Group 2 : Power Networks

In her presentation to the Fall School this week, Dorit Raines illustrated that the power structure of the Venetian government was populated exclusively by a closed group of patrician families, whose continued place within the city’s ruling elite over time was cemented through a network of tactical marriage arrangements and financial transactions.

Professor Raines also suggested that there were three types of network dictating the fortunes of Venice’s major patrician families: those which are clearly evident in surviving source material, those which are only observable through their effects on the city’s political history, and those which can be deduced from the wider political and economic circumstances of the time. It is for this final type of network that the tools now available to historians through the use of Digital Humanities can perhaps provide the greatest insight, by mapping and extrapolating the links between the political offices and economic activity of the city’s ruling families through previously unrelated documentary traces found in the archive.

In order to demonstrate how this relationship could be reconstructed, our group took a sample of Venetian office holders in the year 1740, located each of their names in the registers of financial transactions kept by the city’s taxation officers, and linked them with the names of each of the individuals with whom these office holders did business. These connections were then plotted onto a network diagram, through which we could determine if there existed any financial links between the holders of some of the city’s most important public offices in the year 1740.

For this sample of Venetian magistrates, we chose as our case study three offices with particular ties to the building and finances of the Republic:

  • Three Provveditori al sal, one of the key financial offices in the Republic, which oversaw the city’s commercial monopolies, the inspection of territories throughout the Venetian Stato da Terra and Stato da Mar, and the construction and maintenance of public buildings.
  • Four Esecutori alle acque, an office which assumed the responsibility for the defence and maintenance of the lagoon in 1520.
  • Finally, the Procuratori di San Marco, one of the few Venetian offices held for life, responsible for the upkeep of Saint Mark’s Basilica, the dispensation of charity and social care throughout the city, and the execution of wills and testaments. This post was often held by the wealthiest of the Venetian patriciate, and regularly provided candidates for the future Doge.

The elections to each office were then located in the registers of the Segretario alle Voci, who recorded the name of the new appointment (and outgoing incumbent), as well as the dates for the beginning and termination of their office. In this way, we were able to take a cross section of all three sets of office-holders during the year 1740; 7 Provveditori al sal, 4 Esecutori alle acque, and 14 Procuratori di San Marco, whose length of office could be deduced from their recorded date of death or election as Doge.

The financial activity of these individuals was recorded by the Savi alle Decime, another fiscal institution of the Republic, in registers (quaderni) of transactions. In the Indice dei quaderni we were able to find all the names of the public officials ordered alphabetically, firstly by name then by surname. The register refers to the pages of Quaderni dei trasporti, where all the expenses and transactions of each official were recorded.

We annotated manually the mentions of the account holders as well as those of the persons involved in the transactions by using the image annotation environment DH Canvas, developed at the DHLAB. Each person mentioned in the registries becomes a node in the network, whilst economic transactions create the links between the nodes. For the time being the network is undirected as we did not take into consideration the type of transaction. This, however, would be possible as the double entry format in which the registries are written allows us to distinguish between goods that were bought and those that were sold.


Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 12.28.10

Many of the financial links which emerged within this dataset were, perhaps understandably, between members of the same family, whilst the majority of the office holders from our initial lists remained in isolation. However, two important types of connection were evident in our diagram.

The first was a direct link between one of the Povveditori al Sal (Alvise Soranzo) and one of the Procuratori di San Marco (Daniel Bragadin).

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 12.31.55

In the second case, the two office holders were linked through a common transaction partner: Zuanne Domenico Morosini in the case of the two Procuratori Zuanne Emo and Piero Foscarini, and Iacomo Zuanne Foscarini in the case of the Procuratore Piero Foscarini and the Esecutore Zuanne Foscarini.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 12.33.15

Although only a small sample in the case of these three offices, these links suggest that an expansion of the dataset to include more offices would allow us to draw further conclusions about how these financial connections transected the Venetian political class. In addition, adding further details about the specific type of transaction (whether a sale or purchase, and the property or amount to which it pertains), would better illustrate the activity of a certain individual during his tenure, as would a specific entry for family relationships between each node. Finally, inserting chronology as an additional axis to this diagram, with the date of office and the date of transaction extending the interpersonal links across time, would allow us to examine the concentration of each office holder’s commercial activity across their political careers.

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