became the 39th Doge of Venice on the first day of January in 1193,
Enrico Dandolo was already old, blind, and burning with ambition for
the republic that he now headed.
How old was
he? The answer is unclear. Some accounts say he was already 85 years
old when he became Doge. His remarkable deeds over the next 11 years
bring that age into question, however. Others have hypothesized that
he may have been in his mid-70s when he became Venice's leader.
How blind was
he? Again the answer is uncertain. Writing 30 years later, Geoffrey
de Villehardouin--who had known Dandolo personally--stated, "[A]lthough
his eyes appeared normal, he could not see a hand in front of his
face, having lost his sight after a head wound." Although even this
account may have become exaggerated by the gloss of time, it is clear
in any event that Dandolo's sight was severely impaired.
Some facts about
Dandolo are beyond dispute. Dandolo had served Venice in diplomatic
and perhaps military roles for many years, with at least two expeditions
involving the Byzantine Empire based at Constantinople. On one occasion,
Dandolo accompanied a disastrous expedition led by Doge Vitale Michiel
in 1171-2. Upon returning to Venice, Michiel was killed by an irate
mob, but Dandolo escaped blame and was appointed as an ambassador
to Constantinople in the following year, as Venice sought unsuccessfully
to arrive at a diplomatic settlement of its disputes with Byzantium.
Renewed negotiations begun 12 years later finally led to a treaty
in 1186, but the earlier episodes seem to have created in Enrico Dandolo
a deep and abiding hatred for the Byzantines.
was to learn in 1203 when Dandolo appeared at the mouth of her harbor
leading the awesome fleet of the Fourth Crusade,
Enrico Dandolo was the wrong man to anger.