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History of the Byzantine empire
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The Fourth Crusade is an extremely complicated historical phenomenon in which the most various interests and emotions are reflected; lofty religious emotion, hope of reward in the life to come, craving for spiritual action, and devotion to the obligations which had been undertaken in behalf of the crusade were mingled with the desire for adventure and gain, inclination for traveling, and the feudal custom of spending life in war. The domination of material interests and worldly feelings over spiritual and religious emotions, which had already been felt in previous crusades, was particularly evident in the Fourth Crusade; this was demonstrated in the taking of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204 and the foundation of the Latin Empire.
At the end of the twelfth century, and especially in the epoch of Henry VI, the German influence was preponderant in Italy, and Henry’s eastern plans threatened danger to the Eastern Empire. After his sudden death circumstances changed. The new pope elected in 1198, the famous Innocent III, turned his attention to restoring in full the papal authority, which had been undermined by the policy of the German sovereigns, and to putting himself at the head of the Christian movement against Islam. Italy stood on the side of the pope in his struggle with the German influence. Seeing the chief foe of the papacy and Italy in the Hohenstaufens, the pope began to support in Germany Otto of Brunswick, elected king by a portion of Germany against Philip Hohenstaufen of Swabia, brother of the late Henry VI. A very good opportunity seemed presented to the Byzantine Empire to carry out the plans of the Comneni to replace the German world state by a similar Byzantine world state. With this in mind, probably, the Emperor Alexius III wrote Innocent III in the year of the latter’s election to the papal throne: “We are the only two world powers: the single Roman Church and the single Empire of the successors of Justinian; therefore we must unite and endeavor to prevent a new increase in the power of the western emperor, our rival.” In reality, the complicated situation of Byzantium, both external and internal, left no hope for the success of such ambitious plans.
But Innocent III did not want to see the eastern emperor a schismatic; he opened negotiations for union. These progressed slowly, for in one of his letters to Alexius the irritated pope threatened, in case of resistance, to support the right to the Byzantine throne of the family of the dethroned and blinded Isaac, whose daughter had been married to the German king, Philip of Swabia; probably the pope did not mean to carry out his threat. Alexius III, however, did not consent to his proposal of union, and in one of his letters he even brought forward the statement that the imperial power was higher than the spiritual. Thereupon relations between Byzantium and Rome became somewhat strained.
While carrying on negotiations with Constantinople and subtle diplomatic propaganda in Germany, Innocent III was exerting extraordinary activity in organizing a general crusade in which western and eastern Christianities should be fused together in order to reach the common aim — the liberation of the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel. Papal messages were sent to all the Christian sovereigns; the papal legates were traveling over Europe and promising the participants in the crusade the remission of their sins and many worldly practical advantages; eloquent preachers were encouraging the masses. In a letter Innocent III described the sad conditions of the Holy Land and expressed his anger against the sovereigns and princes of his epoch who were devoting their time to pleasures and petty quarrels; he described what the Muslims, whom the pope named in his letter pagans, think and say about the Christians. The pope wrote:
Our enemies insult us and say, “Where is your God who can free from our hands neither Himself nor you? We have polluted your sanctuaries, put forth our hands against the objects of your adoration, and violently attacked the Holy Land. In spite of you we keep in our hands your fathers’ cradle of superstition. We have reduced and broken the spears of the French, the efforts of the English, the vigour of the Germans, the heroism of the Spaniards. What has all this valor which you sent against us accomplished? Where is your God? Let Him rise and help you! Let Him show how He protects you and Himself! We have no more to do except, after the extermination of the defenders left by you for the protection of the country, to fall upon your own land in order to eradicate your name and the remembrance of you.” What may we reply to such aggressions? How may we refute their insults? Indeed, that which they say is partly the very truth … When the pagans display their anger with impunity in the whole country, the Christians do not dare any more to go out of their cities. They cannot even stay in them without shuddering. The sword [of the infidel] waits for them without; within they are torpid from fear.
None of the principal west European sovereigns answered the call of Innocent III. Philip II Augustus of France had been excommunicated by the Church for his divorce from his wife; John Lackland of England who had just ascended the throne, had first of all to establish himself there and was absorbed in a stubborn strife with the barons; finally, in Germany a struggle for the throne burst out between Otto of Brunswick and Philip of Swabia, so that neither of them could leave the country. Alone among sovereigns the king of Hungary took the cross. But the choicest of the western knights, particularly of northern France, took part in the crusade. Thibault, count of Champagne, Baldwin of Flanders, Louis of Blois, and many others assumed the cross. The crusading army was composed of French, Flemish, English, Germans, and Sicilians.
But the central figure of the crusade was the doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, a typical Venetian in mind and character. Although on his accession to the throne he was already eighty years of age, if not more, he resembled a young man by his powerful energy, devoted patriotism, and clear understanding of the most important purposes of Venice, especially of her economic aims. When the majesty, welfare, and benefit of the Republic of St. Mark were involved, Dandolo had no scruples regarding the means. Possessing the art of dealing with men, as well as extraordinary will power and circumspection, he was a remarkable statesman, an ingenious diplomat, and, at the same time, an expert economist.
At the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, the relations between Byzantium and Venice were not particularly friendly. A legend relates that, about thirty years before, Dandolo, during his stay in Constantinople as a hostage, had been treacherously blinded by the Greeks by means of a concave mirror which strongly reflected the rays of the sun; this circumstance was the cause of Dandolo’s deep hatred of Byzantium. Of course, the mutual distrust and rivalry of Byzantium and Venice were founded upon deeper reasons. Dandolo realized perfectly well what an inexhaustible mine of rich resources was the East in general, Christian and Muhammedan, for the economic development of the Republic; he turned his attention first of all to his nearest rival, Byzantium. He demanded that all the commercial privileges which had been obtained by Venice in Byzantium and had been somewhat curtailed under the last Comneni, beginning with Manuel, should be restored in full measure. Dandolo had chiefly in view the arrest of the Venetian merchants and the seizure of their ships and confiscation of their property under Manuel, as well as the massacre of the Latins in 1182. The Doge could not at all approve, after many years of Venetian trade monopoly in the Eastern Empire, the according of trade privileges to other Italian cities, Pisa and Genoa, whereby the Venetian commercial prosperity was considerably undermined. Gradually, in the mind of the keenly discerning and clever Dandolo, a plan was ripening to conquer Byzantium in order to secure definitely the Oriental market for Venice. Like Innocent III, Dandolo menaced Alexius III with supporting the rights of the family of the deposed and blinded Isaac Angelus to the Byzantine throne.
Thus, in the preparations for the Fourth Crusade, two men were of first importance: Pope Innocent III, as a representative of the spiritual element in the crusade sincerely wished to take the Holy Land from the hands of the Muhammedans and was absorbed in the idea of union; and the Doge Enrico Dandolo, as a representative of the secular, earthly element, put first material, commercial purposes. Two other men exercised considerable influence upon the course of the crusade: the Byzantine prince Alexius, son of the dethroned Isaac Angelus, who had escaped from Constantinople to the West, and Philip of Swabia, of Germany, who had married a daughter of Isaac Angelus, the sister of the prince Alexius.
Thibaut, count of Champagne, was elected the head of the crusading army. Beloved and highly esteemed by all, he was an animating force in the enterprise. But unfortunately Thibaut suddenly died before the crusade started. The crusaders, deprived of their leader, elected a new head in the person of Boniface, marquis of Montferrat. The leading role in the crusade passed, therefore, from a Frenchman to an Italian prince.
At that time Palestine belonged to the Egyptian dynasty of the Ayyoubids, among whom, at the end of the twelfth century, after the death of the famous Saladin (March, 1193), troubles and strife broke out. These circumstances seemed to facilitate the crusaders’ task. Toward the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, in Syria and Palestine there remained in the hands of the Christians two important industrial centers, Antioch and Tripoli, and a coast fortress, Acre (Acra, Saint-Jean-d’Acre).
The crusaders had to assemble at Venice which, for a certain sum, offered to transport them on its vessels to the East. The nearest objective of the crusade was Egypt, under whose power Palestine was at that time; it was intended to conquer Egypt at first, and then, with that advantage, to obtain from the Muslims the restoration of Palestine. Venice, however, did not wish to start transporting the crusaders until the sum agreed upon should be paid in full. The sum not being forthcoming, the crusaders were finally obliged to agree to the Doge’s proposal that they should help him to reconquer the city of Zara (Zadr), situated on the Dalmatian shores of the Adriatic, which had recently seceded from Venice and passed over to the king of Hungary. He had taken the cross; nevertheless the crusaders consented to the Doge’s proposal and sailed towards Zara, a city which was to participate in the crusade. Thus, the crusade fitted out against the infidel began with a siege by crusaders of a city where crusaders lived. In spite of the indignant protests of the pope and his threats to excommunicate the crusading army, the crusaders attacked Zara, took it by storm for Venice, and destroyed it. The crucifixes exposed by the inhabitants of the city upon the walls did not deter the assailants. A historian exclaimed, “A beautiful starting for a crusade!” The Zara case dealt a heavy blow to the crusaders’ prestige, but gave Dandolo the right to celebrate his first victory in the crusade.
When the pope learned of the taking of Zara and heard the complaints of the king of Hungary against the allies, that is to say, the crusaders and Venetians, he excommunicated them. Innocent wrote the crusaders: “Instead of reaching the Promised Land, you thirsted for the blood of your brethren. Satan, the universal tempter, has deceived you … The inhabitants of Zara hang crucifixes upon the walls. In spite of the Crucified you have stormed the city and forced it to surrender … Under fear of anathema, halt in this matter of destruction and restore to the envoys of the king of Hungary all which has been taken away from them. If you will not, know that you are falling under excommunication and will be deprived of the privileges granted all the crusaders.”
The threats of the pope and his excommunication produced no effect upon the Venetians. But the crusaders — the so-called “Francs” — exerted themselves to the utmost to have the papal excommunication raised. Finally, the pope, having pity upon them, raised the excommunication, but left the Venetians under the ban. He did not, however, definitely forbid the pardoned crusaders to associate with the excommunicated Venetians. They continued to act together. During the siege and surrender of Zara a new personality makes his appearance in the history of the Fourth Crusade — the Byzantine prince Alexius Angelus, son of the dethroned and blinded Isaac. Alexius had escaped from prison and fled to the West in order to obtain help for restoring the throne to his unfortunate father. After a fruitless meeting with the pope in Rome, the prince went to the north, to Germany, to his brother-in-law Philip of Swabia, who had married Irene, Alexius’ sister and Isaac’s daughter. Irene begged her husband to help her brother, who, “without shelter and fatherland, was traveling like the floating stars and had nothing with him but his own body.” Philip, who was at that time absorbed in his struggle with Otto of Brunswick, was unable to support Alexius effectively, but he sent an embassy to Zara begging Venice and the crusaders to help Isaac and his son by restoring them to the Byzantine throne. For that aid Alexius promised to subordinate Byzantium to Rome as far as religion was concerned, to pay a large amount of money, and, after restoring his father to the throne, to take a personal part in the crusade.
Thus was raised the question of the possibility of completely changing the crusade in direction and character. Doge Dandolo immediately realized all the advantages of Philip’s proposal for Venice. The chief role in the expedition against Constantinople and in restoring the dethroned Isaac to the throne opened wide horizons to the Doge. For some time the crusaders did not consent to the proposed change and demanded that the crusade should not be averted from its original aim. But, finally, both sides came to an agreement.
Most of the crusaders determined to participate in the expedition upon Constantinople, but on condition that after a short stay there they go to Egypt, as had been formerly planned. Thus, a treaty of the conquest of Constantinople was concluded between Venice and the crusaders at Zara. The prince Alexius himself came into the camp at Zara. In May, 1203, the fleet with Dandolo, Boniface of Montferrat, and the Prince Alexius sailed from Zara and a month after made its appearance before Constantinople.
A Russian chronicle of Novgorod, in which is preserved a detailed account, not yet sufficiently studied, of the Fourth Crusade, the taking of Constantinople by the crusaders, and the foundation of the Latin Empire, remarks, “The Franks and all their chiefs have loved the gold and silver which the son of Isaac has promised them, and have forgotten the precepts of the Emperor and Pope.” Thus, the Russian point of view holds the crusaders blameworthy for their deviation from their original aim. The most recent investigator of the account of Novgorod, P. Bizilli, considered it very important and said that it gives a special theory explaining the crusade upon Byzantium which no west European source mentions, namely that “that crusade was decided by the Pope and Philip of Swabia together.”
Many scholars have devoted much attention to the problem of the Fourth Crusade. Their chief attention has been turned to the causes of the change of direction of the crusade. One party of scholars explained the whole unusual course of the crusading enterprise by accidental circumstances and were the followers of the so-called “theory of accidents.” An opposing group of scholars saw the cause of the change in the premeditated policy of Venice and Germany and became the partisans of the so-called “theory of premeditation.”
Until about 1860 no dispute on that problem had existed because all historians had depended mainly on the statements of the chief western source of the Fourth Crusade and a participant in it, the French historian Geoffrey de Villehardouin. In his exposition the events of the crusade progressed simply and accidentally: not having vessels, the crusaders hired them at Venice and therefore assembled there; after having hired the vessels they could not pay the Republic of St. Mark the full amount fixed and were forced to support the Venetians in their strife with Zara; then followed the coming of the prince Alexius, who inclined the crusaders against Byzantium. Thus, there was no question of any treason of Venice nor of any complicated political intrigue.
In 1861, for the first time, a French scholar, Mas-Latrie, author of the very well-known history of the island of Cyprus, accused Venice, which had important commercial interests in Egypt, of making a secret treaty with the sultan of Egypt and thereupon skillfully forcing the crusaders to abandon the original plan of the expedition upon Egypt and to sail against Byzantium. Then the German historian, Karl Hopf, seemed definitely to prove the treason of the Venetians towards the Christian task, stating that the treaty between Venice and the sultan of Egypt was concluded on the 13th of May, 1202. Although Hopf produced no text of the treaty and did not even indicate where this text was to be found, the authority of the German scholar was so great that many scholars adopted his standpoint without any doubt. But it was shown soon after that Hopf had no new document in his hands at all and that his date was quite arbitrary. A French scholar, Hanotaux, who a little later investigated this problem, refuted the theory of Venetian treason and, consequently, “the theory of premeditation.” But he thought that if the Venetians were the chief instigators of the change of direction of the Fourth Crusade, they had obvious motives: the desire to subdue Zara, which had revolted; the wish to restore their candidate to the Byzantine throne, to revenge themselves on Byzantium for the sympathy Alexius III had given the Pisans, and, possibly, the hope to obtain some profit, if the Empire fell to pieces. The theory of Hopf at the present time is considered refuted. If the Venetians can be really accused of treason, they became traitors not because of a secret treaty with the Muslims, but exclusively because they had in view their commercial interests in the Byzantine Empire.
But the followers of “the theory of premeditation” did not confine themselves to the attempt to prove the fact of the treason of Venice. In 1875 a new motive was brought forward by a French scholar. Count de Riant, who tried to prove that the chief instigator of the change of direction of the Fourth Crusade was not Dandolo, but the king of Germany, Philip of Swabia, son-in-law of the deposed Isaac Angelus. In Germany a skillful political intrigue had been woven which was to direct the crusaders upon Constantinople. Boniface of Montferrat fulfilled Philip’s plans in the East. In the change of direction of the crusade Riant sees one of the episodes of the long struggle between the papacy and the Empire. By his leading role in the crusade Philip humiliated the pope and falsified his conception of the crusade; welcoming the restored Byzantine Emperor as an ally, Philip might hope to be successful in his strife with the pope and with his rival in Germany, Otto of Brunswick. But a blow was struck to Riant’s theory by an investigation of Vasilievsky, who showed that the flight of the prince Alexius to the West took place not in the year 1201, as all the historians believed, but in 1202, so that for a complicated and long conceived political intrigue “Philip was left neither place nor time; thus the German intrigue may be proved as illusive as the Venetian.” The accurate investigation of a Frenchman, Tessier, on the basis of examination of contemporary sources, refuted the theory of the German sovereign’s role and returned to the acknowledgment of the great significance of the narrative of Villehardouin, that is to say, to the prevailing standpoint before 1860, “the theory of accidents.” Tessier said that the Fourth Crusade was a French crusade, and the conquest of Constantinople was an achievement neither Germanic nor Venetian, but French. Of Riant’s premeditation theory there remains only the fact that Philip of Swabia took part in the change of direction of the crusade and, like Henry VI, claimed the Eastern Empire; but the sources do not justify affirming the existence of a leading and subtle plan on Philip’s part on which could depend the destiny of the whole Fourth Crusade.
At the end of the nineteenth century a German historian, W. Norden, definitely refuting “the theory of premeditation” and agreeing essentially with “the theory of accidents,” endeavored to investigate the latter more deeply, discussed the problem of the Fourth Crusade in the light of the political, economic, and religious relations between the West and East, and tried to elucidate the inner connection between the Fourth Crusade and the history of the previous hundred and fifty years.
To sum up: in the complicated history of the Fourth Crusade there were in action various forces originating in the motives of the pope, Venice, and the German king in the West, as well as forces originating in the external and internal conditions of Byzantium in the East. The interplay of these forces created an exceedingly complex phenomenon which is not entirely clear, in some details, even at the present day. “This,” said the French historian Luchaire, “will never be known, and science has something better to do than interminably to discuss an insoluble problem.” Grégoire has recently even gone so far as to proclaim that “there is really no problem of the Fourth Crusade.”
But among all the plans, hopes, and complications it remains clear that over all prevailed the firm will of Dandolo and his unyielding determination to develop the trade activity of Venice, to which the possession of the eastern markets promised limitless wealth and a brilliant future. Moreover, Dandolo was greatly alarmed by the growing economic power of Genoa, which at that time, in the Near East in general and in Constantinople in particular, began to gain a strong foothold. The economic competition between Venice and Genoa must also be taken into consideration when the problem of the Fourth Crusade is discussed. Finally the unpaid debt of Byzantium to Venice for the Venetian property seized by Manuel Comnenus may also have had something to do with the diversion of the Fourth Crusade.
At the end of June, 1203, the crusading fleet appeared before Constantinople, which at that time, in the eyes of western Europe, said Nicetas Choniates, “looked perfectly like Sybaris, which was well known for its effeminacy.” A. participant in the crusade, the French writer Villehardouin, described the deep impression produced upon the crusaders by the view of the Byzantine capital:
Now you may imagine that those who had never before seen Constantinople looked upon it very earnestly, for they never thought there could be in all the world so rich a city, when they saw the high walls and magnificent towers that enclosed it round about, the rich palaces and mighty churches, of which there were so many that no one would have believed it who had not seen it with his own eyes, — and the height and length of that city which above all others was sovereign. And be it known to you that no man there was of such sturdy courage but his flesh trembled; and it was no wonder, for never was so great an enterprise undertaken by anyone since the creation of the world.
It seemed probable that the fortified capital could successfully resist the crusaders, who were not very numerous. But the latter, having landed on the European shore and taken the suburb of Galata, on the left bank of the Golden Horn, forced the iron chain which protected the entrance into it, penetrated the Golden Horn and burned a great number of the Byzantine vessels. At the same time the knights stormed the city itself. In spite of a desperate resistance, particularly by the mercenary Varangian troops, the crusaders, in July, took possession of the city. Alexius III, having neither energy nor will power, abandoned the capital and fled, taking with him the public treasure and jewels. Isaac II was released from prison and restored to his throne; his son, the prince Alexius, who had arrived with the crusaders, was proclaimed his co-regent (Alexius IV). This first siege and first taking of Constantinople by the crusaders was in order to restore Isaac II upon the throne.
Having placed Isaac on the throne, the crusaders, with Dandolo at their head, demanded from the Emperor’s son the fulfillment of the promises which he had made, that is to say, that he should pay them a large sum of money and start with them to the crusade, for the western knights were already insisting that they should set off. Alexius IV urged the crusaders not to stay in Constantinople, but to pitch their camp outside, in its suburb, and, unable to pay the whole amount, besought them to grant him a respite. This led to strained relations between the Latins and Greeks. In the city itself, meanwhile, the population grew discontented with the policy of the Emperors, whom they accused of having betrayed the Empire to the crusaders. An insurrection burst out. The son-in-law of the Emperor Alexius III, the ambitious Alexius Ducas Mourtzouphlos, was proclaimed Emperor at the beginning of 1204; Isaac II and Alexius IV were deposed. Isaac died very soon in prison, and Alexius IV, by order of Mourtzouphlos, was strangled.
Mourtzouphlos, known as the Emperor Alexius V, was a nominee of the national party, which was hostile to the crusaders. The crusaders had no relations with him, and after the death of Isaac and Alexius they considered themselves completely free from any obligation towards Byzantium. Conflict between the Greeks and crusaders was unavoidable. The crusaders began to discuss the plan of taking Constantinople for themselves. In March of the same year, 1204, a treaty between Venice and the crusaders concerning the division of the Empire after the conquest was elaborated and concluded. The first words of the treaty were impressive: “Calling upon the name of Christ, we must conquer the city with the armed hand!” The chief points of the treaty were as follows: in the captured city the Latin government was to be established; the allies were to share in the booty of Constantinople according to agreement; then a committee formed of six Venetians and six Frenchmen was to elect as emperor that man who, in their opinion, could best govern the country “to the glory of God and the Holy Roman Church and Empire;” to the Emperor was to be assigned a quarter of the conquered territory within the capital and without, as well as two palaces in the capital; the other three-quarters of the conquered territory were to be divided, half for Venice, the rest for the other crusaders; the possession of St. Sophia and the election of a patriarch were to be left to the side which did not provide the Emperor; all the crusaders who received possessions large or small were to take feudal oath to the Emperor; only the Doge Dandolo was to be exempted from this oath. This was the basis upon which the future Latin Empire was to be established.
Having agreed upon these conditions for the partition of the Empire the crusaders devoted themselves to the task of taking Constantinople, storming it by land and sea. For some days the capital stubbornly defended itself.
Finally arrived the fatal day, the 13th of April, 1204, when the crusaders succeeded in taking possession of Constantinople. The Emperor Alexius V Ducas Mourtzouphlos, fearing to be caught and “to fall into the teeth of the Latins as a tidbit or dessert,” fled. Constantinople passed into the hands of the crusaders. The capital of the Byzantine Empire “fell when assailed by that criminal filibustering expedition, the Fourth Crusade.”
Taking up the narration of the events of this period, Nicetas Choniates wrote: “What a state of mind must, naturally, be his who will narrate the public disasters which have befallen this queen of cities [Constantinople] in the reign of the earthly angels [Angeli]!”
After the taking of the city, for three days, the Latins treated the city with appalling cruelty and pillaged everything which had been collected in Constantinople for many centuries. Neither churches, nor relics, nor monuments of art, nor private possessions were spared or respected. The western knights and their soldiers, as well as the Latin monks and abbots, took part in the pillaging.
Nicetas Choniates, an eyewitness of the capture of Constantinople, gives a striking picture of appalling sacking, violation, sacrilege, and ruin effected by the crusaders in the capital of the Empire; even the Muhammedans had been more merciful towards the Christians after the capture of Jerusalem than these men who claimed to be soldiers of Christ. Another stirring description of the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders, was given by another eyewitness, Nicholas Mesarites, metropolitan of Ephesus, in his funeral oration on the occasion of the death of his elder brother.
In those three days when the crusaders were allowed to pillage Constantinople, a mass of precious monuments of art perished; many libraries were plundered; manuscripts were destroyed. St. Sophia was mercilessly robbed. The contemporary Villehardouin observed: “Since the world was created, never had so much booty been won in any city!” A Russian chronicle of Novgorod describes in particular detail the scenes of pillage in churches and monasteries. The disaster of 1204 is also mentioned in Russian “chronogra-phies.”
The spoils were collected and divided among the Latins, both laymen and ecclesiastics. After this crusade the whole of western Europe became enriched with the treasures exported from Constantinople; most of the western European churches received something from “the holy relics” of Constantinople. The greater part of the relics, which were in the monasteries of France, perished during the French Revolution. The four bronze horses of antique work which had served as one of the best ornaments of the Constantinopolitan Hippodrome were carried away by Dandolo to Venice, where they ornament today the portal of the cathedral of St. Mark.
Nicetas Choniates, in an eloquent lament, described and mourned the ruin of the city, imitating the Biblical lamentation of the Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. The Byzantine lamentation begins: “Oh, city, city, eye of all cities, subject of narratives over alt the world, spectacle above the world, supporter of churches, leader of faith, guide of orthodoxy, protector of education, abode of all good! Thou hast drunk to the dregs the cup of the anger of the Lord and hast been visited with fire fiercer than that which in days of yore descended upon the five cities (Pentapolis).” Meanwhile, the difficult task of organizing the captured territory confronted the conquerors. They decided to establish an empire like that which had existed before. The question of the selection of the emperor arose. One man seemed destined to occupy the throne — the leader of the crusade. Marquis Boniface of Montferrat. But Dandolo seems to have opposed his candidacy; he judged Boniface too powerful and his possessions situated too near Venice. Accordingly Boniface was passed over. Dandolo himself as doge of the Republic of Venice did not pretend to the imperial crown. The electoral college assembled to elect the new emperor and fixed its choice, not without the influence of Dandolo, on Baldwin, count of Flanders, more distant from Venice and less powerful than Boniface. He was duly elected Emperor and was crowned in St. Sophia with great pomp.
At the time of Baldwin’s ascension to the throne three Greek rulers were living; the two Emperors, Alexius III Angelus and Alexius V Ducas Mourtzouphlos, and Theodore Lascaris, who was then still the despot of Nicaea. Baldwin succeeded in conquering the partisans of the two Emperors; the relations of the Latin Empire to Theodore Lascaris, who founded an empire at Nicaea, belongs to a later chapter.
After the-election of the Emperor the next problem was how to divide the conquered territory among the participants in the crusade. “The sharing of Romania” (Partitio Romanie), as the Latins and Greeks often called the Eastern Empire, was carried out, generally speaking, upon the basis of the conditions established in March, 1204. Constantinople was divided between Baldwin and Dandolo, so that the Emperor received five-eighths of the city and the Doge the other three-eighths and St. Sophia, Besides five-eighths of the capital, Baldwin was awarded the territory of southern Thrace and a small part of northwestern Asia Minor adjoining the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Hellespont; some of the larger islands of the Aegean (Archipelago), for example, Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and some others, were also assigned to him. Thus, both shores of the Bosphorus and Hellespont came under the power of Baldwin.
Boniface of Montferrat as compensation for having missed the imperial crown was promised some possessions in Asia Minor, but he actually received Thessalonica with the surrounding territory in Macedonia and the north of Thessaly, forming the Kingdom of Thessalonica, which he held as Baldwin’s vassal.
Venice secured the lion’s share of the partition of Romania. The Republic of St. Mark received some points on the Adriatic shore, for example, Dyrrachium, the Ionian islands, the greater part of the islands of the Aegean, some places in the Peloponnesus, the island of Crete, some seaports in Thrace, with Gallipoli on the Hellespont, and some territory in the interior of Thrace. Dandolo assumed the Byzantine title of “Despot,” was released from paying homage to the Emperor, and styled himself “lord of the fourth and a half of all the Empire of Romania,” that is to say, of three-eighths (quartae partis et dimidiae totius imperii Romanie dominator); this title was used by the doges until the middle of the fourteenth century. According to the treaty, the Church of St. Sophia was delivered into the hands of the Venetian clergy, and a Venetian, Thomas Morosini, was raised to the patriarchate and became the head of the Catholic church in the new Empire. A Byzantine historian, Nicetas Choniates, a strong partisan of the Greek Orthodox church, gave in his history a very unfavorable portrait of Thomas Morosini.
It is clear that, owing to the acquisitions made by Venice, the new Empire was very weak compared with the powerful Republic, whose position in the East became commanding. The best part of the Byzantine possessions passed into the hands of the Republic of St. Mark, the best harbors, the most important strategic points, and many fertile territories; the whole maritime way from Venice to Constantinople was in the power of the Republic. The Fourth Crusade, which had created “the Colonial Empire” of Venice in the East, gave the Republic innumerable commercial advantages and raised her to the pinnacle of her political and economic power. It was a complete victory for the able, thoughtfully pondered, and egoistically patriotic policy of Doge Dandolo.
The Latin Empire was founded on the feudal basis. The conquered territory was divided by the Emperor into a great number of larger or smaller fiefs, for the possession of which the western knights were obliged to take vassal oath to the Latin Emperor of Constantinople.
Boniface of Montferrat, king of Thessalonica, marched through Thessaly
southward into Greece, and conquered Athens. In the Middle Ages, Athens was a half-forgotten provincial city where upon the Acropolis, in the ancient Parthenon, an Orthodox cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary was located. At the time of the Latin conquest, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the famous Michael Acominatus (Choniates) had been archbishop of Athens for about thirty years. Michael left a rich literary inheritance in speeches, poetry, and letters, which gives good information on the internal history of the Empire under the Comneni and Angeli, as well as on the conditions of Attica and Athens in the Middle Ages. Those provinces are represented in Michael’s works in a very dark aspect, with barbarian population, perhaps partly Slavonic, with barbarian language round about Athens, with Attica desolate, and its population poor. “Having stayed a long time at Athens I have become barbarian,” wrote Michael and compared the city of Pericles to Tartarus. An assiduous protector of medieval Athens who had devoted much time and work to his poor flock, Michael, judging it impossible to resist the troops of Boniface, abandoned his seat and spent the rest of his life in solitude on one of the islands close to the shores of Attica. The Latins conquered Athens, which, with Thebes, was transmitted by Boniface to a Burgundian knight, Othon de la Roche, who assumed the title of the Duke of Athens and Thebes (dux Athenarum atque Thebarum). The cathedral upon the Acropolis passed into the hands of the Latin clergy.
While the Duchy of Athens and Thebes was founded in central Greece, in southern Greece, that is to say, in the ancient Peloponnesus, which was at that time often called Morea, a name whose etymological origin is not clear, was formed the Principality of Achaia, which was organized by the French.
Geoffrey de Villehardouin, nephew of the famous historian, was off the shore of Syria when he learned of the taking of Constantinople by the crusaders; he hastened thither, but he was driven by stress of weather upon the southern shores of the Peloponnesus. He landed there and conquered a part of the country. But feeling that he could not maintain himself with merely his own forces, he asked help from the king of Thessalonica, Boniface, who at that time was in Attica. The latter granted the right of conquering Morea to one of his knights, a Frenchman, William de Champlitte, from the family of the counts of Champagne. In the course of two years he and Villehardouin subdued the whole country. Thus, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Byzantine Peloponnesus was converted into the French Principality of Achaia, with Prince William at the head of its government; it was divided into twelve baronies and received the western European feudal organization. After William, the princely power passed over to the house of the Villehardouins. The court of the prince of Achaia was marked by its brilliancy and “seemed larger than the court of any great king.” “There French was spoken as well as in Paris.” About twenty years after the formation of the Latin feudal states and possessions on the Byzantine territory, Pope Honorius III, in his letter to Blanche, queen of France, spoke of the creation in the east “as a sort of new France” (ibique noviter quasi nova Francia est creata).
The Peloponnesus feudaries built fortified castles with towers and walls, on the west European model; the best known among them was Mistra, on the slopes of Mount Taygetus, in ancient Laconia, close to ancient Sparta. This imposing medieval feudal construction became in the second half of the thirteenth century the capital of the Greco-Byzantine despots in the Peloponnesus, when the Palaeologi had reconquered Mistra from the Franks. Even today Mistra strikes scholars and tourists, with its imposing half-ruined buildings, as one of the rarest spectacles of Europe, and preserves intact in its churches the precious frescoes of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which are extremely important for the history of later Byzantine art. In the western part of the peninsula was the strongly fortified castle of Clermont, which was preserved almost intact until the third decade of the nineteenth century, when it was destroyed by the Turks. A Greek chronicler wrote of that castle that, if the Franks had lost Morea, the possession of Clermont only would have sufficed to reconquer the whole peninsula. The Franks also built some other strongholds.
In the Peloponnesus the Franks succeeded in establishing themselves firmly in two of the three southern peninsulas; but in the central one in spite of two fortified castles that they built, they never really overcame the stubborn resistance of the Slavs (the tribe of Melingi) who lived in the mountains. The Greeks of Morea, at least the majority of them, might have seen in the rule of the Franks a welcome relief from the financial oppression of the Byzantine government.
In the south of the Peloponnesus Venice possessed two important seaports, Modon and Coron, which were excellent stations for the Venetian vessels on their way to the East and at the same time very good points for observing the maritime trade of the Levant. They were the two “principal eyes of the commune” (oculi capitales communis).
Concerning the epoch of the Latin sway in me Peloponnesus, there is a great deal of interesting information in various sources, particularly in the so-called Chronicle of Morea (fourteenth century) which survives in different versions, Greek (in verse), French, Italian, and Spanish. If from the point of view of exact exposition of fact the Chronicle of Morea cannot occupy a chief place among the other sources, it nevertheless gives a rich mine of precious material about the internal conditions of living in the epoch of the Frankish rule in the Peloponnesus, with the institutions, the public and private life, and, finally, with the geography of Morea at that time. The Chronicle of Morea, as a source exceptionally rich and various in its information on the internal and cultural history of the epoch, when Greco-Byzantine and western feudal elements united together to create exceedingly interesting living conditions, deserves particular attention.
Some scholars suppose that certainly the Frankish rule in Morea, and probably the Chronicle of Morea itself, influenced Goethe, who in the third act of the second part of his tragedy “Faust” lays the scene in Greece, at Sparta, where the love story between Faust and Helena takes place. Faust himself is represented there as a prince of the conquered Peloponnesus surrounded by the feudaries; the character of his rule reminds us somewhat of one of the Villehardouins, as the latter is represented in the Chronicle of Morea. In a conversation between Mephistopheles, in the form of Phorcias, and Helena, J. Schmitt thinks that Mistra, which had been built precisely at the time of the Latin sway in Morea, is without doubt described, Phorcias said:
Thus stood, for many years, forlorn the sloping ridge
That northward to the height rises in Sparta’s rear,
Behind Taygetus, whence, still a merry brook
Downward Eurotas rolls, and then, along our vale
Broad-flowing among reeds, gives nurture to your swans.
There in the mountain-vale, behind, a stalwart race
Themselves establish’d, pressing from Cimmerian night,
And have uprear’d a fastness, inaccessible,
Whence land and folk around they harry, as they list.
Later appears a description of this castle, which has pillars, pilasters, arches, archlets, balconies, galleries, scutcheons, and so forth, like a typical medieval castle. All this passage of the tragedy seems to have been written under the influence of the Chronicle of Morea, and therefore from the conquest of Morea by the Franks came some of the material for the poetic scenes of Faust.
The taking of Constantinople by the crusaders and the establishment of the Latin Empire put the pope in a difficult position. Innocent III had opposed the diversion of the crusade and had excommunicated the crusaders and Venetians after the seizure of Zara; but after the fall of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, he stood face to face with the accomplished fact.
The Emperor Baldwin, who in his letter to the pope named himself “by the Grace of God the Emperor of Constantinople and always Augustus,” as well as “the vassal of the Pope” (miles suus) notified the latter of the taking of the Byzantine capital and of his own election. In his reply Innocent III entirely disregards his former attitude. He “rejoices in the Lord” (gavisi sumus in Domino) at the miracle effected “for the praise and glory of His name, for the honor and benefit of the Apostolic throne, and for the profit and exaltation of the Christian people.” The pope called upon all clergy, all sovereigns, and all peoples to support the cause of Baldwin and expressed the hope that since Constantinople was taken it would be easier to reconquer the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel; and at the close of the letter the pope admonished Baldwin to be a faithful and obedient son of the Catholic Church. In another letter Innocent wrote: “Of course, although we are pleased to know that Constantinople has returned to obedience to its mother, the Holy Catholic Church, nevertheless we should be still more pleased, if Jerusalem had been restored to the power of the Christian people.”
But the state of mind of the pope changed when he had become acquainted in more detail with all the horrors of the sack of Constantinople and with the text of the treaty concerning the partition of the Empire. The treaty had a purely secular character with a clear tendency to eliminate the interference of the Church. Baldwin had not asked the pope to confirm his imperial tide; and Baldwin and Dandolo had independently decided the question of St. Sophia, of the election of the patriarch, of ecclesiastical property, and other religious affairs. During the sack of Constantinople many churches and monasteries as well as a great number of highly honored sanctuaries had been denied and polluted. All this evoked in the heart of the pope alarm and discontent with the crusaders. He wrote the Marquess of Montferrat: “Having neither right nor power over the Greeks you seem to have imprudently deviated from the purity of your vow, when you marched not against the Saracens, but against the Christians, meaning not to reconquer Jerusalem, but to take Constantinople, preferring earthly riches to heavenly riches. But it is much more important that some (of the crusaders) spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex…”
Thus, the Latin Empire in the East, established on feudal grounds, possessed no strong political power; moreover, in church affairs, the Empire was unable for a time to establish relations with the Roman curia that were entirely satisfactory.
The aim of the western knights and merchants was not thoroughly attained, for not all Byzantine territories were in the power of the new Latin possessions in the East. After 1204 there were three independent Greek states. The Empire of Nicaea, under the dynasty of the Lascaris, in the western part of Asia Minor, situated between the Latin possessions in Asia Minor and the territories of the Sultanate of Iconium or Rum, and possessing a part of the seashore of the Aegean, was the biggest independent Greek center and the most dangerous rival of the Latin Empire. Then, in the western part of the Balkan peninsula, in Epirus, there was founded the Despotat of Epirus under the rule of the dynasty of the Comneni-Angeli. Finally, on the remote southeastern shore of the Black Sea, in 1204, was founded the Empire of Trebizond with the dynasty of the “Great Comneni.”
If the Latins in the East had no political unity, they had no religious unity either, for these three Greek states remained faithful to the doctrine and practice of the Greek Eastern Church; from the point of view of the pope they were schismatic. Nicaea was particularly displeasing to the pope; there the Greek bishop, paying no attention to the residence of the Latin patriarch in Constantinople, was called the patriarch of Constantinople. In addition, the Greeks of the Latin Empire, despite their political subjugation by the Latins, did not adopt Catholicism. The military occupation of the country did not signify ecclesiastical union.
The results of the Fourth Crusade were as fatal for the Byzantine Empire as for the future of the crusades. The Empire could never recover from the blow inflicted on it in 1204; it lost forever the significance of a political world power. Politically, the Eastern Empire, as a whole, ceased to exist; it yielded its place to a number of west European feudal states and never again, even after the restoration of the Empire under the Palaeologi, did it regain its former brilliancy and influence.
As regards the significance of the Fourth Crusade for the general problem of the crusading movement, it showed, first of all, in the clearest way that the idea of the movement had become entirely secular; secondly, it bifurcated the single motive which had formerly drawn the western peoples to the East. After 1204 they had to direct their forces not only against the Muslims in Palestine or Egypt, but, on a larger scale, to their own new possessions on the territory of the Eastern Empire in order to support their power there. The result of this, of course, was to delay the struggle against the Muslims in the Holy Land.