The First Crusade (1096-1099) and the creation of the Frankish states in the Levant enabled several Italian cities to establish outposts in that region. Only those of the three major Italian maritime powers filled an important role in Mediterranean trade and shipping: Genoa, Venice, and Pisa each obtained privileges in the principality of Antioch, the county of Tripoli, and the kingdom of Jerusalem. The geographic and chronological distribution of these privileges in the twelfth century was closely related to their respective interests and economic activity in other regions of the eastern Mediterranean.
Genoa and Venice were rewarded for their naval and military assistance during the First Crusade and in the following years. Genoa displayed particular eagerness to obtain privileges, since its trade with Egypt and Byzantium was fairly limited at that time and expanded only later. By contrast, Venice sustained regular trade in both these regions even before the First Crusade and wished to enhance its traffic with them. Pisa directed its efforts toward Egypt and Byzantium in the first half of the twelfth century, which explains its relative lack of interest in the Frankish states until the 1150s. It acquired its main privileges in the second half of the twelfth century. Military and political circumstances, whether internal or external, offered the three republics opportunities to extract further concessions from the kings of Jerusalem and the other Frankish rulers.
The privileges obtained by the three Italian republics varied widely in content from place to place and over time. At the least they consisted of immovable property or freedom of trade. The most extensive privileges might also include tax exemptions, the grant of a residential quarter with church, marketplace, bathhouse, and oven, and full administrative, fiscal, and judicial authority over their possessions and the latter’s residents, except in criminal cases. The Italian republics were also awarded rural property in the vicinity of cities, the largest territory consisting of one-third of the countryside of Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon), granted to Venice by the Pactum Warmundi of 1123. The Frankish rulers expected to be compensated for the loss of income from the privileged Italians by revenues from other sources generated by the increase in the latter’s economic activity. The practical effect of the privileges also varied widely. The Italian republics sometimes failed to take immediate or full advantage of them or were prevented from doing so. They were only interested in the major ports and refrained from establishing outposts in other cities such as Jerusalem. Differences in interpretation between the republics and the Frankish lords, as well as political conflicts between them, occasionally resulted in the curtailment or confiscation of the republics’ property and the suspension of their privileges.
Venice incurred heavy losses of property and income in the rural hinterland of Tyre from the 1150s onward, as a result of territorial usurpations by the kings of Jerusalem and other Frankish lords.
Eventually all three major Italian republics had their own quarters in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) and Tyre, their main bases in the Levant. In the first half of the thirteenth century, the rivalry between them in Acre increased substantially and induced Pisa and Venice to surround their quarters with walls and Genoa to fortify the entrances to its compound. Genoa and Venice were also granted privileges in Beirut in 1221, and Genoa in Haifa (mod. Hefa, Israel) in 1234. Venice, Pisa, and Genoa had quarters and privileges in Tripoli (mod. Trâblous, Lebanon) and Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), and Pisa and Genoa had quarters in Laodikeia (mod. Al- Lâdhiqiyah, Syria). In addition, Genoa was granted the whole of Gibelet (mod. Jubail, Lebanon). Venice’s possessions in the kingdom of Jerusalem became quasi-extraterritorial enclaves as early as 1123; Pisa’s acquired similar status in 1187, and Genoa’s only later.
The republics used various means to strengthen their authority over their quarters and the latter’s residents. For example, they attempted to free their ecclesiastical institutions in Acre and Tyre from the authority of the local bishop and archbishop, respectively. This issue gave rise to prolonged conflicts, in which the papacy intervened. In addition, the republics resorted to legal devices and the purchase of property to extend their authority beyond the boundaries of their respective quarters, over the subjects and territory of other Frankish lords. The latter staunchly opposed these policies, yet in the second half of the thirteenth century the kings of Jerusalem, whose authority was severely weakened, could not prevent Venice and Pisa from expanding their quarters in Acre.
Until after the Third Crusade (1189-1192), the administration of the Venetian and Pisan communities and property was rather rudimentary. Some administrative functions were exercised by priests attached to the quarters’ churches, by visiting officers from the mother city, or by traveling merchants acting as temporary representatives of their peers. Genoa resorted to a different solution. From 1125 onward, in return for a yearly payment, it leased Gibelet and its possessions in other cities to the Genoese Embriaco family, which eventually retained Gibelet (except from 1187 to 1193 when it was occupied by Saladin) until the fall of the Frankish states to the Muslims.
After the Third Crusade, the three Italian republics established permanent and centralized administrations in charge of fiscal and judicial matters and of their communities’ relations with the Frankish lords. Their main representatives were based in Acre, from where they exercised direct control over all their Levantine outposts. The republics financed the operation of their respective administrations with revenue accruing from internal taxation, judicial fines, and income from property rented out to settlers, merchants, and pilgrims.
The privileges enjoyed by the republics stimulated trade and settlement. Their quarters in Outremer constituted the foci of economic activity and social life of their respective “national” communities. These bodies had a heterogeneous social and ethnic composition. At their core were citizens of the mother city, linked by common origin, language, creed, and culture, shared economic interests, and similar political attitudes toward rival communities and hostile powers. The main church obtained by each of the republics, renamed after its patron saint and attended by its own clergy, constituted both an ecclesiastical and a political projection of the mother city and a focus of patriotic piety.
The national communities also comprised various groups of foreigners who did not, however, enjoy citizenship. Pisa granted Pisan status in the Levant to Provençal merchants sailing on its ships or residing in the Frankish states from the 1160s until 1187, when the Provençal cities and Barcelona collectively obtained their own privileges. In addition, all Tuscans were considered as Pisan nationals. The inhabitants of the Ligurian territories subject to Genoese authority enjoyed Genoese status. After the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), the residents of Venetian colonies and outposts overseas were regarded as Venetians. Some communities also included indigenous Eastern Christian and Jewish subjects, as in the Venetian section of Tyre. Finally, the national communities included in their midst subjects of Frankish lords, whether Latins, Eastern Christians, or Jews (but not Muslims), to whom the republics had granted naturalization, which should not be confused with citizenship. The three republics used this legal device to expand their territorial authority, increase their revenues accruing from internal taxation, and ensure political support. Thus Venice bestowed Venetian status upon a number of Frankish noblemen of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1256, at the beginning of the War of St. Sabas in Acre.
The Latin members of a national community tended to aggregate in the same urban area. This concentration was favored by the republics for fiscal, military, and political reasons, yet was never fully achieved. It was particularly important in thirteenth-century Acre, where the Italian communities took an active part in political struggles between pretenders to the throne of Jerusalem, barons, and kings, and between themselves.