Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Lisa M. Brady, Ph.D.


David M. Walker, Ph.D.


Leslie Alm, Ph.D.


Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Venice played a direct role in shaping the future of Northeastern Italy. The standing scholarship views Venetian involvement on the mainland as either an abandonment of the city’s maritime tradition or as a buffer zone against rival powers, like Milan. Venice’s western mainland empire, Terraferma, provided Venice with many commercial products that the Eastern Mediterranean did not. One mainland product, timber, was a central focus of Venetian expansion into Terraferma and has thus far been neglected by historians. This thesis argues that the Venetian Republic manipulated mainland legal traditions in order to obtain direct control over the forest resources of Terraferma.

The pressures placed upon Venice by timber shortages and rival powers in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries instigated a departure from Venice’s passive management of mainland cities and encouraged the city to strengthen its defenses through territorial expansion and forest conservation policies. Timber acquired from Terraferma was one of the vital sinews that bound the Venetian military and mercantile machine together. In order to directly control the mainland’s timber resources, the Venetians inserted their usufructory claims into the legal traditions of mainland communities.

Archival sources and primary histories illustrate that Venetian forest policy evolved from cordial requests for timber into legal statutes that controlled local communities’ access to timber stands. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and Negroponte in 1471 opened a window of opportunity, into which the Venetians inserted the mainland legal concept of “right to reserve,” diritto di reserva, in order expand and formalize their legal claims to Terraferma common forestland. The promulgation of six forest laws in 1476 punctuated the development of Venetian forest law in the fifteenth century. The laws governed the usage of forest resources and placed the Venetians in direct control of all of Terraferma’s community forests.

The Venetians answered the question “Who owns the forest?” through the development of forest laws that placed timber ownership directly with a centralized government. The question easily expands into “Who owns the land, and all of its natural resources?” American natural resource managers and NGO’s continue to develop the American answer to the question. The Venetian forest narrative provides us with one possible answer to the question that elicits further conversations. Understanding Venice’s domination of mainland cities for ship-timber may also elicit further insight into how and why modern states dominate their neighbors for natural resources.