Enrico Dandolo


Enrico Dandolo († June 1, 1205 in Constantinople) is probably the most famous and controversial doge of Venice. He was in office from June 1, 1192 until his death. If one follows the “Venetian tradition,” as Venice’s state-controlled historiography is usually paraphrased, he was the 41st of a total of 120 doge. He is controversial because of his role in the redirection of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) against the Christian cities of Zara and Constantinople.

This led to the sacking of the metropolis and the establishment of the Latin Empire, of which the Venetians, led by Dandolo, were granted “three-eighths”. This conquest is considered the starting point of Venice’s great power position, but also the beginning of the end of the Byzantine Empire. The diversion of the Crusade, whose ships Venice had pre-financed, took place in three stages: To reduce their debt, the crusaders first conquered Christian Zara for Venice. Against papal resistance and after turmoil within the army, the remaining crusaders sailed from there to Constantinople to help a Byzantine pretender to the throne who had fled to them to rule. When the latter failed to keep his generous promises, the Crusaders finally conquered what was by far the largest Christian city, and part of the city went up in flames. Stolen treasures and relics adorn numerous churches in Europe today.

Enrico Dandolo came from one of the most influential families in the Republic of Venice. However, almost nothing is known about his life before about 1170, even his immediate family relationships are only partially clarified. He was married to a Contessa, with whom he had at least one son. He worked as a long-distance trader, and after the expulsion of the Venetians from the Byzantine capital in 1171, he was also active in diplomatic services.

Historiography exaggerated Dandolo’s role as omnipresent legislator, organizer, fleet and army commander. It appropriated him as an ideal image of patriotism, bellicose spirit of expansion and, at the same time, of self-modesty by renouncing the imperial crown. Or it condemned him as a vengeful or cynical, in any case calculating and hypocritical traitor to the Christian cause, who had conceived the diversion against Constantinople from the beginning as an act of revenge, although the Pope excommunicated the Crusaders. Interpretations range from an opportunity to take revenge for his blinding in Constantinople or for the bad treatment of the Venetians by the “Greeks”, to a concatenation of individual decisions in which the Doge acted only within the framework of Venetian constitutional reality, which left him little room for maneuver. According to Giorgio Cracco, it was only in the course of the Crusade that Dandolo increasingly represented the interests of his numerous compatriots active in the East and the increasingly autonomous conquerors of a new empire – when opportune, even against the mother city Venice. Years later, Venice was able to assert its authority over the conquerors.

While Dandolo was appropriated for colonial ambitions as a forerunner, as it were, and the conquest of Constantinople was justified by cultural and moral superiority over the Byzantines, it was only in the post-colonial and post-fascist period that historiography managed to dispense with backward projections as far as possible. Accordingly, it was only in recent times that Dandolo was placed more firmly within the framework of the doge’s narrowing scope of action within their society.

But the narrative styles of the three main sources, which are strongly dominated by French and Byzantine traditions, were also critically included. These are the French-language chronicles of Geoffroi de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari and the Greek-language chronicle of Niketas Choniates. A number of individual documents also allow us to better classify Dandolo’s deeds before the crusade, which are otherwise hardly documented. Nevertheless, the integration of important documents that were created closer to the time of the battles has so far only been partially successful. This is especially true for letters that indicate sharp conflicts within the crusader army, but also those between the leaders of the crusade and the ordinary “pilgrims”. These conflicts were largely obscured by the four main strands of lore that resulted from the political conflict situation – that is, the Byzantine, the Venetian, the Papal, and that of the crusaders from the middle and upper nobility, especially of France. However, this was mainly due to the state-controlled historiography of Venice, which legitimized Dandolo’s actions and, since the chronicle of Doge Andrea Dandolo (1343-1354), hardly allowed any deviating interpretations for almost half a millennium.

Only the enormous social and political scope of the Fourth Crusade with its chronical tradition, along with the few older documents of various provenance, sheds some light on this central protagonist of the campaign, about whose motives and attitudes extremely little can be considered certain. This striking lack of sources for such a central figure is related to the fact that Dandolo lived in an era when writing was already in growing use in Italy, where the Roman tradition never quite broke off, but pragmatic writing was still in an early stage of its development. This is all the more true for the techniques of preservation and indexing, as generally for making available written memory in the fields of administration, law, and economics. Although many ecclesiastical institutions, especially monasteries, preserved their holdings, other institutions of lesser continuity were less experienced in this, and their holdings, especially documents, were often scattered and destroyed, lost, or forgotten.

The Italian commune was only at the beginning of a regulated written form of the small and extremely rudimentary, discontinuous state organs and bodies, which were predominantly assembled ad hoc only in order to solve certain tasks. A few decades later, the established written form of minutes and voting results, reports and correspondence was hardly necessary between and within the still small number of bodies and committees at the time of Dandolo. Nevertheless, the two most important bodies, the Small and the Great Councils, concentrated the power of the city’s most influential families, and they served to balance conflicts and interests in a society that was still largely organized orally. Their development began with the first establishment of a rudimentary magistracy, the consilium sapientium in the time of Doge Pietro Polani, when Dandolo was perhaps in his thirties.

It is against this written cultural background that the uncertainties that persist to this day regarding personality, origin, and even the reconstruction of kinship involvement in the structures of Venice, dominated by a few dozen families, must be classified.

Little is known about the first six decades of Enrico Dandolo’s life, who is considered the most famous doge. His calculated year of birth – the sources closer in time refer to him only as “senex” (‘old’) – goes back to the fact that Marin Sanudo the Younger (1466-1536), a chronicler who wrote about three centuries after Dandolo, notes that the latter was already 85 years old at the time of his election as doge, i.e. in 1192.

Enrico came from the Dandolo family of San Luca, an island and parish that after 1172 belonged to one of the six newly founded sestieri, that of San Marco. Thus he was a member of the twelve most prestigious, influential and oldest families of Venice, the so-called “apostolic” families. These large groups, defined by mere kinship, included, in addition to the Dandolo, the Badoer, Barozzi, Contarini, Falier, Gradenigo, Memmo, Michiel, Morosini, Polani, Sanudo and Tiepolo. Especially with the Tiepolo the Dandolo were in competition for the leadership. According to legend, the Dandolo appeared as early as around 727 in the election of the (probably first) Doge Orso or Ursus, to whose family several of the oldest families of Venice were traced.

Enrico Dandolo’s political rise was related not only to his personal abilities but also to the importance of the Dandolo family as one of the most prominent families in Venice. His own work must have been highly beneficial for the family, because after him they alone provided three other Doges. These were Giovanni (1280-1289), Francesco (1329-1339) and above all Andrea Dandolo (1343-1354). But these highest offices of state reflected only the tip of the rise that Enrico’s doge’s office directly promoted. Already his own son Ranieri represented his father as vicegerent in Venice from 1202 to 1205 († 1209), and his granddaughter Anna Dandolo was married to the Serbian king Stefan Nemanjić. Their son Stefan Uroš I, in turn, was king of Hungary from 1243 to 1276.

Below this level, the family was already of far-reaching influence before Enrico’s time. His uncle, also named Enrico († 1182), was patriarch of Grado. Other members of the widespread family belonged to the closest circle of the Doge’s advisors, the consiliarii. In some cases it is not possible to decide whether they were one and the same person, because many of the dandolo had the same name, which has occasionally led even historians to wrong conclusions.

Neither the name of Enrico’s father can be considered certain, nor are the name and family of origin of his mother known. In many cases Vitale Dandolo is mentioned as his father. This Vitale was considered the “secular patriarch” of the Dandolo di San Luca (next to the older Enrico as “ecclesiastical patriarch”), who was also active as an envoy in Constantinople. But he disappears from the sources in 1175, without it being clear who now continued his grand clan. Possibly this role was taken over by Enrico’s brother Andrea Dandolo, who appears several times as iudex from 1173. This may be one reason for the assumption, which cannot be substantiated, that Vitale was Enrico’s father. A Giovanni, who called himself “filius quondam Vitalis”, never appears as iudex. Enrico’s brother Andrea, on the other hand, was iudex at the Doge’s Court under Sebastiano Ziani, perhaps from 1173. Thomas Madden assumes that Andrea vacated this post for his brother Enrico when the latter returned from Egypt in 1174 or 1175. Enrico and his brother Andrea appear together several times. Enrico even calls his brother, to whom he gave authority for all written and oral agreements in 1183, “dilectus frater meus” (‘my beloved brother’). Andrea remained in his closest environment even after Enrico became Doge in 1192.

So it remains largely unclear who was the father of the two brothers. The elder Enrico, then Vitale, Pietro, very probably also a Bono, were brothers, perhaps sons of Domenico Dandolo; Marco and Giovanni were nephews of the said patriarch Enrico Dandolo. Only this much can be considered certain, that the brothers Andrea and Enrico Dandolo were perhaps in their turn sons of Pietro, Bono or Vitale.

Even in standard works, in view of this difficult source situation, the contradictions accumulate. Thus Antonio Carile wrote in the 1986 published 3rd volume of the encyclopedia of the Middle Ages succinctly, Dandolo was married in first marriage to “Felicita”, a daughter of the procurator of San Marco Pietro Bembo, in second with Contessa, who possibly belonged to the family of the Minotto. These marriages had produced four sons, Marino, Ranieri, Vitale and Fantino. Alvise Loredan, five years before Carile, in his work I Dandolo, had also assumed these four sons and the said two marriages.

A number of assumptions about these relationships, such as that Enrico Dandolo had married twice, have long been considered dubious. Antonino Lombardo, for example, raised doubts in 1982 about a first marriage to the said “Felicita”. The only thing that can be considered certain, as the head of the Venice State Archives Andrea Da Mosto wrote, is that Enrico Dandolo was married to Contessa in 1183 at the latest, as a document from the Convent of San Zaccaria proves. “Felicita Bembo” – this is probably where the error goes back to, according to Thomas Madden – appears in a genealogy of 1743; Madden considers it a later invention. The said genealogy of 1743 is the continuation of the Famiglie nobile venete of Marco Barbaro by Antonio Maria Tasca, which is in the Venice State Archives as Arbori dei patritii veneti ricoppiati con aggiunte di Antonio Maria Fosca, 7 vols (3:177).

But not only with regard to the marriage of Dandolo there was uncertainty for a long time. The view, first held by Karl Hopf, that Marino was to be regarded as Enrico’s son, goes back, as Raymond-Joseph Loenertz stated in 1959, to a confusion with a bearer of the same name. Vitale, who commanded the Venetian fleet before Constantinople, was “possibly a son of his brother Andrea,” that is, not Enrico’s, but his nephew, as Karl-Hartmann Necker assumed in 1999. Vitale was also one of the twelve electors who were to determine the emperor of the Latin Empire in 1204. Surely as Enrico Dandolo’s son is therefore considered only Ranieri, perhaps Fantino. Ranieri represented his father Enrico during the crusade in Venice as a vicegerent; he died in 1209. Fantino is supposed to have become Latin patriarch in the Latin Empire newly created by the crusaders in 1204, but Heinrich Kretschmayr already disputed this more than a century ago. Thomas Madden denies the existence of a patriarch named Fantino, as well as a Fantino Dandolo in Venice at that time. This appears only with Marino Sanudo.

So, in the end, there remains only one assured son, namely Ranieri, one son or nephew, namely Vitale, and only one marriage, namely the one with Contessa. But these findings are only slowly gaining acceptance. Still in 2006 Marcello Brusegan listed the said two marriages and the four sons, moreover a daughter whose name he does not mention, but who is said to have married Boniface of Montferrat, one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. This error, which also goes back to Sanudo, Heinrich Kretschmayr had already dismissed in 1905 with the words that the view that there had been “a daughter whose husband had been Bonifacio of Montferrat” was “certainly also not correct”.

In Constantinople, by far the largest city in the Mediterranean, Enrico Dandolo may have stayed for decades, which could explain why he appears very late in the sources in Venice. Although local sources do not mention him either, Byzantine chroniclers were in any case little concerned with conditions in the Italian merchant colonies of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi in their capital, all of which clustered around the Golden Horn.

For the first time Enrico Dandolo appears in the sources in 1172. In that year he went to Constantinople as an envoy together with one Filippo Greco († 1175). The two men were to negotiate with Emperor Manuel Komnenos (1143-1180), who had had all the Venetians of Constantinople arrested on March 12, 1171. Moreover, the Venetians had been expelled from the entire empire, their property had been confiscated, and the merchants’ quarters at the Golden Horn had been dissolved. Venice was thus deprived of all the trading privileges that the city had acquired over centuries. The lagoon city had then sent a fleet to the Aegean, but it had not succeeded in forcing Manuel to give in. This was an economic disaster for Venice, which had occupied a privileged position in Byzantium, especially since the chrysobull of 1082, to the point of threatening to undermine the economic and political autonomy of the empire. Serious riots in Venice eventually even resulted in the death of Doge Vitale II. Michiel lost his life.

Shortly after his unsuccessful diplomatic mission in Constantinople, to which Dandolo had certainly been chosen for his excellent political and linguistic knowledge, he appeared before the young William II of Sicily. The latter, since 1171, ruled alone as king over one of the most powerful empires, which had been trying to conquer Constantinople for a century. However, in the summer of 1173, Byzantium and the Normans were in negotiations over the marriage of the emperor’s daughter Mary to William, but they ultimately failed. However, it was at least during these protracted negotiations that a twenty-year alliance between Venice and the Normans was reached in September 1175 through other negotiators.

In the following years Dandolo was not only active as an envoy – on December 1, 1172 he was in Verona, where he appeared as a witness in a document for Leonardo (Lunardo) Michiel, the son of the Doge who had been murdered in front of San Zaccaria in May 1172 – but he continued to pursue his family’s business. Thus, in September 1174, he was in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was pursuing the repayment for his brother Andrea of a so-called prestito marittimo, a commercial loan for maritime trade enterprises, which the latter had granted four years earlier to the long-distance merchant Romano Mairano. In April 1178 he was again in Venice. There he appears among the forty electors of the new Doge Orio Mastropiero, who held that office until his abdication in June 1192. In 1184 Dandolo was again in Constantinople as envoy, together with one Domenico Sanuto.

However, sometime between 1178 and 1183 he must have withdrawn from all commercial transactions. Thus, in September 1183, he gave general power of attorney to his brother Andrea, together with his wife Contessa (whose origin is not known), and to Filippo Falier of San Tomà, to take care of all his business, “sicut egomet facere deberem”. Why he ‘had to do’ this, as it is said, escapes our knowledge, but perhaps at that time he was already unable to write or read any of the documents that were becoming less and less circumventable in the commercial field.

Besides the fact that Enrico Dandolo was already very old when he was elected doge, the historical imagination revolved mainly around the question of blindness. According to legend, in 1172 Emperor Manuel ordered Enrico Dandolo, who was acting as a negotiator, to be blinded, a method that had long been used to incapacitate pretenders to the imperial throne. Among the victims in this period were, for example, Emperor Alexios V and Isaac II in 1204. Such rumors had already circulated after the conquest of Constantinople. The oldest source claiming a blinding is the Chronicle of Novgorod from the early 14th century: “Imperator … ocoulos eius vitro (itaque dux, quamvis oculi eius non fuerint effossi, non amplius cernebat quicquam”. Because of this violent act, in which the eyes were not removed but, as the Novgorod Chronicle claims, destroyed by a blinding mirror, Dandolo swore revenge, as later chroniclers assumed. And the opportunity to realize it, according to this account that appears to this day, after four decades of patient waiting, came with the Fourth Crusade.

Against the blinding thesis speaks that Enrico Dandolo could still see in 1176, as Donald E. Queller and Thomas F. Madden stated in 1999, so that this legend is rather to be interpreted as a welcome occasion to substantiate the sinister character of the doge and thus of Venice, and thus to imagine a kind of personal vendetta. Heinrich Kretschmayr, author of a three-volume history of Venice, had already rejected the view of a blinding on the orders of Emperor Manuel in 1905: “Daſs in this legation Enrico Dandolo by insidious precautions of Emperor Manuel completely or almost deprived of sight, is quite doubtful; just as well he may have lost the sight by illness or wounding.” In this context, Henry Simonsfeld had already reported three decades earlier about a “well-known, often doubted event,” and already Friedrich Wilken distanced himself in 1829 by noting that Andrea Dandolo and Sabellico claimed “expressly that daſs this blinding was done by order of Emperor Manuel.

The Nuovo Dizionario istorico of 1796, written in the year before the end of the Republic of Venice, knows on the other hand that the negotiator had been blinded ’50 years before’ (therefore in 1154) with a heated bronze blade or plate that the ‘perfidious’ Emperor Manuel had dragged along before his eyes, leaving no external traces of injury. Friedrich von Hurter also wrote in 1833 that Dandolo had been sent to Constantinople in 1172 or 1173, where the emperor “had him blinded, because of his unbending persistence, by a glowing plate, which he ordered to be held before his eyes”.

Dandolo’s blindness is testified by Niketas Choniates, a contemporary Byzantine chronicler, as well as by the aforementioned Gottfried of Villehardouin, who met him in Venice. On that occasion, Dandolo did enumerate (in the words of Gottfried) his weaknesses during an address to St. Mark’s Basilica: “Et je sui vialz hom et febles, et avroie mestier de repos” (‘And I am an old man and weak, and I would need rest’). But there is no mention of blindness there.

The Dandolo themselves later cultivated the legend of the blinding by the hostile emperor. They had it told again and again as part of the state historiography. The chronicler and doge Andrea Dandolo thinks he was “aliqualiter obtenebratus” during the legation to Constantinople of 1172, because he dared “pro salute patriae” to enrage the emperor. While his original, the Chronologia Magna of Paulinus Minorita, also called Paolino Veneto († 1344), written in the 1320s and arranged in tabular form, states that Enrico Dandolo was “corpore debilis,” Andrea Dandolo, who otherwise adopts Paulinus word for word, changed this to “visu debilis.” Later anecdotes were attached to this, for example that of Sanudo, who pretended to still be able to see during a legation in Ferrara in 1191.

The date of blindness in 1172, and thus the blinding by order of Emperor Manuel, is also contradicted by the fact that Dandolo was still in Alexandria two years later, where he signed a document that is the oldest preserved autograph of Dandolo. He emphasized that he had written with his own hand: “ego Henricus Dandolo manu mea subscripsi”. His signature is clear and legible. On the other hand, in a document of October 1176, in which his “Ego Henricus Dando iudex manu mea subscripsi” immediately follows that of the Doge, his writing already shows strong uncertainty, typical of the blind. Thus he could probably hold the line less and less when adding the row of letters, so that the hand fell downward in an arc letter by letter. Thomas Madden believes to find in this the confirmation that Dandolo had suffered a form of bark blindness by a blow to the head. It is likely that he was not completely blind even at the time of the Doge’s election in 1178. However, in September 1183 he no longer made a “firma” in his own hand, but it only says “Signum suprascripti Henrici Dandolo qui hoc rogavit fieri” – so he had already had to ask someone to sign in his place. Later he also had someone sign in this way as Doge, for example on August 16, 1192 with “Signum suprascripti Domini Henrici Danduli, Dei gratia ducis, qui hoc fieri rogavit” or in September 1198 with “Signum manus suprascripti domini ducis, qui hoc fieri rogavit”. He probably lost his sight, either through illness or violence, between 1178 and 1183.

The question of whether Dandolo was completely blind occupied Friedrich von Hurter already in 1841, even if only in a note: “That he was completely blind, say Villehardouin and Günther; but the Venetian chroniclers, he had a very weak face. Visu debilis and again visu aliqualiter obtenebratus, says Dandulo; Sanutus III, IX f.: a Graecis abacinatus, quasi visum amisit”. The conclusion that Dandolo may not have been completely blind was already reached by Friedrich Buchholz in the journal Geschichte und Politik published by Karl Ludwig von Woltmann in 1805; however, he believes that the blinding was caused by an “iron plate”.

The question of blindness would not have received so much attention if it had not been repeatedly made the starting point for Dandolo’s attitude toward the Byzantines, indeed, the very impetus for his so late political activity in the highest office of Venice. In fact, it was often claimed that Dandolo hated the Byzantines, but this cannot be proven in contemporary sources either.

From the perspective of trade policy, which was probably one of the reasons for the search for a personal motivation, there had long since been no reason to attack Byzantium, because the consequences of the catastrophe of 1171 seemed to be gradually relativized. Thus, in 1179, Emperor Manuel released prisoners and goods; he himself died the following year. After the massacre of 1182 in Constantinople, in which thousands of Latins died, but among whom this time there were hardly any Venetians because they were not in the city at all, Emperor Andronikos released all the remaining prisoners three years later, restored the Venetian quarters and promised reparations. However, he was overthrown that same year. Venice, following with the greatest suspicion the attempt of the Normans of southern Italy to conquer Byzantium, which would have threatened its freedom of trade across the Adriatic, again attempted a rapprochement with Constantinople. In February 1187, a regular treaty was signed between the Empire and Venice. It was the first treaty between the two powers, devoid of any fiction of privilege, and is considered the first agreement between Constantinople and Venice concluded among equals. Both Venice and Byzantium had until then maintained the fiction that Venice was still a part of the Empire. Isaac II, who granted Dandolo the high court title of protosebastos in 1188, even extended Venetian prerogatives to the entire empire in 1192. When this emperor was also overthrown in 1195, this was another bad news for Venice, because the new emperor Alexios III again deprived the lagoon city of its privileges and now played Pisa against Venice. This Tuscan city was one of Venice’s most important competitors, along with the Republic of Genoa.

The compromise negotiated by Enrico Dandolo, with which Venice was dissatisfied, was finally accepted, since Henry VI’s marriage to Constance of Sicily, the heiress of the Norman Empire, created a completely different situation that was extremely threatening to Venice’s Adriatic policy. Henry now ruled almost all of Italy in addition to the empire beyond the Alps. Moreover, he was preparing a crusade to the east in which the Normans of southern Italy would participate as part of the Hohenstaufen-Norman Empire, the same Normans who had unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Byzantium in 1185. This alliance system, which threatened Venice and saw the Western emperor at the head of a feudal hierarchy, reached out as far as Cyprus, the Holy Land and Armenia.

Due to the new power constellation, it seemed urgent for the Venetians to come to a peace agreement with Byzantium. Enrico Dandolo, although Henry had died the previous year and thus the already prepared crusade never took place, received a new chrysobullon in 1198, in which the Eastern Emperor once again assured Venice’s prerogatives. When in 1203 the crusader army decided to support the Byzantine pretender to the throne, who had taken refuge in their camp, probably still no one thought of a violent conquest of the metropolis, least of all the Venetians, for whom too much was at stake. Moreover, Dandolo’s alleged hatred of the Byzantines, which repeatedly lies behind the equally imagined early plan of conquest, Donald Queller and Thomas Madden believe, in no way fits his curriculum vitae. That he despised individual Greeks, however, is clear from a letter to the pope in 1204. In it he refers to Murtzuphlos, i.e. Emperor Alexios V, and Nicolas Kannavos (Canabus), who had been elected emperor for a few days on January 27, 1204, as “graeculi” (‘little Greeks’). But this does not at all speak for a contempt of all “Greeks”.

The fact that Enrico Dandolo, as a man of about 85 years old and already (almost) blind for some time, ran for and won the Doge’s election, although he is mentioned as iudex at the court of Doge Sebastiano Ziani, but never as consiliarius or sapiens, and, if one disregards private documents, existed only for a short time outside of his three legations on the public stage, has always aroused the greatest astonishment. He was, however, physically and intellectually still exceptionally capable. He was extremely well connected and possessed an exceedingly good knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean and probably southern Italy. This was of considerable importance at the time of his election, because on both sides of the Adriatic were states that could pose a threat to Venice’s trading interests by blocking this main trade route.

Returning to Venice, Dandolo took over the legal representation previously filled by Vitale in the monastery of San Cipriano di Murano in 1185, which may indicate that Enrico began to take over the leadership of the Dandolo clan. When the commune issued voluntary bonds (imprestiti) in 1187 to raise money from the wealthy in exchange for repayment and interest, Enrico Dandolo was the only one of the Dandolo clan to respond. He deposited in November the considerable sum of 150 libra (grossorum), which was equivalent to 36,000 denari grossi, “thick denarii”. These silver coins stood at a value ratio of about 1:26 to the denari piccoli, the “small denarii” of everyday commodity circulation, actually in circulation. The bond had been issued to finance the war against Zara. Despite this commitment – the next year Dandolo acquired a salt works in Chioggia – (progressive?) blindness kept him from catching up on a regular cursus honorum. Thus he never appeared in the Small or Great Council. However, he continued to act as a negotiator and in this capacity went to Ferrara in 1191, a city with which a treaty was signed on October 26, 1191. Venice gained jurisdiction over the Venetians living there, and the right to imprison criminals and slaves there and transfer them to Venice. It was on this occasion that Dandolo is said to have pretended to still be able to see. To do this, he put a very short hair in the soup and complained loudly about the proverbial object that could hardly be seen.

Whether this anecdote from Sanudo is true, possibly to suggest that Dandolo intended to recommend himself in this way for the Doge’s office, cannot be decided. In any case, the year 1188 was of epochal importance for the Dandolo clan, and thus also for the future doge. For in that year ended half a century of Venetian church reforms, whose driving force had been the patriarch Enrico Dandolo, who died about that year. Internally, he had not only ensured that new orders came to the city and new monasteries were founded, and that the church was reformed in the spirit of Pope Gregory, but he had also changed the relationship with the state. The latter no longer interfered in internal church affairs, but increasingly saw itself as the protector of the church. This half century, which ended in 1188, was even called the “epoch of Enrico Dandolo”.

When the Doge Orio Mastropiero abdicated on June 14, 1192, Enrico Dandolo was elected his successor. The reasons for his election have always been the subject of speculation. Venice was by no means dominated by a homogeneous group of long-distance merchant families; for centuries there had been rivalries between the great clans and their clientele, consisting of men who held seats in the various council bodies and whose behavior could be decisive in votes. Thus, there were the pro-Byzantine families and those who leaned more heavily on the Frankish, and later the Roman-German, Empire. Interest groups fought each other, trying to exert influence through the still few offices, but above all through the growing council bodies, whose stage, however, could also be the people’s assembly. In this context, the Doge’s office, with its enormous prestige and foreign policy power, was of central importance, but also because the Doge had some prerogatives in both the Small and the Great Councils and, moreover, was always well informed.

In terms of prestige and fortune, Pietro Ziani, son of the former Doge Sebastiano (1172-1178), would have been the most powerful candidate in 1192, but he had arrived at his exorbitant wealth through bonds and their interest, through advance financing and participation in long-distance trading ventures – consequently through other people’s work and risks – which, according to Cracco, created numerous enemies for him, and which aroused distrust and fear. On the other hand, the merchant families, who in Byzantium had been badly hit by harassment and mistreatment, by expropriations and banishment from trade altogether, were interested in a strong regiment.

Thus, the now exceedingly old Enrico Dandolo, the most respected representative of the Dandolo clan, could appear as a suitable candidate, because he knew his way around the East, certainly spoke Greek, was himself a financier but also an active long-distance trader. Moreover, he was not as overpowering as Pietro Ziani, with whom one could certainly fear a dynasty formation. Thus, according to Giorgio Cracco, Dandolo became the candidate of the merchants. For the most powerful families, he was equally a suitable candidate, because an old and blind doge would hardly be able to arrogate to himself royal rights – besides, given his advanced age, he seemed to be only a short-term solution anyway. But these, too, are speculations about the mentality of the doge’s voters, which are not reflected in the sources, as Madden contradicts. In any case, given the advanced age of the new doge, voters may have cast their ballots in the expectation that a new election would take place after a short time.

As after every election, the influential families that controlled the state in a system of mutual rivalries tried to leave the Doge as little internal influence as possible and to keep away any kind of autocracy, because Venice had already gone through several attempts to form a Doge dynasty. In the process, not only had there been heavy fighting, executions, blindings, murders, and foreign policy entanglements to the point of trade blockades and military interventions by the great powers, but even a massive city fire. One means of permanently preventing such excesses through restrictions on power was an oath, the so-called Promissio ducale, also known as Promissio domini ducis. This promissio, on which every doge had to swear publicly, became more extensive with each new election. After Enrico Dandolo, a special committee was even appointed to work out the new oath formula. Some of Dandolo’s predecessors had already had to take a public oath on such a promissio, but these have not been preserved in written form, apart from a fragment of the promissio of Dandolo’s predecessor.

In his promissio, which is also the oldest one that has been completely handed down, Enrico Dandolo had to swear to obey the laws and decisions of the supreme council bodies, without interpreting them idiosyncratically, and only with the consent of the Small Council and the majority of the Great Council. He was to act only for the honor (honor) and in the interest of the father city and not to interfere in the affairs of the Patriarch of Grado or the bishops in the lagoon of Venice. Nor was he allowed to have direct contact with foreign lords. Finally, he had to equip ten ‘armed’ ships at his own expense (the term “navis armata” referred to a minimum crew, which later was 60 men). This less than autocratic position in the constitutional reality of the late 12th century stands in stark contrast to later historiography, which to this day often gives the impression that the Doge ruled unrestrictedly, almost absolutistically.

Dandolo’s role in the crusade, internal Venetian power relations

Little is known of the first ten years of Dandolo’s reign, which later contributed to the fact that virtually every state action between 1192 and 1202 was attributed to the doge. This source situation changed when the leaders of a crusade decided not to take the difficult land route through the Balkans and Anatolia to the Holy Land, but to travel there by ship. In 1202, crusaders mainly from France planned to raise a force consisting of 4,500 horsemen with their horses, 9,000 shield bearers and 20,000 infantrymen. Venice’s arsenal was to launch a fleet to take the army of over 33,000 men to Egypt, where Sultan al-Adil I. (1200-1218) had his core territory. The latter was also the ruler of the Holy Land and one of the successors of the feared Salah ad-Din, known in the West as Saladin (1171-1193). It was against Saladin’s army that the Crusaders suffered their decisive defeat in the Holy Land in 1187.

The passage by ship was to be financed by the crusaders. For each horseman and horse Venice demanded four silver marks, plus two marks per shield bearer and infantryman. In total, it was the sum of 94,000 marks of silver. In return for a pledge of 85,000 silver marks, Venice undertook to provide about 200 transport ships, plus food for a year, plus a fleet of 50 armed escort ships with a crew of 6,000 men for the duration of a year. In return, Venice was to be entitled to half of all future conquests. In the end, an agreement was reached for 84,000 Cologne marks, which was somewhat above the price otherwise customary in similar undertakings around 1200, but included the Venetian fleet of 50 ships. Exceptional was only the claim to half of the booty, not the land conquests. The sum was to be raised in four installments by April 1202, with the fleet ready to sail on June 29.

But in 1202, the crusaders, who had clearly overestimated the attractiveness of the enterprise and had gathered only 10,000 men, were stranded in Venice. They were unable to pay for the technically new ships rented by the municipality and built there. They now expected the Doge to convene the Small Council for the next day, but he had to put them off for three days, for he could not simply summon the powerful body. Apparently, the crusaders misjudged Dandolo’s position of power in Venice.

When the body finally assembled, the messengers demanded ships and men for a new crusade. After another eight days had passed, Dandolo dictated the terms that had been negotiated in the Small Council. Only if an appropriate treaty was reached could it be presented to the Great Council and the Concio, which the Venetians called Arengo, a kind of assembly of the people. After a further period of deliberation, Dandolo was able to present a draft to the Great Council, which at that time had only forty members, and obtain its approval. Only then did 10,000 men, the aforementioned Arengo, gather in St. Mark’s Basilica and likewise express their approval. Enrico Dandolo was by no means the driving force, as was often claimed, but he only acted as a messenger and as a processor of a draft vote, according to Giorgio Cracco. The decisive body of power was first the Small Council, then the Great Council, and finally the Arengo.

Conflicting interpretations arose on the question of whether Enrico Dandolo staged his theatrical crucifixion to induce the Arengo to consent, or whether this was a comparatively ordinary act of individual religious fervor in a profoundly religious era. While most historians assumed that Dandolo’s power was so unrestrained at this time that he could not have needed such a manipulative act, Giorgio Cracco believes that it was precisely the increasing dominance of the council bodies and, above all, the still existing weight of the popular assembly in fundamental issues that forced Dandolo to persuade the Venetians as a whole. Donald Queller and Thomas Madden, on the other hand, believe that the Arengo had long since lost its importance and therefore its approval was more of symbolic significance. According to them, Dandolo did not need the approval of the “people”.

A detailed description of the proceedings is provided by the historians of the Crusade, such as de Villehardouin’s De la Conquête de Constantinople. This type of historiography followed certain principles of composition and dramaturgy, such as the direct speech of the protagonists. As the studies of Peter M. Schon or Gérard Jacquin have pointed out, caution is required in the kind of oratio recta that Villehardouin offers, but especially in its interpretation from the point of view of historical reconstruction. Too strong is the influence of the chansons de gestes with their personalization of all historical events, the concentration of motifs in speech form, the pathetic concentration in the form of staging that fires the imagination. Villehardouin, who is often precise, also provides laconic abridgements and gives priority to the essential messages, which he prefers to have individuals say. In the course of the work, however, he rapidly abandons the aforementioned oratio, giving Dandolo, who plays a central role in his work for the initial phase of the crusade, a weight in the drama that is exceedingly high. His importance is thus especially charged in the beginning of the work, and as a result he seems almost omnipotent.

In any case, after those present, Venetians and crusaders alike, had enthusiastically accepted Dandolo as their leader, he took the cross in September 1202. This is also a scene that can be found against the backdrop of St. Mark’s Basilica in historical depictions of later eras, just as history painting later adopted some central scenes of the two French chroniclers Robert de Clari and Geoffroy de Villehardouin in an extremely pathetic way.

According to the chronicler and crusader Villehardouin, Enrico Dandolo intervened for the first time in the summer of 1202, proposing to demand the reconquest of the allegedly rebellious Zara as compensation for part of the debt. Zara, however, was subject to the Hungarian king, who himself had taken the cross. The deferment that Dandolo proposed was, after all, 34,000 silver marks. At the same time, he claimed to be the only one capable of leading the army. The following attack on Zara is in the historical tradition of Venice, which tried to secure the Adriatic – in this case against the King of Hungary, whose predecessor the city had subordinated itself to in 1181 in exchange for granting autonomy rights.

But it is questionable whether Dandolo’s demand for leadership of the crusader army truthfully reflects the process. For only the council bodies, the consilia, were authorized to make such decisions about treaties and military tasks, as Cracco objects. According to the promissio, the doge was in no way allowed to conduct negotiations directly or even to start them on his own authority – at least not within Venice.

With the determination of the old and blind man, Villehardouin perhaps only wanted to provide a counter-image to the indecisiveness of a crusader army that was already struggling against the creeping disintegration. For many, in the meantime, were seeking other routes to the Holy Land. This corresponds well with the fact that Dandolo, whom Villehardouin personally esteemed, later appears as a wise advisor in the French chronicle, but never as a kind of condottiere, as was often later portrayed. Significant here is Umberto Gozzano, who in 1941 began his work with ‘Enrico Dandolo. History of a Ninety-Year-Old Condottiere’. Dandolo rather shone with foresight. Wisely, the Doge advised against procuring food from the nearby mainland, seeking out some islands instead, so that the great army would not get successively entangled and lost, or even fall into the hands of enemies. Villehardouin, however, not only drew a counter-image thirsty for action, but moreover, he was accustomed to attributing the deeds of a group to its leader, so that the impression was created that Dandolo was behind everything.

The second French chronicler of the Crusade, Robert de Clari, presented the Doge quite differently, whose death the author does not even mention, while in Villehardouin’s eyes it represented a great misfortune. Robert looks at the events that Villehardouin describes from the point of view of the high nobility, from that of the simple crusader. For him, too, the Doge was “molt preudons”: thus, he had water and food brought for the crusaders, while the government had let them starve in order to put them under pressure. But for this chronicler, neither Dandolo nor the committees were the true supporters, but the Venetians as a whole. For him, the agreement was one between “tout li pelerin e li Venicien”, that is, between ‘all the pilgrims and the Venetians’. The same was true of the attack on Zara. For Robert de Clari, Dandolo was indeed a great orator, but when the Crusader-installed emperor in Constantinople did not parry, Dandolo first admonished him in a peaceful tone, only to shout at him in a growing rage when he refused his demands: “nous t’avons gete de le merde et en le merde te remeterons” (“we got you out of the shit, and we will put you back in the shit”). This, however, he shouted from his galley, standing between soldiers and councilors, with three other galleys protecting him. The pre-fighting that later historiography attributed to Dandolo is not evident in Robert de Clari.

Nevertheless, he was immensely impressed by the display of splendor when the fleet departed, although he was deceived when he looked at the financing, because everything seemed to be the crusaders only the Doge: “The Duke of Venice had with him, at his own expense, fifty galleys. The galley he was on was bright red with a tent of bright red silk stretched over it. Before him he had forty trumpeters with silver trumpets sounding, and drummers making a very merry noise As the fleet left the port of Venice warships, these great cargo ships, and so many other watercraft that it was the most magnificent sight since the world began.”

The two most important chroniclers of the Crusade have in common that their standard of value was the “chivalric” behavior, more precisely, the code of honor that was expressed in it – through fulfillment as well as through failure. The evaluation by the members of the group to which Dandolo felt he belonged with regard to honor (honor) (i.e. the crusaders) was often in the foreground for both of them and virtually determined their actions. Dandolo would have had the right to collect the debts, but he had refrained from doing so because, according to Villehardouin, this would have been a “grant blasme” in Dandolo’s eyes. Thus, the Doge had saved his own and the Crusaders’ honor (who thus did not have to break their oath) by giving them the opportunity to pay at least part of the debt by conquering Zara. For Robert de Clari, too, this concept of honor was paramount, because otherwise the crusaders would have had to break their given word, thus bringing upon themselves the greatest dishonor. It would also have been dishonorable to refuse the offer to bring Alexios to the throne. For Villehardouin, all those who refused, and also those who went to the Holy Land through other ports, were oathbreakers, if not cowards. In detail, Villehardouin describes how they all failed or perished, which in his eyes was in accordance with the divine will For Robert de Clari, on the other hand, loyalty was also high on the list, but not the highest. The most evil things that could distinguish a crusader for him were betrayal (traïr), bad faith (male foi) and lack of comradeship (male compaignie). Later defeats were also considered by him as punishments for such violations of honor. For Villehardouin, Enrico Dandolo thus fulfilled all the criteria of a chivalrous lifestyle. In addition, he was also wise (sages), a term that Villehardouin did not otherwise apply to any of the other crusaders, as Natasha Hodgson explained in 2013.

From Zara to Constantinople

Zara was indeed conquered on November 15, 1202, after the fleet had left on October 10, following a brief siege. The Pope then excommunicated the ‘pilgrims’, as the crusaders called themselves. Shortly thereafter, Alexios Angelos, son of the overthrown Byzantine emperor Isaac Angelos, arrived in the city where the army planned to winter. Dandolo personally – implicitly ignoring the corresponding prohibition in the promissio, at least outside Venice – excused this order to winter in a letter to Pope Innocent III, referring to the winter storms that would have endangered the crusade as a whole. Alexios convinced the leaders of the crusaders to go to Constantinople to bring him to the throne. In return, he promised huge compensations and the reunification of the two churches, separated since 1054, under papal supremacy. In addition, he promised participation in the Crusade, which would finally go to the Holy Land. Although there were disputes among the crusaders, and some even left the crusade, the majority allowed themselves to be persuaded by the promises and the claims of the pretender to the throne, which were legitimate in their eyes, to head for Constantinople.

The capital did initially fall to the crusaders and the pretender to the throne in July 1203, with the Venetians setting fire to parts of the city during the fighting. But the latter was unable to raise the promised sum of 200,000 silver marks, although the emperor surrendered the treasury and confiscated the property of many wealthy people. For Antonio Carile and for many others, Enrico Dandolo was the “spiritual originator” of the plan to now conquer the city and establish his own empire, later called the “Latin Empire”. A first attack failed on April 8, 1204, and the city fell a second time into the hands of the Crusaders on April 12, during the second attack, who now plundered the still immensely rich city for three days (see this list).

Many attempts were made to explain in retrospect why this enormously risky assault on a city that had never been conquered occurred. For example, it was claimed that it would have been impossible to sail on at this time, but it could be shown that fleet movements were feasible in the Aegean even in winter; then it was argued that the crusaders had run out of funds, and for this reason they had no other choice, although Alexios had already paid them 110,000 marks. Or they would have had to fear a default. Others argued that an impoverished army could hardly have been led to Syria, but there was no question of hunger in the army. On the other hand, the observance of the Treaty of Zara, i.e. the promised help with the crossing and above all the agreed payments, was an offense against the honor of the crusade leaders. On the other hand, by conquering, one broke one’s word as a crusader, violated the papal prohibition. This was countered by the fact that the Orthodox Church refused to submit to the Pope. The decisive factor, however, was probably the attitude of the fleet commander Dandolo, without whose ships it was impossible to continue the journey. He was believed to have been driven primarily by commercial interests. The Venetians must have been aware of the disastrous experiences of earlier military conflicts.

The impossibility of anticipating every angular move – as it was always assumed in later historiography and thus in retrospect and in knowledge of all the consequences – proved particularly glaring in the presentation of young Alexios before the sea walls of Constantinople. Apparently, not only Alexios believed the people would side with him, but Enrico Dandolo was also of this conviction. He too believed that it would be enough to present young Alexios to persuade the inhabitants of the capital to overthrow the usurper. But the opposite happened: the population, which had gathered on the walls, burst into whistles, jeers and laughter. When the galleys approached the walls, they were met with a rain of bullets. Dandolo himself claimed in a letter that the convoluted process with all its coincidences was due to divine providence.

Separatism, subjugation by Venice after Dandolo’s death.

As the crusade progressed, a threatening development hitherto unknown to Venice became apparent with regard to the Venetians at both ends of their elongated maritime empire. Contact between those Venetians who ended up conquering Constantinople and those in the hometown became thinner and thinner. It almost seems as if from 1202 to 1205 there existed two Venetians (Giorgio Cracco) who in the end acted completely independently of each other. One had its core around Rialto, the other around the Golden Horn, where at times perhaps 50,000 Italian merchants had lived. Thus, the enthusiasm for the conquest of an empire could be projected onto the old Dandolo when the thrust had changed to Constantinople, which even the excommunication by the Pope could not prevent, which had already failed to save Zara. At the same time, the later lords over three-eighths (“of a quarter and a half”) of the conquered Byzantine Empire operated as if for them distant Venice no longer existed. Moreover, the Venetians of the Latin Empire, established in 1204, also acted against the interests of the home city.

Consequently, after Dandolo’s death, the Venetians of Constantinople unceremoniously elected one of their own, Marino Zeno, as potestas, despotis et dominator Romanie, without even seeking the advice of Venice and its bodies. Enrico Dandolo’s comrades-in-arms, first of all his relatives Marco Sanudo († 1227), Marino Dandolo or Philocalo Navigaioso, to whom Lemnos fell, hurried to conquer their own territories and islands. They were clearly inclined to secession and did not think of subordinating their territories to Venice. Thus, Ravano dalle Carceri occupied the large island of Negroponte and established its own dominion there, as did other Venetian families in the Aegean region until 1212. These were, besides those already mentioned, the Ghisi brothers Andrea and Geremia, then Jacopo Barozzi, Leonardo Foscolo, Marco Venier and Jacopo Viaro.

The municipality, for its part, continued to pursue primarily commercial interests and made only isolated conquests. A delegation had declared to Pope Innocent III as late as 1198 that Venice was “non agricolturis inservit, sed navigiis potius et mercimoniis est intenta,” i.e., that it was not interested in agriculture but in ships and goods. As a result of the far-reaching clash of interests between prospective feudal lords and the hometown, the city of Venice was not even mentioned in any of the treaties. Only later did interpolations take place, which now also reported a “pars domini Ducis et Communis Venetie”. In fact, the Venetians demanded “feuda et honorificentias” “de heredem in heredem”, i.e. their freely hereditary feudal inheritance, and this exclusively under performance of the homagium towards the Latin Emperor.

Dandolo bore the title of a separate lord, far from Venice, and so it fits the picture that after his death on June 1, 1205, he was buried in the Hagia Sophia, having taken part in an unsuccessful expedition against the Bulgarians only a short time before. Everything imaginable arrived in Venice: Marble and porphyry, exotic animals, works of art and, above all, countless relics. But the urn of Dandolo remained in Constantinople. His ashes are said to have been scattered by Mehmed II, whose army conquered Constantinople in 1453. He possibly left the epitaph in place.

Venice was forced after 1205 to reclaim many of the territories that the separatists had already conquered. Ranieri Dandolo, the vicegerent, sent messengers to Constantinople to persuade the Venetians there to return their share of the new empire to Venice. The election of Pietro Ziani as doge signaled that Venice was once again in crisis, and now needed strong leadership refocused on the mother city of Venice. Ranieri Dandolo was sent out to conquer islands already ruled by Venetians for the Commune. He died during a campaign in Crete in 1209, and it was only with the transplantation of several thousand settlers to Crete starting in 1211 that the dominance of the mother city could be reasserted.

Conjectures about motives and character: the omnipresent Doge

Byzantine historians, for reasons all their own, tended to attribute the main responsibility for the crusade against the Christian metropolis to the Venetian doge. The most significant among them in this context, the chronicler and contemporary Niketas Choniates, was generally suspicious of Venice. He came from an upper-class background in Phrygia, to whom, moreover, the mass of the people always seemed destructive, barbaric and faceless. From 1182 he was a tax official in Paphlagonia and even rose to the position of governor. From 1197 to 1204 he held the highest civil post in the Empire, Logothetes ton Sekreton. In 1207 he joined the court of Theodore Laskaris in Nikaia, one of the empires that had emerged from the crushing of the “Roman Empire” by the Crusaders in 1204. There, ten years after his flight, Choniates died embittered, and without having regained his social position. In 21 books, he chronicles the period from 1118 to 1206. Niketas describes the personalities of the crusaders in a quite nuanced way. He believed the entire Crusade was a malicious plot by the Latins, led by the Doge. To him, Dandolo was extremely deceitful and full of envy of the “Romans.” The latter had been treated badly by the Doge’s nation ever since Emperor Manuel. For Choniates, the character and deeds of the individual emperors are in the foreground. According to him, the main reason for the decline of the Empire was the weakness of the rulers and their inability to follow the ideal set by God. Therefore, it was only logical that Choniates, although for different reasons than Villehardouin, could also see only the Venetian doge as the pivot of political decisions.

However, Byzantine chronicles developed another picture in the decades following Dandolo’s, shaped above all by Georgios Akropolites. In his chronicle, probably written in the 1260s, he also blames Dandolo for the diversion of the crusade, but above all the pope. The moral failings attributed to character defects – above all treason and cowardice – became an integral part of later Byzantine historiography. Thus, Nikephoros Gregoras believed that Dandolo ran away in the battle against the Bulgarians, only to succumb to his injuries later.

A completely different development took place in Western and Central European historiography. The image, which even Villehardouin only shows at the beginning, namely that of a condottiere controlling and dominating all processes, has been established for a long time, in many cases until today, especially in Italy, but also in Anglo-Saxon, French and German historiography. Thus he became the ideal of an intrepid and heroic type of conqueror, as in the case of Camillo Manfroni, where Dandolo himself drove off a Pisan fleet off Pula and defeated it in a battle in the Adriatic. In 1204, after a brief siege of Constantinople, he captured a section of the wall, causing an upheaval in the city, the flight of Alexios III and the reinstatement of the exiled Emperor Isaac. Still in 1205, at almost 100 years of age, he undertook an expedition against the Bulgarians and, after defeat, ensured that the Latins were saved by his ‘energy’, his ‘prudence’ and his ‘ability’. Similarly, the 365-page Enrico Dandolo, penned by Admiral Ettore Bravetta (1862-1932), who was mainly interested in artillery technology, was published in 1929 and reprinted in Milan in 1950.

For better or for worse, Dandolo was believed to have done everything, yet he still searched for rational motives and goals. Karl Hopf (1832-1873) already believed that the Doge had wanted to divert the crusade from Egypt from the beginning and lead it against Constantinople, because Venice had just concluded a trade treaty in Alexandria and therefore had no interest in conquering Egypt. However, his thesis was rejected when it turned out that the treaty with Egypt did not date from 1202, as Hopf had assumed, but had been negotiated in the years between 1208 and 1212. Nevertheless, at least since the Enciclopedia italiana e dizionario della conversazione of 1841, Enrico Dandolo was the “anima della crociata latina”, the ‘soul of the Latin crusade’.

In the German-speaking world, the conciseness of Heinrich Kretschmayr, the best expert on Venetian sources at the time, contributed above all to the recognition of a negative character image: “Haughty and full of heiſser lust for glory, he considered no worthier goal of his deeds than reckoning with the Romans and revenge for the ignominious acts of violence committed by the emperors Manuel and Andronikos. Retribution against Greece became a watchword for him and was to become that of Venice as well. In the pursuit of his aims without consideration or conscience; taciturn and secretive, a ‘vir decretus,’ not a loquacious old man; without Maſs in anger.” But, according to Kretschmayr, he was also “wonderfully sharp-eyed, a master of the great and small art of political maneuvering.”

The ubiquitous Doge, as it were, who regulated everything himself in all areas, was a common pattern for a long time. Thus, the decision to mint the Dandolo Grosso was attributed to him personally, where he only “decrevit” it in the Chronicle of Andrea Dandolo. What exactly to imagine by this is not clear from this term, especially since the Chronicle has a tendency to attribute every political activity of the Commune to the Doge. Where the Chronicle explicitly means the personal initiative of the Doge, as in the case of taking over the leadership of the Crusader army, it precisely says: “Dux, licet senex corpore, animo tamen magnanimus, ad exequendum hoc, personaliter se obtulit, et eius pia disposicio a concione laudatur”. So the Doge personally demanded the command and he was praised for it by the popular assembly.

Analogous to the minting of coins, Dandolo had a kind of omnipresence also in the field of legislation, when, for example, he revised the Promissio de maleficiis of Orio Mastropiero, or had a corpus of norms issued, the so-called Parvum Statutum.

Although he was forbidden to do so in his own promissio, sworn by him, after this performance he personally concluded treaties with Verona and Treviso (1192), with Pisa (1196), with the Patriarch of Aquileia (1200) and even with the King of Armenia and the Roman-German King (both 1201).

If only Dandolo had wanted, he would have become emperor of the Latin Empire, but he “made do” with what he had already accomplished for the fatherland. Some went so far as to claim that Dandolo had planned from the beginning to trap the Crusaders in debt so that he could then force them to conquer Zara and then Constantinople for him. John H. Pryor contradicted this claim in 2003, arguing that the 50 war galleys that were to accompany the crusade would have been useful only when dealing with an enemy fleet, such as the Egyptian one, but not with a state like Byzantium, which had practically no fleet left.

Emergence and consolidation of the Venetian “tradition

The image of Dandolo was and is of the greatest inconsistency, especially since the criteria and the motives on the part of the judging historians changed again and again in the course of time. Several traditions are distinguished in the interpretation of the crusade and the evaluation of the main actors, which Dandolo and the other leaders of the crusade were already made during their lifetime.

The Venetian tradition with its apologetic character, its strong emphasis on the achievements of the nobility, its negation of a powerful popular assembly, starts very late in this process. At the same time, the closest Venetian source in time, the Historia Ducum, is largely silent about Enrico Dandolo, emphasizing only his “probitas.” Otherwise, like all the Doges, he was to be praised. The author of the Historia Ducum, who perhaps still knew Dandolo personally and was able to write down the political events from memory, paints a rather colorless picture (which, as Cracco does not say, is due to the temporal gap in the chronicle from 1177). According to him, Dandolo was “senex discretissimus, generosus, largus et benivolus”. In this regard, all these characterization approaches can be considered as topoi with which it was common to describe Doge, except for “senex” (old). Only at the moment of his death the author mentions his “maxima probitas”. In contrast to Dandolo’s successor Pietro Ziani, of whom he paints an extremely active picture, Dandolo remains strangely inactive, Cracco notes. The next Venetian chronicle, Les estoires de Venise by Martino da Canale, was probably written between 1267 and 1275, thus already with a certain time lag. It stylizes Enrico Dandolo as a loyal helper of the pope, a fighter for the cause of Christianity. Just as the Doge had presented himself to Pope Innocent III, so did the chronicler. Both were also silent about possible material interests.

The Chronicon Moreae, written around the middle of the 1320s, can be understood as a kind of continuation of Villehardouin’s chronicle, but possibly after a revision by Venetian hands. The author also portrays Enrico Dandolo in an extremely positive light, surpassing even Villehardouin, with whom the Chronicon has in common that it sees in the “deserters” of the Crusade the main culprits for the plight of the Crusaders and the events that followed. This once again highlights the importance of the fact that there is no contemporary Venetian account of the events surrounding Enrico Dandolo. This silence alone was later interpreted as a cover-up, even more so the one-sided positioning of later chronicles from around Venice, whose justification strategy, however, changed. Dandolo himself justified his actions to the pope only succinctly with the words: “quod ego una cum Veneto populo, quicquid fecimus, ad honorem Dei et sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae et vestrum laboravimus”. So, in agreement with the people of Venice, he had done all his deeds for the honor of God, the Church and the Pope.

Later historians often painted the picture of an Enrico Dandolo who remained loyal to Venice and who therefore “renounced” the title of emperor offered to him, or who dreamed of moving the capital from Venice to the Bosporus. On the other hand, Villehardouin writes that many hoped to become emperors, but above all these were Balduin of Flanders and Hainault and Boniface of Montferrat. Dandolo is not mentioned here at all. Robert de Clari thinks that Dandolo only invited the barons to vote for him (“se on m’eslit a empereur”). Afterwards he asked them to determine their electors, he would determine his. He accordingly appointed “des plus preusdomes que il cuidoit en se tere,” who in turn appointed another ten electors, Venetian-style. At the end of this process, the finally remaining ten Venetian and ten Latin electors unanimously elected Balduin of Flanders. Dandolo was thus not even considered, despite verbally raised claims, even by the Venetians, who after all provided half of the electors. Niketas claims that Dandolo, after it became clear to him that he was ineligible as a candidate because of his age and blindness, directed the votes to the weak Balduin. Little attention was paid to this interpretation. The chronicles thus either concede Dandolo no chance from the outset, reveal an ambitious Dandolo, whom again either the Venetians do not even want, or who fails because of the multi-stage Venetian voting system, while only Niketas concedes insight into impossibility in Dandolo, but recognizes in him an attempt to exercise considerable power under a weak emperor.

The fact that Venetian state propaganda later portrayed him to the public, i.e. especially in performances and paintings, as a hero in the fight against a state that was, depending on one’s choice, chaotic, decaying, “sick” (Simonsfeld), duplicitous or deceitful, can be proven many times over. Already the chronicle of Andrea Dandolo from the 14th century does so. With his chronicle, this Doge influenced the image of his ancestor to the greatest extent, just as he transformed Venetian historiography in general into a historiography that was controlled by the state in the most stringent manner. August Friedrich Gfrörer still stooped to calling the Greeks a “rag-tag people,” writing of a “wretched political growth called the Byzantine Empire” that Dandolo had “put a well-deserved end” to. Conversely, even after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, people in Greece still distrusted Venice’s ambitions to establish a new Latin rule over Greece and Constantinople. During the protracted negotiations for the Church Union between Catholics and Orthodox, it became apparent that the most important negotiator, Cardinal Bessarion († 1472), to whom Venice seemed like a second Constantinople, actually envisaged Venetian rule for the period after the planned liberation of Greece from the Ottomans. Flavio Biondo, whose account was based on the historical work of Lorenzo De Monacis, a Venetian patrician, was part of a propaganda apparatus for a new crusade that would restore not the Byzantine Empire at all, but the Latin Empire. Biondo had already become a Venetian citizen in 1424. He was also a follower of Gabriele Condulmer, later Pope Eugene IV, in whose diplomatic service he acted. He himself intended to write a Latin history of the Venetian people. He also provided legitimacy for a renewed crusade through a description of the Fourth Crusade. For this kind of a just war there were four criteria, namely an occasion, the defense of legitimate rights, the legalization by a legitimate power, in addition the right motivation. Therefore, Isaac II and Alexios IV were the legitimate rulers, but dead, Alexios III, on the other hand, was a patricide and tyrant; Alexios V was characterized even more evil. Now Biondo added the claim that the young emperor had left his kingdom to the leader of the crusaders in case of his death. The occasion for the war was now the alleged rebellion of Zara. He also claimed that the army’s main goal was to win the Eastern Church for the Pope, and only then came the settlement of debts. Finally, the Byzantines lost not only the battle, but also their icon of Mary, which should be obvious that the highest power had legitimized the actions of the crusaders. All in all, he saw in the new crusade he propagated the mission to regain the now legitimate rights acquired in 1204. In total, he wrote three histories of the crusade, in the third he tried to persuade the Venetians to participate, who were to recover their old rights against barbarians and tyrants.

An equally legitimizing account emerged toward the end of the 14th century through the oldest vernacular chronicle, the Cronica di Venexia, which dates to 1362 and was edited in 2010. It again presents the events on a largely personal level, weaving in speeches by the protagonists that are quoted verbatim. If one follows the chronicler, only two events prior to the Crusade were significant: Dandolo ordered the minting of the Grosso and brokered peace between Verona and Padua, which recognized him as a kind of overlord. As a “homo catholicus”, the idea of a crusade appealed to him greatly. Dandolo gladly participated “personaliter” in the Crusade, because this offered the possibility, according to the chronicler, of winning back Zara and other rebellious cities. But before that, Venice defeated Pisa, whose piracy explicitly harmed not only Venetian but also other merchants. Then Alexios, who had fled from Constantinople, appeared not before Zara, as the French chroniclers report, but immediately in Venice, “cum letere papale”, that is, with a papal letter. According to this chronicle, the crusader fleet sailed towards Istria only afterwards, in October 1202, in order to force “Trieste et Muglia” to pay tribute, and then to conquer “Ziara”. A fleet of 17 ships, led by “Francesco Maistropiero”, established a fort above the destroyed city. While the Crusaders, including the Venetians, numbered 20,000 men, Constantinople was defended by 40,000, of which 20,000 were mounted men alone. The name of Alexios V Dukas Murtzuphlos becomes “Mortifex” in the chronicles, and he became the center of intrigues against the Crusaders, who had already won numerous victories against the “infedeli”, which were not elaborated. Dandolo, in turn, personally negotiated with the “Mortifex”, who in the meantime had been elevated to emperor, and whose “malicia” the Doge was well aware of. In the following battles, the French did not follow the Doge’s advice, and so they suffered a defeat. According to the author, it was the Venetians under Dandolo’s leadership who managed to enter the city and open a city gate for the French, whereupon Constantinople fell and “Mortifex” fell to his death. Parts of the booty were sent to Venice to decorate St. Mark’s Cathedral. But because it was not possible to locate a Greek of imperial descent (“alcun del sangue imperial non se trovasse”), the barons and Dandolo agreed on the election of an emperor (f. 42 r). Dandolo died, according to the chronicle, after returning to Constantinople to reconquer other islands and cities for the empire. This account differs from Villehardouin’s in significant respects, although there was apparently still a need to legitimize the election of an emperor who was not descended from the imperial house.

Particularly in difficult situations in foreign policy, one fell back on the image of the loyal conqueror type that Andrea Dandolo and the aforementioned chronicle had drawn, and avoided any relativization. In 1573, therefore, the Senate tried in vain to publish a manuscript that Francesco Contarini had acquired in Constantinople, and which came from a “Joffroi de Villehardouin”. Rather, the painter Palma il Giovane celebrated the victory before Constantinople in a painting made around 1587, which today hangs in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace. A little later, the second conquest of the city was also depicted there, this time by Domenico Tintoretto.

However, while this attitude had its source in the struggle for dominance in the Mediterranean – Venice and Spain had defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto in 1571, but Venice had lost the island of Cyprus to the Ottomans – other interests came later. Paolo Rannusio (1532-1600), who precisely dedicated his 1604 work Della guerra di Costantinopoli per la restitutione de gl’imperatori Comneni fatta da’ sig. Venetiani et Francesi, paints a multifaceted, heroic, straightforward picture of Dandolo, whose vindication now lay definitively in the restoration of the legitimate heir to the throne. Francesco Sansovino (1512-1586) wrote in a much more objective and laconic manner as early as 1581: Dandolo “fece il notabile acquisto della città di Costantinopoli, occupato poco prima di Marzuflo, che lo tolse ad Alessio suo legitimo signore”, that is, he had made the remarkable acquisition of the city of Constantinople, which had been occupied by ‘Murtzuphlos’, that is, Alexios V, who had taken it from his legitimate master Alexios IV. In 17th century poetry, too, Dandolo advanced to a superhuman hero, as in Lucretia Marinella’s (1571-1653) L’Enrico ovvero Bisanzio acquistato, published by Gherardo Imberti in Venice in 1635, dedicated to Doge Francesco Erizzo and the Republic of Venice, and reprinted in 1844.

This was even more true in the 17th century, when Venice was engaged in protracted wars with the Ottoman Empire, as at the time of the Siege of Candia (1648-1669) or in the Morea War (1684-1699). In such times, Venice hoped for a restoration of past dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean, as represented in memory above all by Enrico Dandolo, who concluded his ‘glorious life’ in Constantinople. As Francesco Fanelli says in 1707, he never lacked ‘prudence’ (“prudenza”), courage and maturity (“maturità del consiglio”), perseverance and indefatigability, ‘presence of mind’ (“prontezza”), and, moreover, he was experienced and cautious, ‘friendly in majesty’ (“affabile nella Maestà”), generous, loved and feared, paid homage to by the nations, appreciated and revered, even buried like a king.

Although this exaggeration found resonance in French- and German-speaking countries, for example in Charles Le Beau’s work, which appeared in the Empire under the title Geschichte des morgenländischen Kayserthums, von Constantin dem Grossen an, they did not follow the Venetian tradition in every respect. For example, Le Bau doubts that Dandolo was completely blinded after Manuel tried to blind him with an iron. Nevertheless, he considers the Doge “one of the greatest men of his time,” indeed, he was the “greatest naval hero of his time.” However, the “contract” with the crusaders was concluded for him by the Senate and “confirmed” by the people, just as Dandolo had to win the Senate first for the enterprise against Zara. An assessment that apparently lacked any insight into Venetian constitutional history.

According to Pantaleon Barbo, to whom the author puts a speech, Dandolo renounced the imperial crown in order not to shift the weight of the enormously enlarged empire completely to Constantinople, even to move the capital there. After all, one had to fear that Venice would become dependent on the new empire, one of the most important families would be lost, as well as freedom.

But for most historians of France these were marginalia, because in sum Dandolo was for them, as Louis Maimbourg explicitly wrote in 1676, “un des plus grands hommes du monde” (‘one of the greatest men in the world’). At the same time, Maimbourg’s widely received work contributed significantly to establishing scientifically the concept of the “croisade” (the ‘crusade’), which rarely appeared until the late 16th century, until it finally became established around 1750.

Johann Hübner, in turn, said in 1714 that under Dandolo “Venice had laid the foundation for its great wealth”. “Because an army under the Flanders Count Balduino wanted to go to the promised land, the Venetians conjugated with this Balduino” and put Alexios IV “by force” on the throne of his father. Dandolo was “satisfied with the conquest of 1204, but made his effort pay well”. Thus, the Venetians “stabilized the action on Alexandria in Egypt, and thus obtained the monopoly with the East Indian goods.”

Only a few authors in Venice dared to contradict the firmly established state tradition. At best, this was done with a view to Dandolo’s alleged unqualified loyalty to Venice. Thus, in 1751, Giovanni Francesco Pivati wrote in his Nuovo dizionario scientifico e curioso sacro-profano that the Doge not only resided at great expense and dressed imperially, but even had ‘his own council of state, as in Venice’. Hardly concealed, Pivati cites a series of monarchical pretensions and even the development of power structures parallel to those in Venice, only without the restrictions on the doge’s power there.

After the dissolution of the Venetian Republic (from 1797)

In the period following the end of the Republic of Venice in 1797, the view of Enrico Dandolo changed once again, without succeeding in freeing itself from the strands of tradition that had been consciously controlled for more than five centuries. On the one hand, it is thanks to Karl Hopf that the French crusade became also a Venetian one, and it triggered the discovery of a great number of new sources. The prosopographical research put Venetian and also Genoese families side by side with the French ones. However, Greek “decadence” continued to be contrasted with Venetian “tolerance, order and discipline,” a paternalistic view of colonialism that Ernst Gerland reinforced in his 1899 work Das Archiv des Herzogs von Kandia im Königl. Staatsarchiv zu Venedig. His lecture to the German Colonial Society, derived from this work, was printed in the same year in the Historisches Jahrbuch. In it, the colonialist watchwords “political prudence” and “humanitarian aspirations” appeared in equal measure, Venice under Dandolo “dared to move from trade policy to world policy, to transform itself into a world power of the first rank.”

The first editor of the Historia ducum Veneticorum, Henry Simonsfeld, filled in the missing part of the years 1177 to 1203 with the help of an excerpt from the Venetiarum Historia. However, this had been written only in the 14th century. Although it took over many passages from the Historia ducum, as Guillaume Saint-Guillain pointed out, there were also passages from other chronicles, and some things were probably added by the author. These include the relatively precise information on the number of crusaders and ships. All in all, however, Simonsfeld’s insertion was so far ahead of the time that he took advantage of the established Venetian tradition, which in turn spread or stabilized its assumptions as contemporary, where they merely projected them back into the past. Henry Simonsfeld was at the same time full of respect for the achievements of the Doge. Thus, in 1876, he said to Enrico Dandolo: “Who would not have heard of this man who – one of the most memorable figures of the entire Middle Ages – aged, but wonderfully fresh, fiery spirit, at the head of the crusaders, marches across the sea and takes the capital of the ailing Eastern Empire by storm? Even if the darkness that hovers over the motives of this procession has not yet been completely cleared, it is undisputed that it is precisely from him that the greatness and the world position of Venice actually dates.

In his slim dissertation Der vierte Kreuzzug im Rahmen der Beziehungen des Abendlandes zu Byzanz (The Fourth Crusade in the context of the Occident’s relations with Byzantium), published in 1898, Walter Norden aptly organized the leading ideas of the research that had been done up to that time. According to this, in all accounts a “failure” of the crusade was assumed because it had never reached its goal Egypt. Consequently, another power must have diverted the crusade. From there the step to the calculated distraction and with it to the “betrayal” was obvious, finally up to the from the outset planned will for the destruction of the Byzantine empire. If Dandolo, Norden contradicts, had had this intention, he would have done so immediately after the first conquest of 1203. Moreover, had this been so, the Crusaders would not have presented the pretender to the throne to the people of Constantinople at all. Norden, who concedes that there had been tensions between the West and Byzantium, but that in no way could such a will to annihilation be deduced from this, for his part developed the thesis that Venice, in order to protect its commercial interests in Egypt, had wanted to divert the crusade to the Holy Land, to a “secondary country” of al-Adil.

Even in most of the more recent representations, a catalog of questions dominates, which, in the case of Enrico Dandolo, revolves around the world-political consequences that were not at all foreseeable for the contemporaries and from which they consequently could not have been guided. Power and morality were always at the center of attention, whereby the value system of the authors themselves came to the fore particularly conspicuously. This applies, for example, to the question of the “betrayal” of Christian Constantinople. The same applies to the ideas that the still strongly involved descendants had of the complex political conditions in Venice and Byzantium, in popular and novelistic representations. Moreover, the irritation that such an old and, moreover, blind man could accomplish such feats remains particularly prominent. Hermann Beckedorf, who wrote the section Der Vierte Kreuzzug und seine Folgen (The Fourth Crusade and its Consequences) in the 13th volume of Fischer Weltgeschichte, published in 1973, distinguishes between the supporters of the “coincidence theory” and those of the “intrigue theory” when it comes to the question of the causes of the “diversion” of the Crusade to Constantinople. The latter “accuse the pope, the Venetians, Boniface of Montferrat, or Philip of Swabia of having planned the attack on Byzantium long beforehand” (p. 307). Assuming that the Byzantine pretender to the throne did not appear in Italy only in August 1202, as Villehardouin claims, but, as Niketas and “some Latin sources” suggest, appeared in the West as early as 1201, there was at least enough time to spin such an intrigue-which, however, as Beckedorf objects, does not have to mean that such a plan was forged. Also, the role of the Venetians can be explained, at best, by the economic advantages they might have expected to gain. “On the other hand,” says the author, “Venice had only a small share left in the great Byzantine business.” “A conquest of the capital and the enthronement of a dependent emperor, on the other hand, would restore Venice’s old monopoly position and secure it for a long time” (p. 308).

The development of the Venetian constitution, and with it Dandolo’s rights and possibilities, but also their limits, was first brought into the discussion by Giorgio Cracco, who no longer regarded “the Venetians” as a closed bloc of unanimous views, unanimously pursuing certain goals on the basis of their vote. At the same time, even after Cracco, the notion of “ethnic purity” was dragged on as a justification of, as it were, natural cultural differences and evaluations, but it was also projected back as a motive for political action. For a long time, postcolonial approaches found little application in the research debate, such as the question of why the distinction between ethnic groups was emphasized on the part of the state, while it played an increasingly minor role in private documents or public rituals, in language and everyday behavior. Certain occasions, for example, allowed the emergence of a Cretan identity across linguistic and confessional boundaries to become visible, which was observed with suspicion in Venice. In 1314, therefore, all feudati were forbidden to appear at the show of troops with beards, probably to avoid looking “like Greeks.” This also applied to all others who had to perform feudal services. The interpretation of the Crusade and its consequences, according to Daniela Rando as recently as 2014, remains weighed down by colonialist stereotypes that pervade the history of research.


Popular representations, such as Antonio Quadri’s Otto giorni a Venezia, a richly illustrated work that went through numerous editions over several decades starting in 1821, and which was also translated into French, took up the established but also the embellished ideas of Dandolo and brought them into the general consciousness. Parts of Quadri’s work even made it into German under the title Four Days in Venice. Again, Dandolo was the leader of the attack on Constantinople, the first to reach the walls, spur his own to storm, and raise the standard of Venice, as Quadri writes in light of Jacopo Palma’s history painting in the Doge’s Palace (p. 55). Quadri, moreover, colports the legend of Dandolo, who supposedly rejected the imperial crown as the ‘height of patriotism’ (“colmo del patriotismo”) (p. XXIX). In Italy, the idea that Dandolo had not only renounced in favor of Balduin the imperial crown already given to him by election, but that he had ‘given’ it to him, had long since penetrated the encyclopedias.

The opportunity to present this renunciation of the imperial crown by Dandolo to a wider public arose from the renovation of the Teatro la Fenice in 1837. Giovanni Busato (1806-1886) painted La Rinuncia di Enrico Dandolo alla corona d’Oriente (‘Enrico Dandolo’s renunciation of the crown of the Orient’) on one of the new stage curtains, another was entitled Ingresso di Enrico Dandolo a Costantinopoli (‘Enrico Dandolo’s entry into Constantinople’).

In the Brockhaus of 1838 it says: “… there appears Heinrich Dandolo, the blinded, famous Doge of Venice, a hero full of youthful strength, at an age when old men become children, at the head of an army of Crusaders, before Constantinople and takes the city by storm”. In Meyers Konversations-Lexikon it says: “Enrico, the most famous of the family, founder of the rule of Venice over the Mediterranean”, and for the Handlexikon der Geschichte und Biographie, published in Berlin in 1881, Dandolo was also the “founder of the rule of Venice over the Mediterranean”.

August Daniel von Binzer’s Venice in 1844 traces the Dandolo family back to the first Doge Paulucius. He also passes on the legend of the blinding of Enrico Dandolo by the “Greek” emperor. To him he attributes, despite certain doubts in view of the old age, all essential deeds – which apparently leads him to assume likewise that the Doge was “not completely blinded” – and thus varies only slightly the Venetian state historiography. Quadri had already called the Doge only “quasi blind” (p. XXVIII). The Enciclopedia Italiana e Dizionario della Conversazione of 1843 mentions his ‘extreme age’ (“stato d’estrema vecchiezza”), but is silent on the question of his blindness. In the 23rd edition of Georg Weber’s Lehr- und Handbuch der Weltgeschichte, Alfred Baldamus, the author of the corresponding pages, writes that Dandolo did want to put the crusaders “staatsklug und dokräftig … in the service of the Republic of St. Mark”. Also, in 1204, the Venetians “created the foundations of a world power”, “they awakened civic-mindedness, diligence and industriousness, and thus gained the great advantage that their colonies defended themselves”, but the author omitted a number of the legends about Dandolo. He only means that Dandolo was “almost blinded”, without constructing a motive from it.

The extent to which the idea of the role and the characteristics of the Doge was part of the general body of knowledge, especially in Italy, even after World War I, such as the idea that Dandolo had laid the foundation of Venetian rule over the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, is evidenced by a letter by Gabriele d’Annunzio. In it, he proclaims to Giovanni Giuriati, a Venetian fascist friend of his, on September 4, 1919: “Forever above the Gulf of Venice lives the Italy of Enrico Dandolo, of Angelo Emo, of Luigi Rizzo and of Nazario Sauro.” Thus, the Serenissima’s claim to dominion over the Gulf of Venice became the claim of all Italy. The Rivista mensile della città di Venezia, published by the Municipality, published in 1927 an article about the tomb in “Costantinopoli” – of which Heinrich Kretschmayr already assumed it was from 1865 – and Pietro Orsi, the first fascist mayor of Venice, had a plaque with the inscription “Venetiarum inclito Duci Henrico Dandolo in hoc mirifico templo sepulto MCCV eius patriae haud immemores cives” put up in the same year. However, because of his old age, the Doge was quite bulky for the fascist idea of young, heroic warriors. Angelo Ginocchietti, commander in the upper Adriatic, accordingly declared him a “splendid very young old man”.

When the Gruppo veneziano, a group of financiers, industrialists and politicians led by Giuseppe Volpi (1877-1947) and Vittorio Cini (1885-1977), dominated the city of Venice politically and economically from about 1900 to 1945 – in the end in close collaboration with Mussolini’s fascists – numerous luxury hotels were built on the Lido di Venezia. The street names there are still based on Venetian colonies and the most important battle sites, as well as military and political figures of Venice. These include “via Lepanto” and “via Enrico Dandolo”.

In the novel Baudolino by Umberto Eco, which repeatedly refers to Constantinople and Niketas, the chronicler, Dandolo appears in five places. Once, in the capital, he had all the objects that had been stolen up to that point brought to the Hagia Sophia, in order to distribute them fairly from there. After deducting the debts, the value was to be converted into silver marks, with each knight receiving four, the mounted sergeants two, and the unmounted one part. “The reaction of the common foot soldiers, who were to get nothing, can be imagined.” (S. 255). It turned out that some relics of saints were multiple (p. 327). Dandolo, moreover, was the one who pressed most for full payment by Byzantium, but the pilgrims were only too happy to stay, having “found paradise” at the expense of the Greeks (p. 572). Eco likewise mentions the “violent clash” “between Doge Dandolo, standing on the prow of a galley, and Murtzuphlos, who insulted him from the shore.” Finally, “Dandolo and the other leaders” initially refrained from “squeezing the city” (p. 584 f.).

Motives for action and the views of Dandolo’s contemporaries

Under the specific conditions of source production and transmission, it is immensely problematic to try to fathom motives of the actors, in this case Enrico Dandolo’s: “The determining factor for the specific choice of the assumed reasons for action seems to be above all the personal intuition and the empathic empathy of the respective historian,” Timo Gimbel noted in his dissertation. In order to get closer to the motivations, Gimbel, in his 2014 thesis Die Debatte über die Ziele des Vierten Kreuzzugs: Ein Beitrag zur Lösung geschichtswissenschaftlich umstrittener Fragen mit Hilfe sozialwissenschaftlicher Instrumente (The Debate on the Goals of the Fourth Crusade: A Contribution to the Resolution of Historiographically Controversial Questions Using Social Science Instruments), undertook a source weighting, i.e., much greater weight was given to statements made close in time than to those that already knew the outcome of the crusade and could gauge part of its consequences, or were too far removed in time from the events. Other sources are therefore hardly considered, because they were all too obviously biased, aimed primarily at the defamation of the respective opponent, or else the justification of the closer. Consequently, in addition to the aforementioned chroniclers, the possibly more neutral regalia of Innocent III, as well as a letter by Hugo of St. Pol, were the focus, similarly to the Encomion of Nikephoros Chrysoberges, finally the works of the minstrel Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and the Gesta Innocentii.

The regalia of Pope Innocent are official epistolary correspondences. In our case, the reg. VII

The letter of Hugh of St. Pol, which reached the West from Constantinople in three versions, was sent after July 18, 1203, that is, after the first capture of Constantinople. One version was sent to the Archbishop of Cologne, Adolf I, which is preserved in the Annales maximi Colonienses. A second, contradictory version has survived only in an 18th century edition, and can hardly be used to reconstruct the events around 1200. The third version went to a vassal of Hugo named “R. de Balues”. Rudolf Pokorny believes to be able to resolve the name abbreviation “R” with Robin and thus with Robin de Bailleul. It is of great detail and personal character. In this version, the statements about the motives of the main actors of the crusade are of the greatest importance for the period between the landing on Corfu and the first occupation of Constantinople. Robert de Clari served under Pierre d’Amiens, who in turn was part of Hugo de St. Pol’s retinue. Hugo reports that after the arrival of the pretender to the throne at Corfu, little more than 20 men pressed for execution of the plan to move to Constantinople, including the leaders of the Crusade. Hugh reports that “super hoc autem fuit inter nos maxima dissensio et ingens tumultus”. However, the urging of the leaders of the Crusade and Alexios’ promises to provide food and 10,000 men to liberate Jerusalem, plus 500 men annually and 200,000 silver marks from the doge, after this “extreme dissension” and a “tumult”, retuned the men, who eventually saw few other options to get to the Holy Land.

From a similar point of view as Robert de Clari and the author of the letter to R de Bailleul reports the also unknown author of the Devastatio Constantinopolitana written quite close to the time. He likewise advocates the point of view of simple people, but he is very concise. The author probably comes from the Rhineland and criticizes primarily the leaders of the crusade. He is rather hostile to the Venetians, as he is to all the rich who had betrayed the pauperes Christi (the poor Christ) in his eyes. According to him, the whole crusade was one chain of betrayals. In the process, the Venetians’ greed drove up food prices; it was they who took advantage of the opportunity to subjugate their Adriatic neighbors. In the conquest of Zara alone, one hundred crusaders and Venetians died. Several thousand crusaders would have left the army afterwards. Even after Alexios’ arrival, the poor swore never to move against Greece. In the distribution of the booty at the end still unfairly each knight received 20 marks, each cleric 10, each foot soldier 5 marks.

Little attention has been paid to the two poems of the minstrel Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, born in the southern French county of Orange. He came from the lower nobility and in the early 1180s met Boniface of Montferrat in northern Italy, with whom he became friends. From 1193 until Boniface’s death in 1207, the singer accompanied him continuously. Boniface even knighted Raimbaut after the latter saved his life. In June or July 1204, the singer wrote his Occitan Luyric Poem XX, which is the only contemporary source that reports the plundering and destruction of churches and palaces. Through these acts, the crusaders would have been guilty, according to the singer. In his second poem one gets unusual insights into the dichotomy in which the crusade plunged the author and other crusaders, who had become great sinners through the destructions – clerics and laymen alike: “Q’el e nos em tuig pecchador

These little-noticed sources prove that the early tradition was dominated above all by the question of whether it was justifiable to divert a crusade against Christian cities. This, in conjunction with the pope’s unambiguous view on the matter, influenced the later account to the greatest extent, so that accusations of guilt and the need for legitimization came to the fore, which at the same time pushed the enormous social tensions into the background, which threatened to blow up the crusade even before Zara. Various justifications were sought in accordance with the changing times and political orientations. At the moment of the event, social antagonisms dominated with their explosive force, which, according to contemporary authors, were reflected in completely contradictory ideas about the goals of the war and the role of the crusaders.

That the explosive power was enormous, especially when it was increased by the Pope’s refusal to redirect the crusade after Zara against Constantinople, is proven by a source that has also received little attention. It goes back to the so-called Anonymus of Soissons, who in turn had at his disposal direct reports from one of the earliest crusade participants, namely Nivelon de Chérisy († September 13, 1207), the bishop of Soissons. Until 1992, the account was available only in an edition that was difficult to find. Nivelon de Chérisy, who had already taken the cross at the turn of the year 1199 to 1200, returned from the crusade on June 27, 1205 with important relics, such as the head of the Baptist and parts of the cross on which Jesus had been executed, to bring reinforcements to the Bosporus and then set off with these men towards the East. But he did not reach his destination, for he perished in Apulia. The source must have been written between his return and his new departure in 1207. Nivelon was one of the central figures of the crusade. He pinned the cross on the shoulder of Boniface of Montferrat, he connected as emissary the crusader army before Zara with the Curia. In Rome he received verbal instructions not to divert the crusade again under any circumstances, precisely against Constantinople. But Nivelon conspired with the crusade leaders and thus prevented the remaining crusaders from learning anything of the papal refusal. On April 11, when the army was outside Constantinople, he and other clerics preached that it was lawful to fight the schismatic and treacherous Greeks. His ship, the Paradis, was one of the two ships that first reached the city’s sea walls. Nivelon was also among the twelve Latin imperial electors; he was the herald of the election result. In 1205 he became Latin Archbishop of Thessaloniki.

Besides the fact that the anonymous author mentions the concealment of the papal prohibition by Dandolo and the other crusade leaders, the title of the work indicates what the author was really concerned about: About the land of Jerusalem and in what way from the city of Constantinople to this church the relics were brought. In the eyes of the author, the pilgrims acted on behalf of God, repented and won an albeit incomplete victory for Christianity. In doing so, they brought to Soissons what pilgrims were looking for, namely relics and the direct connection to the saints.

The sources, which for a long time were less considered, are of particular value for historical reconstruction, since they emerged directly from contemporary events, and thus predate the solidification phase of Venetian state historiography and lie outside the aforementioned legitimation processes. They reveal that there were completely different ideas below the leading groups whose views and disputes later dominated the tradition. Their explosive power was based on fundamentally different perceptions of the tasks and attitudes of a “pilgrim”. But they also show that these cannot be separated from the social tensions between the few leading men, first and foremost Enrico Dandolo, as well as the upper nobility as a whole, and the simple crusaders. Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, the Anonymus of Soissons or Hugo of St. Pol thus gain considerably more weight as eyewitnesses, after the state historiography since the 14th century and the chronical tradition had almost exclusively determined the image of Enrico Dandolo.

The essential archival records of pragmatic writing, which until a few years ago were used almost exclusively for historical reconstruction, are in the Venice State Archives, most of which in turn are accessible in scattered editions, such as the Resolutions of the Great Council edited by Roberto Cessi in 1931, which, however, begin decades after Dandolo’s death. More contemporary are the documents on the older commercial and state history of the Republic of Venice edited by Tafel and Thomas as part of the Fontes rerum Austriacarum, vol. XII, a volume published in Vienna as early as 1856 (pp. 127, 129, 132, 142, 216 ff, 234 f., 260 f., 441, 444 ff, 451, 522 f., etc.). He offers individual documents, just as they do Raimondo Morozzo della Rocca, Antonino Lombardo: Documenti del commercio veneziano nei secoli XI-XIII, Turin 1940 (n. 257, Alexandria, September 1174, 342, Rialto, September 1183) and the Nuovi documenti del commercio veneziano dei sec. XI-XIII, Venice 1953 (n. 33, 35, 45 ff) provide.

Of central importance from the Venetian point of view, however, is the chronical tradition, including the Historia Ducum Veneticorum of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, XIV, which Henry Simonsfeld edited in Hanover in 1883, as well as the Andreae Danduli Ducis Chronica per extensum descripta aa. 46-1280 d.C. (= Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, XII,1), ed. by Ester Pastorello, Nicola Zanichelli, Bologna 1939, pp. 272-281 (digitalizat, p. 272 f.). Clearly more detailed, but not always easy to interpret against the background of France’s writing traditions in terms of leaders and topoi, and then also with regard to the political customs of Venice and the Byzantine Empire: Geoffroy de Villehardouin: La conquête de Constantinople, ed. by Edmond Faral, Paris 1938; then Robert de Clari: La conquête de Constantinople, ed. by Philippe Lauer, Paris 1956; the Venetiarum Historia vulgo Petro Iustiniano Iustiniani filio adiudicata, ed. by Roberto Cessi and Fanny Bennato, Venice 1964, pp. 131-144, and the Byzantine Nicetae Choniatae Historia, ed. by Jan Louis van Dieten in Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, XI, 1-2, Berlin et al. 1975. In addition, Melchiore Roberti: Dei giudici veneziani prima del 1200, in: Nuovo Archivio Veneto, n. s. 8 (1904) 230-245.

Recently, sources written in the course of the Fourth Crusade or shortly thereafter have gained greater weight, although these have already been compiled since 2000 in an overarching source edition on the IV Crusade. These include individual letters to the Pope, especially that of Enrico Dandolo, who has long shaped the image of the Doge (in one case only the papal reply has survived), the letter of June (?) 1204 is in the papal registry.

Other holdings are in the Venice State Archives, such as the Codice diplomatico Lanfranchi, n. 2520, 2527, 2609, 2676, 2888, 3403, 3587, 3589, 3590 f., 3700, 4104, 4123, 4182, 4544, or have already been edited.

This contribution is based primarily, where not otherwise indicated, on Giorgio Cracco: Dandolo, Enrico, in: Massimiliano Pavan (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 32, Rome 1986, pp 450-458. In evaluating those sources that have had little input into the biography of Dandolo, the account follows Timo Gimbel: Die Debatte über die Ziele des Vierten Kreuzzugs: Ein Beitrag zur Lösung geschichtswissenschaftlich umstrittener Fragen mit Hilfe sozialwissenschaftlicher Instrumente, Diss., Mainz 2014. The basic literature used was:


  1. Enrico Dandolo
  2. Enrico Dandolo
  3. „S. Marco a destra ritto in piedi, cinto il capo di aureola, col libro dei Vangeli nella mano sinistra, consegna colla destra al Doge un vessillo con asta lunghissima, che divide la moneta in due parti pressoché uguali. A sinistra il Doge, vestito di ricco manto ornato di gemme, tiene colla sinistra un volume, rotolo, che rappresenta la promissione ducale, e colla destra regge il vessillo, la cui banderuola colla croce è volta a sinistra. Entrambe le figure sono di faccia, le teste colla barba sono scoperte; quella del Doge ha i capelli lunghi che si arricciano al basso“ (Nicolò Papadopoli: Enrico Dandolo e le sue monete, in: Rivista Italiana di Numismatica e Scienze Affini 3 (1890) 507–519, hier: S. 515 (Digitalisat).)
  4. Thomas F. Madden: Venice and Constantinople in 1171 and 1172: Enrico Dandolo’s attitudes towards Byzantium, in: Mediterranean Historical Review 8,2 (1993) 166–185.
  5. Thomas F. Madden: „Dandolo became Venice’s most prominent doge, not for his various reforms, his diplomatic initiatives, or even his great age, but for his involvement in the Fourth Crusade.“ (Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, S. 117):
  6. ^ Il documento notarile che testimonia l’evento indica anche come all’epoca Enrico Dandolo fosse legalmente cieco, non comparendovi la sua firma, ma per lui quella del notaio, fatto insolito per un letterato – Madden 2003
  7. ^ Franco Cardini e Marina Montesano, Storia Medievale, Firenze, Le Monnier, 2006, p. 237.«Le terre che gli erano appartenute (all’imperatore Alessio) venivano così divise: per un terzo andavano a Baldovino conte di Fiandra, eletto dai capi crociati imperatore di un nuovo Impero latino di Costantinopoli; per un terzo agli altri nobili crociati; e infine la restante parte ai veneziani, che si appropriavano delle isole greche e degli scali navali più importanti, assicurandosi così il monopolio dei traffici orientali dai quali, in particolare, venivano esclusi i loro odiati avversari genovesi.»
  8. ^ Madden 2003, p. 44.
  9. ^ Madden 2003, p. 47.
  10. Madden, Thomas F. (2003). Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University. p. 44.
  11. Madden. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore. p. 47.
  12. Madden. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. p. 80.
  13. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice: “The third, Vitale Dandolo, had died in 1174”.
  14. Madden. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. p. 48.
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