The Ancient Voices of Venice

I wrote this article to draw your attention to the project Voices of Venice, curated by the University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari and included the findings of their 2015-2017 research and excavation series. Voices of Venice. Communication is Learning. Archeology is Sharing. Narratives are Identity. commu8nicates the findings of the project that the Lagoon has been settled by thriving communities ever since 2100 BC and that Torcello had been the major harbor of the Lagoon attracting Greek merchants – read her real story here. Venice thus wasn’t built by refugees fleeing from the onslaught of barbarians.

This is the story of the Lagoon and her three cultures: Venets, Romans and Greek. First, there are the southern Lagoon lakes, inhabited by settlers from the Padua area called Venets (Eneti). According to legend, the Eneti came here from the city of Trabsunt located on the southern shore of the Black Sea. They were allies of the Trojans and Homer tells us that after having lost the war, the Enets fled with the Trojans whom they had helped defend their city against the Greek fleet. They brought with them their ancient language, Enet, which integrated some Latin but kept an identity distinct from the Romans. The second culture present in the Lagoon are the Greek settlers of Turicellum, which is our forgotten Torcello. Far back in history, the Greek had been the enemies of the Enets during their ten-year fight of Troja. Around 200 BC, the Greek arrived the northern Lagoon for trade purposes while the Roman Empire was expanding to include both Greece and the land of the Venets.  All these three cultures – Ancient Greek, Roman and Venet, made up Le Venetie – many little Venices, and they learnt to live together in the Lagoon. Today, we know them as Veneti – Venetians.

Here are the answers of our questions :-)

  • What’s the name of the people living in the southern lake and along the deep canal? Eneti !
  • What’s the name of the marketplace located on the shores of the deep canal? Who do the vineyard islands belong to? The market place is called Rivus Altus, and yes, it is fast developing to become the Rialto Market ! The deep canal is the ancient mouth of the river Brenta (before it was deflected), today called Canal Grande. The vineyard islands belong to the newly founded monastery, San Zaccaria, which in the 4th century owned half the area of the southern Lagoon, including fishing grounds.
  • How do we call the islands Popilia, Amurius, Majurbum, Turicellum and Equilium today? Popilia is Poveglia, Amurius is Murano, Majurbum is the island group of Mazzorbo and Mazzorbetto. Turicellum is Torcello and Equilium is called Iesolo today.
  • What are the foreign looking trades people in Turicellum called, and why are the sails of their boats painted red-and-gold? These are the colors of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium. And yes, these are the colors of the Republic of Venice as well! No coincidence. On special occasions, Venice used the third color of Byzantium: Midnight blue.
  • Which languages are spoken in the Lagoon? The Eneti speak Venet, the Romans speak Latin and the Byzantines speak Ancient Greek slowly evolving into Koiné in the 5th century.
  • Who are the three cultures of the Lagoon? The Eneti live in the south, on the islands belonging to San Zaccaria and at the Rialto. The Romans live in Murano, Mazzorbo and in the metropolis Altinum. The Greek from Byzantium live on the Torcello archipelago, together with the Romans.
  • Where did the vessels come from? The vessels are Greek boats that have come all the way from Byzantium, loaded with olive oil, wine and ceramic pots from the Greek islands. They sold their goods to the Romans. Around the 8th century, some also moved to the Rialto Archipelago which was called Venetia by that time. When Torcello became uninhabitable due to malaria outbreaks and the shifting Lagoon soil while many islands were sinking, the Greek merchant community also moved to Venice (Castello). So it is natural that the refugees from Byzantium also settled in Castello when their city was taken by the Ottoman empire in 1453.

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