If Europe in
the second half of the 1700s was a stage for great theater, the tired
old Republic of Venice was only sitting in the wings, waiting patiently
for her cue to enter onstage and expire.
undermined, her military strength dwarfed by the emergence of the
great warring nation-states of Europe, Venice adopted a foreign policy
based on having no policy at all: Venice was determined to be a neutral
at all costs, to give no offense to anyone whatsoever. As Napoleon
Bonaparte moved into the military leadership of France, however, Venice
learned that offense can be taken even when none is given.
early 1796 French forces under the 26-year old Bonaparte slashed into
Lombardy. By mid-May the Austrians had been pushed from Milan; their
last stronghold on the Italian peninsula, at Mantua, was to fall soon
thereafter. Napoleon used the occasion to begin questioning Venice's
neutrality, citing the passage of Austrian forces through Venetian
In the following
year French forces occupied Bergamo, Brescia and Verona and then pushed
northward through the Brenner Pass into Austria. Clashes between the
French and the local populations inevitably followed--each provoking
still more aggressive French demands and more effusive Venetian apologies.
ultimate demand arrived: surrender Venice.