The text below is an account of the last of a series of wars between the republics of Venice and Genoa known as The Four Genoa Wars (Hence the alternative name of Fourth Genoese War.) Extracted from the entry for Chioggia in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain. Although the text presents the war as a victory for Venice, other accounts note that the peace treaty signed at Turin that concluded the war favoured the Genoese and what the Venetians achieved was simply survival.
The naval war of 1378-1380, carried on by Venice against the Genoese and their allies, the lord of Carrara and the king of Hungary, is of exceptional interest as one in which a superior naval power, having suffered disaster in its home waters, and having been invaded, was yet able to win in the end by holding out till its squadrons in distant seas could be recalled for its defence.
When the war began in the spring of 1378, Venice was mainly concerned for the safety of its trading stations in the Levant and the Black Sea, which were exposed to the attacks of the Genoese. The more powerful of the two fleets which it sent out was despatched into the eastern Mediterranean under Carlo Zeno, the bailiff and captain of Negropont. A smaller force was sent to operate against the Genoese in the western Mediterranean, and was placed under the command of Vettor Pisani. The possessions of Venice on the mainland, which were then small, were assailed by Francesco Carrara and the Hungarians. Her only ally in the war, Bernab Visconti of Milan, gave her little help on this side, but his mercenaries invaded the territory of Genoa. The danger on land seemed trifling to Venice so long as she could keep the sea open to her trade and press the war against the Genoese in the Levant.
During the first stage of the war the plans of the senate were carried out with general success. While Carlo Zeno harassed the Genoese stations in the Levant, Vettor Pisani brought one of their squadrons to action on the 30th of May 1378 off Punta di Anzio to the south of the Tiber, and defeated it. The battle was fought in a gale by ten Venetian against eleven Genoese galleys. The Genoese admiral, Luigi de Fieschi, was taken with five of his galleys, and others were wrecked. Four of the squadron escaped, and steered for Famagusta in Cyprus, then held by Genoa. If Pisani had directed his course to Genoa itself, which was thrown into a panic by the defeat at Anzio, it is possible that he might have dictated peace, but he thought his squadron too weak, and preferred to follow the Genoese galleys which had fled to Famagusta.
During the summer of 1378 he was employed partly in attacking the enemy in Cyprus, but mainly in taking possession of the Istrian and Dalmatian towns which supported the Hungarians from fear of the aggressive ambition of Venice. He was ordered to winter on the coast of Istria, where his crews suffered from exposure and disease. Genoa, having recovered from the panic caused by the disaster at Anzio, decided to attack Venice at home while the best of her ships were absent with Carlo Zeno. She sent a strong fleet into the Adriatic under Luciano Doria.
Pisani had been reinforced early in the spring of 1378, but when he was sighted by the Genoese fleet of twenty-five sail off Pola in Istria on the 7th of May, he was slightly outnumbered, and his crews were still weak. The Venetian admiral would have preferred to avoid battle, and to check an attack on Venice itself, by threatening the Genoese fleet from his base on the Istrian coast. He was forced into battle by the commissioner (provedstore) Michael Steno, who as agent of the senate had authority over the admiral. The Venetians were defeated with the loss of all their galleys except six. Luciano Doria fell in the battle, and the Genoese, who had suffered severely, did not at once follow up their success.
On the arrival of his successor, Pietro Doria, with reinforcements, they appeared off the Lido, the outer barrier of the lagoon of Venice, in July, and in August they entered on a combined naval and military attack on the city, in combination with the Carrarese and the Hungarians. The Venetians had closed the passages through the outer banks except at the southern end, at the island of Brondolo, and the town of Chioggia. The barrier here approaches close to the mainland, and the position facilitated the co-operation of the Genoese with the Carrarese and Hungarians, but Chioggia is distant from Venice, which could only be reached along the canals across the lagoon. The Venetians had taken up the buoys which marked the fairway, and had placed a light squadron on the lagoon. The allies, after occupying the island of Brondolo, attacked, and on the 13th of August took the town of Chioggia with its garrison of 3,000 men.
There appeared to be nothing to prevent the enemy from advancing to the city of Venice except the difficult navigation of the lagoon. The senate applied for peace, but when the Genoese replied that they were resolved to bit and bridle the horses of Saint Mark the Venetians decided to fight to the end. Vettor Pisani, who had been imprisoned after the defeat at Pola, but who possessed the confidence of the people and the affection of the sailors, was released and named commander-in-chief against the wish of the aristocracy. Under his guidance the Venetians adopted a singularly bold and ingenious policy of offensive defence. The heavy Genoese vessels were much hampered by the shallow water and intricate passages through the lagoon. By taking advantage of their embarrassment and his own local knowledge, Pisani carried out a series of movements which entirely turned the tables on the invaders.
Between the 23rd and 25th of August he executed a succession of night attacks, during which he sank vessels laden with stores not only in the canals leading through the lagoon to Venice, but in the fairways leading from Chioggia to the open sea round both ends of the island of Brondolo. The Genoese were thus shut in at the very moment when they thought they were about to besiege Venice. Pisani stationed the galleys under his command in the open sea outside Brondolo, and during the rest of the year blockaded the enemy closely. The distress of the Venetians themselves was great, but the Doge Andrea Contarini and the nobles set an example by sharing the general hardships, and taking an oath not to return to Venice till they had recovered Chioggia.
Carlo Zeno had long since been ordered to return, but the slowness and difficulty of communication and movement under 14th century conditions delayed his reappearance. The besiegers of Chioggia were at the end of their powers of endurance, and Pisani had been compelled to give a promise that the siege would be raised, when Zeno's fleet reached the anchorage off Brondolo on the 1st of January 1380. The attack on Chioggia was now pressed with vigour. The Genoese held out resolutely in the hope of relief from home. But the resources of Genoa had been taxed to fit out the squadrons she had already sent to sea. It was not until the 12th of May 1380 that her admiral, Matteo Maruffo, was able to reach the neighborhood of Brondolo with a relieving force. By this time the Venetians had recovered the island, and their fleet occupied a fortified anchorage from which they refused to be drawn. Maruffo could do nothing, and on the 24th of June 1380 the defenders of Chioggia surrendered. The crisis of the war was past. Venice, being now safe at home, recovered the command of the sea, and before the close of the year was able to make peace as a conqueror.
S. Romanin, Storia document ata di Venezia (Venice, 1855);
W. C. Hazlitt, History of the Venetian Republic (London, 1860);
Horatio F. Brown, Venice (London, 1893).