George Modelski







Taking as its case study the topic of  Venice-Portugal interactions at the turn to the 16th century, this paper

 singles out  for analysis one particular facet of "great  power  enduring rivalries",  namely   the  proposition that,  in  the  democratic lineage, structural rivalry among great powers is more likely  to be  tractable, and less likely to be lethal.   Let us  call  this the  "peace in the democratic lineage" proposition, as an  extension  of, and supplement to, the "democratic  peace"  proposition that  might  also  be referred to as  "peace  in  the  democratic community".   While the "community" claim refers to the state  of relations among members of the democratic community at a point in time,  the "lineage" statement refers to the tenor  of  relations among  members of that community over time, (that is,  diachronically) and asserts that structural rivalry within that  lineage is likely to be of an moderated kind.




Peace in the democratic lineage


“The "democratic peace" proposition asserts that 'democracies do not fight wars against each other'

(Rummel 1983,  Doyle1986. Russett 1993).   That proposition does not impute to democracies  any innate pacifism, nor does it imply  that  democracies cannot  or do not fight wars (because they did, mostly with  considerable success), but it does mean that a condition  of  peace has  been observed to prevail among democracies.   This "zone of peace" might be thought of as the locus of the democratic community.    That  community,  in turn, is founded  upon  the  world's democracies  and  is  constituted by  the  cooperative  practices engaged  in  by various elements of  these  societies,  including their governments.


The  "democratic peace" proposition is now widely  recognized  as possibly the most important finding of the

contemporary study of International Relations.   It has gained the status of a well-tested empirical generalization and is well on its  way to  being  accepted  as a universal  empirical  hypothesis.    An important  corollary of that proposition would  therefore  assert that  rivalries among democratic great powers might also  be  expected  to preserve a peaceful (no-war) character.  

 It  is  the aim  of  this paper to explore that corollary in  regard  to  one particular case.


Let us define democratic lineage as the line or succession of societies that have shaped democratization

(that is,  the process  of the  diffusion of democracies in the  world  system).  At  any given point in time in the modern world, we can  identify one society, or a small set of societies, as leading examples  of democratic  development  in  the broad sense.    Over  time,  the succession of these societies has constituted a lineage.   Within that  lineage,  experience has accrued, and cumulated  with  each successive step.  



That culture-forming experience, constituting a fund of practices and strategies, encoded in institutions, and subject t

llearning,  was then transmitted, by personal interaction,  imitation  and by transmission of cultural objects such as  books,  to

other societies most open to such influences.    The  experience related  not only to the cultivation of  democratic  institutions but  also  included  the development of  forms  of  international behavior (such as alliances) and the deployment of resources (for instance,  maritime) consistent with the global success of  democratic practices.      


Understood in this way, the democratic lineage  constitutes  a  system  of cultural inheritance  that  has  transferred

learning  in respect of social, political and economic  organiza tion,  and  diffused  it by example in the  world  system.    The

concept  of  "democratic lineage" is an answer to  the  question:    how  do we explain the emergence of a (potentially) global  democratic community?


In the contemporary world the major trunk of the  democratic lineage has been shaped by the United States, but

 Its base is  broader, and its roots run, of course, much deper.    In  extending  the reach of that lineage back to the early  modern  era and  using  the term "democratic" for all of it we do  not  claim full  democratic status for each member of that line  of  succession,  because modern democracy became a significant  social  and political  phenomenon only during the 19th century.    But  while we can maintain that in mid-19th century the principal democratic society was found in the United States,  democracy itself was not invented  there  entirely de novo, and in  turn  had  significant antecedents  both liberal, and republican, that can be viewed  as constituting earlier members of that lineage.


That is why the concept of "democratic lineage" can  be extended  back in time, to compose a temporal sequence

including Britain,  the Dutch Republic, and  Portugal, as well  as  Venice, and  Genoa,  the two important republics of the  Italian  

Renaissance.   /1/    We do not claim all of these to have  been  full-blown  democracies,  only  that relative  to  their  contemporary rivals they showed more democratic potential and that the   cumulation  of their experience has been at the basis of more  recent democratization.    For purposes of this paper we therefore  take Venice and Portugal to be components of that lineage.



Venice and Portugal in the democratic lineage


We  might  take  it as read that in  the  15th  century Venice  was the world's foremost republic.   Not only  could  

the city  boast  of  the  continuity of  its  independent  and  self-governing existence, even then extending to close for a millennium, but it could also take pride in the excellence of its  civic institutions, the strength of its republicanism, and the  success of its foreign policy.   It was not a democracy but its practices -sometimes described as a perfect mixture of monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements - were widely admired and  served, in  the  16th and 17th centuries, as models for the Dutch  Republic, and for England, and were still remembered late in the  18th century, by the authors of the Constitution of the United States.


In  public  perception,  the  democratic  potential  of Portugal  is less self-evident.   For some, the  question  itself

might  cause eyebrows to be raised.  Let us then review the  elements of "democratic potential" of that country ca. 1400.    They

were in fact two:   (1) a tradition of representative government; and  (2) the experience of the "revolution of 1383" described  by

Coelho  (1981)  as  the "first  national  bourgeois  revolution".    Both elements began to loose strength after 1500.


Like  other parts of Europe in the 13th  century,  soon after  gaining independence from the Kings of Castille

and  Leon,  and  completing  its  territorial unity,  Portugal  acquired  the basics  of  representative government.   A Cortes[1] of  nobles  and prelates  was  first  convened in 1211,  and  representatives  of municipalities were added in 1254. /2/  Gradually the Cortes came to be seen as the voice of the people, and came to play a crucial part, in particular in the defense of independence against Spain, and the transition to the House of Aviz in 1383-5.   Ca. 1400, it was meeting on the average about once every two years,  functioning not unlike a modern parliament, with powers of raising  taxes and deciding on war and peace questions (Coelho 1981:98-99).



     Table 1:  Frequency of Cortes meetings


         Period                Once every


        1383-1433         2 years

        1438-1481         1.5 - 2 years

        1481-1502         3 years

        1502-1580         13 years


Sources:   Coelho 1981:224;  Oliveira Marques 1976:189.






At this time, the towns, and especially Lisbon, greatly rose  in  their  significance, and under the  leadership

 of  the future John I, together with professional and maritime interests, resisted  a  Spanish invasion, and defeated the  nobles  and  the clergy  who  sided  with Spain.   Coelho  calls  this  the  first "national"  bourgeois revolution because it was not  merely  that the urban elements acquired power, as they earlier did in  cities such as Venice or Genoa, but that they did so for the first  time on the  scale of a nation-state.   For Portugal was indeed  the first nation-state, independent, territorially integral (with the same territory to-day as in 1249),  with a national language  and national university.


This national and popular basis served as the  cooperative foundation for Portugal's global enterprises and brought  

it considerable success in the global system.   As shown in Table 1, the  formative  period  of Portugal's leadership  in  the  global

system, 1430-1500, was also one notable for the greatest activity of  its  representative  institutions.   But  that  success  also

greatly strengthened the power of the monarchy, raised its  revenue by large monopoly profits in overseas trading (and  lessening its  dependence on taxes), and it also gave useful employment  to the  nobles.     If the frequency of meetings of  the  Cortes  is indeed an index of democratic potential, then Table 1 also  shows that  potential entering  a sharp  decline after 1500.    Another index, treatment of minorities and respect for human rights moved in  the same direction.     Spain

expelled the Jews in 1492,  and initially some of them, maybe 50,000, found  a refuge in Portugal/3/.   But they were soon forced to move again, and in 1497,  the Jews  of Portugal, too, were expelled, or forced to  convert,  in part  to  placate Ferdinand and Isabella.   The  Inquisition  was instituted  in 1537.   As its democratic potential fell, so did the country's  standing as a global power.            



Global competition


We further assume that, over time, the global political system gives rise to competition over leadership positions,

be it at  the regional or global levels.   Such structural  competition can  extend over significant periods, and does give rise  to  the most important forms of enduring rivalry.   That competition  can take  forms  that are more or less tractable, and  less  or  more violent.  


The failed Mongol bid for world empire that defined the condition  of Eurasia for close to two centuries earlier

 in  the millennium  now  coming to a close was one striking  instance  of such competition that proved singularly intractable and extremely violent.   The  Anglo-French competition for world power  in  the 17th-19th  centuries  was marked by sustained  conflict  and  two bouts  of  generation-long global warfare.    Venice's  conflicts with the Ottoman Empire over the control of the Eastern  Mediterranean  in the 15th century were of a similarly intense  kind  at the regional level.


We might take as one important case of such competition the  issues at stake in Venice-Portugal interactions

at the  turn of  the  16th century.   These issues were defined in  the  first place  by the position Venice had assumed in its regional system after defeating Genoa in the two major wars that were brought  to a close in 1381, and consolidating her hold on the eastern  Mediterranean in a network of bases and alliances.   By 1400,  Venice was  the  leading  regional power,  effectively  controlling  the eastern Mediterranean by her naval power and the organization  of her  trade.   She dominated the eastern end of the Silk  Roads  - the  chief trading artery of classical Eurasia - and exercised  a from  Egypt and the Levant.   In 1423 Doge Mocenigo said  to  his colleagues  "you  supply  the whole world".   As  late  as  1494, according  to Lane (1973:242), "Venice continued to play for  the highest  stakes:   naval supremacy in the  Mediterranean,  and  a dominant position in Italy".  The stakes in that competition were both commercial, and political.


At  some point the King of Portugal set out to  destroy Venice's  commercial monopoly, but by doing

so he  also  attacked the  foundations of her political position in the  Mediterranean.   He attacked the commercial monopoly by developing an  alternative  route  to the sources of the products that Venice was  monopolizing, and principally spices, but the creation of that alternative route  called for a heavy investment in  political  organization,  and in effect for creating a global political structure.   A  new  structure  at the global level would marginalize  the  Mediterranean, and cut Venice down to size.    It was not purely a commercial  rivalry, as some, such as Diffie & Winius (1978:209)  would have  it,  describing  these relations  as  those  of  "outwardly friendly" "commercial rivals".   The stakes in that rivalry  were both economic and political.



When did rivalry begin?


he  background of Venetian-Portuguese relations  since the 14th century, as sketched out in Table 2,

was basically  non-conflictual,  but characterized by distance.   The  common  background  included  the experience of Roman imperial  rule  in  the classical era, and medieval relations with Rome as the center  of Christian   religious  organization.   After the opening  of  the Straits  of Gibraltar to European traffic by a  Castillian  naval campaign  led  by  a Genoese sea captain in  1291,  the  contacts became  more  practical, and shortly regular sailings  of  galley fleets  (one  fleet  of maybe 3-4 galleys  a year)   came  to  be organized, both from Genoa and from Venice.   These fleets  would stop at Lisbon on their way to  Southampton, and Bruges, and came to  be  known as the "galleys of Flanders".    This  traffic  was interrupted  by  the fighting of the Hundred  Years  War  between England  and  France, but was resumed on a  quite  regular  basis

after 1385.   Venetian fleets came to be the most important  part of  that traffic, and formed not only a  reliable  communications

link with Portugal but also became the backbone of the new  European trading system. 





                             The preliminaries 1300-1430



                      Venice                 Interactions               Portugal


1291           Acre lost                                  1249 Territorial unity won        


                       1291 Straits of Gibraltar opened

                by Benedetto Zaccaria, Genoese sea captain

1293 lst Galley of Flanders                     1293 Bolsa organized      

             (call on Lisbon) 


                            1304 Son of King of Portugal

                                   visits Venice

                                      1317  Pessanha (Genoa)      

                                    becomes Admiral of Portugal


1350-55   Third war with Genoa    1383 National bourgeois


                                                 1385 John I elected King

                                                 1386  Treaty of Windsor

1378-81   Fourth war with Genoa 


                          Regular galley traffic resumes

                          to Flanders 1385-1508

                                                 1415   Ceuta seized 

1423   Death of Doge Mocenigo

                                                1428 Prince Pedro visits Venice

1430   Zenith of Venetian power




It is not entirely obvious when rivalry may be said  to have  begun between the two actors.   After 1415,

Portuguese  activities developed in a direction that came to be called  "discobrimentos",  that is the settlement of islands in  the  Atlantic, such as Madeira and the Azores, and the exploration of the  African  coast, and could hardly have aroused feelings of rivalry  on either  side.   The first major military enterprise, the  assault on Ceuta (1415), while concerned to seize a wealthy trading  town was  also  interpreted  e.g. by Jaime  Cortesao  (1975:139ff)  as designed to assure the security of the galleys of Flanders during their  passage  through the Straits.   Nor would  the  effort  to intensify activities of trade and exploration, after the conquest of Cape Bojador (1434) and  leading to the building of the  first fortified  positions in West Africa (Arguim 1449, El Minha 1481) have been necessarily considered as impinging on Venetian  interests.    But the capture of the West African gold trade ca.  `480

did  divert  gold away from Eastern markets such  as  Cairo,  and therefore  could have weakened Egypt, Venice's partner, and  Genoese traders, competitors of Venice, had a hand in these developments;  the Genoese moreover, played a leading role in the development  of the sugar industry on Madeira;  that  industry  peaked ca. 1500, and here was another form of competition with Venetians who controlled the sugar of Cyprus.


Let us date the onset of rivalry to 1487 when,  according  to  Diffie and Winius (1977:159) John II "started  a  three-

pronged  effort  to solve the problems  presented  by  Portuguese discoveries".   In particular he dispatched Bartolomeus Dias on a

voyage  that  by December 1488 had chartered the  Cape  route  to India, and he also undertook to establish contact with the East.

By then he must have been aware that his moves risked the hostility  of  Venice, and were likely to be resisted.    But  it  took

another decade before Vasco da Gama actually returned from  India and King Manuel declared that it was his intention to divert "the great  trade  which now enriches the Moors" "to the  natives  and ships  of our own kingdom" (in Modelski & Modelski 1988:57)   and also  before  Venice  actually became aware of  threat  posed  by Portuguese  activities, in 1499-1501.   Even then, Venetians  had some  trouble  focussing on this problem because  they  had  just experienced,  in  1494-5,  an invasion of Italy by  the  King  of France, and were then  attacked, in 1497, "without warning" (Lane 1973:242)  and in great force by the Ottoman Turks  and  suffered severe losses in the Aegean Sea.


We might date the end of the rivalry, in the  political domain,  to 15l6 (for a total of 29 years), with the end  of  the War  of  the  League of Cambrai and Venice's final  loss  of  the status  of  a leading regional  power.    Commercial  competition

continued  unabated,  and  for  the best  part  of  the  century.  Portuguese fortunes declined after 1540, and the Levantine stream

of  the  spice  trade gained a  distinctive  advantage  by  1560. Portuguese trade picked up again in the 1570s but by 1581,  after

Philip II's conquest of Portugal, the spice contract was  offered to Venice, which she declined (Braudel 1972:543-570).




Venice-Portugal structural rivalry


The  case of structural rivalry we are  examining,  the Venice-Portugal case,  ca.1487-1516-1580, is

a significant incident in the evolution of global politics and economics, but it  is notable  for  having produced no instance of  armed  conflict  or clash  between  the armed forces of these two states,  either  on land  or on the sea.   As Table 3 makes evident, there is no  war recorded here between these two countries.   A comprehensive list of  the naval engagements of the Portuguese navy in  that  period (Monteiro  1989) shows not even one clash between the  Portuguese and  Venetian navies.   Table 3 also displays the phases  of  the evolution  of  Portugal's  leadership in the  global  system  (as described in Modelski 1996).





                    PORTUGAL’S LEARNING CYCLE 1430-1540



                  Venice                  Interactions               Portugal 


----------------- 1430 AGENDA-SETTING

Wars with Milan                                            Settlement of Madeira,

1453 Fall of Constantinople                                       Azores

1454 Peace of Lodi                   

                                                                 1430 Isabel marries Philip

                             Privileges for                         the Good

                          Venetians in Portugal                                               

                                                                 1452 Leonore marries

                                                                   Frederick III (Hapsburg)  

---------------1460 COALITIONING


1478 Venice-Ottoman war                      1476-9 War with Spain;

                                                               Guinea trade

                                                          1481 El Minha

                                                    1494 Alliance with Maximilian

                                                       1494 Treaty of Tordesillas


----------- 1494 MACRODECISION ---------------

French Invasion of Italy        

1495 League of Venice

       ag. France                                   1498-1500 Vasco da Gama

                                                   sails to India

1499-1503 Ottoman war                  1499 Bruges feitoria to Antwerp

Alarm in Venice                     

                   1500-2  Pasqualigo mission to

                    Lisbon: call for help against

                    the Ottomans  1501 Armada of 30 ships

                                                  sent to aid Venice

                                                            1501 Casa da India formed                                         

1502 Venice: Commission of 15

1503 Embassy to Mamluks

                   1504 Treaty of Blois (Fr-Hpb)          


                                                     1505 Almeida to India

1508, December League of Cambrai ag. Venice                                

         (Hapsburg, France, Spain, Rome)

1509-16  War of the League of Cambrai   

                                1509,Feb.3 Naval victory at Diu

  May 14, Venice defeat at Agnadello           


------------------ 1516  EXECUTION --------------------

Venice adopts         1533 Last galleys of Flanders

neutrality policy                               1540  Zenith of Portuguese





The  rivalry therefore assumed the form  of  diplomatic maneuvering,  intrigue,  and alliance politics.  

This  occurred against  the backdrop of the support system that  the  Portuguese Crown  could  rely upon in its quest of backing  

for  its  global programs.    A principal element in that system was  the  English alliance, building upon the Treaty of Windsor of 1386 that raised the  status of the Anglo-Portuguese connection to the rank  of  a firm, binding, and permanent alliance.   At a critical moment  in history  (1370s-1380s),  this helped to assure  the  survival  of Portuguese  independence from Spain.   In the latter part of  the 15th  century  though England was distracted  from  international affairs by the Wars of the Roses.  


The  second element was the link with the  Netherlands, of  old standing and fortified by strong  commercial

 connections with  Flanders,  the northern outlet of  the  Portuguese  trading system;   with  a self-governing  Portuguese  merchant  community ("bolsa")  present in Bruges since the end of the  13th  century, and a permanent royal factory ("feitoria") operating there  after 1456  (Elbl 1992:14).   In the run-up to the  African  operations this  was strengthened by a marriage alliance with the  House  of Burgundy  (Isabella  and  Philip the Good in  1430).    When  the Hapsburgs  succeeded to Burgundy, it was Maximilian, the  son  of another  Portuguese princess, who married Mary, the  daughter  of Isabella.   The Burgundian connection thus transmuted, ca.  1480, into  a  crucial link with the rising Hapsburg family.   John  II supported  Maximilian  financially when he  was  facing  internal rebellion  in Flanders, and in 1494, at a critical point of  contention  with  Spain,  they concluded a treaty  of  alliance  and mutual support (Krendl 1980-1:170-1). The "feitoria" now  shifted to  Antwerp,  and  was one more reason  for   Maximilian's  full support to the global enterprises of the Portuguese monarchy.  


Third, there was the Spanish linkage, which had a  long history  both of cooperation and of conflict.  

A dynastic  union of  the two kingdoms failed to be attained between 1490 and  1500 because of deaths and accidents, but a workable modus vivendi  at the  regional  level was achieved in West African waters  in  the Treaty  of Alcacovas (1479), and that in turn served as a  precedent  for  the establishment of a joint political regime  at  the global  level in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494).   After  1500, the  Hapsburg-Burgundian links came to be fused with  the  Spanish ones.   With  France,  good connections were  maintained  on  a practical  basis, in part because the Kings of France  were  then intent  on dominating Italy, and diminishing the power of  Venice /4/.    All  in  all, the Portuguese coalition  covered  all  the essential players of this part of the world, and left little room for Venetian manouvers.     


Three incidents will be noticed here for giving form to this rivalry:  1- The French invasion of Italy 1494-5; 

2-  Venetian  reactions to the Portuguese incursion in the  Indian  Ocean 1500-1510,  and 3- the War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516).



French invasion of Italy 1494-5


In  the  summer  of 1494 King Charles  VIII  of  France invaded Italy with a powerful army of some 60,000 men,

 including cavalry  and  artillery, and a substantial naval force  /5/.   He defeated the resisting  Neapolitan land and naval units at Rapallo in September, and marched into Naples by next February.    But he soon encountered widespread resistance, and an opposing coalition  that came to be known as the League of Venice,  because  it was  put together by Venetian diplomacy.   That  alliance  forced the  King to retreat back to France, such that the  incident  appeared almost closed;  except that we now know that it marked not only the disruption of what for most of the preceding century was in  fact  an autonomnous system of Italian states  (within  which Venice  exercised leadership);  it also marked the  beginning  of the end of Italy as the active zone of the Mediterranean-European system, and the start of the great shift northward.


The  French invasion, and the wars of Italy  that  followed  for the next half century diminished Venice's position

 In regional  politics,  and hence redounded to the interest  of  the King  of Portugal, who was then laying plans that were likely  to

incur Venetian opposition.   Portugal did not participate in  the French invasion or in the subsequent wars of Italy but was hardly a disinterested observer.   Portuguese diplomacy probably  acquiesced  in Charles' plans for the invasion, as did initially  

England  and  Spain, possibly helping with naval  supplies  for  the Genoese fleet that would aid the French.   When Charles learnt of the League of Venice, he threatened, to the Venetian  ambassador, the  formation of a counter-alliance that would  include  England and Portugal.   (Norwich 1982:175).  That alliance did not participation in these events.


All we know is that this series of events placed Venice n  the  defensive, a situation that was made even worse  by  the unprovoked Ottoman attack, four years later.   This Ottoman  war, that  lasted until 1503, began with a naval defeat  at  Sapienza,

and  led to the loss of the main Venetian bases in  the  Peloponnese.    Whatever  the  motivation for the  Ottoman  attack,  its effect was another weakening of the Venetian position.   We  note though  that  in response to a plea from the Doge,  the  King  of Portugal did send, in 1501, a fleet of 35 ships to operate in aid of the Venetian effort against the Turks;  while the fleet fought

no  actions  on the sea, it did impress the  Venetians  with  the quality  of its ships and armaments (Weinstein 1960,  Modelski  & Modelski 1988:58-9).  Rivalry did not preclude an (empty) gesture of support.



Venetian reactions



What  could Venice do to thwart Portuguese  designs  in the Indian Ocean?   Not much directly at all.  

She could  hardly stop   such  activities at their source, by e.g.  blockading  the ports of Portugal.  Venice had no ocean-capable ships that  could act in such capacity;  nor did it have the needed logistic capacity  of  bases and allies , such as Castille, or France,  on  the Atlantic  coast.    Nor  could it act in  Indian  waters,  except through  its allies along the traditional Spice  Route:    Egypt, Calicut, possibly Gujerat.   But the city's government had little direct,  first-hand,   knowledge of developments  there,  and  no resident representatives.


At first resort was had to diplomacy, to gather  intelligence,  and explore possibilities of negotiation.    

An  ambassador  was  dispatched  to  Lisbon in 1500 and  reported  on  the arrival  of  the fleet of Cabral.  He conveyed  his  government'srequest for aid against the Ottomans, and voiced no public criticism  of  Portuguese policies in India;  he was  also  told  that Venetians were  free to come and get their spices from the Lisbon market.   Venice declined the offer, as did other Italian cities.   The  ambassador  was  abruptly recalled in  the  spring  of  1502   (Weinstein 1960;  Modelski & Modelski 60-63,70-74).


More  drastic forms of action were then considered.   A special committee of 15 notables, was appointed

in December 1502.   Its scope was, of course, limited;  Portugal's coalition  network precluded an appeal for European support in favour of maintaining Venice's  monopoly  of the spice trade;  the wealth  she  derived from that trade was the envy of all Europe.  That meant that  the only  recourse was to seek help in the East.   An ambassador  was dispatched to Egypt and on his recommendation it was resolved  to employ  "rapid  and secret remedies" to deal with the  threat  in India.    The remedies had to be "secret" because European  solidarity  precluded open policies against a fellow Christian  power

(Diffie & Winius 1977:230-1).   The extent of these "remedies" is uncertain;   some financial aid, and assistance with timber  supplies might have been involved /6/   We might also speculate that specialists from the Venetian Arsenal helped with the design  and construction  of  ships  capable of  confronting  the  Portuguese armadas that the Egyptian Sultan soon undertook to build at Suez.   An  Egyptian fleet commanded by Amir Hussein, and composed  of  a dozen large vessels, sailed for Indian waters in February 1507. 


War of the League of Cambrai


Suspicions, if not evidence, of Venetian measures, seem to  have  helped to stimulate Portuguese  efforts  to  counteract them.    European  powers  engaged in Italy,  and  interested  in dominating  its politics, such as France or Spain, or  the  Haps¨

burgs,  were in any event concerned to cut Venice down  to  size. 

At Blois, in 1504,  the King of France and Emperor Maximilian had

already signed an offensive alliance directed against Venice, one

that proved to be the forerunner of a more serious threat to  the



The  League of Cambrai formed in December 1508  by  the King of France, the Hapsburg Emperor Maxilmilian,

Pope Julius II, and  King Ferdinand of Aragon, was a secret compact aimed at  the destruction  of  Venice.   That end in fact remained  beyond  the reach  of its signatories, who fell out among  themselves  within less  than  two years, but the war that opened in the  spring  of 1509  with  a French attack on Venice finally put an end  to  the city's  status  as  a major European power,  and  eliminated  its capacity to obstruct Portugal's political objectives in the East.


Historians  neither of Venice (Lane, Norwich, Daru), nor  of Portugal (Diffie & Winius, Oliveira Marques ),

or of the European states  system  (Fueter  1915) assign Portugal any  role  in  the planning  of the League of Cambrai.   The  principal  beneficiary was  seen to be Kaiser Maximilian, gaining Italian  territory  at Venice's  expense.   Furthermore, the Netherlands might  be  more secure if French attention were diverted to Italy. Yet the  Hapsburg  interests  in Flanders would also benefit greatly  from  an expansion in Portugal's role in the East.


For  could it be merely a coincidence that  the  treaty was  negotiated by Maximilian's Regent in the  

Netherlands,  Marguerite of Austria, and that Antwerp, the northern outlet of  the Portuguese  trading system, firmly established by 1508, was  then becoming  a principal beneficiary of the expansion of  Portugal's global role?  The South German commercial interests,  represented i.a.  by the Welsers and Fuggers of Augsburg, who had  previously prospered  by their Venetian connections, were now routing  their activities via Antwerp and participating in Portuguese activities in the East (cf. Modelski & Modelski 1988:99 data on the  financing  of  Almeida's fleet of 1505).    The States-General  of  the  Netherlands,  meeting in Antwerp the following  March,  expressed their satisfaction with that agreement and promptly voted half  a million ecus in support of it.  


The timing of the principal battles was remarkable  for its coordination.   The Egyptian fleet that had effected a  junction  with the forces of Gujerat, and Calicut, was  destroyed  by the Portuguese armada led by Almeida at Diu in February of  1509;  the  Venetian army suffered a severe defeat at the hands  of  the  French  at Agnadello in May, a defeat that for the first time  in centuries placed the city itself in jeopardy.  The success of the Portuguese venture in the East was thus assured almost simultaneously  in  the  spring of 1509 by a naval battle  in  the  Indian ¨

Ocean, and a land battle in Northern Italy. /7/.


The battle of Diu is generally regarded as "one of  the most  decisive  in maritime history" (Diffie &  Winius  

1977:240, see also Monteiro 1989:177-192 for a full description) because it sealed  Portuguese control of the Indian Ocean until the  end  of the  century, and paved the way for subsequent Dutch and  English periods  of  naval supremacy.   An Egyptian  fleet  operating  in Gujerat (where Diu is situated) that  had just won an  engagement with  a Portuguese  squadron at Chaul (1508) was  decisively  defeated by a Portuguese force of about equal strength,  consisting  of five Great Ships, four smaller naus, and five caravels.    The fleet  commanded  by Amir Hussein consisted of ten  major  ships; that  was the fleet that had been built in Suez, and one  element of  its strength were two galleons and they  had fought  well  at Diu.   


We know from our sources (Modelski & Thompson 1988:160-61) that at this time the Venetians were

experimenting with  new types of sailing ships, including galleons.   It is not too  much to suppose that Venetian shipbuilders might have been  instrumental  in  building these galleons.    Moreover,  these  apparently sturdy  vessels survived the battle and  were captured intact  by the Portuguese (Monteiro 190-1) who might have sold them or  used them for their own purposes.   It is only then, a few years later in 1515, that the first galleon makes an appearance on Portuguese ship  lists.   It is thus arguable that the most  capable  Portuguese fighting ship of the 16th century was the product of learning from Venice, both indirectly via Egypt and the battle of Diu, and also directly via the more obvious route from the  Mediterranean to the Atlantic /8/.           




we  have sketched out the bare outlines of a  sustained rivalry,  one that drove a crucial transition in world  politics.   Yet it was also a rivalry that was not resolved principally by  a trial of strength, or a test of relative power, though there were

obviously  some  important elements of that.   Notably  so,  this rivalry  bore strong structural similarity, especially so in  its moderation,   to the Dutch-British relationship in the 17th  century  up to 1714, and to the Anglo-American special  relationship

up to 1945;  notably too it might be contrasted with the lack  of moderation  we find, for instance, in Franco-British, or  German-

British rivalries.   


The  question  we might wish to put is:  why was  it  a relatively benign rivalry?   why was it relatively non-war  like, in  particular as among the two principal participants?   And  in response,  we  should like to argue that this rivalry was not

so much a trial of strength or a test of relative power but rather a

selection process in which the outcome was decided on the  merits

of  the  case, in favour of superior  policies  enjoying  greater support.   

Relatively  to the issues at stake,  global  political organization, and control over the spice trade, Portugal had,  by 15l6,  the  better case and the stronger qualifications,  and  it  was making a potentially greater contribution to world welfare.


What  were Portugal's special qualifications?   It  had succeeded in putting in place a global political structure

 based on an assortment of forces of global reach that were unmatched by Venice, or any other possible contemporary competitors.   It  had a navy that was of oceanic capability, unlike Venice's, and  that navy  was deployed in a network of bases that was itself  product of  a learning process (the data in Table 4 on the  expansion  of bases resembles a learning curve) (9)

and was also world-wide in  its coverage (to which Spain's global resources bore no comparison at this  point in time, that is ca. 1516).   That was in  turn  supported by appropriate military and diplomatic dispositions.



Table 4:   Global network of Portuguese fortresses   1430-1540


Dates    1430           1505           1580                    Fortress              

         .              .              .   


1415-    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx            *Ceuta           NA

1458-1549     xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                        Alcacer-Sequer  NA

1471-1550       xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx      x                  Arzila          NA    

1471-           xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                 *Tangier         NA

1482-            xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                 *El Mina         WA

1503-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                      *Cochin          IO

1505-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                       Sofala          EA               

1505-1512               xx                                        *Kilwa           EA

1505-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                      *Cannanore       IO

1507-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                       Cranganore      IO

1507-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                        Socotra         IO

1508-                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx                       *Mozambique   EA

1510-                    xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                       *Goa               IO

1511-                    xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                       *Malacca        SEA

1513-1541                xxxxxx                                  Azemour         NA

1514-                     xxxxxxxxxxxxx                        *Mazagan         NA

1514-1525                 xx                                       *Calicut         IO

1515-                     xxxxxxxxxxxxx                        *Ormuz           IO

1518-                     xxxxxxxxxxxxx                         *Colombo         IO

1519-                      xxxxxxxxxxxx                          *Quilon          IO

1521-                      xxxxxxxxxxxx                            Chaul           IO

1521-1523                  x                                          Pacem          SEA

1522-1575                  xxxxxxxxxxx                         Ternate        SEA

1526-                       xxxxxxxxxxx                           *Recife          LA

1532-1571                     xxxxxxxxx                         *Chale           IO

1534-                         xxxxxxxxx                            *Bassein         IO

1535-                         xxxxxxxxx                            *Diu             IO 


x  =  5 yrs.;  NA = North Africa;  WA = West Africa;  EA  =  East ¨

Africa; IO =  Indian Ocean;  SEA = Southeast Asia; SA = South Am.


Source:    Monteiro, personal communication (1995) based  chiefly ¨



fied cities and important fortresses (*), and nine less important ¨

fortresses, omits small forts and fortified "feitorias". 




Second,  it  had  a socio-political  organization  that  was similar to Venice's in that it was basically an open society

that was served by an effective central government linked to important urban  and  trading interests, supported by  an  educated  public service.    Landed interests that sided with Castille in the  war that followed the revolution of 1383 had been thoroughly  defeated,  and  once again in 1480 by John II.   In other  words,  the influence  of  landed interests was waning even while  in  Venice their strength was rising with the annexation of the Terra Firma.  Portugal  had already began to operate on the basis of a  nation-state,  while  the government of Venice was still  the  exclusive province of the city's nobles.


While Venice was defending the status quo, Portugal was arguing  a wider vision of the global system, now for

the  first time  fully revealed through its discobrimentos.  While  Venice had trouble articulating its objections to Portugal's operations in  Asia,  and  could not do so openly, the  tasks  Portugal  was undertaking could arguably be of wider interest,   This gave  the King  a broad support system in most of Europe, while the  representatives of the Signoria could do no better than furtively  try to plot countermeasures on a terrain that was treacherously unfamiliar.


In the world economy stakes, Portugal's role would also rate higher. Its commerce in spices would not hold its

monopoly for long but its trade was to last for close to three  centuries and yet its main role might have been in the cognitive domain, in opening  new perspectives for a trading system of  activities  of oceanic proportions.


That is also why Portugal might also be said to have won (or have been selected) on the  merits;   that made the

process not effortless but  smoother than it might otherwise have been.   It was also smoother for two other reasons:  because the Portuguese had learnt from the Venetian experience, and also because they improved upon it.  


Let us enumerate briefly those  things that the  Portuguese  had likely learnt from Venice:  the organization  of

 controlled  long-distance trade based on trading posts  and  regular shipping lines (the Carreira da India was not unlike the  galleys

of Flanders with which they become familiar);  the importance  of sea power  requiring an innovative shipbuilding industry  (modeled

on the Arsenal of Venice) and supported by a far-flung system  of island  bases (like Venice's bases in the Aegean.;   finally,  an

economy thriving on multifarious currents of trade, and a society more  cooperative  than e.g. that of Spain, and open to  a  wider range of currents of ideas.


But they not only learnt from Venice, but also improved in  important  respect  on the original  designs.    

Whereas  the Venetian galleys traveled over distances of maybe 1000 miles, the Great  Ships  of  Portugal sailed each year  across  the  world's ocean,  some 10,000 miles.  Where Venice operated on  a  regional scale, Portugal effectively reached out world-wide, and succeeded moreover,  for a century, in having its claims widely  recognized as  legitimate.    Where  the Venetian navy was one  of  galleys, unsuited  for  long-distance sailing, the fleets of the  King  of Portugal were ocean-capable, and sturdy enough to withstand  some of the toughest seas.  It was Portugal that developed a  possibly Venetian design for a galleon into a capable oceanic warship that became  the forerunner of future battleships.   Where Venice  sat patiently  at  one  end of the Eurasian  trade  routes,  Portugal opened up the ocean in a major sweep of innovation.  


In  summary,  the  Venice-Portugal  rivalry  assumed  a relatively  benign  form because it occurred  in  the

democratic lineage.    For that reason, rivalries were less  likely  to  be painful,  and more likely to be resolved on their merits.   That made them made tractable, not the least because cumulative learning, transmitted by similar institutions, also was particularly effective within that lineage.


This study suggests a basis for thinking about future rivalries  than will center on global leadership transitions.  

It  is widely  supposed   if not quite explicitly so, that  the  process whereby  one power succeeds another  in this "hegemonic  rivlary" (as when the United States succeeded to Britain,  basically  via cooptation) is attended by severe conflict that necessarily leads to  warfare.   Our case shows that such succession, as long  as  it occurs  in  the  democratic lineage, is unlikely  to  provoke

severe  hostility, and probably will not spark a war because it is likely to be consensual (as it was in the Dutch-British, and the British-American cases).    The armed  conflicts  that  do arise come from  powers  outside  that process, and from challengers from without the democratic lineage who are less contrained or moved by democratic procedures.    All this  tends to show that future leadership rivalry in  the democratic  lineage is unlikely to be particularly  troublesome,  but that difficulties might still arise from likely future  challengers.   






Prepared for the Conference on GREAT POWER ENDURING RIVALRIES

Indiana University, April April 29-30. 1995,   in 

William R. Thompson ed.  (1999)    GREAT POWER RIVALARIES  

Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press];



I  wish  to thank Commandante Saturnino Monteiro,  and  Professor

Antonio Telo  for their comments on this paper,  and  Professor

Jean-Luc Vellut for earlier bibliographic help on this topic.


1.      We  might even recognize "democratic  potential"  in  the

reform  movements of the Sung period in China,  10th-12th  centuries.


2.    England's parliament, too, was formed in the 13th  century,

at  about the same time, as a potentially  national  institution,

but unlike the Cortes, it evolved in a bi-cameral form.    


3.    Portugal's  population in 1500 is estimated at  about  1.25

million, England's at 3.75 m.


4.    The Portuguese support network may also have included  the

Knights of the Order of St.John, a regional seapower then holding

Rhodes (1309-1522).   At about 1505, a fleet from Rhodes commanded

by  a  Portuguese, intercepted an  Egyptian  convoy  carrying

timber  from  the Black Sea for the construction of the  Red  Sea

fleet, and captured or sank eleven of its 25 vessels;  four  more

ships were lost to storms, and the building of the fleet  against

Portuguese incursions in the Indian Ocean was set back (Diffie &

Winius 1977:231).


5.   In the 1494 campaign, the French fleet commanded by the Duke

of Orleans  reportedly included 20 galleons ('galions'), possibly

part  of  the  Genoese contingent;  caravels  and  lighters  were 

requested from Portugal (Ronciere 1906:8,3).


6.   Among the desperate remedies considered by the Venetians was

apparently the digging of a Suez Canal.


7.    Leopold von Ranke (writing in 1824) seems to have been  one 

historian drawing attention to this timing.


8.  Saturnino Monteiro suggests that the galleon might have  been

designed by the Portuguese to counter the threat from French  pirates

in the Atlantic after 1515.   However, ship lists for galleons show that,

of the first 22 known to have been  constructed, 17  served  principally

in India, while those  for  the  Atlantic service began to be built after 1530. 

 According to the Dictionario de  Historia de Portugal, Vol.II,

galleons built  in  Lisbon were tall  ships, often mistaken for the Great Ships

(naus)  of Portugal;   those built in India were smaller, and thought to  be

less seaworthy.


9.   For a test of the learning hypothesis see Devezas and Modelski 2006:517-9.





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