Lecturer: Dr Ersie Burke
People have always immigrated in search of better working and living conditions, to escape persecution, reconnect with family, or simply for the experience.
In this lecture I will present a brief history of the Greeks of Venice by examining the following points:
- Why Greeks immigrated to Venice
- Where they come from
- Why and how they created and recreated communal, work and social networks
- How they transitioned from outsiders to insiders
- The causes of tensions within the community
- The extent to which they became part of the larger Venetian community
- The significance of Venice's historical and cultural embrace of multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity and multi-lingualism
It is through their personal accounts that one learns how Greeks lived, worked, prayed, and formed new social networks. Like many immigrants, Greeks left thousands of accounts of their lives and appear in many other source materials: notarial documents such as wills and legal contracts; petitions, government and church records; registries of marriages and deaths, and the census. This extensive documentation is preserved in the Venetian state archives, the archives of the Venetian church and the archives of the Hellenic Institute of Venice. The aim of this lecture is to reconstruct the lives of what was the largest ethnic, Christian minority in early modern Venice.
The Greeks came individually or in family groups from the various homelands of the Greek-speaking world. I shall focus on their relationships with each other and with the state, and the complex relations between the Greek community, Latin church and the church at Constantinople. I want to examine how Greeks resolved differences among themselves and with Venetian political and religious authorities. The Greeks of Venice were united by language, the experience of immigration and a common Venetian political heritage but divided by personal rivalries, regional and corporate differences. These differences have never seldom been examined; in fact earlier Greek historians have presented a picture of the community as a united force commercially, socially and religiously. Nothing is further from the truth.
The treatment of immigrants and their incorporation and acceptance by the host community has changed over time. History never repeats itself, but it does provide an opportunity to learn how issues like immigration and the treatment of refugees were handled in the past.
Ersie Burke is Adjunct Research Associate in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. Her areas of interest are immigration history and the history of the Venetian Republic in the period 1450 – 1650. Originally trained as a secondary school teacher, she taught history at all levels, including HSC, VCE and IB in high schools in Melbourne and Thessaloniki. She was a member of the History Teachers' Association of Victoria for many years where she worked to promote the teaching of History throughout the curriculum. In 2005 she completed her PhD at Monash University under the supervision of Prof. Bill Kent. In the Venetian archives she discovered an abundance of primary sources on the Greek community. Her doctorate examined Greek immigration to Venice between 1498 - 1600, the immigration process, the difficulties immigrants faced settling and integrating, and the nature of the Venetian social and political system that allowed and welcomed outsiders. She has published three school history texts in collaboration with colleagues:
Aspects of the Past (1998), The Ancients (2000), Dreamtime to the Great War: Australian History to 1918 (2001),
She has also written extensively on immigration and Venice and its Greek residents:
'Migrants in their own Homeland: A Study of Greek Re-Immigration' (1984), 'Your Humble and Devoted Servants: Greco-Venetian Views of the Serenissima' (2000), «Η Κοινωνική Ζωή των Ελλήνων της Βενετίας του 16ου Αιώνα» (2003), 'Francesco di Demetri Litino and the Fondaco dei Turchi' (2006), 'Our Daughters and Our Future: Elite Greco–Venetian Marriages, 1520 – 1610' (2012), 'To Live under the Protection of Your Serenity: Immigration and Identity in Early Modern Venice' (2013), 'Surviving Exile: Byzantine Families and the Serenissima 1453 – 1600' (2014).
Her book, The Greeks of Venice 1498-1600: Immigration, Settlement and Integration is due for publication in early 2016.
During the course of the year considerable expenses are incurred in staging the seminars. In order to mitigate these costs individuals or organisations are invited to donate against a lecture of their choice, please email:
For this seminar we'd like to thank the following donors: Dr Marinis & Mrs Maria Pirpiris.
You too can donate against one or more seminars and (optionally) let your name or brand be known as a patron of culture to our members, visitors and followers, as well as the broader artistic and cultural community of Melbourne.
We also thank the seminars' corporate sponsors: