Fourth Crusade

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The Fourth Crusade lasted from 1201-1204. Though the Crusades were for the most part an entirely Western phenomenon, this one affected Eastern Church history because the invading Crusaders took Constantinople on April 13, 1204. After defeating the Byzantine Emperor Alexius V (who had usurped the throne from his predecessor Alexius IV, put in power by the Crusaders), they conquered the city and famously looted and desecrated numerous churches, icons, and relics.1 They then set up the Latin Empire, based in Constantinople; it lasted over 57 years until the Byzantine Michael VIII Palaeologus recaptured Constantinople in 1261. This Crusade is widely regarded as having finalized the Great Schism, as much bitterness towards the West remained even after the restoration of Byzantium.

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After the failure of the Third Crusade (1189–1192), there was little interest in Europe for another crusade against the Muslims. Jerusalem was now controlled by the Ayyubid dynasty, which ruled all of Syria and Egypt, except for the few cities along the coast still controlled by the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centered on Acre. The Third Crusade had also established a kingdom on Cyprus.

Pope Innocent III succeeded to the papacy in 1198, and the preaching of a new crusade became the goal of his pontificate. 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 organized at a tournament held at Écry by Count Thibaut of Champagne in 1199. Thibaut was elected leader, but he died in 1200 and was replaced by an Italian count, Boniface of Montferrat. Boniface and the other leaders sent envoys to Venice, Genoa, and other city-states to negotiate a contract for transport to Egypt, the object of their crusade; one of the envoys was the future historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin. Genoa was uninterested, but in March 1201 negotiations were opened with Venice, which agreed to transport 33,500 crusaders, a very ambitious number. This agreement required a full year of preparation on the part of the Venetians to build numerous ships and train the sailors who would man them, all the while curtailing the city's commercial activities. The crusading army was expected to comprise 4,500 knights (as well as 4,500 horses), 9,000 squires, and 20,000 foot-soldiers.

The majority of the crusading army that set out from Venice in October 1202 originated from areas within France. It included men from Blois, Champagne, Amiens, Saint-Pol, the Ile-de-France and Burgundy. Several other regions of Europe sent substantial contingents as well, such as Flanders and Montferrat. Other notable groups came from the Holy Roman Empire, including the men under Bishops Martin of Pairisand and Conrad of Halberstadt, together in alliance with the Venetian soldiers and sailors led by the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo. The crusade was to make directly for the centre of the Muslim world, Cairo, ready to sail on June 24, 1202. This agreement was ratified by Pope Innocent, with a solemn ban on attacks on Christian states.[1]

Papal primacy as developed during the Cluniac Reformation (10th-11th c.) and the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII.

The Monastery of Cluny in French Burgundy taught the high doctrine of the power of the Apostolic See. The Church was to be organized under strict discipline, and bishops, priests, and monks had no rights of their own that were not derived from the pope, the unique source of ecclesiastical authority. In 1039 Cluny's abbot Odilo turned his monastery into the head of a monastic feudal system whose influence spread all over Europe. In 1055 the Monastery of Cluny captured the papacy. Pope Innocent III (pope during the Fourth Crusade) carried these Cluniac ideas about the position of the pope as the sole and highest authority in the Church.

It naturally followed, therefore, that Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) conceived of his supremacy over the temporal powers as a domination over both the Eastern and Western Empires. This Gregorian Reform stressed, among other things, the primacy of the papacy over the Empire, the infallability of the Church, and the right of popes to depose emperors.

With this background, and with the experience of the Great Schism in 1054, the papacy's position was that Byzantium was regarded as a rebel, a schismatic or heretical nation which should be brought back to order or eliminated.

Resentment against Eastern Christendom

The average European, especially those who lived in the northern territories and had no communication or knowledge of the Byzantine Empire, were taught to believe that the Greeks were ungodly, a nation not worthy to bear the name of Christians. Two examples are:

  1. in the Chronicle of the Morea (a 14th Century text naarating the establishment of western-style feudalism in Frankish Greece), there is a speech recorded which clearly shows the division between the Latins and the Greeks; the papal legate at Zara (1202) stated: "It is better to brings Christians into agreement and like-mindedness, the Franks and the Greeks, than go to Syria with no hope of success."(Chronicle of Morea p.82).
  2. In the acccount of the Second Crusade (1147-49), De profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem (On Louis VII's journey to the East), written by Odo of Deuil, a chaplain to the French King Louis VII and later abbott of Saint-Denis, Odo explains the failure of the Crusade in terms of human action rather than as the will of God. He blamed the Byzantine Empire under Manuel Comnenus for the downfall of the Crusade. Odo's prejudice against Byzantium led historian Steven Runciman to describe Odo as "hysterically anti-Greek."

Anti-Byzantine Sentement in connection with Previous Crusades and Byzantine Relations with Muslim Empires

  1. Emperor Alexius I Comnenus helped the First Crusade but was very cautious, signing an uneasy treaty and alliance with the Crusaders.
  2. Emperor Manuel I Comnenus promised to help the Second Crusade and signed the same treaty with the Crusaders. However, he could not help because he was engaged in war against the Norman Prince Roger of Sicily, who had invaded Corfu. Manuel had also signed a treaty with the Turks of Iconium; the Crusaders, particularly the Franks, bitterly blamed him for their failure.
  3. Emperor Isaac II Angelus foolishly imprisoned the ambassadors of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Hohenstauffen), head of the Third Crusade, who were sent to negotiate passage through imperial territory. Issac also had concluded a treaty with the Sultan of Iconium, as he was fearful of Frederick's ambitions.

The fact is that Constantinople was always suspicious of these Western hordes, sometimes quite unruly, which were passing through its territory full of bigotry and fanaticism against the Islamic nations neighboring the Empire. Besides, the policy of the Byzantine Empire in handling the Moslems and keeping them away was quite opposite to the Crusaders' ideals and blind religious fanaticism. Historian Queller, quoting Runciman, says that "the concept of Christian War appears to be alien to the thought and personality of Jesus, and in fact, it was not looked upon favorably by the Greek Church."

Commercial Rivalries with Constantinople and Subsequent Avarice

Envy for the apparent wealth of the Greeks and perhaps the desire to share in some of the precious holy relics and treasure in the churches of the imperial capital was another motivation. The primary sources of the First Crusade speak of the awe the Crusaders felt when they first glanced at the Imperial City and the domes of Hagia Sophia; the feeling of inferiority is openly discerned as being at work in the Crusaders as a result.

More to the point, in both of the accounts of Villehardouin and that of the Crusader knight Robert of Clari (4th Crusade), the impression of the Crusaders is recorded. They were stunned by the unbelievable wealth and the treasure of the holy relics of Constantinople.

Response to Byzantine Attacks on WEstern Positions

  1. There were bitter memories of recent Byzantine attacks on Westerners (in Sicily, West Greece(1098), and in Antioch during the First Crusade).
  2. 1149: The King of France Louis VII supported the suggestion that a European League should launch a new crusade against the emperor who was "Christian Only in Name." The capture of Constantinople should be the crusaders first objective. The Norman Roger of Sicily was in support of the idea, but his ally Pope Eugenius III was hesitant only because he feared the possible increase of Roger's power.
  3. 1171: Emperor Manuel, having concluded alliances with Pisa and Genoa, decided to strike at Venice by arresting all Venetians in the Empire and confiscating all their ships and goods, symbolizing the degeneration of the Empire's relationship with the West and between Latins and Greeks in Constantinople.
  4. 1183-85: during the reign of Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus, there was a great massacre of Italians in Constantinople, and all commerical concessions were withdrawn. Andronicus made many enemies and was eventually overthrown by riots in Constantinople.
  5. 1185: Normans took Thessaloniki and subjected inhabitants to merciless treatment, partly for revenge of the massacre of Latins in 1183.
  6. 1188: Emperor Isaac II agreed in 1188 to Sultan Saladin's request to build a new mosque (and not just use an existing one) in Constantinople. Its construction is mentioned by Pope Innocent III in a letter of 1210 to the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, Tommaso Morosini. (Patrologia Latina, CCXVI, col. 354.)
  7. 1189: The Third Crusade (1189), headed by German King Frederick Barbarossa, an enemy of Byzantium, was almost turned against Constantinople. The folly of Isaac I in imprisoning Frederick's ambassadors enraged the Crusaders. They occupied Philippopolis in Thrace, and Frederick wrote to his son Henry to send a fleet and attack the capital. He also wrote to the pope for his blessing, stating that it was necessary to eliminate the Empire if they were going to have any success in their enterprise against the Moslems. Negotiations by Isaac and a treaty averted the danger at that time.
  8. 1191: Cyprus taken from Byzantines by English King Richard I "Lion Heart," who sold it in 1198 to Frankish Crusaders from previous Crusades ousted from Jerusalem in 1187 when the Arabs retook Jerusalem after 88 years.
  9. 1197: Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa, made no secret of his hatred of Byzantium and his ambitions to build a Mediterranean dominion. In 1197 a German expedition landed at Acre in Palestine; it was to be the forerunner of a greater army led by Henry himself. Pope Celestine III made no attempt to dissuade him, but he advised him not to attack Constantinople because he was negotiating with the emperor the Union of the Churches. Henry's sudden death at 32 put an end to this German expedition.

Chronology of the Fourth Crusade (Diversion of the Fourth Crusade)

Nov. 1198 - The popular preacher Fulk of Neuilly is commissioned by Pope Innocent III to preach the crusade.

28 Nov. 1199 - At the tournament in Ecry, many young counts take the cross: Thibald of Champagne (leader), Louis of Blois, Simon de Montfort, Reynald of Montmirail, etc.

23 Feb. 1200 - Baldwin of Flanders takes the cross. - shortly thereafter - at a meeting in Soissons, it was decided to delay the Crusade due to lack of support (manpower). - 2 months later - at Compiegne - it was decided to take the sea route to the East. A group of 6 envoys were sent to Venice to negotiate this. Geoffroy de Villehardouin (author of "Chronicles of the Crusades") was one of these.

Feb. 1201 - Ducal Council of Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice. It was decided that the fleet was to be ready by 29 June 1202.

June 1201 - at Soissons, Boniface of Montferrat takes the cross and is made leader of the Crusade.

c.Sept. 1201 - Alexius IV (son of deposed Emperor Isaac) escapes Constantinople and reaches the West - specifically, Phillip of Swabia's Christmas court in Hagenau Germany.

Late Summer/Autumn 1201 - Boniface of Montferrat arrives at Hagenau:

(Possibility of Phillip of Swabia, Alexius IV, and Boniface of Montferrat discussing a change in direction for the Crusade = diversion of the Fourth Crusade).

Feb. 1202 - Alexius speaks to Pope Innocent III.

March 1202 - Boniface speaks with Pope Innocent III.

15 Aug. 1202 - Boniface joins the army in Venice.

Early Autumn 1202 - too few Crusaders show up; great debt owed to Venice.

1 Oct. 1202 - Army sets out for the Dalmatian coast, city of Zara.

After 10 Nov. 1202 - a letter of Pope Innocent III forbids the Crusaders to attack any Christian city, and he names Zara by name, since the king of that city had also taken the cross.

11-24 Nov. 1202 - Siege of Zara. The city is sacked.

After 24 Nov.1202 - The pope excomminicates the Crusaders, but shortly thereafter absolves them all (except the Venetians), in order to prevent the breakup of the Crusade.

Dec. 1202 - Boniface arrives at Zara.

Dec. 1202 - Envoys of Phillip of Swabia arrive in Zara and present the proposal of Alexius IV to the Crusade leaders -- for them to restore Alexius to the throne in exchange for a list of hefty concessions.

24 May 1203 - The Crusaders depart from Corfu after having ratified the proposal of Alexius IV, in Alexius' presence, by oath. Alexius accompanies the Crusaders from here on.

24 June 1203 - Arrival before the walls of Constantinople.

18 June 1203 - FIRST SEIGE of Constantinople. The city falls. First fire in the city. Alexius III flees, and then Alexius IV and Isaac are crowned co-emperors.

August 1203 - Delays in payment by Alexius IV to the Crusaders detain them in Constantinople. They end up wintering in the city instead of leaving for Egypt.

Dec. 1203 - Jan.1204 - Riots in the city. Second fire in the city.

28 Jan. 1204 - A coup d'etat by Murtzuphlus, who crowns himself Alexius V.

8 April, 1204 - SECOND SIEGE of Constantinople begins.

12 April, 1204 - The city falls. A great sack follows. Alexius V flees secretly. Third great fire in the city.

16 May, 1204 - Baldwin of Flanders is crowned the first Latin emperor of the new "Latin Empire of Constantinople (Romania)."

((These dates were largely taken from Jonathan Riley-Smith and Niketas Choniates))

The Sack

Speros Vryonis in Byzantium and Europe gives a vivid account of the sack of Constantinople by the Frankish and Venetian Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade:

"The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church's holy vessels. The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention." (Vryonis, Byzantium and Europe, p.152).

Sir Edward Gibbon stated that the spoils taken during one week in Constantinople equalled seven times the whole revenue of England at that time (Treece). The four magnificent bronze horses over the portals of San Marco's Basilica in Venice were snatched from the Byzantine hippodrome, standing monuments of one of the greatest acts of brigandage in history.

Its hard to exaggerate the harm done to European civilization by the sack of Constantinople. The treasures of the city, the books and works of art preserved from distant centuries, were all dispersed and most destroyed. The Empire, the great Eastern bulwark of Christendom, was broken as a power. The conquests of the Ottomans were made possible by the Crusaders' crime(Runciman, p.46).

A Roman Catholic patriarch was established and attempted to introduce Roman Catholicism by force. The new Venetian Patriarch in Constantinople, Tommaso Morosini, was appointed by the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo (the main person who engineered the diversion of the Fourth Crusade); and according to Gibbon, the Venetians employed every art to perpetuate in their own nation the honors and benefices of the Greek church. Morosini appealed to the Pope for aid, and being unable to serve so many derisive masters, he died a madman. The new papal legate, Pelagius, rode into Constantinople dressed in scarlet from head to foot, like a Greek Emperor himself, and soon asserted that the easy days were over: Thenceforth the Greek clergy must adapt themselves in all religious rites and beliefs to those of the Church of Rome. He was prepared to wade through blood, he quickly showed, should the Orthodox Greeks deny any part of his assertion (Treece, pp.230-231).

Greece in 1214

After the Battle of the Olive Grove of Koundouros, which took place in the spring of 1205, in Messinia, Peloponnese, between the Franks and the Greeks, all the castles and cities of the Peloponnese fell to the Franks. Meanwhile, the Venetians took possession of Crete in 1211, and retained it until ousted by the Ottoman Turks in 1669, a full 458 years later.


Greece in 1278
In September of 1259, the Byzantines defeated the Latin Principality of Achaea at the Battle of Pelagonia, marking the beginning of the Byzantine recovery of Greece.

In 1261 Emperor Michael Palaeologus reconquered Constantinople for the Byzantines, and control of the city at last passed from the Venetians to the Paleologus Dynasty. Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus made the city of Mystras in the Peloponnese the seat of the new Despotate of Morea, which was to last until 1460.

Papal Apology to Orthodox Church

In May of 2001, Pope John Paul II visited Athens, Greece, the first visit of a pope in nearly 1300 years. Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Christodoulos met at the Aereopagus, where the Apostle Paul preached to Athenians 2000 years ago.

Pope John Paul II stated: "For occasions past and present when the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by actions and omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of Him." Many Orthodox regard this as a "political" apology for the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, as well as for other issues, but it was clearly not in any way or form a religious/doctrinal apology on the part of the Roman Catholic Church.

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."[1]

Further reading


  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A Short History. Great Britian, 1987.
  • Vryonis, Speros. Byzantium and Europe. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, c1967.
  • Runciman, Steven. Byzantine Civilization. Cleveland World Publ. Co. 1965.
  • Treece, Henry. The Crusades. London, 1962.
  • Miller, William. The Latins in the Levant: A History of Frankish Greece 1204-1566. Cambridge, Speculum Historiale, 1908.
  • Atiya, Aziz A. Crusade, Commerce and Culture. Indiana University Press, 1962.
  • Hussey, J.M. The Impact of East and West 1204-1453: Latin Treachery and Byzantine Diplomacy 1204-1261, In The Byzantine World, 1961.
  • Ostrogorsky, George. The Byzantine State. Transl. Joan Hussey. Rutgers, 1969.
  • Schmandt, Raymond. The Fourth Crusade and the Just War Theory. (article).
  • Gregoire, Henri. The Question of the Diversion of the Fourth Crusade. (article).
  • Morris, Colin. Geoffrey De Villehardouin and the Conquest of Constantinople. (article).
  • Folda, J. "The Fourth Crusade 1201-1203: Some Reconsiderations." in Byzantino-Slavica 26(1965),pp.227-290.

Primary Sources

  • Joinville and Villehardouin. Chronicles of the Crusades. Transl, M.R.B. Shaw. Penguin Books, 1963.
  • Odo of Deuill. De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem (The Journey of Louis VII to the East). Transl Virginia Gingerick Berry. New York, 1948.
  • Niketas Choniates. O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates. Detroit 1984.
  • Robert de Clari. The Conquest of Constantinople. Transl. Edgar Holmes McNeal, University of Toronto Press, 1996.
  • The Chronicle of Morea : a history in political verse, relating to the establishment of feudalism in Greece by the Franks in the thirteenth century. Ed. John Schmitt (1856-1906). Groningen : Bouma's Bockhuis, 1967
  • "History of the Church", Innocent III & the Latin East, p.370, Philips Hughes, Sheed & Ward, 1948.
  • Retrieved from ""