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The Doge, from the Latin “Dux” ( “Guide”, “Commander”), and adapted from the Venetian “Doxe”, was the Supreme Magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice for over a thousand years, between the VIII° and the XVIII° century.
This title was used when the city of Venice was subject to the sovereignty of the Byzantine Empire, and it became permanent after the independence of the city from Constantinople.
According to the Venetian tradition, the first Doge was Paolo Lucio Anafesto, elected in 697.
Usually the person selected as Doge was one of the wise elders of the city and its residence after the earlier ones located in Heraclia (Eraclea) and Metamaucum (Malamocco) it became the Doge’s Palace, symbol of the power and wealth of the Serenissima.
The Doge had a duty to finance the state’s expenses with his personal asset, including luxurious festivities and public ceremonies such as the Carnival; for this reason the Doges were chosen almost exclusively from the wealthiest aristocracy of Venice.
Although between the VIII° and XII° century the power of the Doge was very strong, it was never possible to make the title hereditary.
The Venetian aristocracy, the same one which the Doge was elected from, retained mechanisms to avoid that the power was concentrated in a single individual.
Starting from the XII° century the aristocracy succeeded to limit the Doge’s faculties through the creation of some government agencies for regulating many areas of the State organization; thereby the Doge was prevented to become an absolute prince.
The Doge could not grant hearings or open official correspondence without the presence of the “Consiglio dei Dieci” or other collegiate bodies and he was also not allowed to spend time outside the Doge’s Palace except for public events or military expeditions.
The Doge was considered a “King without Crown,” who once elected had to swear that constitutional supremacy always would have been predominant on the personal one.
The last Doge, Ludovico Manin, was deposed when Napoleon conquered northern Italy and Venice was taken by French troops in May 1797.
120 Doges were elected in the thousand years history of the Republic of Venice.