The Doges of Venice, were the chief magistrates and leaders of the Republic of Venice between 726 and 1797. This post covers the history of the title, their selection, regulations, ritual role, regalia, death and burial and decline of the office .


The doge’s visit to San Zaccaria on Easter Monday” by Gabriel Bella (1730-1799).

The title Doge of Venice (Venetian: Doxe de Venexia –  Italian: Doge di Venezia), is derived from the Latin word “Dux” (military leader), but is sometimes translated as “Duke” (which is actually “Duca” in Latin).

Doges of Venice were elected for life, by the city-state’s aristocracy. The doge was neither a duke in the modern sense, nor the equivalent of a hereditary duke. The title “doge” was the title of the senior-most elected official of both Venice and Genoa; both cities were republics and elected their doges.

A doge was referred to variously by the titles “My Lord the Doge” (Monsignor el Doxe), “Most Serene Prince” (Serenissimo Principe), and “His Serenity” (Sua Serenità).

(Note: A city-state is an independent sovereign city, which serves as the centre of political, economic and cultural life over its territory. They have existed historically, in many parts of the world including cities such as Rome, AthensCarthage and also the Italian city-states during the Middle Ages and Renaissance; such as Florence, Venice, Genoa and Milan. With the rise of nation states worldwide, only a few modern sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which qualify; Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City are most commonly accepted as such. Singapore is the clearest example: with full self-governance, its own currency, a robust military, and a population of 5.6 million).



(Note: this includes Byzantine honours referencing Venetia’s subordinate status).

  • The Byzantine era

(Note: The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years, until it fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe).

The first Doge of Venice according to tradition, was Paolo Lucio Anafesto (Latin: Paulucius Anafestus) who served from 697 to 717. A noble of Eraclea, then the primary city of the region; was elected in 697, as an official over the entire lagoon that surrounded Venice. His job was to both put an end to the conflicts between the various tribunes who until then had governed the differing parts and to coordinate the defense against the Lombards and the Slavs who were encroaching on their settlements. However, Anafesto’s existence is uncorroborated by any source before the 11th century.

 The second Doge according to tradition, was Marcello Tegalliano (Marcellus Tegalianus), , the second Doge of Venice (717–726). He is described as having hailed from Eraclea, and during his nine-year reign was apparently in great disagreement with the nearby Longobards.


(Note: Tribune was the title of various elected officials in ancient Rome. The two main groups were of the “military” and of the “plebs”).

The first historical (and third traditional) Venetian doge, Orso Ipato (Ursus); led a revolt against the Byzantine Empire in 726, but was soon recognised as the dux and hypatos (consul) of Venice, by imperial authorities.

After Orso Ipato’s assassination, the Byzantine office of “magister militum” was restored for the period 737–742. The post was held by Dominicus Leo Abrogatis (737) Felice Cornicola (738) Teodato Ipato (739) Gioviano Cepanico Ipato (740) Giovanni Fabriciaco (741).

Teodato Ipato (Ltin: Theodatus Hypatus) was Dog of Venice from 742 to 755 and with his election came the restoration of the doges title.

The Byzantine administration in Italy collapsed in 751.

In the latter half of the 8th century, Maurizio Galbaio (Latin: Mauricius Galba) was elected duke and took the titles: “magister militum”, “consul” et “imperialis dux Veneciarum provinciae”,( master of the soldiers, consul and imperial duke of the province of Venetia).

He was the seventh traditional, but fifth historical, Doge of Venice from 764 to his death. He was the first great doge, who reigned for 22 years and set Venice on its path to independence and success.

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 honorary titles 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, but the title doux, belonged to the office. Thus, into the 11th 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 byzantine emperor Alexios III.

As Byzantine power declined in the region in the late 9th 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. (Note: Dalmatian Theme: a military-civilian province in Croatia, with headquarters based at what is now called Zadar).



The expression “Dei gratia” (by the grace of God) was adopted consistently by the Venetian chancery, only in the course of the 11th century. An earlier 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 King of Hungary acquired the Croatian kingdom and the two kingdoms entered a personal union. 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 Vitale Faliero (1084-1096), certainly by that of Vital Michiel (1096-1102), 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 Ordelafo Faliero (1102-1117).

According to the “Venetiarum Historia”, written around 1350, Doge Domenico Morosini (1148–1156),  added “atque Ystrie dominator” (“nd lord of Istria) to his title, after forcing Pula in Istria to submit in 1150. Only one charter of 1153, however, actually uses a title similar to this: “et totius Ystrie inclito dominatori”.

  • After the year 1204

The next major change in the dogal title came with the Fourth Crusade, which conquered the Byzantine Empire in 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).

Left: Gold coin of Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1260–1342): the Doge kneeling before St. Mark.

Akropolites attributes the title to Enrico Dandolo, although no known document of his survives with this title. The earliest documents using the title attached, is 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.



Early on the doge’s prerogatives, were not defined with precision. While the position was entrusted to members of the inner circle of powerful Venetian families, several doges had associated a son with themselves in the ducal office. This tendency toward a hereditary monarchy, was checked by a law that decreed that “no doge had the right to associate any member of his family with himself in his office, nor to name his successor”.

Elezione del doge per opera dei Quarantuno – Gabriele Bella

After 1172 the election of the doge was entrusted to a committee of forty, who were chosen by four men selected from the Great Council of Venice, which was itself nominated annually by twelve persons.

After a deadlocked tie at the election of 1229, the number of electors was increased from forty to forty-one.

New regulations for the elections of the doge introduced in 1268 remained in force until the end of the republic in 1797. Their intention was to minimize the influence of individual great families and this was carried out by a complex electoral machinery.

Left: Election of the Doge by the “Forty-one” – Gabriele Bella

Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. These forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven and the eleven finally chose the forty-one, who elected the doge. Election required at least twenty-five votes out of forty-one, nine votes out of eleven or twelve, or seven votes out of nine electors.

Before taking the oath of investiture, the doge-elect was presented to the “concio” with the words: “This is your doge, if it please you.” This ceremonial gesture signified the assent of the Venetian people. This practice came to an end with the abolition of the concio in 1423; after the election of Francesco Foscari, he was presented with the unconditional pronouncement – “Your doge“.



While doges had at first great temporal power, after 1268, the doge was constantly under strict surveillance. For example, he had to wait for other officials to be present, before opening dispatches from foreign powers and he was not allowed to possess any property in a foreign land.

The doges normally ruled for life (although a few were forcibly removed from office). After a doge’s death, a commission of “inquisitori” passed judgment upon his acts and his estate was liable to be fined for any discovered malfeasance.

The official income of the doge was never large and from early times holders of the office remained engaged in trading ventures. These ventures kept them in touch with the requirements of the grandi.

From 7 July 1268, during a vacancy in the office of doge, the state was headed ex officio by a “vice-doge”, chosen from senior ducal counsellors.



One of the ceremonial duties of the doge, was to celebrate the symbolic marriage of Venice with the sea. This was done by casting a ring from the Bucentaur (state barge), into the Adriatic.

In its earlier form this ceremony was instituted to commemorate the conquest of Dalmatia by Doge Pietro II Orseolo in 1000 and was celebrated on Ascension Day.

Left: “The Doge on the Bucintoro near the Riva di Sant’Elena” – Francesco Guard (c.1775-1780).

(Note: The doge took part in ducal processions, which started in the Piazza San Marco. The doge would appear in the centre of the procession, preceded by civil servants ranked in ascending order of prestige and followed by noble magistrates, ranked in descending order of status. It took its later and more magnificent form after the visit to Venice in 1177 of Pope Alexander III and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. On state occasions the Doge was surrounded by an increasing amount of ceremony and in international relations, he had the status of a sovereign prince)



From the 14th century onward, the ceremonial crown and well-known symbol of the doge of Venice was called a “corno ducale”, a unique ducal hat (Left).

It was a stiff horn-like bonnet, which was made of gemmed brocade or cloth-of-gold and worn over the camauro (cap worn by the Pope). This was a fine linen cap with a structured peak reminiscent of the Phrygian cap, a classical symbol of liberty, originating from a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now Turkey,

Every Easter Monday the doge headed a procession from San Marco to the convent of San Zaccaria; where the abbess presented him a new camauro, crafted by the nuns.

The Doge’s official costume also included golden robes, slippers and a sceptre for ceremonial duties.



Until the 15th century, the funeral service for a deceased doge would normally be held at St Mark’s Basilica, where some early holders of this office are also buried. After the 15th century, they were held at the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo (Below); where twenty-five doges are buried.



As the oligarchical element in the constitution developed, the more important functions of the ducal office were assigned to other officials, or to administrative boards. The doge’s role became a mostly representative position.

The last doge was Ludovico Manin (left), who abdicated on the 12th May 1797, following Napoleon’s conquest and the fall of the Republic.





Please see my other posts in the “History of Venice”: HERE


The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice

The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice

The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice    The Doges of Venice


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