‘Images of the Other: Venice’s Perception of the Knights of Malta’

‘Images of the Other: Venice’s Perception of the Knights of Malta’

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‘Images of the Other: Venice’s Perception of the Knights of Malta’

Mallia-Milanes, Victor (University of Malta)

Racial Discrimination and Ethnicity in European History, The Culture and Politics of Discrimination, (Edizione Plus-Università di Pisa, 2003)


The present chapter focuses on the hostile perception which the Republic of Venice entertained of the Hospitaller Order of St John in early modern times. Though Venice and the Hospital (as the Order was generally known) shared several similarities, the two differed in at least one basic area – their relation with the Muslim infidel. The Hospital considered itself permanently at war with him; the Adriatic Republic owed its survival to its cordial relations with the Ottoman Porte. It was precisely this difference which shaped and nourished Venice’s sense of otherness where the Knights of St John were concerned. In the Hospital’s attitude towards Islam – the Turk in the Levant and the Barbary corsair operating from North Africa – Venice saw a strong and dangerous ele- ment of otherness. The Knights’ raison d’être defied vital Venetian interests. In an endeavour to understand the situation, the chapter traces the possible causes of this mutual feeling of animosity between the two and discusses its long-term consequences, which tended to become increasingly evident in Venice’s periodical confiscation of the extensive lands which the Hospital owned in the Veneto, the decline of the Maltese corso, and the impact of Hospitaller and Maltese privateering on the daily life of Levantine Venetians. In the early 1750s, both institutions began to draw close to a rapprochement.

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