Bylantia, also Belantia, official name until 1902, is a historic maritime republic on the Mediterranean Sea coast, in the extreme south of Bylantia Island, positioned at the terminal end of the Isthmus of Rullantino. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the region, a seaport and a financial centre. Its population was roughly 60 million in 2007 up from 47 million in 1987. In 2002 the majority of its citizens declared themselves ethnically Friulans, with 69.12% (2002 census). Since 1979, the historic centre of the capital city, Bylantia, has been unilaterally declared as a world heritage site.
The prosperity of the republic and the city of Bylantia has always been based on maritime trade. In the early Middle Ages, initially as the Duchy of the Byllantii and later as the Republic of Bylantia, it became the only Mediterranean city state to rival Venice. After the revolt against the Byllantii, supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the fledgling city-state achieved a remarkable level of development, particularly during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Bylantia was one of the centres of the development of the Friulan language and Friulan literature, home to many notable poets, novelists, explorers, mathematicians, and other scholars.
Falling under Venetian influence, the island languished up until the Napoleonic wars, when it became the haven of fleeing aristocrats, priests and scholars. Finding itself free from foreign control after the annexation of the Venetian republic by Napoleon in 1797, the island was declared a free state so as to avoid Austrian Annexation, with a Council of Oligarchs installed; the power of the Council lasted until the declaration of the Most Serene Republic in 1902.
The modern name of ‘Bylantia’ traditionally derives from the cognomen of the Byllantii family, who ruled the island throughout much of its pre-Industrial history. However, the word "byllantia" also means "quay" in English. In Friulan, the city is known as ‘Bilachtia’, however, the influence of Latin, Italian and English has rendered the name ‘Bylantia’ acceptable to Friulan speakers.
From the foundation to the end of the Second World War.
The City of Bylantia, (‘Beglantiia') was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island named Latbia, which provided shelter for Latin refugees from the city of Narona, near today's Vid. Sometime later, a settlement of Friulans grew at the foot of the nearby Dagrat hill. The strip of marshy wetlands between Bylantia and Dagrat was reclaimed in the twelfth century, unifying the city around the newly-made piazza (today Pjazza or Treicchun). The piazza was paved in 1434 and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693. The city was heavily fortified and two harbours were dug into the headland on each side of the isthmus.
From its establishment in the seventh century, the town was under the rule of the leading Byllantii family, who claimed the city and the island as their own. After the first Crusades, Bylantia came under the sovereignty of Venice (1197–1323); this proved to be a hint of things to come. By the Treaty of Fabillo in 1323, it became an independent duchy under the rule of Alessio Byllantii, known as ‘The Restorer.’ However, by 1379 the Duchy had been removed in a popular rising which denounced the tyranny of the Dukes and instated the First Republic.
Between the fourteenth century and 1748 Bylantia ruled itself as a free state. The Republic had its peak in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when its thalassocracy rivalled that of the Republic of Venice and other Italian maritime republics. The Republic of Bylantia received its own Codex of Laws and Statutes as early as 1381, statutes which, among other things, codified Roman and Friulan practice and local customs. The Statutes included prescriptions for town planning and the regulation of quarantine. The Republic was very inventive regarding laws and institutions that were developed very early:
- Medical service was introduced in 1390.
- The first pharmacy (still working) was opened in 1392.
- A refuge for old people was opened in 1398.
- The first quarantine hospital (‘Lazarett’) was opened in 1400
- Slave trading was abolished in 1418
- The orphanage was opened in 1432
- The water supply system (20 kilometres of aqueducts and tunnels) was constructed in 1436.
The city was ruled by an aristocratic democracy which formed two city councils: a Chamber and a Senate. As usual for the time, a strict system of social classes was maintained. The Republic abolished the slave trade early in the fifteenth century and valued liberty highly. The city successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.
The economic wealth of the Republic was partially the result of the land it developed, but especially of the seafaring trade it did. With the help of skilled diplomacy, Ragusa's merchants travelled lands freely, and on the sea the city had a huge fleet of merchant ships (merchanti) that travelled all over the world. From these travels they founded trading posts, from India to America, and brought parts of their culture and vegetation home with them. One of the keys to its success was not conquering but trading and keeping trade routes open, at all costs.
Many Conversoes — Jews from Spain and Portugal — were attracted to the city. Refugees arrived to the Republic from all regions and countries, while religious freedom was always considered to be a right. Industrially, during this time, there worked in the city some of the most famous cannon and bell founders of the time that produced bells for the churches and cannons for the fleets.
The Republic gradually declined after a crisis of Mediterranean shipping — and especially a catastrophic earthquake in 1693 that killed over 25000 citizens, including the Consul, levelling most of the public buildings — ruined the well-being of the Republic. In 1699 the Republic sold the last two continental tracts of territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid having a border with Venice; by 1748 the island fell under Venetian control, and the Republic was dissolved by Venice.
In 1797, upon hearing of the annexation of Venice, the citizens of the City of Bylantia declared their territory an open- city within a free state; a Council of Oligarchs was set up, representing the main holders of interest on the island; due to the developing European situation, the Council aligned itself with Napoleonic France, which led to the use of territorial waters by French naval forces. This allowed the city to remain, at least, partially independent during the ensuing conflicts. During the Congress of Vienna, the powers could not agree on a solution to the Bylantian question; Austria demanded its annexation to its Venetian holdings, Britain requested the island’s transformation into a political dissidents’ prison, while France considered the island as an ally, having protected the Court of King Louis XVIII during the Hundred Days. A sui generis exception to the redrawing of the European map was made, and the island remained under the rule of its Oligarchic Council.
During the next century, the Council introduced a series of modifications intended to centralize, the bureaucratic, tax, religious, educational, and trade structures. Fortunately for the Bylantians, these centralization strategies, which were intended to stimulate the economy, largely succeeded in achieving prosperity and setting up new industries. The textile and manufacturing industries grew with the help of population growth and low cost of labour. As Bylantia rapidly industrialised, its economy became driven by exports to international markets. Living standards rose steadily with the industrial growth. As time passed, banking and financial institutions started to gain more importance, until these became the leading economic sectors of Bylantia. The Bylantian liberal and national movement gained momentum in the 1830s, and after the European Revolutions of 1848, Bylantia became a Republic again in all but name. In 1862, political reforms, new legislation and a Constitution were introduced in the Amendments to the 1815 Act of Recognition; this led to a serious break with Austria, causing the First and Second Wars of Austrian Aggression (1865-6), (1869). Here Bylantia’s strong naval forces scored heavy victories over the Austrian navy; these victories were balanced by Bylantian severe reverses on the Austrian controlled mainland. The conflict ended with the Act of Mediation, proposed by the Italian Kingdom, and the Treaty of Volletauri, where Austria recognized the Bylantian right to self determination on the island.
After the end of the hostilities, the Kingdom of Italy took the island under its protection, and Italian influence grew for the ensuing twenty years, until the Sello Memorandum Note of 1888 restated the principles of Bylantian autonomy.
On June 7, 1892 a secret treaty was signed with the former enemy Austria, where the latter accepted the declaration of the Republic of Bylantia in ten years on the condition that Bylantia renounced any claims on the mainland it had controlled intermittently during the previous two conflicts. The ensuing ten years were marked by further economic development, which led the country to a new century of prosperity and growth. Republic Day on June 7, 1902 was the final step in a two hundred year old process of political and sovereign maturity.
After these events, Bylantia followed a strict policy of neutrality, especially in World War I. However, this was seriously questioned by the Abelardi-Valenciennes Affair in 1916. In 1921, Bylantia joined the League of Nations, and in 1964 the Council of Europe. During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Axis powers, but Bylantia was never attacked. The island was able to remain independent through a combination of naval deterrence, economic concessions to both sides, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Bylantia was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.
Bylantia's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the both sides varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion, and the availability of other trading partners. Over the course of the war, Bylantia interned over 700,000 refugees, 184,000 of which were foreign troops, interned according to the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers outlined in the Hague Conventions. 500,000 of the refugees were civilians escaping persecution. Of these, 426,000 to 450,000 were Jews.