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Enrico Dandolo

Enrico Dandolo
42nd Doge of Venice
In office
1 June 1192 – May 1205
Preceded by Orio Mastropiero
Succeeded by Pietro Ziani
Personal details
Born c. 1107
Venice, Republic of Venice
Died May 1205
Spouse(s) Contessa
Children Raniero Dandolo
Religion Roman Catholicism
Dandolo Preaching the Crusade by Gustave Doré

Enrico Dandolo (1107? – May 1205) — anglicised as Henry Dandolo and Latinized as Henricus Dandulus — was the 42nd Doge of Venice from 1192 until his death. He is remembered for his blindness, piety, longevity, and shrewdness, and is infamous for his role in the Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople in which he, at age ninety and blind, led the Venetian contingent.


  • Blindness 1
  • Life 2
    • Early career in politics 2.1
    • Dogeship 2.2
    • Fourth Crusade 2.3
  • Descendants 3
  • Recognition by Italian Navy 4
  • In Art and Media 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7


It is not known for certain when and how Dandolo became blind. The story passed around after the Fourth Crusade was that he had been blinded by the Byzantines during the 1171 expedition to Byzantium (see Vital II Michele). Supposedly, Emperor Manuel Comnenus "ordered his eyes to be blinded with glass; and his eyes were uninjured, but he saw nothing".[1]

However, this explanation is certainly false, as Dandolo continued to conduct business and sign documents well after 1171. In Venice it was illegal for a blind person to sign a document, since he/she could not read. According to Thomas Madden's study, Dandolo suffered from cortical blindness as a result of a severe blow to the back of the head received sometime between 1174 and 1176. Documents show Dandolo's signature being fully legible in 1174 but sprawling across the paper in 1176, suggesting that his sight deteriorated over time.[2] In an attempt to preserve the linkage between Dandolo's blindness and the Byzantines, Steven Runciman reported that the blow to his head occurred during "a street brawl" in Constantinople.[3] The brawl was Runciman's own invention, but it has been uncritically repeated by many subsequent books.[4]

Dandolo's blindness appears to have been total. Writing thirty years later, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who had known Dandolo personally, stated, "Although his eyes appeared normal, he could not see a hand in front of his face, having lost his sight after a head wound." In the Middle Ages it was not unusual for an elderly person to become blind as a result of cataracts. However, all sources for Dandolo's blindness remark on the clarity of his eyes.


Early career in politics

Born in Venice, he was the son of the powerful jurist and member of the ducal court, Vitale Dandolo. Dandolo had served the Republic in diplomatic roles (as ambassador to Ferrara and bailus in Constantinople) for many years.

Dandolo was from a socially and politically prominent Venetian family. His father Vitale was a close adviser 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 Byzantine 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 Byzantium. 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 Byzantines.

During the following years Dandolo twice travelled as ambassador to King William II of Sicily, and then in 1183 returned to Constantinople to negotiate the restoration of the Venetian quarter in the city.


On 1 June 1192, Dandolo became the forty-second Doge of Venice. Already aged and blind, but deeply ambitious, he displayed tremendous mental and (for his age) physical strength. His remarkable deeds over the next eleven years have led some to hypothesize that he actually may have been in his mid-70s when he became Venice's leader, but Madden demonstrates that he was almost certainly born in or around 1107.[5]

Two years after taking office, in 1194, Enrico enacted reforms to the Venetian currency system. He introduced the large silver grosso worth 26 denarii, and the quartarolo worth 1/4 of a dinaro. Also he reinstated the Bianco worth 1/2 denaro, which had not been minted for twenty years. He debased the dinaro and its fractions, whereas the grosso was kept at 98.5% pure silver to ensure its usefulness for foreign trade. Enrico's revolutionary changes made the grosso the dominant currency for trade in the Mediterranean and contributed to the wealth and prestige of Venice. In later years, the value of the grosso would climb relative to the increasingly debased denaro, until it was itself debased in 1332. Soon after the introduction of the grosso, the dinaro began to be referred to as the piccolo. Literally grosso means "large one" and piccolo means "small one".

Fourth Crusade

In 1202 the knights of the fourth Crusade were stranded in Venice, unable to pay for the ships they had commissioned after far fewer troops arrived than expected. Dandolo developed a plan that allowed the Crusaders' debt to be suspended if they assisted the Venetians in capturing Zadar, which was under Hungarian rule, on the eastern Adriatic coast. At an emotional and rousing ceremony in San Marco di Venezia, Dandolo "took the cross" (committed himself to crusading) and was soon joined by thousands of other Venetians. Dandolo became an important leader of the Fourth Crusade.

Venice was the major financial backer of the Fourth Crusade, supplied the Crusaders' ships, and lent money to the Crusaders who became heavily indebted to Venice. Because of the crusaders' continued delays, provisions were also a problem for the enterprise.[6]

The Crusade fleet left Venice during the first week of October 1202 and arrived at Zara in two groups on November 10 and 11. A small number of Crusaders refused to help with the siege; but the others realized that the conquest of the town and subsequent wintering there was the only way to hold the faltering Crusade together. While the crusaders marched on the town the townsfolk hung up banners and crosses to signal they were Christian, but Zadar was captured on November 24, 1202. Throughout the conquest the Pope urged the leaders of the Crusade to stop the attack and the sacking of the town but to no avail. He also excommunicated all involved in the attack on Zadar but later changed his mind leaving only the Venetians excommunicated. The Crusaders set up camp in the town for almost a year before finally heading out.

Shortly afterwards, Alexius Angelus, son of the deposed Byzantine Emperor Isaac II, arrived in that city. Dandolo agreed to the Crusade leaders' plan to place Alexius Angelus on the throne of the Byzantine Empire in return for Byzantine support of the Crusade. This ultimately led to the conquest and sack of Constantinople on April 12, 1204, an event at which Dandolo was present and in which he played a directing role. The Catholic Crusaders then took permanent control of the Eastern Orthodox capital of Constantinople and established a Catholic state, the Latin Empire. In the Partitio Romaniae, Venice gained title to three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire as a result of her crucial support to the Crusade. The Byzantine Empire was never again as powerful as it had been prior to the Fourth Crusade.

Nineteenth-century grave marker in the Hagia Sophia's East Gallery

He was active enough to take part in a disastrous expedition against the Bulgarians, but died in May 1205. He was buried in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, probably in the upper Eastern gallery. In the 19th century an Italian restoration team placed a cenotaph marker near the probable location, which is still visible today. The marker is frequently mistaken by tourists as being a medieval marker of the actual tomb of the doge. The real tomb was destroyed by the Ottomans after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and subsequent conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.[7]


His son, Raniero, served as vice-doge during Dandolo's absence and was later killed in the war against Genoa for the control of Crete. His granddaughter, Anna Dandolo, was married to the Serbian king Stefan Nemanjić. Although later genealogists attributed a whole brood of distinguished children to the doge, it is unclear if he actually had other children besides Raniero, as the existence of none can be confirmed by contemporary evidences.[8] During his dogeship he was married to a woman named Contessa, who may have been a member of the Minotto clan.[9] Although there were several subsequent doges of the Dandolo family, none were direct descendants of Enrico.

Recognition by Italian Navy

In the nineteenth-century, the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) launched an ironclad battleship named Enrico Dandolo.

In Art and Media

Dandolo and his tomb play a central role in Dan Brown's Inferno.

In addition, Venice is a playable civilization in Sid Meier's Civilization V whose leader is Dandolo.


  1. ^ Madden (2003)
  2. ^ Madden (2003), pp. 66-67.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Madden, Thomas, and Donald Queller. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Second edition. page 215 n.11.
  5. ^ Madden (2003), p. 92.
  6. ^ Thomas F. Madden, "Food and the Fourth Crusade: A New Approach to the Diversion Question," in Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades (Ashgate Publishing, 2006).
  7. ^
  8. ^ Madden (2003), pp. 101-104
  9. ^ Madden (2003), p. 84-85.


Public Domain 

Political offices
Preceded by
Orio Mastropiero
Doge of Venice
Succeeded by
Pietro Ziani
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