Marco Polo's galley at Curzola

Marco Polo's galley at Curzola

The strong trading rivalry between The Republic of Venice and the Republic of Genoa led to more conflicts and eventually to war again in 1294. The truce agreed upon in 1269 was renewed several times and a prudent coexistence between the two maritime powers went on for more than 20 years. 

After losing their quarter in Acre to the Egyptian Mamluks in 1291, the Venetians became more and more resentful of the Genoese presence in the region. 

Curzola island

In July 1293 four Venetians galleys came across seven Genoese merchant ships close to Coron; the Venetians attacked and captured all the Genoese vessels. In 1294 a Venetian fleet of 14 galleys, captained by Marco Baseggio, escorted the annual caravan to Famagosta (Cyprus); on the way there, the Venetians raided the Genoese port of Limassol; the Genoese quickly armed a small fleet of merchant ships under the command of Niccolò Spinola; they sailed towards the Venetians galleys and by chance caught them with their sails up, unprepared for combat; Spinola attacked and defeated the Venetians off the port of Laiazzo in Cilician Armenia, where Pisan, Genoese and Venetians had settled their colonies. 
In 1296 a Venetian fleet attacked some of the most important Genoese settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean such as Phokaia and Caffa (Crimea). Admiral Ruggiero “Malabranca” (Evil Claw) Morosini sailed to Constantinople on 70 galleys and raid
ed the Genoese port of Pere. They also destroyed the Genoese plant of alum (a compound used for the manufacturing of colors) on the Anatolian coasts. Part of the Ventian fleet, under Admiral Giovanni Soranzo, sailed on to the Black Sea and raided the Genoese colony at Caffa (modern Feodosiya) on the coast of Crimea. Another smaller fleet of 9 gallleys pillaged other Genoese colonies on Cyprus and Lajazzo. The Genoese and the Greeks replied by massacring the Venetians in Constantinople, and they even killed the president of the Genoese colony, the "Bailo" (Government official) Marco Bembo throwing him down from the roof of his house. These conflicts eventually led to the second main war in 1298. 

Admiral Lamba Doria at Curzola

Admiral Lamba Doria

The Genoese decided to wage war to Venice: they put together  a fleet of 85 galleys in the port of La Spezia and set sails to the Adriatic Sea under the command of Admiral Lamba Doria in 1298.

In August the fleet arrived in the Dalmatian coast and raided the Venetian settlements. In September they arrived in the island of Curzola (Korcula), off the Croatian coast, stormed and pillaged Korcula town and burned down Venetians buildings. Shortly after the Venetian fleet was in sight. 

The Venetians though, had had to set up their fleet in a hurry, they had to turn to Chioggia and to their colonies in the Dalmatian coast to get ships and galleys. They also had to recruit crews that were not up to their usual standards. Still the Venetians managed to set up the largest fleet ever deployed:  96 galleys and three big ships under the command of Admiral Andrea Dandolo

Marco Polo

Marco Polo

Even the famous merchanttraveler Marco Polo, who was 44 at the time, provided one galley on which he personally served as captain. 

The Genoese on the contrary had larger and better equipped galleys with three oarsmen per bench and a very efficient new type of helm. They also could use several triremes, much bigger than the Venetian biremes. The Genoese had a smaller fleet of about 70 galleys as 15 ships had been left behind caught in a storm off Otranto. 

The sea battle took place on September 7th in the channel between the island of Curzola (Korčula) and the peninsula of Sabbioncello (Pelješac). The Venetian fleet was deployed in a sickle shape, perhaps with the intention of surrounding the smaller Genoese fleet.

Admiral Doria then ordered a few galleys to attack one of the encircling wing but had to withdraw as several Venetian galleys rejected and chased them; in doing so they broke their sickle formation and found themselves too close to the Genoese ships that took advantage of the favorable situation. The Venetians though had the advantage of the north-west wind and initially managed to seize 10 galleys; in the meantime the Genoese managed to sink and ground some Venetian ships. One cunning move from the Genoese proved to be very effective: they took possession of one Venetian galley, replaced the crew and launched it against the enemy, thus creating confusion among the Venetians. Then Lamba Doria ordered his fleet to advance in a row formation in order to attack the scattered Venetians fleet. Shortly after the 15 Genoese galleys that were left behind at Otranto joined Doria’s fleet and attacked and defeated the already worn out Venetian flank. The naval battle was incredibly fierce and both sides suffered heavy losses; eventually The Genoese managed to prevail and only about 15 Venetian galleys managed to make their way back to Venice. For Venice this defeat was the major setback among many battles fought in the 13th and 14th centuries: 18 Venetian ships were sunk, 66 were captured7000 Venetian soldiers were killed and 7400 were captured. Admiral Dandolo was also made prisoner and apparently shortly after committed suicide banging his head into the oarsmen's bench to which he had been chained.Octavian Doria, the admiral's son was also killed in combat. The Genoese won the battle but suffered very heavy losses, according to some accounts even heavier than  the Venetian. Lamba Doria did not have enough manpower  to attack Venice town; he decided to burn all the captured galleys and go back to Genoa. 

Marco Polo Rustichello

Marco Polo dictating

Marco Polo’s galley, a big ship with 120 rowers,  was also captured and the famous traveler was made prisoner and taken to Genoa. He was put in a gaol where he met a writer called Rustichello da Pisa to whom he dictated his travel memories that form the "Book of the Marvels of the World" also known as “The travels of marco Polo”. Polo was finally released in August 1299 and returned home to Venice. After this exhausting battle neither Venice nor Genoa could afford to prepare for war again. Moreover a civil war broke out in Genoa between the Ghibelline and the Guelph factions. Eventually both sides signed a peace treaty in 1299 in the palace of the Matteo Visconti, Lord of Milan.Genoa acknowledged the supremacy of Venice over the the Adriatic sea and Venice did the same for Genoa on the Tyrrehean sea. 




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