The Arsenal in Satellite View at present

If you want to catch up on the (limited) Venetian history I've covered so far, feel free to go here!

A few things that I didn't have time to get into involving the Arsenal:

The Arsenal's Labor Practices

...they weren't great. Quality control was everywhere, with varying levels of caprice and efficiency. To quote Colin Thubron's The Venetians:

"The Arsenal reflected most levels of society in the republic. Its supervisory body, the Lords and Commissioners, comprised patricians well-tried in service to the state--elderly ex-governors, ex-ambassadors and retired generals. Elected to serve three-year terms, they were required to visit the Arsenal every three days, to inspect every ship returning from a voyage, to report to the Senate on the condition of the fleet every three months and to "see and feel" all rigging and arms aboard all ships twice a year....clearly the lords and Commissioners were stricter with the Arsenalotti [workers in the Arsenal] than with themselves. Discipline was austere and punishment was meted out by stocks and whippings--and by withholding pay. All workers were required to be at the Arsenal gates when the bells of St. Mark's basilica tolled at sunrise and remain inside until the bells tolled again in the evening. The paymasters removed from the payroll any employee who was tardy or absent, or who slipped out before the evening bell tolled."

Workers, once freed from their day of labor, were forced to carry their coats over their shoulders to insure they didn't take anything from the Arsenal (nails and timber, in particular, were counted and hoarded obsessively). This of course is not even to mention the labor disputes that inevitably cropped up working at a place like the Arsenal. For example, in 1569, the Venetian senate loudly pronounced that workers at the Arsenal should not be paid for work on Saturday afternoons, because Saturday afternoons was the time that the arsenalotti spent in line waiting to be paid.

Naturally, this didn't go over well. It actually got the workers to pick up their hammers and axes and other pointy implements and burst into the Doge's office, demanding their payments. The Doge made all manner of promises to insure his head wasn't treated like a plank, and then promptly allowed the Council of Ten (Venetian intelligence service) to arrest the ringleaders of the protest and put them in jail. They were released after six months, but the ruling about payments went unaltered. In the video above, I misspoke and said that they were executed, which they clearly weren't.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

The Arsenal in Popular Culture

Even accounting for the sheer amount of unique and interesting things in the city-proper of Venice, the Arsenal stood out. Dante Aligheri visited the Arsenal at one point and it evidently made quite an impression on the poet, for he makes an explicit reference to it in his Divine Comedy:

"As in the Arsenal of the Venetians, in winter the sticky pitch for caking their unsound vessels is boiling, because they cannot sail then, and instead one builds his ship anew and another plugs the ribs of his that has made many a voyage, one hammers at the prow and another at the stern, this one makes oars, that one twists ropes, another patches jib and mainsail; so not by fire but by divine art, a thick pitch was boiling there below which overbulged the bank on every side."

Fittingly, this reference takes place in the ring of hell reserved for extortionists, something I'm sure the Venetians wouldn't have appreciated the implicit reference for their sharp practices.

The Arsenal, in a very real way, was the core of Venetian military power for a long time, allowing Venice to punch far above its weight class in the Adriatic sea, the Meditteranean and other local arenas thanks to her ability to rapidly produce high-quality galleys at virtually a moment's notice. The fact that they were richer than God didn't hurt either.

This is significant, as the Greek colonies were vital for Venice's ravenous appetite for raw resources and trade--and under threat, as we shall see tomorrow, by the Ottoman empire.


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