Wealth accumulation, office holding and service to the State – the Venetian governing elite and Republican virtue in the early-modern period

‘In all affairs, positions, and offices, you must always have before your eyes these goals: that is to say, the welfare of the soul, of the State, and your own reputation, but also be useful and satisfy the subjects.' This counsel, given to the Venetian youth in 1674 offers the solution to the conflict between the interests of the collectivity and the personal expectations of each member of the ruling class. The patrician who works for the welfare of his Republic and the benefit of the subjects, contributes to his own happiness and his reputation. The large number of offices available, coupled with the frequent rotation in office and the rapid turnover was believed to be the best antidote against corruption in office. Elections for offices required that all patricians consider the candidate’s qualifications and reject all personal considerations, creating in practice a sort of a ‘cursus honorum’ where patricians made their way specializing in one of the available fields. Contrary to the Venetian myth, being elected to specific office meant not only a position of power, but in many cases a lucrative job that could sustain the candidate’s family. However, unlike these ‘lucrative’ offices where a fixed salary was established, some others, considered to be key positions, were of a representative nature. The elected patrician was required to contribute with his own money to sustain the decorum of his office: Consequently, only those who belonged to wealthy families could afford being elected to such offices with the danger of draining one’s fortune. The paper intends to show through an examination of the career of Venetian ambassadors, how the Republic, alarmed by a possible impoverishment of influent families who time after another held ambassadorship offices, intended to cope with the problem.