Doge of Venice (1192-1205) and leader of the Venetians during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).
Doge of Venice preaching the crusade.
Enrico was born around 1107, the son of Vitale Dandolo, one of the architects of Venetian political reform, and, like him, frequently served as an ambassador. Enrico was ambassador to Byzantium (1172, 1184), Sicily (1174), Egypt (1175), and Ferrara (1191). He was a judge in the ducal court until 1178, when cortical blindness disqualified him from further service. Despite his loss of sight, he was elected doge in 1192 while in his eighties. During his reign, he enacted sweeping reforms in Venice’s legal code and coinage.
Responding to a papal request, in 1198 Dandolo agreed to assist with a new crusade. In 1201 he entered into the Treaty of Venice, promising to lease vessels to the Frankish army and join the crusade with an armada of war galleys. When the Franks were unable to keep their part of the bargain, it was Dandolo who crafted the compromise in which the crusade captured the city of Zara (mod. Zadar, Croatia) on the Dalmatian coast. Later, when the Frankish leaders informed Dandolo that they had previously agreed to travel to Constantinople to support Alexios Angelos, a contender for the Byzantine throne, Dandolo agreed to assist them.
During an attack on the city walls on 17 July 1203, he turned the tide of battle, ordering his own galley to row forward unprotected and plant the standard of St. Mark onshore. After the second conquest of Constantinople, he mediated disputes between the barons in an attempt to forge a stable Latin government. In August 1204 Dandolo purchased the island of Crete, which would remain a Venetian possession for centuries. The next year he personally led a relief force that rescued a Frankish force defeated by the Bulgarian leader, Kalojan (Ioannitsa).
Shortly after returning to Constantinople, Dandolo died of an inguinal hernia, the result of days of rigorous horseback travel (May 1205). He was about ninety-eight years old. His tomb was placed in the gallery of the Church of Hagia Sophia, where it remained until the Ottoman conquest.