Military Wiki
Fourth Crusade
Part of the Crusades
Conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.
Result Creation of Latin Empire.
Partition of the Byzantine Empire, creation of Crusader States in the Balkans.

Crusaders:  Republic of Venice
 Holy Roman Empire

France Ancient.svg France

  • Champagne
  • Blois
  • Amiens
  • Île-de-France
  • Saint-Pol
  • Burgundy
  • Flanders

Byzantine Empire
Alex K Kingdom of Hungary.svg Hungary

  • Dalmatia
Coat of Arms of the Emperor of Bulgaria (by Conrad Grünenberg).png Bulgarian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Boniface I
Louis I
Republic of Venice Enrico Dandolo
Isaac II Angelos
Alexios III Angelos
Alexios V Doukas
Coat of Arms of the Emperor of Bulgaria (by Conrad Grünenberg).png Kaloyan of Bulgaria
Alex K Kingdom of Hungary.svg Emeric I
Crusaders: 10,000 men[1]
Venetians: 10,000 men[1] and 210 ships[2]
Byzantines: 15,000 men[3] and 20 ships[4]

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 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, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the ancient city itself, in 1187. The Kingdom had been established 88 years previously, 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 a primary 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. Legend has it that Pope Urban III literally died of the shock, but the timelines of his death and the fall of Jerusalem make that impossible.[5] The crusader states had been reduced to three cities along the sea coast, Tyre, Tripoli, and Antioch.

The Third Crusade (1189–1192) reclaimed much territory 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 tensions between the feudal states of western Europe and the Byzantine Empire[6] 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.

Constantinople was 874 years old at the time of the Fourth Crusade, as well as being the largest and most sophisticated city in Christendom.[7] Alone amongst medieval urban centres, it retained the civic structures, public baths, forums, monuments and aqueducts of classical Rome. At its height, the city held an estimated population of about half a million people, behind thirteen miles of triple walls. Its planned location made Constantinople not only the capital of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire but also a commercial centre which dominated trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, China, India and Persia.[8] As such it was both a rival and a tempting target for the aggressive new states of the west, notably Venice.

The leader of the Third Crusade, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, openly plotted with the Serbs, Bulgars, Byzantine traitors, and even the Muslim Seljuks against the Eastern Empire and at one point sought Papal support for a crusade against the Orthodox Byzantines.[9] The Third Crusade also seized the breakaway Byzantine province of Cyprus. Rather than return it to the Empire, Richard I of England sold the island to the Knights Templar.

Barbarossa's army quickly disintegrated 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, heeded by two archbishops, nine bishops and five dukes sailed for Palestine. There they captured Sidon and Beirut, but at the news of Henry's death in Messina along the way, many of the nobles and clerics returned to Europe. Deserted by much of their leadership, the rank and file crusaders panicked before an Egyptian army and fled to their ships in Tyre.

Also in 1195 the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos was deposed in favor of his brother by a palace coup. Ascending as Alexios III Angelos, the new emperor had his brother blinded (a traditional punishment for treason, considered more humane than execution) and exiled. Ineffectual on the battlefield, Isaac had also proven to be an incompetent ruler who had let the treasury dwindle and outsourced the navy to the Venetians. His actions in wastefully distributing military weapons and supplies as gifts to his supporters had undermined the empire's defenses.[10] The new emperor was however to prove no better. Anxious to shore-up his position, Alexios bankrupted the treasury. His attempts to secure the support of semi-autonomous border commanders undermined central authority. He neglected his crucial responsibilities for defense and diplomacy. The emperor's chief admiral (his wife's brother-in-law), Michael Stryphnos, reportedly sold the fleet's equipment down to the very nails to enrich himself.

The Crusade begins

Pope Innocent III succeeded to the papacy in 1198, and the preaching of a new crusade became the prime goal of his pontificate, expounded in his bull Post miserabile.[11][12] 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.[13]

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. Earlier crusades focused on Palestine had involved the slow movement of large and disorganised land hosts across a generally hostile Anatolia. An attack on Egypt would clearly be a maritime enterprise, requiring the creation of a fleet. 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 consist of 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 24 June 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.[14]

Attack on Zara

Main article: Siege of Zara (Zadar)

There was no binding agreement among the crusaders that all should sail from Venice. Accordingly many chose to sail from other ports, particularly Flanders, Marseilles, and Genoa. By 1201 the bulk of the crusader army was collected at Venice, although with far smaller numbers than expected: about 12,000 (4-5,000 knights and 8,000 foot soldiers) instead of 33,500 .[15] The Venetians had performed their part of the agreement: there lay 50 war galleys and 450 transports—enough for three times the assembled army.[16] 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 initially pay 35,000 silver marks. The Doge threatened to keep them interned unless full payment was made so a further 14,000 marks was collected, and that only by reducing the crusaders to extreme poverty.[17] 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.[16][18]

Dandolo and the Venetians considered what to do with the crusade. It was too small to pay its fee, but disbanding the force gathered would harm Venetian prestige, as well as significant financial and trading loss. 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.[19] 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, culminating in an attack on the port of Zara in Dalmatia.[20] The city had been dominated economically by Venice throughout the 12th century, but had rebelled in 1181 and allied itself with King Emeric of Hungary.[21][22][23] Subsequent Venetian attempts to recover control of Zara had been repulsed, and by 1202 the city was economically independent, under the protection of the King.[24]

The Hungarian king was Catholic and had himself agreed to join the Fourth 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, the Pope was alarmed at this development and wrote a letter to the crusading leadership threatening excommunication.[25]

In 1202, Pope Innocent III, despite wanting to secure papal authority over Byzantium, forbade the crusaders of Western Christendom from committing any atrocious acts against their Christian neighbours.[26] However, 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. There was extensive pillaging and the Venetians and other crusaders came to blows over the division of the spoils. Order was achieved and the leaders of the expedition agreed to winter in Zara, while considering their next move.[27]

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 their followers 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.[28]

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 IV Angelos, Philip's brother-in-law and the son of the recently deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos. Alexios IV had recently fled to Philip in 1201 but it is unknown whether or not Boniface knew he was at Philip's court. There, Alexios IV 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 giving 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,[28] 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 Christendom's greatest city sailed on to Syria.[28] 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.[1] In addition 300 siege engines were brought along on board the fleet.[29] 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.[30]

When the Fourth Crusade arrived at Constantinople, the city had a population of approximately 500,000 people,[7] a garrison of 15,000 men (including 5,000 Varangians), and a fleet of 20 galleys.[3][4][31][32] For both political and financial reasons the permanent garrison of Constantinople had been limited to a relatively small force, made up of elite guard and other specialist units. At previous times in Byzantine history when the capital had come under direct threat, it had been possible to assemble reinforcements from frontier and provincial forces. On this occasion the suddenness of the danger posed by the Fourth Crusade put the defenders at a serious disadvantage.[7] The main objective of the crusaders was to place Alexios IV 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 pretender's 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 from 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.[33]

Siege of July 1203

The Crusader attack on Constantinople, from a Venetian manuscript of Geoffreoy de Villehardouin's history, ca. 1330

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 the young pretender Alexios as a liberator.[34]

On 11 July the Crusaders took positions opposite the Palace of Blachernae on the northwest corner of the city. Their first attempts were repulsed, but on 17 July, 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.[35]

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 Crusaders' seven divisions (about 3,500 men), but his courage failed, and the Byzantine army returned to the city without a fight.[36] 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.[37] The Imperial officials quickly deposed their runaway emperor and restored Isaac II, robbing the crusaders of the pretext for attack.[37] 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 1 August he was crowned Alexius IV, co-emperor.[37]

Further attacks on Constantinople

Capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204

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."[38]

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. Alexios IV then led 6,000 men from the Crusader army against his rival Alexios III in Adrianople.[39] During the co-emperor's absence in August, rioting broke out in the city and a number of Latin residents were killed. In retaliation armed Venetians and other crusaders entered the city from the Golden Horn and attacked a mosque (Constantinople at this time had a sizable Muslim population), which was defended by Muslim and Byzantine residents. In order to cover their retreat the Westerners instigated the "Great Fire", which burnt from 19 to 21 August, destroying a large part of Constantinople and leaving an estimated 100,000 homeless.

In January 1204 the blinded and incapacitated Isaac II died, probably of natural causes.[38] Opposition to his son and co-emperor Alexios IV had grown during the preceding months of tension and spasmodic violence in and around Constantinople.

A nobleman Alexios Doukas (surnamed Mourtzouphlos) became the leader of the anti-crusader faction within the Byzantine leadership. While holding the court rank of protovestilarios, Doukas had led Byzantine forces during the initial clashes with the crusaders, winning respect from both military and populace. He was accordingly well-placed to move against the increasingly isolated Alexios IV, whom he overthrew, imprisoned and had strangled in early February. Doukas then was crowned as Emperor Alexios V. He immediately moved to have the city fortifications strengthened and summoned additional forces to the city.[40]

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 8 April Alexios V's army put up a strong resistance which did much to discourage the crusaders.[38]

The Byzantines hurled large 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.[38]

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.[38]

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.[38] The churchmen used inflammatory language and claimed that "the Greeks were worse than the Jews",[38] 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. An attempt was made to find a further replacement emperor from amongst the Byzantine nobility but the situation had now become too chaotic for either of the two candidates who came forward to find sufficient support.

Sack of Constantinople

The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (Eugène Delacroix, 1840). The most infamous action of the Fourth Crusade was the sack of the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople

On 12 April 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 Anglo-Saxon "axe bearers" had been amongst the most effective of the city's defenders but they now attempted to negotiate higher wages from their Byzantine employers, before dispersing or surrendering.[41] 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.[39] The crusaders completely took the city on 13 April.

The crusaders inflicted a savage sacking on Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient Greco-Roman and medieval Byzantine works of art 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 Fourth Crusade and the crusading movement generally thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.[42][43]

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.


Map showing the partition of the Byzantine Empire into The Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea and Despotate of Epirus after AD 1204

Only a relatively small number of the members of the Fourth Crusade finally reached their originally intended goal - the Holy Land. Research indicates that about a tenth of the knights who had taken the cross in Flanders arrived in Palestine to reinforce the remaining Christian states there, plus about half of those from the Ile-de-France.[44] During the ensuing half century the unstable Latin Empire siphoned off much of Europe's crusading energy. The legacy of the Fourth Crusade was the deep sense of betrayal felt by the Greek Christians. With the events of 1204, the schism between the Church in the West and East was not just complete but also solidified.[45] As an epilogue to the event, Pope Innocent III, the man who had unintentionally launched the ill-fated expedition, spoke 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.[46]

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 number of enemies. Besides the individual Byzantine Greek states in Epirus and Nicaea, there was also the Seljuk Sultanate and the Bulgarian Empire. The Greek states fought for supremacy against both the Latins and each other.

Several of the major Greek and Latin protagonists in the event died or were killed in the years following the fall of the city. Murtzuphlus' betrayal and blinding by Alexius III led to his capture by the Latins and his execution in 1205. Not long after, Alexius III was 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. In 1205 or 1206, the Bulgarian Emperor Kaloyan mutilated him and left him to die. The Venetian Doge Dandolo died in May 1205. On 4 September 1207, the Bulgarians killed Boniface in an ambush. 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. The Kingdom of Thessalonica was restored to Byzantine rule in 1224.[47]

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. 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.

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 Greek 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, reacting to the Latin conquest, believed that the Byzantine civilization which revolved around the Orthodox faith would be more secure under Ottoman Islamic rule. Overall, religious-observant Greeks 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 centuries, "crusades" on a limited scale were organised by the Kingdoms of Hungary, Poland, Wallachia and Serbia. These were not the traditional expeditions aimed at the recovery of Jerusalem, but rather defensive campaigns intended to prevent further expansion to the west by the Ottoman Empire.[48]" During the Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453, up to 2,000 Venetian and Genoese volunteers formed part of the approximately 9,000 defenders of the city. [49]


"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.[50]

The prominent medievalist Steven Runciman, writing in 1954, stated that "There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade."[51] 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, which holds that this was the case, was challenged by Thomas F. Madden and Donald E. Queller in 1977 in their book, The Fourth Crusade.[52]

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 an irreparable blow to this eastern bulwark. Although the Greeks retook Constantinople after 57 years of Latin rule, the Byzantine Empire had been crippled by the Fourth Crusade. Reduced to Constantinople, north-western Anatolia and a portion of the southern Balkans, the empire fell to the Ottoman Turks who captured the city in 1453.[53]

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."[54] 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."[55] This has been regarded as an apology to the Greek Orthodox Church for the terrible slaughter perpetrated by the warriors of the Fourth Crusade.[56]

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."[57]

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. One subsequent crusade, the Sixth, succeeded in restoring Jerusalem to Christian rule for fifteen years.

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.

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Phillips, Jonathan (2004). The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. New York: Viking. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-14-303590-9. 
  2. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 106.
  3. 3.0 3.1 D. Queller, The Fourth Crusade The Conquest of Constantinople, 185
  4. 4.0 4.1 Phillips, The Fourth Crusade, p. 157.
  5. John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, (1995; repr., London: Folio Society, 2003), 169
  6. Haldon, John (2002). Byzantium at War. Oxford: Osprey. pp. 87. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202-04 - the Betrayal of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 15. ISBN 978 1 84908 319 5.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Nicolle49" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Sherrard, Philip (1967). Byzantium. Nederland: Time-Life Books. pp. 42–43. 
  9. John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, (1995; repr., London: Folio Society, 2003), 169-170
  10. John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, (1995; repr., London: Folio Society, 2003)
  11. Madden, Thomas F. (August 19, 2008). The Fourth Crusade: Event, Aftermath, and Perceptions: Papers from the Sixth Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East in Istanbul, Turkey. ISBN 0-7546-6319-1. 
  12. Runciman, Steven (1954). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (Volume 3). ISBN 0-14-013705-X. 
  13. Runciman, Steven (1954). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (Volume 3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-521-34772-3. 
  14. Philips Hughes, "Innocent III & the Latin East," History of the Church, Sheed & Ward, 1948, vol. 2, p. 370.
  15. D. E. Queller, The Fourth Crusade The Conquest of Constantinople, 232
  16. 16.0 16.1 D. E. Queller, The Fourth Crusade The Conquest of Constantinople, 17
  17. Robert de Clari, La Prise de Constantinople, xi-xii, in Hopf, Chroniques Greco-Romaines, pp. 7-9. Old French.
  18. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 57.
  19. Nicol, David (1993). The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43991-6. 
  20. Zara is the today the city of Zadar in Croatia; it was called "Jadera" in Latin documents and "Jadres" by French crusaders. The Venetian (Italian) "Zara" is a later derivation of the contemporary vernacular "Zadra".
  21. Person Page 10465.
  22. Madden, Thomas F., and Donald E. Queller. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
  23. Emeric (king of Hungary). Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
  24. Phillips, The Fourth Crusade, pp. 110–11.
  25. Philip Hughes, "Innocent III & the Latin East," History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 371, Sheed & Ward, 1948.
  26. Hindley, Geoffrey (2003). The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 143, 152. 
  27. Runciman, Stephen (1975). A History of the Crusades - the Kingdom of Arce and the Later Crusades. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 115. ISBN 0 521 20554 9. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Runciman, Steven. The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades, (1954; repr., London: Folio Society, 1994), 98
  29. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 113.
  30. Runciman, Steven. The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades, (1954; repr., London: Folio Society, 1994), 99
  31. Treadgold, W. A Concise History of Byzantium, 187
  32. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 159.
  33. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 162.
  34. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 164.
  35. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 176.
  36. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 177.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Runciman, Steven. The Kingdom of Acre and the later Crusades, (1954; repr., London: Folio Society, 1994), 100
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 38.5 38.6 Phillips, The Fourth Crusade
  39. 39.0 39.1 Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 209.
  40. Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202-04 - the Betrayal of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. pp. 25, 65. ISBN 978 1 84908 319 5. 
  41. Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202-04 - the Betrayal of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 77. ISBN 978 1 84908 319 5. 
  42. Vryonis, Speros (1967). Byzantium and Europe. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. p. 152. 
  43. Hughes, Philip. "Innocent III & the Latin East," History of the Church, Sheed & Ward, 1948, vol. 2, p. 372.
  44. Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202-04 - the Betrayal of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 78. ISBN 978 1 84908 319 5. 
  45. page 310, volume 5; "Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition 1983, ISBN 0-85229-400-X
  46. Pope Innocent III, Letters, 126 (given July 12, 1205, and addressed to the papal legate, who had absolved the crusaders from their pilgrimage vows). Text taken from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook by Paul Halsall. Modified. Original translation by J. Brundage.
  47. Thurbon, Colin (1981). The Venetians. Amsterdam: Time-Life Books Inc. pp. 25, 65. ISBN 7054 0633 4. 
  48. page 308, volume 5; "Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition 1983, ISBN 0-85229-400-X
  49. D'Amato, Raffaele (2007). The Eastern Romans 330-1461 AD. Hong Kong: Concord Publications. p. 42. ISBN 962-361-089-0. 
  50. Choniates, Niketas; Magoulias, Harry J. (trans.) (1984). O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniatēs. Wayne State University Press. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-8143-1764-8. 
  51. Runciman. History of the Crusades, vol. 3, p. 130.
  52. Queller, D. E., & Madden, T. F. (1997). The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, 1201-1204. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  53. Sherrard, Philip (1967). Byzantium. Nederland: Time-Life Books. pp. 166–167. 
  54. In the Footsteps of St. Paul: Papal Visit to Greece, Syria & Malta - Words. EWTN.
  55. "Pope sorrow over Constantinople". BBC News. June 29, 2004.
  56. Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. xiii.
  57. In Communion » News - issue 33


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • "Crusades". Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006.
  • Angold, Michael, The Fourth Crusade, Harlow: Pearson, 2003
  • Charles Brand. Byzantium Confronts the West, 1180–1204, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1968
  • Godfrey, John. 1204: The Unholy Crusade. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980
  • Harris, Jonathan, Byzantium and the Crusades, London: Hambledonm and London, 2003
  • Harris, Jonathan, 'Collusion with the infidel as a pretext for military action against Byzantium', in Clash of Cultures: the Languages of Love and Hate, ed. S. Lambert and H. Nicholson, Turnhout: Brepols, 2012, pp. 99–117
  • Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2003. New edition: The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2004.
  • Lilie, Ralph-Johannes. Byzantium and the Crusader States, 1096–1204. Translated by J. C. Morris and Jean E. Ridings. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993; originally published in 1988.
  • Madden, Thomas F. (2003). Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-7317-1. 
  • Madden, Thomas F., and Donald E. Queller. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997
  • Marin, Serban. A Humanist Vision regarding the Fourth Crusade and the State of the Assenides. The Chronicle of Paul Ramusio (Paulus Rhamnusius), Annuario del Istituto Romano di Cultura e Ricerca Umanistica vol. 2 (2000), pp. 51–57.
  • McNeal, Edgar, and Robert Lee Wolff. The Fourth Crusade, in A History of the Crusades (edited by Kenneth M. Setton and others), vol. 2, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962
  • Nicol, Donald M. Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Noble, Peter S. Eyewitnesses of the Fourth Crusade – the War against Alexius III, Reading Medieval Studies v.25, 1999.
  • Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. New York: Viking, 2004. ISBN 978-0-14-303590-9.
  • Queller, Donald E. The Latin Conquest of Constantinople. New York, NY; London, U.K.; Sydney, NSW; Toronto, ON: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1971.
  • Queller, Donald E., and Susan J. Stratton. "A Century of Controversy on the Fourth Crusade", in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History v. 6 (1969): 237–277; reprinted in Donald E. Queller, Medieval Diplomacy and the Fourth Crusade. London: Variorum Reprints, 1980.
  • Thomas F. Madden. Crusades: The Illustrated History

Further reading

  • Angold, Michael. The Fourth Crusade: Event and Context. Harlow, NY: Longman, 2003.
  • Bartlett, W. B. An Ungodly War: The Sack of Constantinople and the Fourth Crusade. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000.
  • Harris, Jonathan Byzantium and the Crusades. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2003. ISBN 978-1-85285-298-6.
  • Harris, Jonathan, "The problem of supply and the sack of Constantinople", in The Fourth Crusade Revisited, ed. Pierantonio Piatti, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008, pp. 145–54. ISBN 978-88-209-8063-4.
  • Kazdhan, Alexander “Latins and Franks in Byzantium”, in Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh (eds.), The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2001: 83–100.
  • Kolbaba, Tia M. “Byzantine Perceptions of Latin Religious ‘Errors’: Themes and Changes from 850 to 1350”, in Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh (eds.), The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2001: 117–143.
  • Nicolle, David. The Fourth Crusade 1202–04: The betrayal of Byzantium, Osprey Campaign Series #237. Osprey Publishing. 2011. ISBN 978-1-84908-319-5.

External links