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Republic of San Marco

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Republic of San Marco

Republic of San Marco
Repubblica di San Marco (it)



Viva San Marco!
"Long Live St Mark!"
The Austrian Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia
The Republic of San Marco was situated in Venetia
Capital Venice
Languages Venetian, Italian
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Republic
President Daniele Manin
Historical era Revolutions of 1848
 -  Napoleon cedes Venice
   to Habsburg Austria

17 October 1797
 -  Insurrection against
    Habsburg rule

17 March 1848
 -  Independence declared 22 March 1848
 -  Joined by cities
    of Venetia

March – April 1848
 -  Joined

5–13 August 1848
 -  Battle of Novara 23 March 1849
 -  Manin negotiates
    surrender to Austria

27 August 1849
 -  Habsburgs cede
    Venetia to Italy,
    via France

12 October 1866
 -  Venice 412 km² (159 sq mi)
 -  Venetoa 20,000 km² (7,722 sq mi)
 -  Venice est. 130,000 
     Density 315.5 /km²  (817.2 /sq mi)
 -  Venetoa est. 2,300,000 
     Density 115 /km²  (297.8 /sq mi)
Currency Venetian lira
a: Veneto area approx 20 000 km².
See also: Republic of Venice (697–1797)

The Republic of San Marco (Italian: Repubblica di San Marco) was an Italian revolutionary state existing for 17 months in 1848–49. Based on the Venetian Lagoon, it extended into most of Venetia, or the Terraferma territory of the Venetian Republic, suppressed 51 years before in the French Revolutionary Wars. After declaring independence from the Habsburg Austrian Empire, the republic later joined the Kingdom of Sardinia, in an attempt, led by the latter, to unite northern Italy against foreign (mainly Austrian but also French) domination. After the failure of the war, the Republic was reconquered by Austrian troops on 28 August 1849 following a long siege.



After existing as an independent maritime republic for nearly 1400 years and a leading naval power in the Mediterranean for most of that time, the Republic of Venice surrendered to Napoleon during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1797 and was ceded to the Austrian Empire (as the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia) by the Treaty of Campo Formio a few months later. This was confirmed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

Austrian rule, after realising that mutually-agreeable home rule would not be possible, exploited Venetian resources, economically and politically, favouring Trieste as the imperial seaport.[1] Within 50 years of their acquisition of the former republic, Austria had taken 45 million Austrian lire more from the region than had been spent there and Venetian capitalism had been stifled by a reluctance on the part of the slow, bureaucratic Habsburg régime to grant credit to Venetian entrepreneurs.[1] By the end of the 1840s, a collection of intellectuals, urban manufacturers, bankers, merchants and agrarian inhabitants of the terra ferma were clamouring for political change and greater economic opportunity, albeit only by non-violent means.[1]

Across Italy, discomfort with foreign domination and with absolute monarchy had led to all Italian states (apart from Lombardy–Venetia) becoming parliamentary monarchies with much of the reform led by Pope Pius IX. Heavy-handed policing in response to an economic boycott of state monopolies in Austrian-held Milan led to the popular expulsion of the Austrian garrison in the city for five days in March 1848, contemporaneous with the beginnings of Venetian independence; see Five Days of Milan.

Insurrection and independence

Daniele Manin proclaims the Republic of San Marco. Lithograph, dated ca. 1850

A few days after the independence of Milan and Venice and their affiliation to the Kingdom of Piedmont–Sardinia, the Piedmontese army crossed into Lombardy on 24 March 1848, with the Austrian commander, Field Marshal Radetzky pulling back to the Quadrilatero, a chain of defensive fortresses between Milan and Venice. Two days previously, Daniele Manin entered the Venetian Arsenal with "a number of public-spirited Venetians", in a direct challenge to Austrian rule.[1] As the Arsenalotti detested the Austrian overseers and the Italians in Austrian military service were pro-Venetian, Manin and his supporters moved about at will, unharmed.[1] Believing that the timing was favourable, Manin led his followers out of the compound with the cry Viva San Marco! (English: Long Live St. Mark!)—the motto of the defunct Republic of Venice.[1] Venetians, if not Austrian officials, accepted this to mean restoration of the old republic.[1] With the exception of Verona, garrisoned as part of the Quadrilatero, the cities of Venetia — in particular Belluno, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Udine and Vicenza[2]—immediately sided with the lagoon and rejected Austrian rule, proclaiming Manin president of the Republic of San Marco and investing him with dictatorial powers during the state of emergency.[1] Manin's leadership was supported by the middle classes, revealing a permanent change in power from the mercantile patricians of the old republic, and his support of the lower classes, combined with promises of law and order to the bourgeoisie, meant his leadership was popular.[1] Unfortunately, however, Manin did not have the leadership qualities that might have led to enduring independence.[1]

Maintaining independence

After bringing his army in to protect the Kingdom of Sardinia, King Charles Albert of Piedmont–Sardinia chose to seek plebiscites in the territories gaining his protection, rather than concentrating on pursuing the Austrian retreat, despite popular support in the Papal States, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for reinforcement of and support for the Piedmontese troops.

Despite enthusiastic support from the revolutionary republics, such as the Republic of San Marco and Giuseppe Mazzini's Milanese volunteers, the Austrians started to regain ground but, with both the Vienna Rebellion and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, along with other Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas, Radetzky was instructed to seek a truce, an order he ignored.

Militarily, misreadings of the fluctuating political status in northern Italy—combined with Manin's indecision and ill-health, which confined the revolutionary to bed at critical moments[2]—led to several damaging poor judgements. The Imperial fleet were allowed to remain in the Istrian port of Pola, despite Venice having enough sympathy and support in the formerly-Venetian city to steal the fleet from the empire.[1] Similarly, had the Venetians encouraged the desertion of Italian soldiers under imperial command, the trained and disciplined troops might have been able to provide defensive strength to the nascent republic; whilst revolutionary reform was generating popular support for the new régime, the revolutionaries failed to recruit troops from the Venetian mainland who might have joined the 2000 Papal guards and Neapolitan soldiers under General Pepe,[1] who had ignored orders to retreat in favour of supporting the infant republics. While Austria was pressed on every front, the Italians allowed her time to regroup and to reconquer Venice and the other troubled areas of the empire one by one.[1]

The church of San Geremia in Venice hit by the Austrian bombardment of 1849.

After an Italian rout at the Battle of Custoza, Charles Albert abandoned Milan, which lost half its population when Radetzky offered its citizens free passage from the city, and signed an armistice with the Austrians that restored the Piedmontese border at the Ticino river. At the same time, the Piedmontese navy abandoned its support of Venice. The following year, Charles Albert's forces resumed their fight against the Austrian Empire, being defeated again at the Battle of Novara and costing Charles Albert his throne, in favour of his son Victor Emmanuel, who went on to become the first king of a reunified Italy.

Meanwhile, Manin retreated from his republican fervour, for fear of offending the monarch Charles Albert; this move was, however, both transparent and ineffectual.[1] He also relied on reinforcement from Piedmontese and Papal troops, not understanding that a Piedmontese-Sardinian kingdom would inevitably be concerned by a powerful republican neighbour—particularly at a time when monarchies were under threat across Europe—and that Pope Pius IX could not continue to support war between two Catholic monarchs practically on his border.[1]

A further failure on the part of the Venetian revolutionaries was their inability properly to incorporate the terra ferma into the lagoon-based republic; mainlanders were mistrustful of Venetian power, probably as a result of old assumptions about the earlier Mariner Republic combined with the inevitable destruction of countryside that comes with warfare, a situation that might have been avoided had the revolutionaries recruited across terra ferma.[1] When General Durando led a Piedmontese force to defend Verona, Venice could only supply a few volunteers, later joined by Colonel Ferrari's Papal regulars, without avail, as General Nugent's march met up with Radetzky's forces.[1]

On 5 August 1848, the Venetian assembly voted 127–6 to approve Manin's subsumption into the Piedmontese-led Kingdom of Sardinia, which lasted only five days, as a result of a Piedmontese armistice with Austria.[2] Three months later, Manin's desire not to offend the Piedmontese king led him to suppress Giuseppe Mazzini's supporters, who wished to demonstrate their republicanism in a fashion that might force the French Second Republic to aid Venice, hoping to convert the city into a centre of Italian liberation and inspire Garibaldi into an anti-Austrian crusade.[1] When Vincenzo Gioberti, the Prime Minister of Piedmont–Sardinia invited Venice to send delegates to a federal congress in Turin on 12 October 1848, the Venetians declined.[1] The revolutionary authorities' reaction to Piedmont's declaration on Austria illustrated their failure to grasp realities — the Venetians recessed for two weeks.[1]

Return to Austrian control

The 1887 bronze equestrian monument to Victor Emmanuel II in Venice, modelled by Ettore Ferrari (1848–1929), stands on the Riva degli Schiavoni. The details shows Venice in chains after the defeat in the 1848–49 Revolution. At her side, the Lion of Saint Mark in chains.

The crushing defeat of Italian forces at the Battle of Novara (23 March 1849) sounded a death knell for Italian independence from the Austrians.[1] To avoid an occupation of Piedmont, Charles Albert abdicated in favour of his son Victor Emmanuel II, whose treaty with Austria required the complete removal of the Sardinian navy from Venetian waters.[1] Manin addressed the Venetian assembly on 2 April 1849 and they voted to continue their struggle against the Austrians, despite an Austrian blockade of the city.[1] On 4 May 1849, Radetzky started his attack on the Venetian fort of Marghera, held by 2500 troops under the Neapolitan command of Girolamo Ulloa. Bombardment of the lagoon and city started at the same time and, over the next three weeks alone, 60 000 projectiles were dispatched towards Venice.[1] The fort at Marghera held out until 26 May, when Ulloa ordered its evacuation; an offer of surrender from Radetzky was rejected at this time.

By August, with famine and cholera sweeping the city, Manin proposed that the assembly vote for surrender, threatening to resign if the assembly votes to fight to the last. The assembly, however, agreed, and provided the president with authority to seek terms, which were agreed on 22 August. Radetzky's entrance to Venice on 27 August marked the complete surrender of Venice to the Austrian Empire, restoring the status quo ante bellum and causing Manin to flee Italy, with his family and 39 fellow-revolutionaries, into exile.[1] Manin's wife died of cholera within hours of their departure for Paris.[2]


Leadership was effectively provided by Daniele Manin throughout the republic's brief existence, but the following heads of state were in place during the 17 months:[3]

From To Officeholder(s) Title
March 1848 March 1848 Giovanni Francesco Avesani President of the Provisional Government
March 1848 July 1848 Daniele Manin Chief executive
July 1848 August 1848 Jacopo Castelli President of the Provisional Government
August 1848 August 1848 Daniele Manin Dictator
August 1848 March 1849 Daniele Manin Triumvirate
CA Leone Graziani
Col Giambattista Cavedalis
March 1849 August 1849 Daniele Manin President of the Executive Power

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Cunsolo, Ronald S, "Venice and the Revolution of 1848–49", Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848 (Ohio University), retrieved 22 November 2008 .
  2. ^ a b c d Ronald Cunsolo, Daniele Manin (1804–1857), Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848. Last accessed 23 November 2008
  3. ^ Venetian Republic, Historical Handbook of World Navies. Last accessed 23 November 2008

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