Council of Ten

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The Council of Ten (Italian Consiglio dei Dieci ) has been one of the most important bodies in the judiciary and rulership system of the Republic of Venice since it was founded in 1310 . Established as an Extraordinary Court of Justice, the Council of Ten soon became a permanent body as the highest court and police agency responsible for investigations of a political nature. In the course of the 15th century, the Council of Ten was able to acquire more and more powers, so that it became a kind of super-ministry in which the political power of the republic was concentrated. At the end of the 16th century, the Great Council began to withdraw powers from the body in order to restrict it to its original function as judicial and police authority .


After the failed conspiracy of the Baiamonte Tiepolo , an extraordinary court of justice was founded in Venice on July 10, 1310 , which was supposed to expose the far-reaching network of relationships between the conspirators and try them.

Initially, the existence of this provisional institution was to be extended every two months, then the government decided to extend this interval to five years. On July 20, 1335, it was finally made a permanent institution.


The body consisted of ten full members who were elected by the Grand Council (Maggior Consiglio) from the Senate (initially Consiglio dei Rogati or Pregati, later Senato). Only after one year could a member be re-elected (Contumacia). Aside from the ten councils, the Doge , who presided over the meetings, and the Minor Council , which consisted of the Doge's six closest advisers, were also voting members. An avogado di comun was present so that the decisions of the Council of Ten could be duly taken . He was a kind of public prosecutor who, however, had no voting rights and only had to watch over the external form of the decisions - possibly also against the ten.

During the trial of the Doge Marin Falier in 1355, the body was enlarged by a so-called zonta , an extension or addition (in this case 20 men). Its members were initially determined by the Council of Ten itself, later elected by the Grand Council. The Zonta had initially only advisory and received in the course of time full voting rights.

Each month, the Council of Ten elected three heads (Capi) who were responsible for the management. In addition, state inquisitors were appointed from 1313 onwards . They were responsible for maintaining public security and for investigations in connection with political crimes, and from 1539 onwards they became a permanent institution with ever more extensive powers.

Duties and administration

Initially, the Council of Ten was the Supreme Court and (later) the main authority of the State Police . He was responsible for overseeing state security and the observance of public order, uncovering conspiracies and espionage cases, and was responsible for sentencing cases of high treason. In its early days, the council was a frequently meeting group of alternating members of the most powerful clans - equipped with comprehensive prosecution rights, including torture , assassination , and secret coffers, with an attached court and an integrated regulatory agency - a wealth of other powers were added over time. From the 15th century on, he controlled the Doge's office, became the supreme authority of the armed forces ( Ministry of War ), was responsible for prosecuting violations of the ban on dueling and became the supreme authority of the forestry and mining industry. In addition, there was the supervision of the glass-blowing on Murano , the public spectacles, the prostitutes and the alms-collecting.

Soon the power of this council was not limited to domestic affairs of state but extended to foreign policy as well. The committee corresponded, sometimes without the knowledge of the actual government, with the rectors on the mainland, as well as with envoys and foreign ambassadors. At the end of the 15th century the council even took over all matters of financial policy and developed into a kind of super ministry with the highest level of competence in all government matters.

With such an accumulation of power, it does not seem surprising that discontent slowly made itself felt among broad ranks of the nobility . In 1529 the Council of Ten reduced the Zonta's originally twenty-strong team to 15 and thus attracted even more resistance from important families, since the influence of the Council of Ten was with even fewer people through this reduction.

To counteract the body's accumulation of power, the Grand Council refused to elect the Zonta in 1582 . The pressure from the nobility grew. It was demanded that the Council of Ten should surrender powers and the Council of Ten finally gave in. The first measure to curb the influence of the council was to transform the Inquisitori di Stato into an independent agency that was subordinate to the Senate. Soon afterwards, the government withdrew the supervision of the Zecca (coin) and the financial system from the Council of Ten (see economic history of the Republic of Venice ).

The withdrawal of authority was not completed until the 17th century, and in 1644 the Council of Ten was again the authority it was originally supposed to be: a supreme court for the nobility and for the conviction of state crimes.

Mailbox ” for anonymous advertisements: Bocca di Leone at the Doge's Palace

With covert investigations, spying and an "informers' mailbox" at the Doge's Palace , which can still be seen in Venice today , the Council of Ten ensured a strict domestic regime. Interfering in the private life of all social classes, strict prohibitions and the imposition of draconian punishments, in particular, do not cast a good light on this authority. However, doubts have repeatedly been expressed in the scientific literature that complaints about the terror regime of the Council of Ten are exaggerated by interested parties. The Council of Ten became the epitome of state control, which is clearly expressed by a Venetian proverb: "What three Venetians know, the Council of Ten knows!"

Even so, the Council did not always succeed in enforcing compliance with the regulations it had issued. For example, in 1339 the authorities forbade the nobility to wear masks (even during carnival time ). How little heed the prohibition is shown by the fact that the Council of Ten had to repeat it in 1458, 1461, 1502, 1504, 1606 and 1608.


  • Federico Berchet: Le sale d'armi del Consiglio dei Dieci nel Palazzo Ducale di Venezia , Venice 1899. ( digitized version )
  • Michael Knapton : Il Consiglio dei Dieci nel governo della terraferma: un ipotesi interpretativa per il secondo 400 , in: Amelio Tagliaferri (ed.): Venezia e la terraferma attraverso le relazioni dei rettori, Atti del Convegno , Giuffre, Triest 1981, p. 237-260.
  • Andrea Da Mosto : L'archivio di stato di Venezia. Indice generale, storico, descrittivo ed annalitico , online: [1] , section Consiglio dei Dieci


supporting documents

  1. Oliver Thomas Domzalski: Political careers and distribution of power in the Venetian nobility (1646–1797). Sigmaringen 1996 p. 64, s. also ibid. p. 17; Karl Hopf: Venice, the council of ten and the state inquisition. In: Friedrich von Raumer (ed.): Historical paperback. 6th year / 4th year Follow Leipzig 1865; Frederic C. Lane: Maritime Republic of Venice. Munich 1980 p. 648; Johann Philipp Siebenkees: Attempting a History of the Venetian State Inquisition. Nuremberg 1791. Reprint oOOJ (2009)