History of the title
The first historical Venetian doge, Ursus, led a revolt against the Byzantine Empire in 726, but was soon recognised as the dux (duke) and hypatos (consul) of Venice by imperial authorities. After Ursus, the Byzantine office of magister militum (stratelates in Greek) was restored for a time until Ursus' son Deusdedit was elected duke in 742. Byzantine administration in Italy collapsed in 751. In the latter half of the eighth century, Mauritius Galba was elected duke and took the title magister militum, consul et imperialis dux Veneciarum provinciae, master of the soldiers, consul and imperial duke of the province of Venetiae. Doge Justinian Partecipacius (d. 829) used the title imperialis hypatus et humilis dux Venetiae, imperial consul and humble duke of Venice.
These early titles combined Byzantine honorifics and explicit reference to Venetia's subordinate status. Titles like hypatos, spatharios, protospatharios, protosebastos and protoproedros were granted by the emperor to the recipient for life but were not inherent in the office (ἀξία διὰ βραβείου, axia dia brabeiou), but the title doux belonged to the office (ἀξία διὰ λόγου, axia dia logou). Thus, into the eleventh century the Venetian doges held titles typical of Byzantine rulers in outlying regions, such as Sardinia. As late as 1202, the Doge Enrico Dandolo was styled protosebastos, a title granted by Alexios III.
As Byzantine power declined in the region in the late ninth century, reference to Venice as a province disappeared in the titulature of the doges. The simple titles dux Veneticorum (duke of the Venetians) and dux Venetiarum (duke of the Venetias) predominate in the tenth century. The plural reflects the doge's rule of several federated townships and clans.
Dukes of Dalmatia and Croatia
After defeating Croatia and conquering some Dalmatian territory in 1000, Doge Pietro II Orseolo adopted the title dux Dalmatiae, Duke of Dalmatia, or in its fuller form, Veneticorum atque Dalmaticorum dux, Duke of the Venetians and Dalmatians. This title was recognised by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II in 1002. After a Venetian request, it was confirmed by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos in 1082. In a chrysobull dated that year, Alexios granted the Venetian doge the imperial title of protosebastos and recognised him as imperial doux over the Dalmatian theme.
The expression Dei gratia (by the grace of God) was adopted consistently by the Venetian chancery only in the course of the eleventh century. An early example, however, can be found in 827–29, during the joint reign of Justinian and his brother John I: per divinam gratiam Veneticorum provinciae duces, by divine grace dukes of the Venetian provinces.
Between 1091 and 1102, the Kingdom of Hungary conquered the Croatian kingdom. In these circumstances, the Venetians appealed to the Byzantine emperor for recognition of their title to Croatia (like Dalmatia a former Byzantine subject). Perhaps as early as the reign of Vital Falier (d. 1095), certainly by that of Vital Michiel (d. 1102), the title dux Croatiae had been added, giving the full dogal title four parts: dux Venetiae atque Dalmatiae sive Chroaciae et imperialis prothosevastos, Duke of Venice, Dalmatia and Croatia and Imperial Protosebastos. In the fourteenth century, the doges periodically objected to the use of Dalmatia and Croatia in the Hungarian king's titulature, regardless of their own territorial rights or claims. Later medieval chronicles mistakenly attributed the acquisition of the Croatian title to Doge Ordelaf Falier (d. 1117).
According to the
Venetiarum Historia, written around 1350, Doge Domenico Morosini added atque Ystrie dominator ("and lord of Istria") to his title after forcing Pula on Istria to submit in 1150. Only one charter, however, actually uses a title similar to this: et totius Ystrie inclito dominatori (1153).
The next major change in the dogal title came with the Fourth Crusade, which conquered the Byzantine Empire (1204). The Byzantine honorific protosebastos had by this time been dropped and was replaced by a reference to Venice's allotment in the partitioning of the Byzantine Empire. The new full title was "By the grace of God glorious duke of the Venices, Dalmatia and Croatia and lord of a fourth part and a half [three eighths] of the whole Empire of Romania" (Dei gratia gloriosus Venetiarum, Dalmatiae atque Chroatiae dux, ac dominus [or dominator] quartae partis et dimidie totius imperii Romaniae). The Greek chronicler George Akropolites uses the term despotes to translate dominus, lord. Akropolites attributes the title to Enrico Dandolo, although no known document of his survives with this title. The earliest documents using the title attach it to
Marino Zeno, leader of the Venetians in Constantinople. The title was only subsequently adopted by Doge Pietro Ziani in 1205.
By the Treaty of Zadar of 1358, Venice renounced its claims to Dalmatia and removed Dalmatia and Croatia from the doge's title. The resulting title was Dei gratia dux Veneciarum et cetera, By the grace of God duke of Venetia and the rest. This was the title used in official documents until the end of the republic. Even when the body of such documents was written in Italian, the title and dating clause were in Latin.