Tribune (Venice)

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The office of tribune existed in Venice and the places of the lagoon at the latest from the early 6th and until the end of the 9th century. According to popular belief, the tribunes were local representatives of the islands in the lagoon who were responsible for administrative and legal issues. They appear there as tribuni maritimorum in the sources for the first time towards the end of the Ostrogoth Empire , a few years before the Eastern Roman Empire succeeded in conquering its capital Ravenna in 540 . With the conquest of Northern Italy by the Longobards from 568/69 and the increasing migration of the affected population to the lagoon, whose islands were inaccessible to the conquerors, their tasks and responsibilities grew. When Ravenna was conquered by the Longobards in 751, the direct exercise of power by the local representative of the Eastern Roman-Byzantine emperor finally ended . It is not certain whether these were the tribunes. The number of tribunes is just as little known as their places of office. This also applies to the question of whether and to what extent the office became hereditary and to what extent it had an influence on the establishment of the urban Venetian nobility.

The tribunate was largely ignored by Venetian historiography, as it was too close to the Roman tribune , which in the eyes of the dominant noble families represented the division of Roman society. Therefore, according to this account , the doges replaced the rule of the tribunes. In general historiography, the tribunate was mistakenly interpreted as a symbol of a sovereignty of Venice that went back to the early 6th century, or on the contrary, a dependence on the continental powers that went back as far as the Ostrogoths or the Frankish empire .


How the Tribunate came about is unclear, but it is probably related to the increasing military conflicts of the era. The Eastern Roman exarch of Ravenna appointed a Magister militum as military and civilian commander in chief of the province from the 580s . Tribunes were subordinate to him in the lagoon if the rule there was structured similarly to that in Rome at the time of Pope Gregory I.

Ostrogoth Empire

A tribunate at the time of the Ostrogothic Empire can only be found in a single source in the lagoon. Cassiodorus mentions in a letter of 537/38, when Ravenna was still the capital of the Ostrogoth Empire before it was conquered by Byzantium in 540, tribuni maritimorum . According to King Witichis , they were supposed to bring wheat, oil and wine from Istria to the Gothic capital. The Jesuit and historian Jules César Boulenger (1558–1628) noted in 1618 the meaning of these sentences, which were so difficult to interpret. As Albrecht Berger conceded in 2006, we know almost nothing about local conditions to this day, and we can therefore hardly get an idea of ​​what the tribunes were in the early 6th century, around half a century before the Exarchate of Ravenna came into being.

Nonetheless, in 1905 Heinrich Kretschmayr (1870–1939), one of the best experts in Venetian history, said that in Gothic times these tribunes were still officials of the empire who "had subordinate police officers supervising mainly the fish and salt trade". Others interpreted them as "powerful ship owners, tribuni maritimorum, who called numerosa navigia their own", such as Alexander Theodor Heerklotz in his dissertation on the Variae des Cassiodor from 1926. In fact, they were the addressees of Cassiodor's letter, and so on they must have been able in some way to raise the necessary ships. Already in the Dictionnaire of Augustin Calmet (1672–1757) of 1730, the tribunes named by Cassiodorus supervised ports, rivers and salt pans, although there is no source evidence for this. In the Digesto italiano of 1899 they simply ruled the lagoon. In the French translation of the three-volume historical work of the Jesuit Orazio Torsellini (1545–1599) it was already clearly stated in 1708 that Venice was first ruled by consuls and then by individual tribunes. They were therefore elected annually by the people of each island and each represented a separate republic. The doge later turned the tribunate into an office that was filled every year. On the other hand, Abraham-Nicolas Amelot de la Houssaie in 1695 speculated whether Cassiodorus or the Gothic king gave orders to the tribunes or whether he asked them for a delivery of goods, whether they were subjects or whether they were to be regarded as allies. The dictionary of the Venetian dialect published by Giuseppe Boerio in 1856 , the Dizionario del dialetto veneziano , had further statements under the entry “Tribune”: “Rank or office of the republican magistrate, which the Venetians also had in their early government, from 456 to 697, before the establishment of doge dignity. "

The self- image of the republic as an autonomous state since late antiquity was opposed to the notion of dependence, be it on the Goths or on Byzantium. However, the only source does not allow a decision on this. Janet Sethre still shows how naturally interpretations are offered. She completely reinterprets the process and postulates that Cassiodorus only wanted to encourage the lagoon inhabitants to “diversify” their “industrial” activities.

However, when Cassiodorus himself states that the lagoon inhabitants only live on fish and salt, and that they knew no envy, as everyone had little, it was suspected that Cassiodorus had hardly understood the situation in the region and had idealized generalities. However, these ambiguities are probably not due to the letter writer's lack of knowledge about the conditions in the lagoon. This was stated by the economic historian Gino Luzzatto , who, on the contrary, assumed that Cassiodorus knew the conditions in the lagoon very well, because the appearance of the ships sailing through the barene and canals, which were often pulled by people on the rivers, seemed to him to be after familiar. Luzzatto therefore wrote that Cassiodorus, as a high functionary of the Ostrogoth Empire, had only invited the tribunes to bring the goods mentioned to Ravenna - there is no longer any question of an order. In the Storia di Venezia , the tribunes had been unceremoniously made public officials (ufficiali pubblici) of a “sovereign state” a few years earlier. In 1979, Alvise Zorzi again doubted that the tribunes were an expression of early Venetian sovereignty.

Ultimately, the early tribunes of Cassiodor largely elude scientific interpretation. Theodor Graswinckel already offered the distinction between Iussum and Mandatum in his Libertas Veneta of 1634 . The former stands between unequal, it is common between educator and student, father and son, the latter between equals or friends, "inter quos imperium non est, ut inter amicos" (meaning: "between which there is no authority, as among friends") .

Cassiodor himself should have had a clear understanding of the office of tribune, because his grandfather of the same name held this office under the Roman emperor Valentinian III. exercised when it was still a military post in a clearly defined military hierarchy or a civil post in a corresponding hierarchy.

Longobard-Byzantine rivalry

With the escalating conflicts between Byzantium and the Lombards, with frequent interference by Frankish groups, there was an intensification of military administration in the province. About 15 years after the Lombard migration to Italy began, the Ravenna Exarchate was established , and its relationship to the tribunes is also unclear. After Severus , the Patriarch of Aquileia , was kidnapped from Grado to Ravenna by the exarch Smaragdus together with three of his bishops, namely John of Parenzo , Severus of Trieste and Vindemius of Cissa , and forced to submit to the Pope in the three chapters dispute , Severus revoked 590. Thereupon he was summoned to Rome by Pope Gregory I. The bringer of the demand was a tribune who carried an order from Emperor Maurikios and brought soldiers with them. This shows the Byzantine hierarchy of offices in which the tribunes played a role that was difficult to identify.

It also remains unclear whether the tribunes were located in the lagoon. At first, an inscription by Emperor Herakleios on Torcello , which could be dated to the year 639, seemed to provide an indication of a magister militum provinciae Venetiarum . But the inscription is so badly damaged that the interpretation in this sense is based on only two readable letters. However, these also allow other interpretations. Research has meanwhile said goodbye to overinterpretation as a sign of Venetian independence.

Increasing independence of the Venice lagoon

With the increasing isolation and separation of Byzantium in the 7th century, which lost control over large parts of Italy and also the eastern side of the Adriatic, the election of the first Doge Paulicius , traditionally held in 697 , went hand in hand. But even this process can hardly be interpreted. It was assumed, for example, that the first doge was a memory of the exarchs, or, like Edward Gibbon, the development in Venice was romanticized : “In the midst of the waters, free, poor, hardworking, inaccessible, they gradually merged into a republic ... and on the place of the annual election of twelve tribunes was replaced by the lifelong office of duke or doge ”. Apart from the veiling rhetoric: who the 12 tribunes were and who determined them remains unclear; in any case, the "lifelong post of doge" arose in the course of the 8th century.

Representation of the first doge, Jost Amman 1574

The emergence of the new office could be related to the opposition of the families who traditionally held the office of tribune. Paolo Lucio Anafesto or Anafestus Paulucius, called Paulicius in the early sources , was made the first doge in 697, according to the sole informant Johannes Diaconus , by annually elected tribunes that ruled the lagoon, because this was 'more honorable'.

The Doge Obelerio Antenoreo (804-810) was the tribune of Malamocco before taking office . Horst Enzensberger assumed in 1976 that the tribunate was already hereditary at that time. Andrea Dandolo writes in the 14th century that “Tribuni et omnes primates et plebei cum patriarcha et episcopis et cuncto clero in Heraclea hiis diebus pariter convenerunt” ('The tribunes and all the lords and the people gathered with the patriarch, the bishops and the entire clergy '). As is so often the case in Venetian national historiography, the conflicts behind this process were concealed (or were no longer known at all) in order to suggest a consensus on the order of power that existed from the start. In addition, the division between clergy and laity was rhetorically emphasized here, albeit moderately, which was of greater importance for Venetian history than in other states.

The relocation of the Doge's official residence to Rialto (809–811) is likely to have pushed the other centers of the lagoon, and with it certain tribunician families, as they later called themselves, into the margins of power politics. Andrea Castagnetti and Giorgio Zordan were able to show that it was two tribunes, Buono and Rustico, who brought the relics of Saint Mark to Venice in 829 , which became central to the position between the competing Christian centers. The failures of Doge Giovanni I. Particiaco , who had to seek refuge with the Frankish Emperor Lothar , led to a Byzantine tribune named Caroso ruling the lagoon for the last time for six months. It is not known whether this was the last time the tribunate expressed the opposition between an official and a hereditary title or whether Caroso was only an exponent of the pro-Byzantine against the pro-Frankish families. In any case, his father was a Bonicio Tribuno, as Muratori said, which suggests the hereditary nature of the title. A power struggle between the families of Rialto and those of Malamocco, which most recently supported the coup attempt by the former Doge Obelerius , who came from there, may also be hidden behind it . However, the information about Caroso only goes back to Martino da Canale and the Chronicle of Andrea Dandolo from the 13th and 14th centuries, who could only imagine that there was a conspiracy behind the expulsion of the Doge.

In the decades around 700 there were tribunes in Treviso , Asolo and Oderzo as well as in Padua ; In addition, there are some men who used the title as a kind of epithet, at least no official function is recognizable behind it, unless that of collecting tributes or taxes.

How much the power of the tribunes had increased was already shown by the Doge Domenico Monegario (756–764), who was under the control of two tribunes. However, this contradicted the self-image of the later important noble families so drastically that the historiography they controlled later largely ignored this fact. This is probably related to the fact that the tribunician power emanated from the people, the popolo , which on the one hand was more than the nobility, on the other hand did not include all residents in the modern sense. The attempt to control the Doge's office in this way and prevent the formation of a dynasty was ultimately unsuccessful. It is to be seen against the background that the Byzantine power in Italy suffered a severe blow in 751 when the Lombards succeeded in (re) conquering Ravenna. As there were no more Byzantine incumbents above them, the tribunes achieved an even higher degree of independence, especially since the places in the lagoon made no move to recapture the city again (as they had done in 739/740).

A similar institution was seen from the late Middle Ages in the Avogaria di Comun , whose members, the Avvogadori , represented a kind of lawyer for the state. The main task of the three Avvogadori was to monitor the nobility and to protect the people from attacks by the powerful - thus to protect the law itself against mere power. They were also able to object to the resolutions of the council bodies. When Venice expanded into Terraferma , the adjacent Italian mainland, after 1404 , they gained considerable power there too. Her position of power reached its peak between around 1450 and 1550, when the Council of Ten replaced her, which also had the right to take action against the highest nobility and the Doges themselves. But they were still influencing the development of the constitution in the 18th century.

Reception as part of the Republic of Venice

Even Johannes Diaconus , who always tried to prove Venice's independence from the beginning, writes that the citizens of Veneto elected tribunes to their head after fleeing to the lagoon. In doing so, John gradually understands the title as a distinguishing feature from the rest of the people.

Although the term tribune fell out of use in the course of the 9th century, and names such as nobiles or nobiliores , magnates , maiores or principes were preferred for the nobility, families always tried to trace their back to the tribunician families. This is shown, for example, by the gender list in the Origo , which according to Roberto Cessi was created between 940 and 1096 , which was created against the background that the old sexes tried to differentiate themselves from upstarts in the noble class of Venice, which was still permeable from bottom to top. The tracing back to Byzantine and thus Roman officials was quite suitable, because these families were considered to be the bearers of Roman culture, which they had saved by fleeing the Lombards and Huns to the islands of the lagoon. That made them the founders of the city. In fact, the pre-medieval history of the lagoon was reinterpreted until the second half of the 20th century until there was no longer any memory of it. Family names as they appear in the Origo, such as the tribune family of the Anastasii (also called Theodosii), indicate a non-quantifiable immigration from the Greek East. There are also names like Apoli, Aulipati, Ianaseni, Kalosi, Magadissi, Syrani and Zopulus, but the Badoer and other important families also claimed the prestigious Greek descent for themselves.

Even in the late Middle Ages, families from the highest nobility invoked descent from one of the tribunes, such as the Doge Niccolò Tron . Therefore these were referred to as tribunician families, which were only slightly inferior to the twelve apostolic families in terms of reputation. According to a legend, the latter elected the first doge in 697 and even went back to the time of the apostles.

The Venetian citizen Nicolò Crasso was probably the first to deal with the question of where the office of tribune came from in the 1630s. He came to the assumption that the official title “Tribune” goes back to ancient Rome. Francesco Sansovino (1512–1586) stated in 1581 on the basis of the wording in Cassiodor's letter - which was only received in Venetian historiography in the 14th century - that there must have been at least two tribunes in the early days.

Vettor Sandi saw the roots of aristocratic Venice in the Tribunate in 1755 , where he saw the Tribune as defender of Populus in ancient Rome, as "protettor della plebe", as protector of the people.

Marc'Antonio Sabellico derived in his work De venetis magistratibus (1502) the right of the Avogadori to intervene in the legislative process (intercessione) from the tribunician power in ancient Rome. Guerino Pisone Soacio († 1591) also compared the Roman and Venetian magistrates in 1563, but the Venetian situation differed from the Roman one in that state power was not derived from popular power, but only had its point of reference in the constitutional organs. Gasparo Contarini made from Avvogadori downright tribunes of laws , not of the people. For Paolo Paruta , one of the official historians of the republic in the second half of the 16th century, the Roman tribunes were one of the reasons for the tumult and disunity among the Romans. In his opinion, the office fundamentally contradicted the Venetian ideal of a society in which monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements were mixed in the best possible way.

However, a considerable part of the nobility, the so-called Nobili barnabotti , by no means shared this view . They arose in the second half of the 17th century through the impoverishment of part of the nobility and were often referred to as plebe , i.e. people . From this, Marco Foscarini derived in his work Della perfezione della Repubblica veneziana (On the Perfection of the Venetian Republic) in the 1720s an idea of ​​the Roman tribunate, which tended towards unity and prudentia between the ranks of Rome. Since the people therefore had more rights, they also did more for the Roman Republic .

In the debate about the reform of the Inquisitori di Stato , the State Inquisitors , of 1761 there was also a reflection on the Roman situation. The Avvogadori sought a greater power through a constitutional amendment, a podestà tribunizia , in which objectivity and care should prevail, and holiness was not recognized.

Luigi Gonzaga Castiglione , who called himself the “defender” of the people, described the relationship between usury and the emergence of the Roman tribunate towards the end of the 18th century. The story of the Gracchi helped him understand the Venice crisis better.

The Dizionario del diritto veneto of 1779, written by the lawyer Marco Ferro , is regarded as the last attempt to combine Venetian law with the modern law of the time, but with the entry Tribuno he also continued to refer to the analogy between the Avogaria di commun and the people's tribunate. As before, legal theorists insisted that Venetian law continue Roman law, with some adaptations. This was true until the end of the republic in 1797.


  • Andrea Castagnetti: La società veneziana nel Medioevo , Vol. I: Dai tribuni ai giudici , Verona 1992, pp. 19-86.

Web links


  1. ^ Basic: Andrea Castagnetti : La società veneziana nel Medioevo , Vol. I: Dai tribuni ai giudici , Verona 1992, pp. 19-86; Giorgio Zordan: L'ordinamento giuridico veneziano. Lezioni di storia del diritto veneziano con una nota bibliografica , Padua 1980, pp. 15-61.
  2. ^ Cassiodori senatoris Variae, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica , Auctores antiquissimi, XII, Berlin 1894, n. 24, p. 379f. Also with Roberto Cessi (ed.): Documenti relativi alla storia di Venezia anteriori al Mille , Padua 1942, vol. I, no. 2 ("537-8. Cassiodorio, pref. Del pref., Ai Tribuni marittimi della Venezia"), pp. 2-4 ( digitized version ).
  3. Julius Caesar Bulengeri: De imperatore et imperio romano libri XII , Lyon 1618 Liber V, Caput XLIII, p 533rd
  4. ^ Albrecht Berger: Life and works of Saint Gregentios, archbishop of Taphar , Berlin: de Gruyter 2006, p. 17.
  5. ^ Heinrich Kretschmayr: History of Venice , 3 volumes, Gotha 1905, 1920, 1934, Vol. 1, p. 14.
  6. Alexander Theodor Heerklotz: The Variae of Cassiodorus Senator as a source of cultural history , Marienburg 1926, p. 46.
  7. Augustin Calmet: Dictionnaire historique, critique, chronologique, geographique et litteral de la Bible , Vol. 4, Geneva 1730, Col. 419f.
  8. Digesto italiano , 1899 S. 631st
  9. Orazio Torsellini: Histoire universelle traduite du latin du P. Tursellin, Jesuite; Avec des notes sur l'histoire, la fable, et la geographie , vol. 2, Amsterdam 1708, p. 154, note 1. Torsellini only mentions in his Latin work that Pippin, on the orders of his father Karl , help the Tribune Oblerio hurried: "Itaque Obelerio tribuno ac Venetis, Caroli jussu, Pippinus subsidio venit" (quoted from: Horatii Tursellini, e societate Iesu, epitome historiarum, ab orbe condito usque ad annum 1595 , Cologne 1649, pp. 139f.). So it is probably an addition to the translator.
  10. Abraham-Nicolas Amelot de la Houssaie: Histoire du gouvernement de Venise , Vol. 2, Amsterdam 1695, p. 32 or Histoire du gouvernement de Venise avec des notes historiques et politiques , Vol. 2, Lyon 1768, p. 764. He formulates: “Mais le point de la dispute est de savoir, s'il prie ou s'il commande, l'un se faisant aux Alliez & Conféderéz ... et l'autre le pratiquant envers les subjects” (p. 32 ).
  11. The first edition is from 1829.
  12. "Grado o uffizio di Magistratura repubblicana, ch'ebbero anche i Veneziani nel primo loro governo, dall'anno 456, sino al 697 prima dell'istituzione della dignità Ducale." ( Giuseppe Boerio : Dizionario del dialetto Venice, 2nd edition 1856, p. 694.)
  13. Janet Sethre: The Souls of Venice , Jefferson, North Carolina 2003, p. 12.
  14. ^ Gino Luzzatto: An Economic History of Italy , London 1961, pp. 33f.
  15. ^ Gino Luzzatto: Storia economica di Venezia dall'XI al XVI secolo , 1961, p. 3.
  16. Storia di Venezia , published by the Centro internazionale delle arti e del costume, 1957, p. 366.
  17. ^ Alvise Zorzi: La Repubblica del leone. Storia di Venezia , 1979, Bompiani 2001, p. 16.
  18. Theodor Graswinckel: Libertas Veneta , Lugduni Batavorum 1634, p 91f.
  19. The Letters of Cassiodorus , edited by the Echo Library, 2006, p. 23.
  20. Emperor Maurikios to Pope Gregory I, a. 591: MGH Epp. I, 22 (No. I / 16b).
  21. Antonio Carile : La formazione del ducato veneziano , in: Antonio Carile, Giorgio Fedalto: Le origini di Venezia , Bologna 1978, p. 218.Similar: Gherardo Ortalli : Venezia dalle origini a Pietro II Orseolo , in: Paolo Delogu, Andre Guillou , Gherardo Ortalli: Longobardi e Bizantini , Turin 1980, pp. 339-428, here: p. 362.
  22. Quoted from: Johann Sporschil: Gibbon's History of Decay and Fall of the Roman Empire , Leipzig 1837, p. 2277.
  23. Pietro Marcello , New Year Girellus, Heinrich Kellner : De vita, moribus et rebus gestis omnium ducum Venetorum , Paul Reffeler for Sigismund Feyerabend, Frankfurt 1574th
  24. ^ Joh. Diac., Chronicon, II, 1 (Ed. Berto: 94).
  25. Horst Enzensberger: Venice (6th – 11th centuries) , in: Theodor Schieder (ed.): Handbuch der Europäische Geschichte , Vol. 1, Stuttgart 1976, pp. 389–396, here: p. 392.
  26. ^ Andrea Castagnetti: La società veneziana nel Medioevo , Verona: Libreria Universitaria Editrice 1992/93, vol. 1, pp. 87-88 and 135.
  27. Giorgio Zordan: L'ordinamento giuridico Veneziano , 2005, p. 44
  28. ^ Alberto Carile , G. Fedalto: Le origini di Venezia , Bologna 1978, pp. 19-23.
  29. Lodovico Antonio Muratori : Annali d'Italia dal principio dell'era volgare sino all'anno 1750 , Vol. XI, Florence 1827, p. 307.
  30. The editors of Chronicon Venetum Altinate nuncupatur , Florence 1845, Libro III, p. 66 , already expressed such a presumption .
  31. This is how Gherardo Ortalli sees it: Il travaglio d'una definizione. Sviluppi medievali del dogado , in: G. Benzoni (ed.): I dogi , Milano 1982, p. 24 and Pierangelo Catalano: Tribunato e resistenza , Turin 1971, p. 40.
  32. Constantin Zuckerman: Learning from the Enemy and More: Studies in “Dark Centuries” Byzantium , in: Millennium 2 (2005) 79–135, especially pp. 85–94.
  33. Johannes Diaconus, Chronicon, II, 1 (Ed.Berto: 94).
  34. Origo Civitatum Italie seu Venetiarum. Chronicon Altinate et Chronicon Gradense , ed. Roberto Cessi , Rome 1933.
  35. Ursula Mehler: Risen in stone. Venetian tombs of the late Quattrocento , Böhlau 2001, p. 63.
  36. Note XXXVIII in his commentary on the writings of Donato Giannotti and Gasparo Contarini. C. Povolo: Crasso, Nicolò , in: Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 30, Rome 1984, 573-577. Della Republica et Magistrati di Venetia , c. 477 f.
  37. ^ Francesco Sansovino: Venetia, città nobilissima, et singolare: descritta in XIIII. libri , Venice 1581, edition from 1663 with additions by Giustiniano Martinioni, p. 530.
  38. Principj di storia civile della Repubblica di Venezia dalla sua fondazione sino all'anno di NS 1700 scritti da Vettor Sandi nobile veneto , Venice 1755, vol. 1,1, 51 f.
  39. Dizionario del diritto comune e veneto , Vol. II, Venice 1847.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on April 12, 2012 .