Four artifacts of the late eighteenth century:
- A parchment document authorising Giampiero Contarini, commanding the brig San Marco Grande, to seize ships out of, or bound for, the two ‘Pirate Ports’, Oran and Gabes, and to raid their hinterlands. It is issued in the name of the Senate of Venice, and bears the Great Seal of the Doge. It is one of many such letters of marque and reprisal issued in retaliation for privateering against Venetian trade in the Mediterranean by the Hermit Kingdom. Later, the Senate and the People grew sufficiently annoyed to declare war over the issue. The privateer captain would have stored the letter among his private effects on shipboard, as is attested by the creases and stains on the parchment; the gilt frame with cherubs blowing trumpets is a nineteenth-century addition.
- An oil painting signed ‘Giovanni’, depicting a sea battle between a brig flying the Lion of St Mark, and a lateen-rigged vessel with raked masts, characteristic of the Oran corsairs. The brig is firing a broadside; the rendering of the dramatic flashes of light through the rolling banks of powder smoke is masterful and immensely realistic, possibly indicating that the scene is painted from memory. Some of the fine details, however, are clearly imaginary, presumably the artist’s idea of a joke; one of the corsairs appears to be wearing an octopus on his shoulder, where a parrot might be expected. Another is shown jumping into the sea, but it is unclear whether he intends to escape from the brig’s broadside or to join the sirens, big-breasted and sharp-toothed, that wave invitingly from the water. The overall effect of the piece, when examined closely, is somewhat disturbing; it is in the private collection of the Contarini family, and may be viewed only by appointment.
- A silver salt-and-pepper shaker in the shape of a ship. The condiments are stored in two compartments running the length of the ship, loaded through functional cargo hatches in the deck. The salt (or pepper) exits through two decks of broadside guns, presumably giving rise to much merriment and cries of “Run out the guns! Fire as you bear!” when the flavouring is applied to the food; at least if the guests are sufficiently drunk. The ship is heavy enough to be awkward to lift with one hand; it is perhaps more of a conversation piece than a serious appliance for getting salt onto food. The ship’s figurehead is a bare-chested, heavily muscled man with a beard apparently made of octopus tentacles.
- A bloodstained rope, about the thickness of a man’s thumb, looped thirteen times around itself to form a noose. It is said to be the noose in which Eliezer Aiello, then captain of the San Nicolo (later Grand Admiral), hanged a hundred corsairs in a single day. Legend has it that the thrifty Captain refused to authorise the release of more than three yards of rope from the ship’s store, reasoning that “hemp costs money, and there’s no hurry”. That was a cruel jest, since the shortness of the rope caused the corsairs’ deaths to be drawn-out choking affairs rather than quick snaps of the neck; thus “no hurry” refers both to the length of each execution, and to the whole day consumed in the affair. One can only imagine the state of mind of the last corsair to be hanged from the rope, sometime around sunset. The rope is in the characteristic four-strand braid of the Venetian Arsenal.
Sometimes people declare war on me and I lose some territory; that’s war. Sometimes they refuse to form a coalition against the obvious near-hegemon who is threatening to win the game; that’s diplomacy. Sometimes they don’t comment on my AARs; that’s art. I sometimes experience mild annoyance at these events, but there’s no question of losing my temper. But when they interfere with my money-making… then I go to war. In particular, the Korean player, Mark, had apparently acquired his Mediterranean ports expressly for the purpose of sending privateers to Venice; at any rate it’s hard to imagine what other earthly use he could have for them, unless of course it was to privateer Genoa, which would be entirely different and praiseworthy. Also foolhardy, since Baron has 300 heavy ships and 600 light. At any rate, as soon as I became aware, I threatened war; Mark at first gave in, but shortly after the privateers were back. So I sank them (I mean, come on, 30 light ships? Venice is not the foremost naval power in the world, but that’s ridiculous) and occupied the privateer ports, and demanded they be handed over as surety that there would be no further incidents.
This put me nominally at war with Byzantium, Japan, and England, which would be moderately beyond my strength; however, these Powers proved to be amenable to the argument “he’s attacking my trade” and entered the war only pro-forma, except that England would not countenance any loss of Asian territories by Korea. That was fine, since all I wanted was the Med ports and peaceful trade in my own damn ocean. However, Mark was able to bribe the North American power, Fox, to enter the war; currently the Foxy Fleet is twice the size of mine, so this was a bit of a blow. The counter-demand was now Madagascar and some African provinces; but England was no more willing to tolerate Venetian losses than Korean ones, and promised to enter the war on my side. Which would have flipped the fleet proportions again; Venice+England would be 400 big ships, twice the Foxy Fleet of 200. However, it would take a while to improve relations enough to ally; meanwhile my colonies all over were being occupied, and there was the distinct possibility that I would be forced into a fleet engagement and lose my whole navy, again. We therefore compromised: Madagascar to Fox, compensated by four Persian provinces to Venice; nothing to Korea; no more privateers in the Adriatic. I actually came out ahead in terms of development, although Madagascar does make an important naval base for Fox that enables them to project power into the Indian Ocean.
I was able to swap some provinces with Egypt and connect Venezia-oltre-il-Mare to my new Persian Gulf possessions; I also started the Suez Canal, partly (very stingily, actually) financed by English and American money. Venice retains a controlling interest in the Canal company, but the minority shareholders have the right to traverse the Canal at all times except when actively at war with Venice.
Nothing to see here; move right along. I triple-guarantee you, there are zero strange cults in Venice; none!
Eurasia, 1779. Note Japan in Ceylon, Byzantium spreading into Mesopotamia, Venezia-oltre-il-Mare connected to the Persian Gulf.