It’s not exactly news that Venice had close ties to the East. We were all taught early on that the wealth of the magical city of canals derived from trade with the Turks and Arabs—that’s how valuable spices and silks from exotic Asia found their way to Italy. I seem to recall that in elementary school this information was somehow bound up with Marco Polo’s travels and the surprising fact that the intrepid merchant brought pasta to Italy from China, a confusing notion that led me to form a mental image of Venetian dignitaries sitting around the Doge’s palace in long red velvet robes and those odd hats with earlaps—my school’s enriched curriculum had a heavy emphasis on art—eating spaghetti with chopsticks. Years later, most of us learned a more nuanced, much more interesting version of the history of Venice, a dramatic tale involving competition for trade routes, sea battles, and chicanery. Crusaders en route to...


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