Post-classical history





‘She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! . . . , all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.’ LAMENTATION s 1, 1, 2

In November 1199 Count Tibald of Champagne invited his friends and neighbours to a tournament at his castle of Ecri on the Aisne.

When the jousts were over, conversation amongst the lords turned to the need of a new Crusade. It was a matter on which the Count felt strongly; for he was the nephew of Coeur-de-Lion and Philip Augustus and brother to Count Henry who had reigned in Palestine. On his suggestionanitinerant preacher, Fulk of Neuilly, was called in to talk to the guests. Fired by his eloquence the whole company vowed to take the Cross; and a messenger was sent to report the pious decision to the Pope.

Innocent III had been on the Papal throne for rather more than a year. He was passionately ambitious to establish the transcendental authority of the See, but at the same time he was prudent, far-sighted and clear-headed, a lawyer who liked a legal basis for his claims and a politician whowasready to use whatever instrument lay nearest to his hand. He was troubled by the situation in the East. One of his first actions had been to express publicly his desire for a new Crusade; and in 1199 he wrote to the Patriarch Aymar of Jerusalem to ask for a detailed report on theFrankishkingdom. The Kings of Jerusalem were his vassals; and his desire to succour them was enhanced by the active policy of the Emperor Henry VI, whose bestowal of crowns to Cyprus and Armenia was an implicit challenge to Papal authority in those parts. Experience had shown that kings and emperors were not wholly desirable on Crusading expeditions. The only Crusade to be a complete success was the First, in which no crowned head had taken part. A Crusade of barons, more or less homogeneous in race, would avoid the royal and national rivalries that had so greatly damaged the Second and Third Crusades. Such jealousies as arose would be petty and easily controlled by an able Papal representative. Innocent therefore gave a warm welcome to the news from Champagne. The movement that Tibald had launched not only would bring effective help to the East but also could be used to strengthen the unity of Christendom under Rome.

1199: Innocent III and the Crusade

The moment was well chosen for the Papacy. As at the time of the First Crusade, there was no Emperor in the West in a position to interfere. Henry VI’s death in September 1197 had relieved the Church from a very real threat. As son of Frederick Barbarossa and husband of the heiress of Sicily, whose inheritance was firmly in his hands by 1194, Henry was more formidable than any potentate since Charlemagne. He had a high sense of this office and almost succeeded in establishing it on an hereditary basis. His bestowal of crowns in the East and his demand of allegiance from the captive Coeur de Lion showed that he saw himself as ‘king of kings’. He made no secret of his hatred of Byzantium, the ancient Empire whose traditions outrivalled his own, nor of his aim to carry on the Norman policy of building a Mediterranean dominion, which in itself involved the destruction of Byzantium. A Crusade was an inevitable part of this policy. Throughout 1197 he laid his careful plans. The German expedition that landed that year at Acre was to be the forerunner of a greater army that he himself would command. Pope Celestine III, a timorous, vacillating man, was embarrassed but made no attempt to dissuade him, though he advised him not to launch an immediate attack against Constantinople, with whose Emperor he was negotiating for Church union. Had Henry not died suddenly at Messina, at the age of thirty-two, just as he was preparing a great armada to conquer the East, he might well have succeeded in making himself master of all Christendom.

Pope Celestine died a few months after the Emperor. Innocent III therefore found himself on his accession without a lay rival. The widowed Empress Constance put her Sicilian Kingdom and her little son Frederick into his care. In Germany, where the Sicilian-born prince was unknown, his uncle, Henry’s brother, Philip of Swabia, took over the family lands and claimed the Empire, and found that the enemies of the Hohenstaufen had only been temporarily cowed. The House of Welf put up a rival candidate, Otto of Brunswick. Richard of England was killed in March 1199, and his brother John and his nephew Arthur were disputing the inheritance, with King Philip of France actively taking part in the quarrel. With the Kings of France and England so occupied, with Germany distracted by civil war and Papal authority restored in southern Italy, Innocent could proceed in confidence to preach his Crusade. As a preliminary step he opened negotiations with the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III over the union of the Churches.

In France the Pope’s chief agent as preacher was the itinerant Fulk of Neuilly, who had long sought to inspire a crusade. He was famed for his fearlessness before princes, as when he ordered King Richard to abandon his pride and avarice and lust. At the Pope’s request he toured the country, persuading the countryfolk to follow their lords to the Holy War. In Germany the sermons of Abbot Martin of Pairis were almost equally inspiring, though there the nobles were too deeply involved in the civil war to pay him much attention. But neither Fulk nor Martin aroused the same enthusiasm as the preachers of the First Crusade. The recruitment was more orderly and in the main restricted to the dependants of barons who had taken the Cross and many of these barons were moved less by piety than by a wish to acquire new lands far away from the disciplinary activity of King Philip Augustus. Tibald of Champagne was generally accepted as leader of the movement. With him were Baldwin IX of Hainault, Count of Flanders, and his brother Henry, Louis, Count of Blois, Geoffrey III of Le Perche and Simon IV of Montfort and their brothers, Enguerrand of Boves, Reynald of Dampierre and Geoffrey of Villehardouin, and many lesser lords from northern France and the Low Countries. The Bishop of Autun announced his adhesion with a company of knights from Auvergne. In the Rhineland the Bishop of Halberstadt and the Count of Katznellenbogen took the Cross with many of their neighbours.’ Their example was followed soon afterwards by various magnates of northern Italy, led by Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat, whose participation aroused in Pope Innocent his first misgivings about the whole venture; for the princes of Montferrat were the faithful friends and allies of the Hohenstaufen.

1201: Boniface appointed Leader of the Crusade

The expedition could not be organized quickly. The first problem was to find ships to carry it to the East; for with the decline of Byzantium the land-route across the Balkans and Anatolia was no longer practicable. But none of the Crusaders had a fleet at his disposal, except the Count of Flanders; and the Flemish fleet sailed on its own to Palestine, under the command of John of Nesle. Next, there was the question of general strategy. Richard Coeur-de-Lion had given his opinion when he left Palestine that Egypt was the vulnerable point in the Saracen Empire. It was eventually decided that Egypt should be the Crusaders’ objective. The year 1200 was spent in varied negotiations, over which Innocent tried to keep some control. In March 1201 Tibald of Champagne died suddenly; and the Crusade elected as leader in his place Boniface of Montferrat. It was a natural choice. The House of Montferrat had notable connections with the East. Boniface’s father William had died as a Palestinian baron. Of his brothers William had married Sibylla of Jerusalem and been the father of the child-King Baldwin V; Rainier had married the daughter of the Emperor Manuel and had been murdered at Constantinople; and Conrad had been the saviour of Tyre, the ruler of the Holy Land and the father of its present heiress. But his appointment to command the Crusaders moved it from Pope Innocent’s influence. Boniface came to France in August1201 and met his chief colleagues at Soissons, where they ratified his leadership. From there he went on to Germany to spend the winter months with his old friend Philip of Swabia.

Philip of Swabia was himself interested in Eastern affairs, but in Byzantium rather than in Syria. He fully shared the dislike that his dynasty felt towards the Byzantine Emperors. He expected soon to become Western Emperor, and he wished to carry out his brother Henry’s full programme. He had moreover a personal connection with Byzantium. When Henry VI conquered Sicily, amongst his prisoners had been the young widow of the dispossessed Sicilian crown-prince Roger, Irene Angelina, the daughter of the Emperor Isaac Angelus; and he gave her as bride to Philip. It was a love-match; and through his love for her Philip became involved in the dynastic quarrels of the Angeli.

A few months after Philip’s marriage, his father-in-law Isaac lost his throne. Power had not improved Isaac’s capacity. His officials were corrupt and uncontrolled, and he himself far more extravagant than his impoverished Empire could afford. He had lost half the Balkan peninsula to a vigorous and menacing Vlacho-Bulgarian kingdom. The Turks, till the death of Kilij Arslan II in 1192, were steadily encroaching in Anatolia, cutting Byzantium off from the south coast and from Syria. More and more trade concessions were sold for ready cash to the Italians. The lavish and tactless splendour of the Emperor’s wedding to Princess Margaret of Hungary enraged his over-taxed subjects. His own family began to desert him; and in 1195 his brother Alexius engineered a successful palace plot. Isaac was blinded and thrown into prison, together with his son, the younger Alexius. The new Emperor, Alexius III, was little abler than his brother. He showed some diplomatic activity, wooing the friendship of the Papacy with the offer of talks on ecclesiastical union — a friendship that may have preserved him from an attack by Henry VI — and his intrigues helped to keep the Seldjuk princes disunited. But home affairs were left to his wife Euphrosyne, who was as extravagant and as corruptly served as her dispossessed brother-in-law.

At the end of 1201, the young Alexius, Isaac’s son, escaped from his prison in Constantinople and made his way to his sister’s court in Germany. Philip received him well and introduced him to Boniface of Montferrat. The three of them took counsel together. Alexius wished to obtain his father’s throne. Philip was ready to help him, in order to make the Eastern Empire client to the Western. Boniface had a Crusading army at his disposal. Would it not be of advantage to the Crusade if it paused on its way to enthrone a friendly ruler at Constantinople?

1202: Negotiations with the Venetians

The Crusaders had meanwhile been seeking transport for their sea-voyage. Early in 1201, while the Count of Champagne was still alive, they opened negotiations with Venice and sent Geoffrey of Villehardouin there to arrange terms. A treaty was signed between Geoffrey and the Venetians in April. In return for 85,000 silver marks of Cologne, Venice agreed to supply the Crusade by 28 June 1202 with transport and victuals for a year for 4500 knights and their horses, 9000 esquires and 20,000 foot-soldiers. In addition, the Republic would provide fifty galleys to accompany the Crusade, on condition that one-half of its conquests should be given to Venice. As soon as the agreement was made, the Crusaders were summoned to assemble at Venice, ready to sail against Egypt.

A few Crusaders were suspicious of the treaty. The Bishop of Autun took his company direct from Marseilles to Syria. Others, under Reynald of Dampierre, were impatient of the delay at Venice and made their own arrangements to sail to Acre. There was also some dissatisfaction among the humbler Crusaders at the decision to attack Egypt. They had enlisted to rescue the Holy Land and could not understand the point of going elsewhere. Their discontent was encouraged quietly by the Venetians, who had no intention of giving help to an attack on Egypt. Al-Adil was well aware of the advantages that trade with Europe brought to his dominions, and his conquest of Egypt had been followed by the offer of valuable trading concessions to the Italian cities. At the very moment when the Venetian government was bargaining with the Crusaders about the transport of their forces, its ambassadors were in Cairo planning a trade agreement with the Sultan’s viceroy, who signed a treaty with them in the spring of 1202, after special envoys sent by al-Adil to Venice had been assured by the Doge that he would countenance no expedition against Egypt.

It is uncertain whether the Crusaders understood the subtleties of Venetian diplomacy. But, if any of them suspected that they were being duped, there was nothing to be done. Their treaty with Venice placed them entirely in her power: for they could not raise the 85,000 marks that they had promised. By June 1202 the army was assembled; but as the money was not forthcoming the Republic would not provide the ships. Encamped on the little island of San Niccolo di Lido, harassed by Venetian merchants with whom they had run up debts, threatened that their supplies would be entirely cut off unless they produced the money, the Crusaders were ready by September to accept any terms that Venice might offer. Boniface, who joined them that summer, after an unsatisfactory visit to the Pope at Rome, was already prepared to work with the Venetians. For some decades past there had been a desultory war between the Republic and the King of Hungary for the control of Dalmatia, and the key-city of Zara had recently passed into Hungarian possession. The Crusaders were now informed that the expedition could start out and the settlement of the debt be postponed if they would join in a preliminary campaign to recapture Zara. The Pope, hearing of the offer, sent at once to forbid its acceptance. But, whatever they might feel about its morality, they could not but comply with it.

1202: The Sack of Zara

The arrangement had been made behind the scenes between Boniface of Montferrat, who had few Christian scruples, and the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo. Dandolo was a very old man, but age had not quenched his energy or his ambition. Some thirty years before he had been on an embassy to Constantinople, where he had been involved in a brawl and had partially lost his sight. His consequent bitterness against the Byzantines was increased when, soon after his elevation to the Dogeship in 1193, he had some difficulty in securing from the Emperor Alexius III a renewal of the favourable trading terms given to Venice by the Emperor Isaac. He was therefore ready to discuss with Boniface schemes for an expedition against Constantinople. But for the moment the semblance of the Crusade must be maintained. As soon as the attack on Zara was approved there was a solemn ceremony at St Mark’s where the Doge, and his leading counsellors, ostentatiously took the Cross.

The fleet sailed from Venice on 8 November 1202, and arrived off Zara two days later. After a fierce assault, the city capitulated on the 15th and was thoroughly pillaged. Three days later the Venetians and Crusaders came to blows while dividing the spoil, but peace was patched up. The Doge and Boniface then decided that it was too late in the year to venture to the East. The expedition settled down for the winter at Zara, while its leaders planned their future operations.

When the news of the sack of Zara reached Rome, Pope Innocent was aghast. It was intolerable that in defiance of his orders a Crusade should have been used to attack the territory of a faithful son of the Church. He excommunicated the whole expedition. Then, realizing that the Crusaders themselves had been the victims of blackmail, he forgave them but maintained the excommunication of the Venetians. Dandolo was unperturbed. Through Boniface he was already in touch with Philip of Swabia, a fellow-excommunicate. Early in 1203 a messenger came from Germany to Zara from Philip to Boniface with a definite offer from his brother-in-law Alexius. If the Crusade would proceed to Constantinople and place Alexius upon the Imperial throne there, then Alexius would guarantee to pay the Crusaders the money that they still owed the Venetians; he would provide them with the necessary money and supplies for the conquest of Egypt, and would add a contingent of 10,000 men from the Byzantine army; he would pay for the maintenance of five hundred knights to remain in the Holy Land, and he would ensure the submission of the Church of Constantinople to Rome. Boniface referred the matter to Dandolo, who was delighted. It meant that Venice would receive her money and at the same time would humble the Greeks and would be able to enlarge and strengthen her trading-privileges throughout the Byzantine Empire. The attack against Egypt could easily be thwarted later on.

When the proposal was put before the Crusaders, there were a few dissentients, such as Reynald of Montmirail, who felt that they had taken the Cross to fight against the Moslems and saw no justification for further delay. They left the host and sailed on to Syria. Others remained with the army, protesting; others again were silenced by timely Venetian bribes. But the average Crusader had been taught to believe that Byzantium had consistently been a traitor to Christendom throughout the Holy Wars. It would be a wise and meritorious act to enforce its co-operation now. The pious men in the army were glad to help in a policy that would bring the schismatic Greeks into the fold. The more worldly reflected on the riches of Constantinople and its prosperous provinces and looked forward to the prospects of loot. Some of the barons, including Boniface himself; may have looked forward further still and have calculated that estates on the shores of the Aegean would be far more attractive than any that could be found in the stricken land of Syria. All the resentment that the West had long borne against Eastern Christendom made it easy for Dandolo and Boniface to bring public opinion round to their support.

1203: The Crusade sails to Constantinople

The Pope’s disquiet about the Crusade did not lessen when he heard of the decision that it had taken. A scheme hatched between the Venetians and the friends of Philip of Swabia was unlikely to do credit to the Church. He had moreover met the young Alexius and summed him up as a worthless youth. But it was too late for him to make an effective protest; and if the diversion was really going to secure active Byzantine aid against the infidel and at the same time achieve the union of the Churches, it would be justified. He contented himself by issuing an order that no more Christians were to be attacked unless they were actively hindering the Holy War. It might have been wiser in the long run for him to have expressed, however vainly, open and uncompromising disapproval. To the Greeks, always suspicious of Papal intentions and ignorant of the intricacies of Western politics, the half-heartedness of his condemnation seemed proof that he was the power behind the whole intrigue.

On 25 April Alexius arrived at Zara from Germany; and a few days later the expedition sailed on, pausing for a time at Durazzo, where Alexius was accepted as Emperor, and then at Corfu. There Alexius solemnly signed a treaty with his allies. The voyage was continued on 25 May. The fleet rounded the Peloponnese and turned northward to the island of Andros, refilling its water-tanks from the abundant springs there. From Andros it made for the Dardanelles, which it found undefended. The Thracian harvest was ripening; so the Crusaders put in at Abydos to gather what they could. On 24 June they arrived before the Imperial capital.

The Emperor Alexius III had made no preparation against their arrival. The Imperial army had never recovered from the disasters of Manuel’s last years. It was almost entirely mercenary. The Frankish regiments were obviously unreliable at such a moment; the Slav and Petcheneg regiments could be trusted only in so far as there was ready money to pay them. The Varangian Guard, now mainly English and Danish in composition, had traditions of loyalty to the Emperor’s person; but Alexius III was not a man who inspired great personal loyalty. He was a usurper who had won his throne not through any merit as a soldier or a statesman but by a petty palace plot; and he had shown himself little fitted to govern. He was unsure not only of his army but of the general temper of his subjects. It seemed safer to do nothing. Constantinople had weathered many storms before in the nine centuries of her history. Doubtless she could weather another.

1203: The Young Alexius as Emperor

After attacking, without success, Chalcedon and Chrysopolis, on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus, the Crusaders landed at Galata, across the Golden Horn. They occupied the town and were able to break the chain across the entrance to the Golden Horn and to bring their ships into the harbour. The young Alexius had led them to believe that all Byzantium would rise to welcome him. They were surprised to find the city gates closed against them and soldiers manning the walls. Their first attempts at assault, made from their ships against the walls along the Golden Horn, were held; but after a fierce struggle on 17 July Dandolo and the Venetians effected a breach. Alexius III, who was as surprised as the Crusaders to find his city defended, was already meditating flight; he had read in the Bible how David had fled before Absalom and so had lived to recover his throne. Taking with him his favourite daughter and a bag of precious stones, he now slipped through the land-walls and took refuge at Mosynopolis in Thrace. The government officials, left without an Emperor, made a quick but subtle decision. They brought the blind ex-Emperor Isaac out from his prison and set him on the throne, announcing to Dandolo and the Crusaders that as the Pretender’s father had been restored there was no need to continue fighting. The young Alexius had chosen hitherto to ignore his father’s existence, but he could not well repudiate him now. He persuaded his allies to call off the attack. Instead, they sent an embassy into the city to say that they would recognize Isaac if his son was raised to be co-Emperor and if they both honoured the treaty that the latter had made. Isaac promised to carry out their demands. On 1 August, at a solemn service in the Church of St Sophia, in the presence of the leading Crusader barons, Alexius IV was crowned to be his father’s colleague.

Alexius IV soon found that an Emperor cannot be as irresponsible as a pretender. His attempt to force the clergy of the city to admit the supremacy of Rome and to introduce Latin usages was met with sullen resistance. Nor was it easy for him to raise all the money that he had promised. He rashly began his reign by making lavish gifts to the Crusader leaders, whose greed was thereby stimulated. But when he had to hand over to the Venetians the money due to them from the Crusaders, the Treasury was found to be insufficiently well supplied. Alexius therefore announced new taxes, and further enraged the Church by confiscating large quantities of ecclesiastical plate, to be melted down for the Venetians. Throughout the autumn and winter of 1203 the atmosphere in the city grew steadily more tense. The sight of the haughty Frankish knights striding through their streets exasperated the citizens. Trade was at a standstill. Parties of drunken Western soldiers constantly pillaged the villages in the suburbs, so that life was no longer safe outside the walls. A disastrous fire swept through a whole quarter of the city when some Frenchmen in an access of piety burned down the mosque built for the use of visiting Moslem merchants. The Crusaders on their side were as dissatisfied as the Byzantines. They came to realize that the Byzantine government was quite unable to carry out the promises made by Alexius IV. Neither the men nor the money that he had offered were forthcoming. Alexius himself soon gave up the hopeless task of trying to content his guests. He invited them to an occasional feast at the palace, and with their help he made a brief military excursion against his uncle Alexius III in Thrace, returning home to celebrate a triumph as soon as he had won one little skirmish. The rest of his days and nights were spent in private pleasures. His father Isaac, who was too blind to take part in the government, shut himself up with his favourite astrologers, whose prophecies gave him no reassurance for the future. An open breach was inevitable; and Dandolo did his best, by making unreasonable demands, to hasten it on.

Only two men in Constantinople seemed fitted to take control, both of them sons-in-law of the ex-Emperor Alexius III. Anna’s husband, Theodore Lascaris, was a distinguished soldier who had organized the first defence against the Latins. But after his father-in-law’s flight he had gone into retirement. Eudocia’s husband, Alexius Murzuphlus, had, on the contrary, sought the favour of Alexius IV and had been given the title of Protovestiarius. He had now made himself the leader of the nationalists. Probably in order to frighten Alexius IV from the throne he organized a riot in January 1204. But its only concrete result was the destruction of the great statue of Athena, the work of Phidias, which stood in the forum facing the west. It was hacked to pieces by a drunken mob, because the goddess seemed to be beckoning to the invaders.

1204: Revolution in the Palace

In February a deputation from the Crusaders came to the palace of Blachernae to demand from Alexius IV the immediate fulfilment of his promises. He could only confess his impotence; and the delegates were nearly torn to pieces by the angry crowd as• they passed out from the imperial audience chamber. The populace then rushed to St Sophia and there they declared Alexius deposed and elected in his place an obscure nobleman called Nicholas Canabus, who happened to be present and who tried to repudiate the honour. Murzuphlus then invaded the palace. No one attempted to defend Alexius IV, who was thrown into a dungeon and strangled there, universally and deservedly unlamented. His father Isaac died of grief and judicious ill-treatment a few days later. The shadowy Canabus was imprisoned; and Murzuphlus ascended the throne as Alexius V.

The palace revolution was a direct challenge to the Crusaders. The Venetians had long been urging on them that the only effective course was to take Constantinople by storm and to install there a Westerner as Emperor. Their advice seemed now to be justified. But it would not be easy to choose an Emperor. Discussions were carried out throughout the month of March at the camp at Galata. There were some who pressed for the election of Philip of Swabia, to unite the two Empires. But Philip was far away. He had been excommunicated, and the Venetians disliked the idea of one powerful Empire. Boniface of Montferrat was the obvious candidate. But there again, in spite of Dandolo’s protestations of affection for him, the Venetians disapproved. Boniface was too ambitious for their tastes. He had, moreover, connections with the Genoese. It was decided at last that a panel of six Franks and six Venetians should elect the Emperor as soon as the city was taken. If, as seemed best, the Emperor was to be a Frank, then a Venetian should be elected as Patriarch. The Emperor should have for himself the great imperial palace and the residential palace of Blachernae, and a quarter of the city and the Empire. The remaining three-quarters should go half to the Venetians and half to the Crusading knights, to be divided into fiefs for them. With the exception of the Doge all the fief-holders should do homage to the Emperor. All things would thus be ordered to ‘the honour of God, of the Pope and of the Empire’. The pretence that the expedition was ever to go on to fight the infidel was frankly abandoned.

Alexius V was a vigorous but not a popular ruler. He dismissed any minister whom he thought disloyal to his person, including the historian Nicetas Choniates, who took vengeance on him in his History. There was some attempt to repair the walls and organize the population for the defence of the city. But the city guards had been demoralized by the constant revolutions; and there had never been an opportunity for bringing up troops from the provinces. And there were traitors in Venetian pay inside the city. The first attack by the Crusaders, on 6 April, was driven back with heavy losses. Six days later the Crusaders attacked again. There was a desperate fight on the Golden Horn, where Greek ships vainly tried to keep the Venetian fleet from landing troops below the walls. The main assault was launched against the Blachernae quarter, where the land-walls came down to the Golden Horn. A breach was made in the outer wall there. The defenders were holding in the inner wall when, either by accident or by treachery, a fire broke out in the city behind them and trapped them. Their defence collapsed; and the Franks and the Venetians poured into the city. Murzuphlus fled with his wife along the walls to the Golden Gate, near the Marmora, and out into Thrace, to seek refuge with his father-in-law at Mosynopolis. When it was known that he had fled, the remaining nobles met in St Sophia to offer the crown to Theodore Lascaris. But it was too late to save the city. Theodore refused the empty honour. He came out with the Patriarch to the Golden Milestone in the square between the church and the Great Palace and spoke passionately to the Varangian Guard, telling them that they would gain nothing by surrender now to new masters. But their spirit was broken; they would fight no more. So Theodore and his wife and the Patriarch, with many of the nobility, slipped down to the palace harbour and took ship for Asia.

1204: The Sack of Constantinople

There was a little fighting in the streets as the invaders forced their way through the city. By next morning the Doge and the leading Crusaders were established in the Great Palace, and their soldiers were told that they might spend the next three days in pillage.

The sack of Constantinople is unparalleled in history. For nine centuries the great city had been the capital of Christian civilization. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians indeed knew the value of such things. Wherever they could they seized treasures and carried them off to adorn the squares and churches and palaces of their town. But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars for their refreshment. Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. In St Sophia itself drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled under foot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarch’s throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes of pillage and bloodshed continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. Even the Saracens would have been more merciful, cried the historian Nicetas, and with truth.

At last the Latin leaders realized that so much destruction was to nobody’s advantage. When the soldiers were exhausted by their licence, order was restored. Anyone who had stolen a precious object was forced to give it up to the Frankish nobles; and unfortunate citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide. Even after so much had wantonly perished, the amount of booty was staggering. No one, wrote Villehardouin, could possibly count the gold and silver, the plate and the jewels, the samite and silks and garments of fur, vair, silver-grey and ermine; and he added, on his own learned authority, that never since the world was created had so much been taken in a city. It was all divided according to the treaty; three-eighths went to the Crusaders, three-eighths to the Venetians, and a quarter was reserved for the future Emperor.

1204: Baldwin of Flanders crowned Emperor

The next task was to select the Emperor. Boniface of Montferrat still hoped to be chosen. To enhance his position he had rescued the Dowager Empress Margaret, Isaac’s Hungarian widow, and had forthwith married her. But the Venetians would have none of him. Under their influence the throne was given to a less controversial prince, Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders and Hainault, a man of high lineage and great wealth, but weaker and more tractable. His title was to be grander than his actual power. He was indeed to be overlord of all the conquered territory, with the ominous exception of the lands allotted to the Doge of Venice. His personal domain was to include Thrace, as far as Chorlu, and Bithynia and Mysia as far as Mount Olympus, and some of the Aegean islands, Samothrace, Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Cos. But his capital was not to be entirely his own; for the Venetians claimed their right to three-eighths of Constantinople, and took the portion that included St Sophia, where a Venetian, Thomas Morosini, was installed as Patriarch. In addition, they demanded those parts of the Empire that would aid their maritime supremacy, the western coasts of continental Greece, the whole Peloponnese, Naxos, Andros and Euboea, Gallipoli and the Thracian ports on the Marmora, and Adrianople. To Boniface, as compensation for missing the throne, they offered a vague dominion in Anatolia, the east and centre of continental Greece and the island of Crete. But, having no desire to go out to conquer lands in Asia, he demanded instead Macedonia with Thessalonica. Baldwin demurred, but public opinion supported him, especially when he put forward a hereditary claim derived from his brother Rainier, who had married the Porphyrogennete Maria; and he won over the Venetians by selling them Crete. He became King of Thessalonica under the Emperor. Lesser nobles were assigned fiefs suited to their rank and importance.

On 16 May 1204 Baldwin was ceremoniously crowned in St Sophia. On 1 October, after he had suppressed a bid by Boniface for independence, he held a court at Constantinople, where he enfeoffed some six hundred of his vassals with their lordships. Meanwhile, a constitution was worked out, based partly on the theories of feudal lawyers and partly on what was believed to be the practice of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. A council of tenants-in-chief, assisted by the Venetian podesta of Constantinople, advised the Emperor on political matters; it directed military operations and could countermand the Emperor’s administrative orders. A High Court, similarly composed, regulated his relations with his vassals. He became little more than the chairman of a house of peers. Few constitutions have been so impracticable as that embodied in the Assizes of Romania.

Romania, as the Latins called their Empire, had little more reality than its Emperor’s power. Many of its provinces were still unconquered, and never would be conquered. The Venetians, in their realism, took only what they knew that they could hold, Crete and the ports of Modon and Croton in the Peloponnese and for a while Corfu. They set up vassal lords of Venetian origin in their Aegean islands, and in Cephalonia and Euboea accepted the homage of Latin princes who had installed themselves ahead of them. Boniface of Montferrat soon overran most of continental Greece and set up his vassals there, a Burgundian, Otho of La Roche becoming Duke of Athens and Thebes. The Peloponnese fell to two French lords, William of Champlitte and Geoffrey of Villehardouin, nephew of the chronicler, who founded a dynasty of Princes of Achaea.

Nearly all the European provinces of the Empire passed thus into Latin hands. But the Latins were mistaken in their belief that the capture of Constantinople would give them the whole Empire. In times of disaster the Greek spirit shows itself at its most courageous and energetic. The loss of the Imperial capital led at first to chaos. But within two years the independent Greek world was reorganized in three succession-states. Away in the East, two grandsons of the Emperor Andronicus, Alexius and David Comnenus, had with the help of their aunt, the great Queen Thamar of Georgia, occupied Trebizond and established a dominion along the Black Sea shores of Asia Minor. David was killed in 1206 while fighting to extend their power towards the Bosphorus; but Alexius lived on to take the title of Emperor and to found a dynasty that lasted for two and a half centuries, enriched by the trade from Persia and the East that passed through its capital and by the silver-mines in the hills behind, and famed for the beauty of its princesses. Away in the West a bastard of the Angeli made himself Despot of Epirus and founded a dynasty that was to extinguish the Montferrat kingdom of Thessalonica. Most formidable of the three was the Empire set up at Nicaea by Alexius III’s daughter Anna and her husband Theodore Lascaris.

1204-1261: The Latin Empire

The leading citizens that had escaped from Constantinople gathered there around them. The Greek Patriarch, John Camaterus, who had fled to Thrace, died there in 1206; and a priest already at Nicaea, Michael Autoreanus, was elected Patriarch by the clergy exiled from the old Imperial capital; and Michael thereupon performed the coronation of Theodore and Anna. In the eyes of the Greeks Nicaea thus became the seat of the legitimate Empire. Theodore soon extended his rule, over most of the lands that had been left to Byzantium in Asia. In little more than fifty years his successors would reign again in Constantinople.

The Latins also forgot the other races of the Balkans. The Vlacho-Bulgarian Empire of the Asen brothers would have willingly allied with them against the hated Greeks. But the Latin Emperor claimed territory that the Tsar Kaloyan had occupied, and the Latin Patriarch claimed authority over the Orthodox Bulgarian Church. Bulgaria was driven into an unnatural alliance with the Greeks; and at the battle of Adrianople in 1205 the army of Romania was almost annihilated and the Emperor Baldwin led off to die a prisoner in a Balkan castle. It seemed for a moment that the next Emperor to rule in Constantinople would be the Bulgarian Tsar. But in Baldwin’s brother Henry the Latin East produced its one great ruler. The energy and tolerant wisdom that he showed in his ten years’ reign saved the Latin Empire from immediate destruction; and the rivalries of the Greek potentates, their quarrels with each other and with the Bulgarians, and the presence in the background of the Turks kept it alive till 1261.

The exultant conquerors of 1204 could not foresee how empty would be the results of their enterprise, and their contemporaries were equally dazzled by the conquest. There was exultation at first throughout the Latin world. True, the Cluniac satirist Guyot de Provins asked in his poems why the Pope permitted a Crusade conducted against Christians, and the Provencal troubadour, Guillem Figuera bitterly accused Rome of perfidy against the Greeks. But when he wrote, Rome was preaching a Crusade against his fellow-countrymen. Such dissidents were rare. Pope Innocent, for all the misgivings that he had felt about the diversion of the Crusade to Constantinople, was at first delighted. In answer to an ecstatic letter from the new Emperor Baldwin boasting of the great and valuable results of the miracle that God had wrought, Innocent wrote that he rejoiced in the Lord and gave his approval without reserve. Throughout the West there were paeans of praise, and the enthusiasm mounted when precious relics began to arrive for the churches of France and Belgium. Hymns were sung to celebrate the fall of the great ungodly city, Constantinopolitana Civitas diu profana, whose treasures were now disgorged. The Latins in the East were encouraged by the news. Surely with Constantinople in the hands of their kinsmen the whole strategy of the Crusades would be far more effective. Rumours came that the Moslems were struck with terror; and the Pope congratulated himself on the alarm that the Sultan of Egypt was said to have expressed.

1204: Innocent condemns the Crusade

Second thoughts were less encouraging. The Pope’s misgivings began to return. The integration of the Eastern Empire and its Church into the world of Roman Christendom was a fine achievement; but had it been done in a way that would bring lasting benefit? He received more information, and learned to his horror of the blasphemous and bloodthirsty scenes at the sack of the city. He was profoundly shocked as a Christian, and he was disquieted as a statesman. Such barbarous brutality was not the best policy for winning the affections of Eastern Christendom. He wrote in bitter fury to Constantinople enumerating and denouncing the atrocities. He learned too that the conquerors had blandly divided up the State and the Church there without any reference to his authority. His rights had been deliberately ignored, and he could see how incompetent were the arrangements made for the new Empire and how completely the Crusaders had been outwitted by the Venetians. Then, to his disgust, he heard that his legate, Peter of Saint-Marcel, had issued a decree absolving all who had taken the Cross from making the further journey to the Holy Land. The Crusade was revealed as an expedition whose only aim was to conquer Christian territory. It was to do nothing to help the Christian soldiers fighting against Islam.

The Franks in Syria had already realized that they could not hope for any expedition in 1204. The summer passed with the Crusaders still remaining at Constantinople; and in September King Amalric made a truce with al-Adil, knowing that no reinforcements would now come. But soon it became clear that the Latin establishments further north would do positive harm to the establishments in Syria. The Emperor Baldwin had boasted to Pope Innocent that many knights from Outremer had come to his coronation; and he did his best to persuade them to stay with him. When it was discovered that there were rich and pleasant fiefs to be had by the Bosphorus or in Greece, other knights who had lost their lands in Syria to the Moslems hastened to Constantinople to join them. Amongst them was Hugh of Tiberias, the eldest of Raymond of Tripoli’s stepsons and husband of Margaret of Ibelin, Maria Comnena’s daughter. Adventurous knights from the West now found it pointless to go so far as the overcrowded kingdom of Jerusalem to look for a lordship or an heiress. There were better lands to be found in Greece. The conquest of Cyprus had already lured away settlers from the Syrian mainland. After the conquest of Romania recruits for the Military Orders were almost the only knights to come out from Europe to defend the Holy Land.

There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade. Not only did it cause the destruction or dispersal of all the treasures of the past that Byzantium had devotedly stored, and the mortal wounding of a civilization that was still active and great; but it was also an act of gigantic political folly. It brought no help to the Christians in Palestine. Instead it robbed them of potential helpers. And it upset the whole defence of Christendom. Had the Latins been able to take over the whole Byzantine Empire as it had been in the days of Manuel, then they could have provided powerful aid to the Crusading movement, though Byzantium run in the interests of Latin Syria would not long have prospered. But Byzantium had lost territory in Anatolia since Manuel’s death; and the Latins could not even conquer all that was left, while their attack on the Greeks gave further strength to the Turks. The land route from Europe to Syria became more difficult as a result of the Fourth Crusade, with the Greeks of Nicaea suspicious and the Turks hostile to travellers. No armed company from the West was ever to attempt the journey across Anatolia again. Nor was the sea route made easier; for Italian ships now preferred to carry passengers to the Greek islands and the Bosphorus rather than to Acre or the Syrian ports.

1204: The Consequences of the Crusade

In the wide sweep of world history the effects were wholly disastrous. Since the inception of its Empire Byzantium had been the guardian of Europe against the infidel East and the barbarian North. She had opposed them with her armies and tamed them with her civilization. She had passed through many anxious periods when it had seemed that her doom had come, but hitherto she had survived them. At the close of the twelfth century she was facing a long crisis, as the damage to her man-power and her economy caused by the Turkish conquests in Anatolia a century before began to take full effect, enhanced by the energetic rivalry of the Italian merchant cities. But she might well have shown her resilience once again and have reconquered the Balkans and much of Anatolia, and her culture could have continued its uninterrupted influence over the countries around. Even the Seldjuk Turks might well have fallen under its sway and in the end been absorbed to refresh the Empire. The story of the Empire of Nicaea shows that the Byzantines had not lost their vigour. But, with Constantinople gone, the unity of the Byzantine world was broken and could never be repaired, even after the capital itself was recovered. It was part of the achievement of the Nicaeans to keep the Seldjuks in check. But when a new, more vigorous Turkish tribe appeared, under the leadership of the brilliant house of Osman, the East Christian world was too deeply divided to make an effective stand. Its leadership was passing elsewhere, away from the Mediterranean birthplace of European culture to the far northeast, to the vast plains of Russia. The Second Rome was giving place to the Third Rome of Muscovy.

Meanwhile hatred had been sown between Eastern and Western Christendom. The bland hopes of Pope Innocent and the complacent boasts of the Crusaders that they had ended the schism and united the Church were never fulfilled. Instead, their barbarity left a memory that would never be forgiven them. Later, East Christian potentates might advocate union with Rome in the fond expectation that union would bring a united front against the Turks. But their people would not follow them. They could not forget the Fourth Crusade. It was perhaps inevitable that the Church of Rome and the great Eastern Churches should drift apart; but the whole Crusading movement had embittered their relations, and henceforward, whatever a few princes might try to achieve, in the hearts of the East Christians the schism was complete, irremediable and final.

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