Republic of Secrets: The Bureaucratisation of Secrecy as a Tool of Diplomacy and Knowledge Exchange in Early Modern Venice

This paper discusses the pervasive culture of secrecy that the Venetian Council of Ten – the governmental committee responsible for the security of the Venetian state – distilled within and beyond the walls of the Doge’s Palace, Venice’s political nucleus. This culture was perpetuated through a slew of formal regulations on the instrumentality of secrecy for the political and diplomatic affairs and, by extension, the security of the Venetian state. Through this bureaucratisation of secrecy, the demand for it spread across the Venetian dominion and penetrated all levels of Venetian society, from the Venetian ruling class to the Venetian commoners, who were stripped of political rights. Particular emphasis will be placed on the strict secrecy regulations Venetian diplomats were subjected to. Using relevant social theorisations, the paper will show how secrecy, as the ongoing process of intentional concealment, did not only serve as a tool of diplomacy in early modern Venice. It also enabled social interactions amongst people of diverse social standing who, without its shield, would not have been able to interact. As such, secrecy assigned specific functions to specific individuals, rendering them members of the same ‘inner circle’, fighting for the same cause: the security and prosperity of the Venetian state. In this respect, secrecy functioned as a vehicle of knowledge exchange, creating a dynamic and enduring relationship between the government and those governed by them.