1. The period from 10th to 13th centuries
Thе Venetian predomination in the economic life of Byzantium was based on the trade privileges given by the Byzantine emperors – the first edict was issued in 992. Venetian merchants travelled in the Eastern Mediterranean, but were not allowed to enter the basin of the Black Sea. As it is well known in 1204 the Crusaders’ army destroyed the Byzantine capital. The enormous treasures were distributed among the Crusaders and the Venetians. Venetians received of the ruined Byzantine Empire and a quarter of Constantinople. Thereafter the Doge of Venice assumed the title "dominator quarte partis et dimidae totius imperii Romanii".
The merchants of Venice – the most rapidly developing Italian trade republic stepped on all significant posts along the trade routes between the East and the West starting from the Adriatic and the islands in the Aegean Sea and reaching the Black Sea. Initially the scarcely known cost of the Black Sea did not attract trade galleys. But during the Latin empire began the penetration of ships in this sea and the exploitation of its remotest shores. From this time date the first preserved maps and made in Venice.1 After the initial division of the territories of the subjugated Byzantium during the Latin empire in Constantinople, followed the creation of the Venetian colonial empire from 1204 to 1209: the island of Crete (in Venetian possession in the period–1206-1669), the island of Corfu (1207-1500), the ports of Coron and Modon in the Peloponnese peninsula (they turned into basic trade bases of Venice), the island of Eubeia (protectorate of Venice an later its colony). With its galleys and well organised trade the Venetians took almost entirely the trade in wheat and tallow from the Northern to the Western Black Sea regions to Venice, the transport of silk and furs, precious metals and luxury goods from the East to the Southern Black Sea regions.
2. The Venetian Trade in Black Sea
The preferred colony of the is Tanais, at the estuary of the Don at the Sea of Azov where conditions were harsh, since there were outbursts of epidemics which spread to the lands of the Tartars, still big quantities of grain from the Russian steppes, silk from Chine and slaves flocked there. Convoys of 8-10 galleys, escorted by military ships headed each year to Tanais and arrived in August-September to travel back to Constantinople before the beginning of winter. The other main colony of Venice was Trebizond (Trabzon) on the Southern Black sea coast. There the transit of goods from Asia and the Caucasus to Constantinople was organised – silk, furs, tallow, precious metals and luxury goods were traded for textiles, glassware and other products of Western craftsmanship.
From the very beginning Venice trade activity was organised and administered by the state. The Venetian Senate and the ratified all the important decisions which pertained to trade: they controlled the system of ship auctioning (incanto : γλωσσάρι), the routes and time of departure, the quantity and types of goods, the election and appointment of patrons: γλωσσάρι on ships, captains, admirals, the election of Venetian and consuls who ruled the colonies, etc. From the third decade of the 15th century Venice introduced the system of the ship convoy voyages (), which was especially effective until mid 15th century. These were groups of 5-8 galleys, guarded by military ships which travelled along a strictly outlined route. The greatest prestige had the convoys for , on the board of which the most distinguished representatives of Venetian patricians travelled. They started their journey in the middle of June and returned in November. From September to 11 October – the holiday of St. Michael was the term for delivering the new crop of grain to Constantinople, and from November to Januаry they travelled back to Venice and Genoa. In the spring the wheat from previous years was sold. Between November and February sea voyages were stopped but there are records about ships spending the winter in the Black Sea. According to the information from the preserved documents of the Venetian Senate from 1306 to 1451, 125 voyages of convoys were accomplished and on a rare occasion there were two voyages per year.2 Naval navigation in this part of the Mediterranean was exposed to risks: attacks by Genoese and Turkish pirates, sea storms and military threats. Venetian trade in the Black Sea region flourished from the late 13th c. until mid 14th c. Then began the great economic crisis which occurred due to various reasons. But one of them affected the Black Sea region – this is the epidemic of bubonic plague, which began in the Crimean colonies of Genoa and Venice and spread throughout Europe. The other reason for the crisis in the trade exchange between the East and the West was the shift in the basic routes for movement of goods. Due to political instability in the territory of the and the invasions of the Mongols and Seldjuks in Asia Minor, the flow of luxury goods, silk and slaves to the West was reduced. In addition to this the confrontations of Venice with Genoa for dominance in the Black Sea went on constantly and led to numerous military conflicts which became less in the 15th century when the threat of the Turks loomed.
3. Venetian ships
Italian maritime republics including Venice used mainly three types of ships: galleys (with rows and sails ), round ships (with sails) and big galleys (grosse, up to 48 m. long) which were used for the transport of luxury goods and had two masts and from the 15th c. they had three masts with 4-5 sails. Venetians used them in the Black Sea to destinations such as Trebizond and Tanais. In most of the cases the big galleys (galeazzo) were used for re-export of the goods transported via the Black Sea from goods Constantinople to Venice. The light galleys (up to 40 m. long) had greater speed and mobility but could sail only during the day and did not have big supply of water. Venice sent to the Black Sea mainly light galleys technically adapted with some of the features of the bigger galleys.
The second class of ships were the round ships – with a ratio between length and width of 2,6 to 3,7 and with greater capacity. They had high decks for protection and were even supplied with artillery after the 15th century. They were used for the transport of cheap heavy cargos.
4. Political and economical relations of Venice with the states from the Black Sea region
Apart from the traditional privileges for duty free trade granted to Italian merchants by the emperors of the Byzantine empire, in 13th-15th c. the Venetians concluded treaties with the rulers of the states of the Black Sea region, the emperors of Trebizond (1319, 1364), the khans of the Golden Horde (1333, 1358), the king of Bulgaria – 1347,3 the great voivoda of Moldova – 1435, etc. The usual customs duty levied in these states was 3%, and it could be increased to 5% in certain occasions (1358 treaty with the Golden Horde) or reduced.
A total number of 40 colonies of the Italian maritime republics existed along the Northern and Eastern Black Sea and most of them belonged to Genoa but a great part of them were Venetians as well. The Venetian Senate elected the consuls-governors of the colonies for a term for one to two years. They had a fixed salary and were not allowed to deal in trade. Every had a consul-bailo (in Trebizond, Constantinople and Negroponte), assisted by advisors elected among the patrician Venetians.
5. Venice-Ottoman Empire
After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks on 29 May 1453 the trade of Venice with the Eastern Mediterranean continued. The first treaty between the two states dated 18 April 1454.4 The republic and Mehmet II the Conqueror made peace and concluded commercial clauses. The network of Venetian consuls was kept in the various towns of the Black Sea region during the Ottoman Empire (for example there was a consul in Kaffa in 1590), but trade gradually dwindled and died.5 The Turkish sultans introduced a restrictive regime for foreign ships entering the Black Sea and after the middle of the 16 century it became practically close to West European trade.