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The Fourth Crusade -- 1202–1204

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

How do we know what we know about the Fourth Crusade? 

Geoffrey of Villehardouin and other contemporary authors wrote extensively about it.

Excerpts from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia --
Geoffrey of Villehardouin (in French: Geoffroi de Villehardouin) (1160 – c. 1212) was a knight and historian who participated in and chronicled the Fourth Crusade. He is considered one of the most important historians of the time period, best known for writing the eyewitness account De la Conquête de Constantinople (On the Conquest of Constantinople), about the battle for Constantinople between the Christians of the West and the Christians of the East on 13 April 1204. The Conquest is the earliest French historical prose narrative that has survived to modern times. Ηis full title was: "Geoffrey of Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne and of Romenie". ....

In 1207 he began to write his chronicle of the Crusade, On the Conquest of Constantinople. It was in French rather than Latin, making it one of the earliest works of French prose. Villehardouin's account is generally read alongside that of Robert of Clari, a French knight of low station, Niketas Choniates, a high-ranking Byzantine official and historian who gives an eyewitness account, and Gunther of Pairis, a Cistercian monk who tells the story from the perspective of Abbot Martin who accompanied the Crusaders. ....

An English translation of Villehardouin's full text is on the Internet at, which is part of the Medieval Sourcebook (

Conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.

Location:  Balkans

Result:  Creation of the Latin Empire

Territorial Changes:  Partition of the Byzantine Empire;  Creation of Crusader States in the Balkans



Republic of Venice

Holy Roman Empire


·       Montferrat

·       Champagne

·       Blois

·       Amiens

·       Île-de-France

·       Saint-Pol

·       Burgundy

·       Flanders

Byzantine Empire


·       Dalmatia

Bulgarian Empire

Commanders and leaders

Boniface I

Louis I

Enrico Dandolo

Isaac II Angelos

Alexios III Angelos

Alexios V Doukas

Kaloyan of Bulgaria

Emeric I


Crusaders: 10,000 men

Venetians: 10,000 men and 210 ships

Byzantines: 15,000 men and 20 ships



The Fourth Crusade was a disaster of unprecedented dimensions for the Byzantine state. Not only were the walls of the city breached for the first time by a foreign enemy, but the empire was dismembered and portioned out to many Greek-and Latin-speaking rulers. It seemed, indeed, that the end of the empire had at last come. In the cultural sphere, however, the political collapse only furthered the creative elements within Byzantine literature and brought about an interesting fusion between Byzantine and western elements in architecture, art, and culture in general.

A. The Origins of the Fourth Crusade
1. Ultimately the primary origin of the crusade was western hostility toward Byzantium and a realization of the wealth which the city and empire still held.
a. Misunderstandings and mutual hostility had characterized east-west relations at least since the time of Photios.

b. The crusades had made matters worse since they had made the Latins suspicious of Byzantine intentions, while the Byzantines were convinced that the Latins had planned from the beginning to seize imperial territory.

c. Throughout, the primary concern of the papacy had been to secure the submission of the eastern church to Rome, even if this meant the military conquest of the East.
2. The proximate cause of the diversion of the crusade to Constantinople appears to have centered around a set of circumstances involving the transport of the crusade by the Venetians.
a. The crusaders were unable to meet the payment required by the Venetians, so they agreed to take Zara (in Dalmatia) for Venice; Zara was a city which had recently revolted from Venetian rule.

b. At the same time Alexios Angelos, the son of the deposed emperor Isaac II Angelos, appeared in the West seeking assistance. Some of the crusaders welcomed this opportunity to intervene in Byzantine affairs.

c. Alexios held out vast promises of money and military aid to the crusaders in return for their assistance in recovering the throne.

d. Both Pope Innocent III and Doge Enrico Dandalo were in favor of a crusade against Constantinople.
3. In 1203 the crusaders appeared off Constantinople and with their help Alexios was installed as emperor.
a. He was unable to pay his debts to the crusaders and he was soon overthrown by anti-Latin forces within the city.

b. The crusaders, angered by recent events, determined to take the city, and they drew up arrangements for the distribution of the spoils (a document called the Partitio Romaniae).
4. Constantinople fell to the crusaders on April 13, 1204, and the city was subject to three days of looting.
a. In the sack an unprecedented store of wealth was stolen and much of the heritage of the anceint world was wantonly destroyed.

b. Orthodox Christians to this day remember this act, which has poisoned east-west relations ever since.

B. The Dismemberment of the Empire
1. Almost immediately after the fall of the city the empire split into many smaller fragments, some Latin, some Greek. This phenomenon, however, should be seen in the context of the movement of regionalism and separatism which had already been underway for some years within the empire itself.

2. The agreement drawn up in March of 1204 (Partitio Romaniae) provided for the division of the empire among the crusaders.

a. By this treaty an emperor was to be chosen by an electoral college made up equally of Franks and Venetians. Baldwin of Flanders was chosen.

b. In the agreement, if a Frank was chosen as emperor, a Venetian must be patriarch. Thomas Morosini was elected as patriarch. (Note, the creation of a Latin patriarch formally ended the schism between Constantinople and Rome, although most orthodox priests and people remained hostile to the pope and orthodox bishops continued to exist.)

c. The empire (the so-called Latin Empire) was to receive one-quarter of the old empire, including 5/8 of Constantinople and a large block of territory in Thrace and northwest Asia Minor.

d. Most of the rest of the empire was parceled out to other Franks, who were to take a feudal oath to the emperor. Thus, as a political state the Latin Empire was extremely weak, and in practice the local rulers were independent.

e. Thus, western feudalism was brought to much of the former empire.

f. The Venetians received 3/8 of Constantinople and important commercial and naval stations throughout the empire: the ports of the Marmora and Hellespont, most of the Aegean, Crete, Koroni, Modon, Dyrrachium, the Ionian Islands, etc.

C. The Greek Successor States
1. The crusaders made their claim good in many parts of the empire, but in some sections the local Greek rulers considered themselves the legitimate successors of Byzantium.

2. The Empire of Trebizond.
a. This was founded independent of the fall of Constantinople (i.e. beforehand, as part of the movement of separatism) by grandsons of Andronikos I.

b. Trebizond, located in northeast Asia Minor, had a definitely eastern "orientation" and played little role in the politics of the central area.

c. It did, however, provide the basis for an independent Byzantine provincial culture that lived on up to the early 20th century.
3. The Despotate of Epiros.
a. The Despotate occupied an area around its capital of Arta.

b. Michael Angelos, a cousin of Isaac II, was the first Despot.

c. Slowly, the Despotate lost territory to the growing power of the Empire of Nicaea.
4. The Empire of Nicaea.
a. Under the leadership of Theodore Laskaris , son-in-law of Alexios III, this successor state seized northwest Asia Minor from the Latin Empire.
b. The greatest strengths of Nicaea were a succession of strong and competent rulers (Theodore Laskaris, John III Vatatzes, Theodore II, and John IV Laskaris) and a devotion to the Byzantine political ideal.

c. Slowly Nicaea was recognized as the rightful heir to the Byzantine throne, and in 1261 Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-82) took Constantinople and re-established the Byzantine Empire there.
5. The Despotate of the Morea.
a. Most of the Peloponnesos had been conquered by the crusaders, under William de Villehardouin, and a flourishing composite culture grew up.

b. The Frankish ruler of the Peloponnesos was the Prince of Achaea, with his capital at Andravida in Elis.

c. In 1259 the Prince William II was defeated at the Battle of Pelagonia by Michael Palaiologos and as ransom he was forced to cede many of his fortresses (in a treaty of 1262), including the castle at Mistra near the site of ancient Sparta.

d. Mistra became the focal point for Byzantine military and cultural activities in Greece; in many ways its provincial culture outshone that of the capital and provided an important bridge between Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance.

e. From 1349 Mistra was ruled by a succession of despots, who were usually younger relatives of the emperor in Constantinople (and frequently their heirs); the Despotate was thus what is called an "apanage".


Launched in 1202, the Fourth Crusade was in part instigated by Venetian leaders who saw it as a means to increase their power and influence. Crusaders who arrived in Venice expecting to be taken to Egypt were instead diverted towards their allies in Constantinople. The great city was mercilessly sacked in 1204 (during Easter week, yet), leading to greater enmity between Eastern and Western Christians.

Timeline of the Crusades: Fourth Crusade 1198 - 1207

1198 - 1216    The power of the medieval papacy reaches its apex with the reign of Pope Innocent III (1161 - 1216) who managed to excommunicate both Holy Roman emperor Otto IV (1182 - 1218) and King John of England (c. 1167 - 1216) in 1209.


1198 - 1204    The Fourth Crusade is called to recapture Jerusalem. but it is diverted to Constantinople instead. The capital of the Byzantine Empire would be captured, sacked, and held by Latin rulers until 1261.

March 05, 1198    The Teutonic Knights are re-formed as a military order in a ceremony at Acre in Palestine.

August 1198    Pope Innocent III proclaims the launch of the Fourth Crusade.

December 1198    A special tax on churches is created for the purpose of funding the Fourth Crusade.

1199    A political Crusade is launched against Markward of Anweiler.

1199    Berthold, Bishop of Buxtehude (Uexküll), dies in battle and his successor Albert arrives with a new Crusading army.
February 19, 1199    Pope Innocent III issues a bull which assigns the uniform of a white tunic with a black cross to the Teutonic Knights. This uniform is worn during the Crusades.

April 06, 1199    Richard I Lionheart, king of England, dies from the effects of an arrow wound received during the siege of Chalus in France. Richard had been one of the leaders of the Third Crusade.

c. 1200    Muslim conquests in India started a decline of Buddhism in northern India, eventually resulting in its effective elimination in the nation of its origin.

1200    French nobles gather at the court of Theobald III of Champagne for a tournament. Here Fulk of Neuilly promotes the Fourth Crusade and they agree to "take the cross," electing Theobald their leader

1200    Saladin's brother, Al-Adil, takes control of the Ayyubid Empire.

1201    Death of Count Theobald III of Champagne, son of Henry I of Champagne and original leader of the Fourth Crusade. Boniface of Montferrat (brother of Conrad of Montferrat, an important figure in the Third Crusade) would be elected leader in Theobald's place.

1201    Alexius, son of deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus, escapes from prison and travels to Europe to seek help in recovering his throne.

1201    Even while negotiating with Europeans on a price for transporting Crusader to Egypt, Venetians negotiate a secret treaty with the sultan of Egypt, guaranteeing that nation against invasion.

1202    Albert, the third Bishop of Buxtehude (Uexküll), establishes the knightly crusading order known as the Swordbrothers (also sometimes referred to as the Livonian Order, Livonian Brothers of the Sword (latin Fratres militiae Christi), the Christ Knights, or The Militia of Christ of Livonia). Mostly non-landed members of the lower nobility, the Swordbrothers are separated into classes of knights, priests, and servants.
November 1202    Christians on the Fourth Crusade arrive at Venice in the hopes of being transported by ship to Venice, but they don't have the 85,000 marks required for payment so the Venetians, under doge Enrico Dandolo, barricades them on the island of Lido until he figures out what to do with them. Eventually, he decides that they can make up the difference by capturing some cities for Venice.

November 24, 1202    After just five days of fighting, Crusaders capture the Hungarian port of Zara, a Christian city on the coast of Dalmatia. The Venetians had once controlled Zara but lost it to the Hungarians and offered passage to Egypt to the Crusaders in exchange for Zara. The importance of this port had been growing and the Venetians feared the rivalry from the Hungarians. Pope Innocent III is infuriated by this and excommunicates the entire Crusade as well as the city of Venice, not that anyone seems to notice or care.

1203    Crusaders abandon the city of Zara and move on Constantinople. Alexius Angelus, son of deposed Byzantine Emperor Isaac II, offers the Crusaders 200,000 marks and the reunification of the Byzantine Church with Rome if they capture Constantinople for him.

April 06, 1203    Crusaders launch an attack on the Christian city of Constantinople.

June 23, 1203    A fleet carrying Crusaders on the Fourth Crusade enters Bosphorus.

July 17, 1203    Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, falls to Crusading forces from Western Europe. Deposed emperor Isaac II is freed and resumes rule alongside his son, Alexius IV, while Alexius III flees to Mosynopolis in Thrace. Unfortunately, there is no money to pay the Crusaders and the Byzantine nobility are infuriated at what happened. Thomas Morosini of Venice is installed as patriarch of Constantinople, increasing the rivalry between Eastern and Western churches.

1204    Albert, the third Bishop of Buxtehude (Uexküll), gets official approval from Pope Innocent III for his Crusade in the Baltic region.
February 1204    The Byzantine nobility re-imprison Isaac II, strangle Alexius IV, and install Alexius Ducas Murtzuphlos, brother-in-law of Alexius III, on the throne as Alexius V Ducas.

April 11, 1204    After months of not being paid and infuriated at the execution of their ally, Alexius III, soldiers of the Fourth Crusade once again attack Constantinople. Pope Innocent III had again ordered them not to attack fellow Christians, but the papal letter was suppressed by clergy on the scene.

April 12, 1204    The armies of the Fourth Crusade capture Constantinople again and establish the Latin Empire of Byzantium, but not before they sack the city and rape its inhabitants for three straight days - during Easter week. Alexius V Ducas is forced to flee to Thrace. Although Pope Innocent III protests at the behavior of the Crusaders, he does not hesitate to accept a formal reunion of the Greek and Latin churches.

May 16, 1204    Baldwin of Flanders becomes the first Latin Emperor of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire and French is made the official language. Boniface of Montferrat, the leader of the Fourth Crusade, goes on to capture the city of Thessalonica (second-largest Byzantine city) and founds the Kingdom of Thessalonica.

April 01, 1205    Death of Amalric II, king of both Jerusalem and Cyprus. His son, Hugh I, assumes control of Cyprus while John of Ibelin becomes regent for Amalric's daughter Maria for the kingdom of Jerusalem (even though Jerusalem is still in Muslim hands).

August 20, 1205    Henry of Flanders is crowned Emperor of the Latin Empire, formerly the Byzantine Empire, after the death of Baldwin I.

1206    Mongol leader Temujin is proclaimed "Genghis Khan," which means "emperor within the Seas."

1206    Theodore I Lascaris assumes the title Emperor of Nicaea. After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders, Byzantine Greeks spread throughout what is left of their empire. Theodore, son-in-law of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III, sets himself up in Nicaea and leads a series of defensive campaigns against the Latin invaders. In 1259 Michael VIII Palaeologus would capture the throne and later capture Constantinople from the Latins in 1261.

May 1207    Raymond VI of Toulouse (descendant of Raymond IV or Toulouse, a leader of the First Crusade) refuses to assist in the suppression of the Cathars in southern France and is excommunicated by Pope Innocent III.

September 04, 1207    Boniface of Montferrat, leader of the Fourth Crusade and founder the Kingdom of Thessalonica, is ambushed and killed by Kaloyan, Tsar of Bulgaria.


Click on the reduced size images below or on associated links to increase their size.

Shown below are some of the artifacts in the San Marco Treasury

Some of the looted Byzantine treasures are in the San Marco Basilica.
(click image or link to enlarge)

Other stolen stuff.  The Venetians (like, it seems, everyone else at the time) were serial offenders.  Aren't we glad that looting is a thing of the past?  Aren't We?