Skip to comments.1204 AD: What Really Happened (Crusades)
Posted on 03/09/2004 4:26:36 PM PST by blam
1204: What really happened?
When Saladin retook the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem for Islam in 1187,Pope Innocent III declared a new crusade to recapture it. But the crusaders ran into financial difficulties and took advantage of Greek imperial in fighting to raise money. The scheme was a disaster, laying Constantinople to waste, gutting its churches and sending many of its citizens into slavery in Europe. The crusaders never went on to Jerusalem, but calcified the mistrust between eastern and western Christendom
IN THE history of crusading, the idea that Christians should unite against Muslims for the defence of the Holy Places of Palestine was fundamental. The Byzantine ruler, Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), may have considered that the defence of his empire against Turkish raids was as important, and the crusaders may have been just as interested in establishing their own western kingdoms and duchies. But they both supported the principle of military cooperation to ensure Christian access to the places rendered holy by Christ's life on earth. To the Muslims, however, the Prophet Muhammad's association with Jerusalem meant that it was the third holiest shrine in Islam, one they were prepared to defend by holy war.
During the century that elapsed between the First and the Fourth Crusade (1098-1204), relations between the Christians became deeply strained. Despite Manuel I's elaborate reception of the leaders of the Second Crusade in Constantinople in 1147, the indigenous population of the Byzantine Empire expressed its hostility to the western crusading forces that passed through on their way to the East. Later, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa generated extreme anxiety in Byzantium by his call for a campaign against the perfidious Greeks. His death at Konya brought the overland campaign of the Third Crusade to an end, while the naval expeditions of the English king, Richard I the Lionheart, and King Philip II of France failed to make a significant improvement in the situation of Jerusalem.
These meetings of East and West brought out differences between the Christian forces allied against the infidel Turks. Language was a basic problem: few Greeks knew Latin, and even fewer westerners knew Greek. Although the cooperation of Christians against the forces of Islam should have built trust, differences in church ritual, the wording of the creed, the consecrated bread offered in the mass and clerical celibacy divided Latin from Greek. During the twelfth century, Emperor Manuel I (1147-80) increased the number of Latins employed at the imperial court, where they served as translators and ambassadors. Growing western influence was also clear from the emperor's delight in the sport of jousting, wearing trousers and selecting western princesses as wives of the leading men of the imperial family.
All these matters provoked a reaction in Byzantium, where such western influence was resented. It was accompanied by a grudging appreciation of the fighting capacity and bravery of western fighters. Whether mounted or on foot, the Franks (as most westerners were called by the Greeks) were admired for their strength.
This can be traced from Anna Komnene's description of Bohemond, her father's enemy but a handsome, courageousman, to Niketas Choniates' appreciation of Conrad of Montferrat. Choniates makes an unflattering comparison between effeminate, cowardly Byzantines and their broad-shouldered, brave and daring Latin counterparts.
Ambiguous feelings accumulated as continuing Byzantine requests for western military help against the Turks were matched by fears that the crusaders might become covetous and might attack the Queen City of Constantinople. Some western knights who witnessed the wealth of the empire, particularly the churches with their relics and the markets of the great metropolis, expressed this jealousy. In addition, Magnus of Reichersberg denounced the Byzantine policy of making truces with the Turks in Asia Minor as treacherous and hostile to western forces, which only tried to support the Christian kingdoms of the East Mediterranean.
A further factor in relations between East and West was the privileged position of Venetian traders in Byzantium. By a series of treaties concluded in 992 and expanded in 1082, Venice was bound to bring military and naval assistance to the empire in return for favourable trading conditions. Venetians maintained settlements in most significant ports within the western parts of the empire, and in Constantinople they controlled an entire quarter with its own church and warehouses. Within this special alliance, Venice participated in the crusading movement only when it could maintain or expand the republic's commercial interests in East Mediterranean trade. Thus in 1100 a Venetian fleet assisted King Godfrey of Jerusalem in the capture of Haifa, in return for important commercial concessions. Again in 1123, when the Egyptian fleet attacked Jaffa, Venice sent a strong fleet to pursue them, and after a major naval victory, it stayed on to reduce the port of Tyre. The Venetians made an agreement with the king of Jerusalem, arranging the division of the booty which would result from the capture. In this way, Venice enriched its merchants while assisting the crusading kingdom.
In 1171 Manuel I Komnenos abandoned the established alliance and ordered the arrest of all Venetians within the empire and the confiscation of their property. A fleet was sent to raid the Byzantine cities of the Aegean. But it was unable to do so effectively due to an outbreak of plague, which caused many deaths on board. Alexios II (1180-82) restored the Venetian privileges, but his successor Andronikos I (1182-85) again unleashed anti-western forces in devastating attacks on Venetian persons and property. The immense losses sustained during these outbreaks of anti-western feeling resulted in Venetian claims for compensation were still unsettled in 1203.
In the last two decades of the twelfth century both western and Byzantine forces had reason to be wary of each other. As Christians, they should have united to oppose the Muslims, but non-religious factors often prevented this. In 1187 Saladin recaptured Jerusalem, spared its inhabitants and celebrated the return of the holy sites to Muslim control. It was in order to secure the return of Jerusalem to Christian control that Pope Innocent III preached the Fourth Crusade in 1198. One year later, Emperor Alexios III Angelos (1195-1203), who had replaced his brother Isaac II, sent an embassy to Rome requesting support for an attack on the Turks. The pope responded that the emperor had to contribute to the crusade and that the Eastern Church had to return to the authority of Rome. This threat to the independence of the church of Constantinople coloured all subsequent negotiations between the crusaders and Byzantium.
The role of the Venetians
As is well known, the Frankish leaders of the Fourth Crusade decided to attack the Muslims from Alexandria and requested the help of Venice in transporting their forces across the Mediterranean. This was agreed at considerable expense. But too few crusaders arrived at Venice to pay for the transport, which had been specially constructed. At this point, the doge, Enrico Dandolo, proposed that the crusading force should attack the city of Zara (Zadar), a port on the Adriatic which threatened Venetian maritime control. In this way, the crusaders would gain enough booty to settle their debt to Venice. Although numerous participants protested against attacking a Christian city, and some left the crusade and returned home, Zara was duly captured. The booty was shared according to the plan that had been agreed.
This success encouraged the Venetians in their second proposal, which was to make a slight detour to Constantinople in order to assist young Prince Alexios Angelos in regaining his throne. He had fled from Byzantium after the overthrow and blinding of his father, Isaac II. His claim was well known to the leader of the crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, and to Philip of Swabia, Alexios' brother-in-law, who sent him to Zara to negotiate. Once the idea of restoring Alexios received Enrico Dandolo's enthusiastic support, the crusader force no longer resisted.
Dandolo had lived in Constantinople and had suffered in the attacks of 1182.
His expert knowledge of the city was of inestimable value, as practically none of the crusaders had ever been to the great metropolis of the East. As the doge of Venice, he was now in a position to win great rewards, since the young pretender had promised a huge sum, 200,000 silver marks, as well as his personal participation in the crusade, in return for military support. Alexios had also agreed to make sure that the church of Constantinople came under Roman control, thus meeting the demand of Pope Innocent III. These conditions were so favourable to the western forces that only a few crusaders who wished to proceed straight to Egypt or to the Holy Land rejected the detour.
These were the circumstances which brought the Fourth Crusade to the walls of Constantinople rather than Damietta or Alexandria. After their failure to secure the money promised by Alexios IV, the crusading forces adopted the Venetian procedure already well established. Before attacking a hostile city, it was agreed that the anticipated booty would be divided out between the combatants. But now that they were in front of the capital of an entire empire, they had the whole of Byzantium to apportion between them. In the drawing up of this division of territory recorded in the Partitio Imperii Romaniae, the Venetians were at a great advantage, knowing both the provinces and the capital. They were able to ensure that a large part of Constantinople, the island of Crete and all the ports where they already had settlements and warehouses would become permanently Venetian. The crusaders agreed on the constitution for ruling the empire they had yet to conquer, and their leaders made their claims to different provinces. All the participants were assured of fabulous booty.
Both Greek and Latin authors preserve vivid eyewitness accounts of the second siege of 1204: Geoffroy de Villehardouin, Robert of Clari, Gunter of Paris on the western side, and Niketas Choniates, the greatest Byzantine mediaeval historian, on the eastern. Both sides agree that the construction of high scaffolding on ships, from which the westerners could jump down onto the Byzantine sea walls, caused the first breach. Niketas ruefully admits that Emperor Alexios V failed to rally the population and fled. Although new Byzantine leaders came forward, they were unable to prevent the sack of the city. Both sides agree about the extensive looting and devastation, which was increased by fires. Gunter writes: "So great a wealth of gold and silver, so great a magnificence of gems and clothing, so great a profusion of valuable trade goods, so great a bounty of foodstuffs, homes so exceptional and so filled with commodities of every sort" ... that the crusaders "were all suddenly transformed from aliens and paupers into very rich citizens".
Niketas laments: "Constantine's fine city, the common delight and boast of all nations, was laid waste by fire and blackened by soot, taken and emptied of all wealth, public and private, as well as that which was consecrated to God by the scattered nations of the West... the dashing to earth of the venerable icons and the flinging of the relics of the saints ... seizing as plunder the precious chalices and patens ... the outcries of men, screams of women, the taking of captives ... and raping of bodies."
After five days Choniates and his family only escaped from the destruction thanks to a Venetian friend, a wine merchant, who pretended that these Greeks were his booty.
The Latin occupation of Constantinople had many longlasting effects, not least the removal of many relics, antiquities and treasures to the West.
1204 also confirmed to Pope Innocent and his successors and to western rulers and monks who had participated in the crusades, that the Byzantine imperial government was essentially unstable. Condemnation of its ancient political system went hand in hand with admiration for Byzantium's gold and silver objects, icons, reliquaries and silks.
More significant, the sacrilege of 1204 remained in Byzantine memory and generated a powerful anti-Latin sentiment in the inhabitants of the capital. This prevented all subsequent efforts to reunite the churches of West and East. In 1274 and 1439 as church union was celebrated in Lyons and Florence, the population of Constantinople protested so vigorously that patriarchs were unable to impose its decisions on the capital. This must lie at the base of the principle enunciated in 1453 as Constantinople was about to fall to the Turks: Better the Turkish turban than the pope's tiara. In terms of political domination, the Byzantines preferred to maintain their own theology under Ottoman rule than to suffer union with the church of Rome and western rule.
*Judith Herrin is professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King's College London, and director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies. She is best known for her books, The Formation of Christendom (London 1989) and Women in Purple (London, 2000). She contributed this article to the Athens News
The interior of Agia Sophia's dome. Still Istanbul's landmark, the majestic Byzantine church with all its precious treasures must have awed the crusaders
Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, shielded by its walls
Some of those walls are still standing. When I visited Istanbul for the first time, about 10 years ago, I saw fragments of the walls, and mistakenly thought they represented recent "urban renewal." No, I was told, those were the original walls, over 1000 years old.
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It will continue until the Islamofascists and their ideology of imposing Islams religious and gender apartheid on the Darul Harb are totally humiliated in defeat.
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