May 12th 1797 Napoleon conquered the Republic of the Venice, a state whose island existence and naval dominance had helped them remain independent for over 900 years. With the defeat of the First Coalition, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Venice was given to Austria [not, as I first proposed, the other way around …] as compensation for the loss of territories closer to France. With the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Venice was included in the new (French controlled) Italian Republic.
The Italian Campaign was notorious for its pillaging, and Venice was no exception. Some Italian friends mentioned the theft of the Venetian horses the other day, and as it seemed to ring a bell I had to check out the details. The ”horses” are the horses of the Triumphal Quadriga which nowadays resides in the museum of the Saint Mark Basilica in Venice. A quadriga is an ancient chariot pulled by four horses. The Saint Mark Quadriga is apparently the only surviving ancient quadriga, although it is not known whether it is Roman or Greek.
What is known is that the Quadriga was originally plundered from Constantinople’s Hippodrome by Venetian crusaders in the 1204 Siege of Constantinople. They were installed on the top of the Basilica by Doge Dandolo, and remained there until Napoleon’s arrival. The insulant general of the Italian army ordered the Quadriga dismantled and had it brought to Paris. Here it served as a model for the for the quadriga on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
In 1815 the French returned the Quadriga, and it took up its former vantage point on the Basilica. The travel-weary horses didn’t have to move again until the first world war when they were sent to safety in Rome. The picture above is of the bronze horses leaving for the mainland during the second world war (1942).