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).

Napoleon in Germany: Mainz (Mayence)

In my series of German cities and their Napoleonic history I start with Mainz. We just had a short one-day excursion to Mainz, and I had to check out the history of the city. I knew it was a French possession after the Revolutionary Wars, but that was just about it. In fact, the French revolutionary army occupied Mainz in 1792, and the local Jacobins proclaimed the Republic of Mainz. It was a short-lived affair: The city was subsequently besieged by Prussian forces, and by July 1793 the French had surrendered.

The Napoleonic phase of the city starts properly after the Treaty of Campo Formio. (Signed October 18 1797, this treaty was the direct result of General Bonaparte’s victorious efforts against the Austrians in Italy.) One of the terms of the Treaty was an extension of French borders to the Rhine River. This marked the end of Mainz as an electorate in the Holy Roman Empire, and soon after Mainz became part of a new French département called Mont-Tonnerre.

Mainz were to become a major rallying point for eastward bound French regiments, and because of its tactical location on the Rhine, it had a garrison of at least 10 000. Napoleon inspected the city himself on several occasions, and arranged for expansions of the Festung Mainz. Not an idle project it turned out, as the French later became besieged in Mainz after the Battle of Nations. A typhus epidemic broke out, killing 17 000 French soldiers before the siege ended with the surrender of Paris.

I hadn’t really done my homework properly, however. If I had, I wouldn’t have missed the fact that it’s possible to visit Napoleon’s residence in Mainz. That will hopefully be the second installment of this post.