Doge of Venice

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The Doge (in Venetian also Doxe, derived from Latin Dux military leader, duke; cf. English Duke, Italian Duce) was the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for over a thousand years. Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state's aristocracy. Commonly the person selected as Doge was the shrewdest elder in the city.



According to the chronicler John the Deacon, author of the Chronicon Venetum ("Chronicle of Venice"), written about AD 1000, the office of the Doge was first instituted in Venice about 700, replacing tribunes that had led the cluster of early settlements in the lagoon. Whether or not the first doges were technically local representatives of the Emperor of Constantinople, the doge, like the emperor, held office for life and was similarly regarded as the ecclesiastical, the civil and the military leader, in a power structure termed caesaropapism.

Selection of the Doge

The doge's prerogatives were not defined with precision, and though the position was entrusted to members of the inner circle of powerful Venetian families, after several doges had associated a son with themselves in the ducal office, this tendency towards a hereditary monarchy was checked by a law which decreed that no doge had the right to associate any member of his family with himself in his office, or to name his successor. After 1172 the election of the doge was finally entrusted to a committee of forty, who were chosen by four men selected from the Great Council of Venice, which was itself nominated annually by twelve persons. After a deadlocked tie at the election of 1229, the number of electors was increased from forty to forty-one.

New regulations for the elections of the doge introduced in 1268 remained in force until the end of the republic in 1797. Their object was to minimize as far as possible the influence of individual great families, and this was effected by a complex elective machinery. Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.[1]

When a new doge was chosen, before he took the oath of investiture he was presented to the people with the formula "This is your doge, if it pleases you," preserving the fiction that the people of Venice ratified the selection, yet in a real sense the doge was the highest servant of the greater community.[clarification needed]

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