Modern western civilization isn’t Rome, it’s Venice

Katelyn Burns
4 min readDec 31, 2021

The medieval city once ruled the Mediterranean, but fell behind its rivals and now is headed for a climate change drowning

Kuster & Wildhaber Photography

White supremacists and fascists love to opine about the downfall of Rome. “It was rampant deviant homosexuality,” they’ll say. Or “decadence ruined Rome” or whatever. They’ll ignore the actual mismanagement of Roman leaders and just point to whatever culture war bullshit they can link to modern day America and Europe.

But an allegedly decadent Rome probably isn’t the right historical analog to compare to modern day society. Instead, I propose that we look at the medieval and renaissance city of Venice.

Venice was founded on a marshy archipelago inside a lagoon on the northwestern end of the Adriatic Sea, making it an easily defensible fortress from invasions from the Balkans and the Italian peninsula.

Anyone who has played Europa Universalis IV knows that fighting Venice is a pain in the ass because its capital is impossible to take without complete naval and army dominance.

Its position at the top of the Adriatic Sea, with connections to both eastern and western Europe and mountain passes through the alps to Austria and southern Germany, made it an ideal trading port for spices and other goods commonly transported over Mediterranean waters.

The Venetians turned their defensive aquatic locale into an expansive naval and trade empire. At its renaissance-era peak, the city was producing almost one sea-faring vessel every day. Its trade empire spanned across the eastern Med.

At one point, it seemed as if the Venice was destined to rule the Mediterranean waves for eternity. But time and lack of foresight ended up dooming the Venetian Doge.

At the time, the dominant trade route between Europe and Asia ran over land through Egypt and Anatolia, only for valuable spices and other trade goods to hop back on boats to head off to valuable trade hubs like Venice and Genoa.

But not everyone was happy with this economic arrangement. Western European powers got tired of the iron trade grip of their Italian neighbors and sought alternative trade routes. This prompted the Castilian queen Isabella to hire Christopher Columbus to…

Katelyn Burns

Political journalist. The first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in US history. Writing about more than just trans issues. Follow her on Twitter @transscribe