, the research uncovered that the medieval Venetians built architecture in their own unique style (Venetian Gothic), wore different dressings as compared to other Western Europeans, built different (more practicable) vessels, mastered exquisite skills and crafts (glass craftsmen), and followed distinct foreign policy preferences (Bouwsma, 1968, p. 51).
This notwithstanding, the medieval Venetians could never be considered isolationists, because they were created guilds, were closely affiliated with foreign countries’ guilds (e.g. Dutch corporations), and carried out effective diplomacy with bigger powers, such as the Ottoman Empire. In view of the above, the strategic management of present-day states and contemporary corporations may be substantially revitalized if the Venetian experience is receipted.
After everything has been given thorough consideration, it is prudent to recapitulate the main arguments of this research and make consistent conclusions. Thus, the conducted exploration helped to make insights into the specific skills, innovations, core competencies and (ensuing) competitive advantages that helped a city of merely 100,00 inhabitants in the beginning (ca. 1200 AD) to become a regional superpower. The primary question of essay was answered completely. It was established that distinct features of the Venetian economy, social life, military and naval equipment made Venice superior to its neighbors.
The developed arguments also provided comprehensive answers to the secondary and tertiary questions of essay. It was ascertained that the bigger powers were incapable to simply take Venice and its wealth by force, because Venice often took preemptive action in order to drive off potential aggressors. The economic rationality coupled with the military advancements made Venice a difficult and incongruous target. To that end, the example of Venice is very instructive for the present-day countries and companies who struggle not only to survive but also to impose their will on the rivals and enemies. Several strategic lessons drawn from the Venetian experience were discussed.
All things considered, it needs to be pointed out that Venice (ca. 1200 AD) succeeded in becoming a regional superpower because of its exquisite ability to take preemptive and proactive actions as well as to sustain supremacy in every political and economic accomplishment of that time. Hence, the thesis statement was followed and verified as true.
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