Napoleon Thrusts toward Venice

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.

Her economy 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.

Location mapIn 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 territory.

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.

Finally the ultimate demand arrived: surrender Venice.



1998-2000 C. I. Gable