The doge was revered as the highest official of Venice for more than a thousand years. His responsibility was not to himself but for the republic of Venice. He played an important role, being both a symbol of the Venetian state and sovereignty. The office originated when it was under the ruling of the Byzantine Empire and later became official during the mid eighth century. Rules and restrictions were placed on the doge by aristocrats in the 12th century to help control and regulate his power. In doing so the Venetian people were able to preserve and extend the longevity of harmony within the city.
The first historically documented doge was Orso Ipato who was elected 727 AD. Candidates for the role of the doge were typically chosen from the powerful, ruling families in Venice. Doges averaged around the age of seventy two during their election and served in office for life. The vote required a 65% majority in order to be deemed as passing. Doge Sebastiano Ziani was responsible for enacting major reforms thus strengthening the Venetian government’s checks and balances system.
During 480 the Great Council was initiated consisting of four hundred and eighty leading citizens. These elected members served for one year and were primarily responsible for electing the new chief public officials. In addition, there was an added responsibility of creating a committee consisting of eleven individuals to elect a new doge. Revisions were once again made under the rule of Doge Tiepolo who set forth to create a balance between his own power and that of his trusted advisors. These would be the rules that would become a standard for future elections. Additionally, councils and advising bodies were set forth to aid in continuing the stability of their government structure.
Examples of the rules are as follows:
- No current office holders were allowed to succeed themselves.
- Once elected it was mandatory that you serve. (The alternative was a hefty fine.)
- Campaigning was completely forbidden and was enforced heavily.
- No family was permitted to have more than one member on the Ducal Council or on any other administration board or nominating committee.
- A prospective candidate could have no sons interested in government nor could they have any familial ties.
After choosing a candidate they were subject to mandatory rituals and ceremonies that would take a month’s time for full completion. Within this process the individual would have to swear an oath that would restrict his freedom. In the event that the reigning doge passed the eldest ducal counselor would take over office. But in the meantime there would be much unrest amongst the people as the government could not function properly until a successor was elected.
The process of electing a doge was a complex and meticulous task. The Great Council would come together with thirty silver and gold balls. The ballotino drew a ball for each member. Those with silver would remain in the hall and gold would be in the inner chamber. The process continued this time with nine gold and twenty one silver. Those with silver would leave while the nine be in the inner chamber to nominate forty candidates. Each nominated candidate required at least seven votes to continue onwards. With a list of forty the Great Council reconvened
Following this the electors wrote down a nominee and cast the vote into the urn. Each name was drawn and put into a list. After questioning and discussion regarding suitability there was a final election. At least twenty five votes were needed to become Doge.
Coggins, Jay S, and C. Federico Perali. “64% Majority Rule in Ducal Venice: Voting for the Doge.” Public Choice, vol. 97, no. 4, 1998, pp. 709–723., doi:10.1023/A:1004947715017.
Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Doge” December 12, 2011