Iron and Gold
Aged Doge of Venice
Enrico Dandolo has been Doge – ruler – of Venice since 1192 A.D. He is known to his people for his blindness, his piety, shrewdness, and most particularly his longevity — he is said to be over 90 years old.
It is not known for certain when and how Dandolo became blind. One story passed around is that he had been blinded by the Eastern Roman Empire during an 1171 expedition to Constantinople. Supposedly, Emperor Manuel Comnenus “ordered his eyes to be blinded with glass; and his eyes were uninjured, but he saw nothing”
Born in Venice, he is the son of the powerful jurist and member of the ducal court, Vitale Dandolo. Enrico had served the Republic in diplomatic roles (as ambassador to Ferrara and bailus in Constantinople) for many years prior to his ascension. Dandolo was from a socially and politically prominent Venetian family. His father Vitale was a close advisor of Doge Vitale II Michiel, while an uncle, also named Enrico Dandolo, was patriarch of Grado, the highest-ranking churchman in Venice. Both these men lived to be quite old, and the younger Enrico was overshadowed until he was in his sixties.
Dandolo’s first important political roles were during the crisis years of 1171 and 1172. In March 1171 the Eastern Roman government had seized the goods of thousands of Venetians living in the empire, and then imprisoned them all. Popular demand forced the doge to gather a retaliatory expedition, which however fell apart when struck by the plague early in 1172. Dandolo had accompanied the disastrous expedition against Constantinople led by Doge Vitale Michiel during 1171-1172. Upon returning to Venice, Michiel was killed by an irate mob, but Dandolo escaped blame and was appointed as an ambassador to Constantinople in the following year, as Venice sought unsuccessfully to arrive at a diplomatic settlement of its disputes with the Romans. Renewed negotiations begun twelve years later finally led to a treaty in 1186, but the earlier episodes seem to have created in Enrico Dandolo a deep and abiding hatred for the Romans.
On 1 June 1192, Dandolo became the forty-second Doge of Venice. Already old and blind, but deeply ambitious, he displays tremendous mental and (for his age) physical strength.
Two years after taking office, in 1194, Enrico enacted reforms to the Venetian currency system. His changes to the local coin, the grosso, have made it the dominant currency for trade in the Mediterranean and contribute to the wealth and prestige of Venice.