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Fourth Crusade (1202–1204)

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Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and sacked the Christian (Eastern Orthodox) city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). This is seen as one of the final acts in the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, and a key turning point in the decline of the Empire and of Christianity in the Near East.

The crusaders established the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and other "Latin" states in the Byzantine lands they conquered. Byzantine resistance in unconquered sections of the empire such as Nicaea, Trebizond, and Epirus ultimately liberated the capital and overthrew the crusader states.


Ayyubid Sultan Saladin had conquered most of the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the ancient city itself, in 1187. The Kingdom had been established 88 years before after the capture and sack of Jerusalem by the First Crusade. The city was sacred to both Christians and Muslims and returning it to Christian hands had been the express purpose of the First Crusade. Saladin's was a Muslim dynasty, and his incorporation of Jerusalem into his domains shocked and dismayed the Catholic countries of Western Europe. Pope Urban III literally died of the shock. The Crusader states had been reduced to three cities along the sea coast, Tyre, Tripoli, Antioch.

The Third Crusade (1189–1192) reclaimed much land for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the key towns of Acre and Jaffa, but had failed to take Jerusalem. The Crusade had also been marked by a significant escalation in long standing tension between the Germanic princes of western Catholicism and the Byzantine Empire still centered on Constantinople. The experiences of the first two Crusades had thrown into stark relief the vast cultural differences between the two Christian civilizations. The Latins (as the Byzantines called them because of their adherence to the Latin Rite) viewed the Byzantine preference for diplomacy and trade over war, as duplicitous and degenerate, and their policy of tolerance and assimilation towards Muslims as a corrupt betrayal of the faith. For their part, the educated and wealthy Byzantines saw the Latins as lawless, impious, covetous, blood-thirsty, undisciplined, and (quite literally) unwashed. The leader of the Third Crusade Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa openly plotted with the Serbs, Bulgars, Byzantine traitors, and even the Muslim Seljuqs against the Empire and at one point even sought Papal support for a Crusade against the Orthodox Byzantines. The Third Crusade had also seized the breakaway Byzantine province of Cyprus. But rather than return it to the Empire, Richard I of England sold the island to the Knights Templar

Barbarossa's army had quickly disintegrated and took ship back to Europe after his death, leaving the English and French, who had come by sea, to fight Saladin. In 1195, Henry VI, son and heir of Barbarossa, sought to efface this humiliation by declaring a new Crusade and in the summer of 1197 a large number of German knights and nobles, including two Archbishops, nine bishops, five dukes and numerous other nobles sailed for Palestine. There they captured Siddon and Beirut, but news of Henry's death en route, sent many of the leaders quickly back to their estates in Europe. Deserted by their leaders, the rank and file Crusaders panicked before an Egyptian army and fled to their ships in Tyre.

Also in 1195 Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos was deposed by his brother in a palace coup. Ascending as Alexios III Angelos, the new emperor had his brother blinded (a traditional punishment for treason) and imprisoned. Ineffectual on the battlefield, Isaac had been an incompetent ruler who had let the treasury dwindle, outsourced the navy to the Venetians, and distributed military weapons and supplies as gifts to loyalists, fatally undermining the Empire's defense. But the new Emperor was to prove even worse. Anxious to shore-up his position, he bankrupted the treasury. His attempts to secure the support of border commanders undermined central authority. He neglected defense and diplomacy completely and was reduced to plundering Imperial tombs to meet expenses.

The Crusade Begins

Pope Innocent III succeeded to the papacy in 1198, and the preaching of a new crusade became the goal of his pontificate, expounded in his bull Post miserabile. His call was largely ignored by the European monarchs: the Germans were struggling against Papal power, and England and France were still engaged in warfare against each other. However, due to the preaching of Fulk of Neuilly, a crusading army was finally organised at a tournament held at Écry by Count Thibaut of Champagne in 1199. Thibaut was elected leader, but he died in 1201 and was replaced by an Italian count, Boniface of Montferrat.

Boniface and the other leaders sent envoys to Venice, Genoa, and other city-states to negotiate a contract for transport to Egypt, the object of their crusade; one of the envoys was the future historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin. Genoa was uninterested, but in March 1201 negotiations were opened with Venice, which agreed to transport 33,500 crusaders, a very ambitious number. This agreement required a full year of preparation on the part of the Venetians to build numerous ships and train the sailors who would man them, all the while curtailing the city's commercial activities. The crusading army was expected to comprise 4,500 knights (as well as 4,500 horses), 9,000 squires, and 20,000 foot-soldiers.

The majority of the crusading army that set out from Venice in October 1202 originated from areas within France. It included men from Blois, Champagne, Amiens, Saint-Pol, the Ile-de-France and Burgundy. Several other regions of Europe sent substantial contingents as well, such as Flanders and Montferrat. Other notable groups came from the Holy Roman Empire, including the men under Bishop Martin of the Pairis Abbey and Bishop Conrad of Halberstadt, together in alliance with the Venetian soldiers and sailors led by the doge Enrico Dandolo. The crusade was to be ready to sail on June 24, 1202 and make directly for the Ayyubid capital, Cairo. This agreement was ratified by Pope Innocent, with a solemn ban on attacks on Christian states.

Attack on Zara

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As there was no binding agreement among the crusaders that all should sail from Venice, many chose to sail from other ports, particularly Flanders, Marseilles, and Genoa. By 1201 the bulk of the crusader army was collected at Venice, though with far fewer troops than expected: 12,000 instead of 33,500. About 4-5,000 knights and 8,000 foot soldiers showed up. The Venetians had performed their part of the agreement: there lay 50 war galleys and 450 transports - enough for three times the assembled army. The Venetians, under their aged and blind Doge Dandolo, would not let the crusaders leave without paying the full amount agreed to, originally 85,000 silver marks. The crusaders could only pay some 51,000 silver marks, and that only by reducing themselves to extreme poverty. This was disastrous to the Venetians, who had halted their commerce for a great length of time to prepare this expedition. In addition to this about 14,000 men or as many as 20-30,000 men (out of Venice's population of 60-100,000 people) were needed to man the entire fleet, placing further strain on the Venetian economy.

Dandolo and the Venetians considered what to do with the crusade, too small to pay its fee but disbanding it would lead to great shame upon Venice as well as the loss of significant money and trading activites. Following the Massacre of the Latins of Constantinople in 1182, the ruling Angelos dynasty had expelled the Venetian merchant population with the support of the Greek population. These events gave the Venetians a hostile attitude towards Byzantium but it remains unclear if Constantinople was always intended to be the target and the issue remains under fierce debate today. Dandolo, who joined the crusade during a public ceremony in the church of San Marco di Venezia, proposed that the crusaders pay their debts by intimidating many of the local ports and towns down the Adriatic which would culminate in the attack of the port of Zara in Dalmatia. The city had been dominated economically by Venice throughout the 12th century, but had rebelled in 1181 and allied with King Emeric of Hungary and Croatia. Subsequent Venetian attacks were repulsed, and by 1202 the city was economically independent, under the protection of the King.

The Hungarian king was Catholic and had himself agreed to join the Crusade (though this was mostly for political reasons, and he had made no actual preparations to leave). Many of the Crusaders were opposed to attacking Zara, and some, including a force led by the elder Simon de Montfort, refused to participate altogether and returned home. While the Papal legate to the Crusade, Cardinal Peter of Capua endorsed the move as necessary to prevent the crusade's complete failure, Pope Innocent III was alarmed at this development and wrote a letter to the Crusading leadership threatening excommunication.

Historian Geoffrey Hindley's The Crusades mentions that in 1202 Pope Innocent III forbade the Crusaders of Western Christendom from committing any atrocious acts against their Christian neighbours, despite wanting to secure papal authority over Byzantium. This letter was concealed from the bulk of the army and the attack proceeded. The citizens of Zara made reference to the fact that they were fellow Catholics by hanging banners marked with crosses from their windows and the walls of the city, but nevertheless the city fell after a brief siege. When Innocent III heard of the sack he sent a letter to the crusaders excommunicating them, and ordered them to return to their holy vows and head for Jerusalem. Out of fear that this would dissolve the army the leaders of the crusade decided not to inform the army of this. In any event, Innocent shortly reconsidered his decision. Regarding the Crusaders as having been blackmailed by the Venetians, he rescinded the excommunications against all non-Venetians in the expedition.

Diversion to Constantinople

Boniface of Montferrat, meanwhile, had left the fleet before it sailed from Venice, to visit his cousin Philip of Swabia. The reasons for his visit are a matter of debate; he may have realized the Venetians' plans and left to avoid excommunication, or he may have wanted to meet with the Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos, Philip's brother-in-law and the son of the recently deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos. Alexios had recently fled to Philip in 1201 but it is unknown whether or not Boniface knew he was at Philip's court. There, Alexios offered to pay the entire debt owed to the Venetians, give 200,000 silver marks to the Crusaders, 10,000 Byzantine professional troops for the Crusade, the maintenance of 500 knights in the Holy Land, the service of the Byzantine navy to transport the Crusader Army to Egypt and the placement of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the authority of the Pope if they would sail to Byzantium and topple the reigning emperor Alexios III Angelos, brother of Isaac II. It was a tempting offer for an enterprise that was short on funds. Doge Dandolo was a fierce supporter of the plan, however in his earlier capacity as an ambassador to Byzantium and someone who knew the finer details of how Byzantine politics worked, it is likely he knew the promises were false and there was no hope of any Byzantine emperor raising the money promised, let alone raising the troops and retuning the church to the Holy See. Count Boniface agreed and Alexios IV returned with the Marquess to rejoin the fleet at Corfu after it had sailed from Zara. Most of the rest of the Crusade's leaders, encouraged by bribes from Dandolo, eventually accepted the plan as well. However, there were dissenters; led by Reynold of Montmirail, those who refused to take part in the scheme to attack Christiandom's greatest city sailed on to Syria. The remaining fleet of 60 war galleys, 100 horse transports, and 50 large transports (the entire fleet was manned by 10,000 Venetian oarsmen and marines) sailed in late April 1203. In addition, 300 siege engines were brought along on board the fleet. Hearing of their decision, the Pope hedged and issued an order against any more attacks on Christians unless they were actively hindering the Crusader cause, but failed to condemn the scheme outright.

When the Fourth Crusade arrived at Constantinople, the city had a population of 400,000 people, a garrison of 15,000 men (including 5,000 Varangians), and a fleet of 20 galleys. The main objective of the Crusaders was to place Alexios on the Byzantine throne so that they could receive the rich payments he had promised them. Conon of Bethune delivered this ultimatum to the Lombard envoy sent by the Emperor Alexios III Angelos, who was the pretender's uncle and had seized the throne from the pretenders father Isaac II. The citizens of Constantinople were not concerned with the cause of the deposed emperor and his exiled son; hereditary right of succession had never been adopted by the empire and a palace coup between brothers wasn't considered illegitimate in the way it would have been in the West. First the crusaders attacked and were repulsed form the cities of Chalcedon and Chrysopolis, suburbs of the great city. They won a cavalry skirmish in which they were outnumbered, defeating 500 Byzantines with just 80 Frankish knights.

Siege of July 1203

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To take the city by force, the crusaders first needed to cross the Bosphorus. About 200 ships, horse transports and galleys would undertake to deliver the crusading army across the narrow strait, where Alexios III had lined up the Byzantine army in battle formation along the shore, north of the suburb of Galata. The Crusaders' knights charged straight out of the horse transports, and the Byzantine army fled south.

The Crusaders followed south, and attacked the Tower of Galata, which held the northern end of the massive chain that blocked access to the Golden Horn. As they laid siege to the Tower, the Byzantines counterattacked with some initial success. However, when the Crusaders rallied and the Byzantines retreated to the Tower, the Crusaders were able to follow the soldiers through the Gate, and took the Tower. The Golden Horn now lay open to the Crusaders, and the Venetian fleet entered. The Crusaders sailed alongside Constantinople with 10 galleys to display the would-be Alexios IV, but from the walls of the city the Byzantines taunted the puzzled crusaders, who had been led to believe that the citizens would rise up to welcome young pretender Alexios as a liberator.

On July 11, the Crusaders took positions opposite the Palace of Blachernae on the northwest corner of the city. Their first attempts were repulsed, but on July 17, with four divisions attacking the land walls, while the Venetian fleet attacked the sea walls from the Golden Horn. The Venetians took a section of the wall of about 25 towers, while the Varangian guard held off the Crusaders on the land wall. The Varangians shifted to meet the new threat, and the Venetians retreated under the screen of fire. The fire destroyed about 120 acres (0.49 km2) of the city and left some 20,000 people homeless.

Alexios III finally took offensive action, and led 17 divisions from the St. Romanus Gate, vastly outnumbering the crusaders. Alexios III's army of about 8,500 men faced the Crusader's seven divisions (about 3,500 men), but his courage failed, and the Byzantine army returned to the city without a fight. The unforced retreat and the effects of the fire greatly damaged morale, and the disgraced Alexios III abandoned his subjects, slipping out of the city and fleeing to Mosynopolis in Thrace. The Imperial officials quickly deposed their runaway emperor and restored Isaac II, robbing the Crusaders of the pretext for attack. The Crusaders were now in the quandary of having achieved their stated aim, but being debarred from the actual objective, namely the reward that the younger Alexios had (unbeknownst to the Byzantines) promised them. The Crusaders insisted that they would only recognize Isaac II's authority if his son was raised to co-emperor and on August 1, he was crowned Alexius IV, co-emperor.

Further attacks on Constantinople

Alexios IV realised that his promises were hard to keep. Alexios III had managed to flee with 1,000 pounds of gold and some priceless jewels, leaving the imperial treasury short on funds. At that point the young emperor ordered the destruction and melting of valuable Byzantine and Roman icons in order to extract their gold and silver, but even then he could only raise 100,000 silver marks. In the eyes of all Greeks who knew of this decision, it was a shocking sign of desperation and weak leadership, which deserved to be punished by God. The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates characterized it as "the turning point towards the decline of the Roman state."

Forcing the populace to destroy their icons at the behest of an army of foreign schismatics did not endear Alexios IV to the citizens of Constantinople. In fear of his life, the co-emperor asked the Crusaders to renew their contract for another six months, to end by April 1204. There was, nevertheless, still fighting in the city. In August 1203 the crusaders attacked a mosque (Constantinople at this time had a sizable Muslim population), which was defended by a combined Muslim and Byzantine opposition. Meanwhile, Alexios IV had led 6,000 men from the Crusader army against his rival Alexios III in Adrianople.

On the second attempt of the Venetians to set up a wall of fire to aid their escape, they instigated the "Great Fire", in which a large part of Constantinople was burned down. Opposition to Alexios IV grew, and one of his courtiers, Alexios Doukas (nicknamed 'Mourtzouphlos' because of his thick eyebrows), soon overthrew him and had him strangled to death in January 1204. Alexios Doukas took the throne himself as Alexios V; Isaac also died in January 1204, probably of natural causes.

The crusaders and Venetians, incensed at the murder of their supposed patron, demanded that Mourtzouphlos honour the contract which Alexios IV had promised. When the Byzantine emperor refused, the Crusaders assaulted the city once again. On April 8, Alexios V's army put up a strong resistance which did much to discourage the crusaders.

The Byzantines hurled enormous projectiles onto the enemy siege engines, shattering many of them. A serious hindrance to the crusaders was bad weather conditions. Wind blew from the shore and prevented most of the ships from drawing close enough to the walls to launch an assault. Only five of the wall's towers were actually engaged and none of these could be secured; by mid-afternoon it was evident that the attack had failed.

The Latin clergy discussed the situation amongst themselves and settled upon the message they wished to spread through the demoralised army. They had to convince the men that the events of 9 April were not God's judgment on a sinful enterprise: the campaign, they argued, was righteous and with proper belief it would succeed. The concept of God testing the determination of the Crusaders through temporary setbacks was a familiar means for the clergy to explain failure in the course of a campaign.

The clergy's message was designed to reassure and encourage the Crusaders. Their argument that the attack on Constantinople was spiritual revolved around two themes. First, the Greeks were traitors and murderers since they had killed their rightful lord, Alexios IV. The churchmen used inflammatory language and claimed that "the Greeks were worse than the Jews", and they invoked the authority of God and the pope to take action.

Although Innocent III had again demanded that they not attack, the papal letter was suppressed by the clergy, and the Crusaders prepared for their own attack, while the Venetians attacked from the sea; Alexios V's army stayed in the city to fight, along with the imperial bodyguard, the Varangians, but Alexios V himself fled during the night.

Sack of Constantinople

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On April 12, 1204, the weather conditions finally favoured the Crusaders. A strong northern wind aided the Venetian ships in coming close to the walls. After a short battle, approximately seventy Crusaders managed to enter the city. Some Crusaders were eventually able to knock holes in the walls, large enough for only a few knights at a time to crawl through; the Venetians were also successful at scaling the walls from the sea, though there was extremely bloody fighting with the Varangians. The crusaders captured the Blachernae section of the city in the northwest and used it as a base to attack the rest of the city, but while attempting to defend themselves with a wall of fire, they ended up burning down even more of the city. This second fire left 15,000 people homeless. The Crusaders completely took the city on April 13.

The crusaders inflicted a horrible and savage sacking on Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either stolen or destroyed. The magnificent Library of Constantinople was destroyed. Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders ruthlessly and systematically violated the city's churches and monasteries, destroying, defiling, or stealing all they could lay hands on; nothing was spared. It was said that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks. The Venetians received 150,000 silver marks that was their due, while the Crusaders received 50,000 silver marks. A further 100,000 silver marks were divided evenly up between the Crusaders and Venetians. The remaining 500,000 silver marks were secretly kept back by many Crusader knights.

Speros Vryonis in Byzantium and Europe gives a vivid account of the sack:

The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church's holy vessels. The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.

When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his pilgrims he was filled with shame and rage, and strongly rebuked them.

According to a subsequent treaty, the empire was apportioned between Venice and the crusade's leaders, and the Latin Empire of Constantinople was established. Boniface was not elected as the new emperor, although the citizens seemed to consider him as such; the Venetians thought he had too many connections with the former empire because of his brother, Renier of Montferrat, who had been married to Maria Komnene, empress in the 1170s and 80s. Instead they placed Baldwin of Flanders on the throne. Boniface went on to found the Kingdom of Thessalonica, a vassal state of the new Latin Empire. The Venetians also founded the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Meanwhile, Byzantine refugees founded their own successor states, the most notable of these being the Empire of Nicaea under Theodore Laskaris (a relative of Alexios III), the Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus.


Almost none of the crusaders ever made it to the Holy Land, and the unstable Latin Empire siphoned off much of Europe's crusading energy. The legacy of the Fourth Crusade was the deep sense of betrayal the Latins had instilled in their Greek coreligionists. With the events of 1204, the schism between the Church in the West and East was not just complete but also solidified. As an epilogue to the event, Pope Innocent III, the man who had unintentionally launched the ill-fated expedition, thundered against the crusaders thus:

How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks, no matter how severely she is beset with afflictions and persecutions, return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness, so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ, not their own ends, who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood, they have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to God, to the sordid lusts of boys. Not satisfied with breaking open the imperial treasury and plundering the goods of princes and lesser men, they also laid their hands on the treasures of the churches and, what is more serious, on their very possessions. They have even ripped silver plates from the altars and have hacked them to pieces among themselves. They violated the holy places and have carried off crosses and relics.

Nevertheless, the Pope's negative reaction was short-lived. When the crusaders took the piles of money, jewels, and gold that they had captured in the sack of Constantinople back to Rome, Innocent III welcomed the stolen items and agreed to let the crusaders back into the Church. Furthermore at the Fourth Council of the Lateran the Pope welcomed and recognised to it western (Catholic) prelates from Sees established in the conquered lands – thus recognising their legitimacy over formerly Orthodox areas.

The Latin Empire was soon faced with a great number of enemies, which the crusaders had not taken into account. Besides the individual Byzantine Greek states in Epirus and Nicaea, the Empire received great pressure from the Seljuk Sultanate and the Bulgarian Empire. The Greek states were fighting for supremacy against both Latins and each other. Almost every Greek and Latin protagonist of the event was killed shortly after. Murtzuphlus' betrayal by Alexius III led to his capture by the Latins and his execution at Constantinople in 1205. Not long after, Alexius III was himself captured by Boniface and sent to exile in Southern Italy; he died in Nicaea in 1211. On 14 April 1205, one year after the conquest of the city, Emperor Baldwin was decisively defeated and captured at the Battle of Adrianople by the Bulgarians; he was executed by the Bulgarian Emperor Kaloyan in 1205 or 1206. Two years after that, on 4 September 1207, Boniface himself was killed in an ambush by the Bulgarians, and his head was sent to Kaloyan. He was succeeded by his infant son Demetrius of Montferrat, who ruled until he reached adulthood, but was eventually defeated by Theodore I Ducas, the despot of Epirus and a relative of Murtzuphlus, and thus the Kingdom of Thessalonica was restored to Byzantine rule in 1224.

Various Latin-French lordships throughout Greece — in particular, the duchy of Athens and the principality of the Morea — provided cultural contacts with western Europe and promoted the study of Greek. There was also a French cultural work, notably the production of a collection of laws, the Assises de Romanie (Assizes of Greece). The Chronicle of Morea appeared in both French and Greek (and later Italian and Aragonese) versions. Impressive remains of crusader castles and Gothic churches can still be seen in Greece. Nevertheless, the Latin Empire always rested on shaky foundations. The city was re-captured by the Nicaean Greeks under Michael VIII Palaeologus in 1261, and commerce with Venice was re-established.

In an ironic series of events, during the middle of the 15th century, the Latin Church (Roman Catholic Church) tried to organise a new crusade which aimed at the restoration of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire which was gradually being torn down by the advancing Ottoman Turks. The attempt, however, failed, as the vast majority of the Byzantine civilians and a growing part of their clergy refused to recognize and accept the short-lived near Union of the Churches of East and West signed at the Council of Florence and Ferrara by the Ecumenical patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople. The Greek population, inspired by aversion from the Latins and the Western states, held that the Byzantine civilization which revolved around the Orthodox faith would be more secure under Ottoman Islamic rule. Overall, religious-observant Byzantines preferred to sacrifice their political freedom and political independence in order to preserve their faith's traditions and rituals in separation from the Roman See. In the late 14th and early 15th century, two kinds of crusades were finally organised by the Kingdoms of Hungary, Poland, Wallachia and Serbia. Both of them were checked by the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453, a significant band of Venetian and Genoese knights died in the defence of the city.


"O City, City, eye of all cities, universal boast, supramundane wonder, nurse of churches, leader of the faith, guide of Orthodoxy, beloved topic of orations, the abode of every good thing! Oh City, that hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury! O City, consumed by fire..."

Niketas Choniates laments the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders.

The prominent medievalist Steven Runciman, writing in 1954, stated that "There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade." The controversy that has surrounded the Fourth Crusade has led to diverging opinions in academia on whether its objective was indeed the capture of Constantinople. The traditional position that it was, was challenged by Thomas F. Madden and Donald E. Queller in 1977 in their book, The Fourth Crusade.

Constantinople was considered as a bastion of Christianity that defended Europe from the advancing forces of Islam, and the Fourth Crusade's sack of the city dealt a possibly fatal blow to this Eastern bulwark. Although the Greeks would go on to retake Constantinople and restore the Byzantine Empire, their power had been seriously weakened in the chaos unleashed by the Crusade, leaving them easy prey for the Ottoman Turks who conquered the city for good in 1453.

Eight hundred years after the Fourth Crusade, Pope John Paul II twice expressed sorrow for the events of the Fourth Crusade. In 2001, he wrote to Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens, saying, "It is tragic that the assailants, who set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret." In 2004, while Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, was visiting the Vatican, John Paul II asked, "How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the pain and disgust." This has been regarded as an apology to the Greek Orthodox Church for the terrible slaughter perpetrated by the warriors of the Fourth Crusade.

In April 2004, in a speech on the 800th anniversary of the city's capture, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formally accepted the apology. "The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred," he said during a liturgy attended by Roman Catholic Archbishop Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France. "We receive with gratitude and respect your cordial gesture for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade. It is a fact that a crime was committed here in the city 800 years ago." Bartholomew said his acceptance came in the spirit of Pascha. "The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection... incites us toward reconciliation of our churches."

The Fourth Crusade was one of the last of the major crusades to be launched by the Papacy, though it quickly fell out of Papal control. After bickering between laymen and the papal legate led to the collapse of the Fifth Crusade, later crusades were directed by individual monarchs, mostly against Egypt. Only one subsequent crusade, the Sixth, succeeded in restoring Jerusalem to Christian rule, and then only for a short time. The Crusades, as it seems, became politically and economically expedient for Crusaders who were more inclined to follow an ambitious, worldly conscience rather than a spiritual one.

In fiction/music

The Fourth Crusade is depicted in Poul Anderson's novel There Will Be Time from the point of view of a 20th Century time-traveller who saves the life of a Byzantine girl during the carnage and falls in love with her.

Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino begins shortly after the Sack of Constantinople.

The second volume of Judith Tarr's trilogy The Hound and the Falcon - titled The Golden Horn - also depicts the Fourth Crusade and Sack, showing it from its prelude through the aftermath in a historical fiction / fantasy setting that captures elements of both the Latin and Greek sides of the conflict.

The Fourth Crusade lends the title to British Death Metal band Bolt Thrower's fourth album title 'The IVth Crusade', is the lyrical inspiration for the title track and the cover artwork is a painting from Eugène Delacroix, showing "The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople".

The events of the Fourth Crusade are the narrative focus of the 2011 video game The Cursed Crusade, albeit with some supernatural twists.

A unique, often humorous account of the Fourth Crusade is told in Nicole Galland's novel Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade (2008, Harper Perennial).

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