Enrico Dandolo

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Enrico Dandolo (1107? – 21 June 1205) — anglicised as Henry Dandolo and Latinized as Henricus Dandulus — was the 41st Doge of Venice from 1195 until his death. Remembered for his blindness, piety, longevity, and shrewdness, and is infamous for his role in the Fourth Crusade which he, at age ninety, directed against the Byzantine Empire, sacking Constantinople in the process.

In the nineteenth-century, the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) launched an ironclad battleship named Enrico Dandolo.



It is not known for certain when and how Dandolo became blind. The story passed around after the Fourth Crusade (which is the version told by modern Venetians and accepted by many historians) was that he had been blinded by the Byzantines during his 1171 embassy, although it is possible that he suffered from cortical blindness as a result of a severe blow to the back of the head received sometime between 1174 and 1176.[1]

Dandolo's blindness appears to have been total. Writing thirty years later, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who had known Dandolo personally, stated, "Although 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.


Early career in politics

Born in Venice, he was the son of the powerful jurist and member of the ducal court, Vitale Dandolo. Dandolo had served the Serenissima Republic in diplomatic (as ambassador to Ferrara and bailus in Constantinople) and perhaps military roles for many years.

Dandolo was from a socially and politically prominent Venetian family. His father Vitale was a close advisor of Doge Vitale II Michiel, while an uncle, also named Enrico Dandolo, was patriarch of Grado, the highest-ranking churchman in Venice. Both these men lived to be quite old, and the younger Enrico was overshadowed until he was in his sixties.

Dandolo's first important political roles were during the crisis years of 1171 and 1172. In March 1171 the Byzantine government had seized the goods of thousands of Venetians living in the empire, and then imprisoned them all. Popular demand forced the doge to gather a retaliatory expedition, which however fell apart when struck by the plague early in 1172. Dandolo had accompanied the disastrous expedition against Constantinople led by Doge Vitale Michiel during 1171-1172. 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 twelve 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.

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