In the 13th century Venice was more than a city in Italy with canals for streets, it was a significant state in Italy and was known as the Venetian Republic. This Republic was a small one with only 150 000 inhabitants. Yet, disregarding the minimal population, Venice had a profitable ship construction trade producing a battleship in thirty days or less. The Republic was a well-functioning and successful state which meant the residents were wealthy and content.
Although financially content, the residents would find themselves making financial deals outside of the law in order to secure personal wealth. Over time residents understood the importance of masks to hide identity and assist in secrecy of these unlawful acts. They were able to carry out their daily activities without the concern of circumstance.
The masks soon gained popularity and the attached benefits only added to its approval. When wearing a mask one’s identity is concealed as you are wearing a form of disguise. As a result your personal identity and social standing would not be revealed which allowed servants and masters to be treated as equals. By donning masks all forms of prejudice were abolished and every individual was allowed to give their opinion on matters while remaining anonymous. Very soon, all residents began wearing masks to retain the associated equality during their everyday life.
It did not take long for people to begin profiting from the concealment of their identities. Secure in the knowledge they would not be recognised, the people began to behave in more lavish manners beyond side-street dealings. Sexual promiscuity became a widespread occurrence, particularly among the travellers and numerous business people who would visit this thriving metropolis.
Decadent behaviour was rife during the day and night at various locations. The taboo of homosexuality was forgotten and, whilst in disguise, men and women were able to engage in consensual homosexual acts freely. Yet sexual promiscuity did not end at the brothels or metropolis streets. It is said that men and women whom had taken vows were also donning masks in order to flaunt their sexuality in the convents.
The activities in Venice, spurred on by the masquerade masks, had not gone unnoticed by authorities. Governors in Rome, the capital of Italy, had heard of the decadent acts but decided to ignore them as the Republic of Venice was continuing to benefit the country financially. However, the anonymity created by the masks led to a rise in violence and crime. This caused the Roman authorities to pass a law banning the wearing of masks in public during the evening and night. This was passed in the 14th century. However, the law was amended allowing a three month liberty period every year where individuals are able to wear masks in public and at night. The period began on in December and ended in March.
Nowadays the laws are less stringent and mask-wearing has become a carnival tradition occurring primarily at the Venetian Carnival or Mardi Gras.