There are at least three main theories that try to explain the origins of modern day Venetians:


1) Ancient written evidence – Homer and Livius:

According to ancient historians, the Veneti (Enets or Henets) were originally from Paphlagonia, a region located in northern Minor Asia (modern day Turkey).

The great poet Homer (850 BC) was the first one to mention them in the II book of the “Iliad”: “The Paphlagonians were commanded by stout-hearted Pylaemanes from Enetae, where the mules run wild in herds. These were they that held Cytorus and the country round Sesamus, with the cities by the river Parthenius, Cromna, Aegialus and lofty Erithini"

The Heneti from Paphlagonia, considered to be excellent riders and brave soldiers, apparently fought on the side of the Trojans against the Greek. After the fall of Troy (XII century BC) the Heneti (or Enetae), having lost their king, decided to migrate to the west.

The great Roman historian Titus Livius (64 BC-17 AD), wrote in his book “Ab urbe condita libri” “Antenor sailed into the furthest part of the Adriatic, accompanied by a number of Enetians who had been driven from Paphlagonia by a revolution and after losing their king Pylaemenes before Troy were looking for a settlement and a leader. The combined force of Enetians and Trojans defeated the Euganei, who dwelt between the sea and the Alps and occupied their land. The place where they disembarked was called Troy and the name was extended to the surrounding District; the whole nation were called Veneti"

According to Livy the Enetians were led by the legendary Antenor, counselor of Priam and founder of Patavium (present day Padua).

Other historians such as Herodot and Polybius, mentioned the migration of the Eneti who first moved to Tracia, then to Hilliricus (The Balkans) and then again to the eastern and western Adriatic sea cost. They kept migrating for 5 centuries and only in the VIII century B.C. part of them eventually settled for good in what is now called the Venetian lagoon region.

Other groups of Eneti chose different destinations, thus we have evidence of Eneti who settled in Baltic Regions and Carinthia.


2) Ancient written evidence: Strabo.

The Greek philosopher and historian Strabo 64/63 BC – c. AD 24, claimed that the Eneti actually were a Celtic tribe who lived in nort-east present day France (Brittany peninsula) and called themselves Gwends; they migrated to Italy and settled in the Lagoon region. Strabo suggested that the translation Veneti/Eneti was a mistake that led to confusion.

"The thing upon which there is general agreement is, that the Eneti, to whom Pylaemenes belonged, were the most notable tribe of the Paphlagonians, and that, furthermore, these made the expedition with him in very great numbers, but, losing their leader, crossed over to Thrace after the capture of Troy, and on their wanderings went to the Enetian country,17 as it is now called. According to some writers, Antenor and his children took part in this expedition and settled at the recess of the Adriatic, as mentioned by me in my account of Italy".

“At any rate, Sophocles says that at the capture of Troy a leopard's skin was put before the doors of Antenor as a sign that his house was to be left unpillaged; and Antenor and his children safely escaped to Thrace with the survivors of the Heneti, and from there got across to the Adriatic Henetice.”


3) Modern researchers.

Some contemporary researchers claim that the population known as Veneti had indo-european origin and came from central Europe; they spread to Southern Europe and Baltic regions during the second millennium and part of them settled in Italy in the region now know as Veneto.


Whatever theory you prefer, a population called Eneti or Veneti actually migrated into north-eastern Italy and settled in the Adriatic area between the rivers Timavo and Po and also in the area that goes from the Friulan Alps to Garda Lake. Historian Scimmo da Chio mentioned about 50 towns already existing in the Veneto region in pre-roman times with a total of about 1,5 million of people. The Veneti capital was Ateste (Este).

For sure, before the Eneti arrived, the lagoon region was already inhabited by other populations such as Etrurians, Umbrians, and Euganes with whom the mixed as time went by.

The Gauls had settled in northern Italy since the IV century and were a constant threat for the Romans. They frequently used to raid the region of the Eneti who decided to establish alliance with the Romans in order to fight their common enemies.

There is evidence that, during the IV century B.C. Romans and Eneti fought side by side to protect Rome agains the Gauls and many years later (II century B.C.) again the Eneti sent an army of 20000 soldiers to the Roman alley to defeat the Gauls in the last great war between Rome and Gaul.

In the I century both the winners, the Eneti and the losers, the Gauls, were living together under the power of Rome in the province called Cisalpine Gaul where the capital was Padua, rich town thanks to agriculture and trade. To witness how highly the Romans regarded the Eneti we have Cicero (106-43 BC) himself who wrote "flower of Italy, decoration of the Roman people" referring to the Venet region.

The populations of the shore regions, ancestors of the Venetian, chose to settle there for the safety it provided from wild beasts and aggressive neighbors, for the abundance of fish and hunting but above all for the salt that could be produced thanks to low waters and that could be easily traded thanks to the large numbers of navigable rivers.

As time went by the trade could also be extended oversea: Ad Portum (most probably located where Malamocco is today) already in the I century B.C. was an important sea port. The most important port though was the town of Altino where the river ways terminated and the land roads began.



Starting from 170 A.C. some populations coming from north-east (Gots, Visigots, Svevians, Vandals, Alans and Sarmats) began to frequently invade the Venet territory, they defeated the Roman legions and brought desolation to the region.

The most violent invasion was carried out by the Uns of Attila in 452: all the main towns that were in the way of the Uns fell and were destroyed: Padua, Aquileia, Altinum. Most people were forced to run for their lives and seek shelter in the small islands of the lagoon. This is when probably for the first time some people settled in the small islands that would form Venice some centuries afterwords (Luprio, Dorsoduro, Olivolo, Gemini, Mercede, Vineole, Bovense).

These were temporary migrations anyway as as soon that the invaders would move on, most refugee would return to their hometowns.

But now after the fall of Padua (headquarter of the authority of the whole province) the power that used to subject the populations of the region was gone and therefore all the residents found themselves free but without the support of the authority to protect and govern them, therefore they were forced to set up a new system thus sowing the seeds of a new political system.

Initially every community gave political and administrative power to their priests but, as conflicts kept emerging, the communities felt the need for a more articulate political and administrative coordination and in 466 the heads of the various communities gathered in Grado to establish the new regulations.

This was the first step towards the autonomy of the Venetian communities, the beginning of the democratic government of the lagoon islands. Each community would elect their own "tribune", a magistrate with powers. The evidence of this new autonomy is in the content of the letter that Cassiodoro, minister of the Gots King Teodorico, sent in the VI century to the Tribuns, thus acknowledging their authority.

Meanwhile the Western Roman Empire was coming to an end: in 475 Odoacer (433-493), king of the Eruls, invaded Italy and defeated Augustolo, the last emperor of the Western Empire. But then Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogots, defeated Odoacr in 489 and established his kingdom in Italy for about 30 years. During this period many inhabitants of the lagoon islands went back to their hometowns again to rebuilt them after Attila's devastation. But the peaceful kingdom of Theodoric did not last long and Justinian (482-565) was planning to reunite the Western and the Eastern Empire under his own command

Belisarius (502-565), Justinian's general, invaded Sicily in 535, his army went up to the north and seized Ravenna, capital of the Ostrogots and also occupied the Venetian sea lands that at the time were a vital shelter and port of the Greek navy. From then on began the Byzantine domination of the Venetian lagoon that had a massive impact on culture, customs and building industry. The Maritime Venetians, who had established good trade relationships with the Greek in the past, were favorable to their expansion in Italy and sought their alliance putting their transport naval fleet at the Greeks' disposal.


The Germanic tribe of the Lombards (or Longobards) invaded Italy in 568 and established their capital at Cividale. They first shared Italy with the Byzantine Dukes (the Exarcs of Ravenna) but in 753 they conquered nearly all the Byzantine Exarchate and Ravenna also fell.

The lagoon was the main sea port the Greeks could use in Italy, both to defend towns against the Lombards and to use the powerful naval means of the Maritime Venetians. Narsete, the other Giustiniano's general, showed his gratitude by building 2 churches in Rivoaltus island (nowadays Rialto, Central District of Venice) at his own expensed, this proves how already important Rivolato urban center was already at the time, 3 centuries before hosting the Government headquarters.

Due to the constant threat of the Longobards (Germanic tribe) who had occupied the closeby mainland and since the Byzantines were far away, the Maritime Venetians felt the need of joining forces and enhance their defense resources. in order to do that, the Patriarch of Grado, Elia called for a synod to be held in Grado; the Bishops set up a new coordination of the local governments and elected 10 Tribuns to govern the shores and the islands to organize their defense.

For the first time, thanks to Grado Synod, the concept of a common Country was acknowledged and accepted and at the end of the VI century the Venetian State can be considered as actually established even though still not independent as still subject to the Greek Esarc who had his headquarters in Ravenna.


The invasion of the Longobards was actually the great event that caused the long-lasting migration of the Veneto population from the mainland to the islands of the lagoon. Unlike the previous invaders like the Gots and the Uns, the Longobards had come to stay. Through many years of violence and battles, having the Longobards on one side and the Roman world, represented by the Byzantine authority on the other, populations and institutions moved to the Lagoon Islands, close to the mainland but protected by the water.

The pressure from the Longobards went on to destroy the town of Oderzo which pushed the populations to seek shelter in the islands of Murano and Burano; the already inhabited small islands around Rialto also gave shelter to the new refugees as well as Malamocco and Pellestrina; Altinium's Bishop left his home to settle in the island of Torcello in 635.


Grado's Synod of 579 had been an important political achievement of the Maritime Veneto populations and had allowed them to enhance their military power to stand up to the Longonard raids from the mainland and the Dalmatian pirates from the sea. But still among the most powerful noble families of the Communities there were internal conflicts and diverging ambitions. This is why Grado's Patriarch Cristopher decided in 697 to summon the Tribuns of the Communities to point out that the raids to the islands were more due to lack of coordination among the Tribuns than to the actual power of the enemies. Given the distance between the islands the enemy could easily intrude any of them also because there was no common supervision and watch. It had become essential to have a common leader, a head who could organize defense for all the islands and not just his own. It was about time to put aside the ambitions of each Community and join forces instead in order to implement suitable common defense and contribute to the progress of a new actual State. The Tribunes therefore decided to elect a Duke (Doge) as it was customary in any main Italian town. It took a long time before the Duke's power over the island was acknowledged and respected by the clergy, the noble families and the whole community but as time went by the new authority was accepted by everyone.


The Duke had the power to administer justice, preside over general assemblies, appoint ministers, authorize synods, impose taxes, coordinate common defense and deal directly with sovereign States.

The Duke informed the imperial Court of Byzantium and the Pope about the newly established government that preferred to keep its subjection to Byzantium for the advantages that the Venetian could still get from being part of the Empire: free access to any sea port and same rights as the oriental natives. The Venetians had to pay for such advantages: they had to send out their naval army to support Bysantium was against the Saracens, but then again the Saracens were a common enemy as they were a threat for Venice sea trade.

The first Duke (Doge) of the Venetian confederation to be appointed was Paulicius Anafestus in 697. In one of his first treaty he managed to get from the Longobard King Liutprand the right to trade in the mainland with secured safety for the Venetian merchants. The Venetians at the time were already expert merchants who had traded along the Adriatic sea shores and navigated along river Po to sell wine, oil, salt, wood, fish and other goods.

The first steps of the newly born Venetian State was not easy though: Venice was in the middle between the two great Empires of the Longobards and the Byzantines which led to the development of two internal parties, one in favor to the first and the other to the latter. As a result there were internal conflicts to get the power, wars (the one between Jesolo and Eraclea was particularly fierce).


In 754 the Franks defeated the Longobards and Doge Obelarius went to Diedenhofen in 805 to pay homage to Charles the Great, the new restorer of the Western Empire. Pepin, Charles son, tried in 809 to siege Malamocco, capital of the Venetian Confederation, but the Venetians who had meanwhile temporarily moved the Government headquarters to Rialto, managed to resist and Pepin had to give up. When Pepin died, Charles the Great signed the Treaty of Aachen (812) through which he acknowledged the domination of the Venetians along the town of the Dalmatians shores and on the Lagoon islands and also renewed the treaty granted by Liutprand to the Venetians merchants. The moving of the Government headquarters from Malamocco to Rialto became permanent and originated the so called "Civitas Rivoalti" (city of Rialto) that would change its name into VENICE in the XIII century.


Foundation of Venice: the first violent invasions of populations coming from north-east led to temporary migrations of any social class to the Lagoon islands which provided temporary shelter to both the poor and the rich. As the invaders moved on, the refugees would come back to their hometowns to rebuild their houses and settle there. But during the Longobard domination it was mostly the Veneto's noble and rich families to migrate to the island as they could not bear to be subject to the Longobards. The rich families brought with them their status demands and their habits: they could not adapt to the simple huts and small houses like the first refugees and little by little tried to rebuild the environment of their customary life. They began to build 2 floor houses, the ground floor being made of clay was used as depot and warehouse and the first floor made with wood for their actual household.

Go on to The Foundation of Venice


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