Fourth Crusade

Mary Stone | June 4, 2023


The fourth crusade – the crusade in 1202-1204. At the end of the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III took over the organization of a new campaign to the East.

At first the crusaders intended to sail across the sea to Egypt. They hired ships from the “Queen of the Seas” – Venice, gathered on one of its islands. The Venetian governor (called Doge at the time) Enrico Dandolo demanded a hefty fee of 85,000 marks (more than 20 tons) in silver for the transport. The crusaders could not raise such a sum. Venice at this time was engaged in a bitter struggle with the Byzantine Empire for supremacy in trade with the eastern countries. Venetian merchants had long dreamed of dealing the Byzantines a blow from which they could not recover. They decided to use the military forces of the crusaders for this purpose. The ruler of Venice persuaded the knights to intervene in the internal affairs of Byzantium, where at the time there was a fierce struggle for the imperial throne.

In 1204 the “liberators of the Holy Sepulcher (the place where Jesus Christ was buried)” stormed the Byzantine capital. Having broken into Christian Constantinople, they began to plunder and destroy palaces and temples, houses and warehouses. Vaults of ancient manuscripts and valuable works of art were perished in the flames of fires. Crusaders plundered the temple of Hagia Sophia. The clergymen who came with them took many relics to European churches and monasteries; many Christian townspeople were also killed.

The events of the Fourth Crusade were chronicled both by the direct participants in the siege of Constantinople, the Knights Geoffroy de Villarduen, Robert de Clary, and Priest Anonymous of Halberstadt, and by their contemporary clerics, Gunther of Paris and Alberic of Trois-Fontaine, who based their accounts not on their own impressions but on eyewitness accounts. Their works are supplemented by the letters of Hugo de Saint-Paul, a participant in the capture of Constantinople, and by the information given by the English Cistercian monk Ralph of Cogshall and the Venetian chronicler Martino da Canale, which is much less objective, especially as regards the latter. The Byzantine historians Nicitas Choniat, Nicolas Mesarite, and the Arabian author Ibn al-Asir are noteworthy among the Oriental authors.

According to the original agreement, the Venetians undertook to deliver the French crusaders by sea to the shores of the Holy Land and to provide them with arms and provisions. Out of the expected 30,000 French warriors, only 12,000 arrived in Venice. Because of their small number, they could not pay for the chartered ships and equipment. The Venetians then proposed that in return the French help them attack the port city of Zadar in Dalmatia, subject to the Hungarian king, which was Venice’s main rival on the Adriatic. The original plan – to use Egypt as a springboard for an attack on Palestine – was temporarily shelved. Learning about the plans of the Venetians, the Pope forbade the campaign, but the expedition took place and cost its participants excommunication. In November 1202 the combined armies of the Venetians and the French struck Zadar and thoroughly looted it.

The Venetians then suggested that the French once again deviate from the route and turn against Constantinople in order to restore the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to the throne. Thrown off the throne and blinded by his brother Alexius, he sat in Constantinople prison, while his son – also Alexius – pounded the doors of European rulers, trying to persuade them to march on Constantinople, and handing out promises of generous rewards. The crusaders also believed these promises, thinking that in return the emperor would give them money, men and equipment for an expedition into Egypt. Ignoring the Pope’s injunction, the crusaders arrived at the walls of Constantinople, took the city and returned Isaac’s throne. However, the question of payment of the promised reward hung in the air – the restored emperor “changed his mind”, and after a rebellion in Constantinople and the emperor and his son were deposed, hopes for compensation have faded altogether. Then the crusaders took offense. According to the accounts of the participants of the crusade, Margrave Boniface, standing under the walls of the city, gave the emperor a message: “We took you out of the hole and we will put you into the hole”. The crusaders conquered Constantinople for the second time, and this time they plundered it for three days. The greatest cultural values were destroyed, and many Christian relics were plundered. The Byzantine Empire was replaced by the Latin Empire, on the throne of which was seated Count Baldwin IX of Flanders.

The empire, which existed until 1261, included only Thrace and Greece, where the French knights were rewarded with feudal estates. The Venetians, on the other hand, owned the harbor of Constantinople with the right to levy duties and achieved a trade monopoly within the Latin Empire and the Aegean islands. In this way they gained the most from the Crusade. The crusaders never reached the Holy Land. The Pope tried to take advantage of the situation by excommunicating the crusaders and placing the empire under his protection, hoping to strengthen the alliance between the Greek and Catholic churches, but this alliance proved unstable and the existence of the Latin Empire contributed to the deepening of the schism.

In 1198 the Christians made several unsuccessful attempts to recapture Jerusalem. Innocent III wanted to lead a crusade and thereby restore the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, which had been undermined by Germany. After sending out legates to all Catholic countries demanding that they give their fortieth portion of their possessions to the new crusade, the Pope began fundraising (in the same year 1198).

Innocent III (pope), in a crusade message, promised all knights who would participate in the Holy Land war exemption from taxation, forgiveness of all debts, safety and inviolability of property, and new lands. This message attracted a great number of poor and indebted people who planned to improve their situation at the expense of the crusade.

However, major knights and kings were in no hurry to participate in the campaign, as many were busy with local wars. The church sent priests to knights’ tournaments and assemblies to persuade the warriors to help liberate the Holy Land. The most famous such preacher was Fulco Nölli, who attracted 200,000 warriors to the campaign and raised enormous sums of money.

The crusader leaders, gathered in France by the summer of 1200, asked Venice, which had the best military and transport fleet at the time, to transport their army to Egypt. In 1201 Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, signed a treaty with Crusader ambassadors under which Venice joined the Crusade, and undertook to transport 4,500 knights, 9,000 squires and 20,000 infantrymen on condition of paying 85,000 marks in silver. In June 1202 the ships were ready, but only a third of the “pilgrims” arrived in Venice. Others set out via Flanders, Marseille, Apulia, or were delayed in their journey. The leaders of the march, even by selling their jewels and giving cash, were able to raise only a fraction of the sum that needed to be paid in full. Blockaded on the island of Lido, the warriors of Christ needed everything they needed and began to grumble; the campaign was in danger of failing. The Doge then offered the leader of the campaign, the Marquis of Monferrat, Boniface, a reprieve on the condition that the soldiers would help Venice capture the Dalmatian port of Zadar (during the Fourth Crusade Zadar was a major port city and commercial center on the eastern Adriatic coast, a rival of Venice), which had just before been placed under the authority of the Hungarian king, who had also kissed the cross (having vowed to go on the crusade). Despite the ban of the Pope to raise arms against Christians and the protest of some of the nobles and ordinary “pilgrims” who then left the camp and returned home or continued their journey to Palestine on their own (among them, for example, Simon de Montfort, 5th Count of Leicester, the future leader of the Crusade against the Albigensians), the princes yielded to the demand of Venice, and after a fierce two weeks siege, November 24, 1202 Zadar was taken by storm and looted. By this time it was too late to undertake an overseas crossing and the expedition wintered in Zadar. Three days later a real war broke out between the Franks and the Venetians, with many casualties. The leaders of the campaign with great difficulty managed to end the conflict.

Pope Innocent III excommunicated all those involved in the sacking of Christian Zadar, but soon, for political reasons, he changed his anger for mercy, formally leaving in force the excommunication of the Venetians, the initiators of the treacherous capture, and allowing the Crusaders to further use the Venetian fleet to send their detachments to conquer Constantinople.

The organizers of the Fourth Crusade, united and inspired by Pope Innocent III, initially made great efforts to strengthen the religious fervor of the crusaders and to remind them of their historical mission to liberate the Holy Land. Innocent III sent a message to the Byzantine emperor, encouraging him to participate in the campaign and at the same time reminding him of the need to restore the church’s union. This issue was evidently central to Innocent III, who could hardly count on the participation of a Byzantine army in the crusade being contrived by the Roman Catholic Church. The emperor rejected the pope’s proposals, and relations between them became extremely strained. The pope’s dislike of Byzantium was in no small part responsible for making the Byzantine capital the target of the crusading army’s campaign. There is also another version of events.

In the autumn of 1202 the crusaders set out for the then large trading city on the eastern Adriatic coast, Zadar, which belonged to Hungary. By capturing and ravaging it, the Crusaders thus paid part of their debt to the Venetians, who were interested in establishing their dominance in this important area. The conquest and defeat of the great Christian city was a preparation for a further change in the objectives of the crusade, for not only the pope, but also the French and German feudal lords were at this time secretly hatching a plan to send the crusaders against Byzantium. Zadar became a kind of rehearsal for the campaign against Constantinople. Gradually the ideological justification for such a campaign also emerged. The leaders of the crusaders were increasingly persistent in saying that their failures were attributable to Byzantine actions. The Byzantines were accused of not only failing to help the warriors of the Cross, but even of pursuing a hostile policy toward the Crusader states by forging alliances against them with the Seljuk Turkish rulers of Asia Minor. These sentiments were fueled by Venetian merchants, for Venice was a trading rival of Byzantium. To all this was added the memory of the massacre of the Latins in Constantinople. The Crusaders’ desire for the enormous booty promised by the capture of the Byzantine capital also played a major role.

The wealth of Constantinople at that time was legendary. Such tales fired the imagination and the passion for profit which so distinguished the soldiers of the crusading armies.

The original plan of the Fourth Crusade, to organize a maritime expedition on Venetian ships to Egypt, was changed: the crusading army was to move to the capital of Byzantium. A suitable pretext for an attack on Constantinople was also found. Another palace coup took place there, as a result of which Emperor Isaac II of the Angels dynasty, who had ruled the empire since 1185, was dethroned, blinded and imprisoned in 1195. His son Alexei turned to the Crusaders for help. In April 1203 he made a treaty with the crusader leaders on the island of Corfu, promising them a large sum of money. As a result, the crusaders set out for Constantinople as fighters for the restoration of the legitimate emperor’s power.

In June 1203 ships with the crusading army approached the Byzantine capital. The situation of the city was extremely difficult, because the main means of defense, which had saved many times before – the Byzantine fleet was now almost gone. Concluding an alliance with Venice in 1187, the Byzantine emperors reduced their military forces at sea to a minimum, relying on allies. This was one of the mistakes that decided the fate of Constantinople. It was left to rely only on the fortress walls. On June 23 the Venetian ships with crusaders on board appeared on the roadstead. Emperor Alexei III, brother of the deposed Isaac II, tried to organize a defense from the sea, but the Crusader ships broke through the chain, which closed the entrance to the Golden Horn. On July 5 the Venetian galleys entered the bay, the knights disembarked and made camp near the Blachernae Palace, which was situated in the northwestern part of the city. On July 17, the troops of Alexius III practically capitulated to the crusaders after they captured two dozen towers on the fortress walls.

This was followed by the flight of Alexius III from Constantinople. Then the townspeople freed the deposed Isaac II from prison and proclaimed him emperor. This did not please the crusaders at all, for they were then losing the huge sums of money that Isaac’s son Alexius had promised them. Under pressure from the crusaders, Alexei was declared emperor, and for about five months there was a joint reign of father and son. Alexei went to great lengths to collect the sums needed to pay the crusaders, so that the population suffered enormously from the extortions.

The situation in the capital was becoming increasingly tense. Crusader extortions intensified the enmity between Greeks and Latins, the emperor was hated by almost all the townspeople. Signs of a riot appeared. In January 1204 the common people of Constantinople, who gathered in vast crowds in the squares, began to demand the election of a new emperor. Isaac II appealed to the crusaders for help, but his intentions were betrayed to the people by one of the dignitaries – Alexei Murzufl. A riot broke out in the city, which ended with the election of Alexei Murzufl as emperor. According to the leaders of the crusaders, it was a good time to seize the Byzantine capital.

While camped in a suburb of Constantinople, the crusaders not only influenced life in the empire’s capital for more than six months, but also became increasingly enraged at the sight of its riches. An idea of this is given by the words of one of the participants in this crusader campaign, the Amiensian knight Robert de Clary, author of a memoir entitled The Conquest of Constantinople. “There was,” he wrote, “such an abundance of riches, so much gold and silver utensils, so many precious stones, that it seemed truly a miracle how such magnificent riches were brought here. Not since the creation of the world have such treasures, so splendid and precious, been seen or gathered … And in the forty richest cities of the earth, I suppose, there were not so many riches as there were in Constantinople!” Tidbits of booty teased the appetites of the crusading warriors. The plundering raids of their detachments into the city brought considerable hardship to its inhabitants, and churches began to lose some of their treasures. But the worst time for the city came in the early spring of 1204, when the leaders of the crusaders and representatives of Venice signed a treaty on the division of Byzantine territories, which included the capture of its capital.

The crusaders decided to storm the city from the Golden Horn, near the Blachernae Palace. The Catholic priests who were attached to the Crusader armies supported their morale in every possible way. They readily absolved the sins of all those who wished to participate in the impending assault, instilling in the soldiers the idea that the capture of Constantinople was God-pleasing.

First, the ditches in front of the fortress walls were filled, after which the knights went on the attack. Byzantine warriors fought back fiercely, but still on April 9 the crusaders managed to break into Constantinople. They failed to gain a foothold in the city, however, and on April 12 the attack resumed. With the help of assault ladders the advance group of attackers climbed the fortress wall. Another group made a breach in one section of the wall and then smashed several of the fortress gates, acting from the inside. A fire broke out in the city, destroying two-thirds of the buildings. Byzantine resistance was broken and Alex Murzufl fled. True, the whole day there were bloody battles in the streets. In the morning on April 13, 1204 in Constantinople the head of the crusading army the Italian prince Boniface of Monferrates entered.

The city-fortress, which had withstood the onslaught of many mighty enemies, was for the first time captured by the enemy. What the hordes of Persians, Avars and Arabs could not do, the knightly army of no more than 20,000 men managed to do. One of the participants in the Crusader crusade, the Frenchman Geoffroy de Villarduen, author of the appreciated by scholars “History of the capture of Constantinople,” believed that the ratio of forces of the besiegers and the besieged was 1 to 200. He marveled at the victory of the crusaders, pointing out that never before had a handful of warriors besieged a city with so many defenders. The ease with which the crusaders conquered the vast and well fortified city was the result of the severe socio-political crisis experienced by the Byzantine Empire at that time. The fact that some of the Byzantine aristocracy and merchants were interested in trade relations with the Latins also played an important role. In other words, there was a kind of “fifth column” in Constantinople.

The Pope’s Position

Upon learning that the crusaders were on their way to Constantinople, Pope Innocent III became enraged. He sent the leaders of the campaign a letter reminding them of their vow to liberate the Holy Land and expressly forbidding them to go to the Byzantine capital. They ignored it, and in May 1204 they sent Innocent a reply letter informing him that Constantinople had been taken and inviting the pope to reconsider his position and recognize the conquest of the Byzantine capital as a gift from God. Innocent also received reports of atrocities and desecration of temples during the sacking of the city, but apparently paid no attention to them. He acknowledged the fait accompli and blessed it, agreeing that Balduin was the legitimate emperor and Morozini the legitimate patriarch.

For more than half a century the ancient city on the Bosphorus promontory was in the power of the Crusaders. On May 16, 1204, in the church of St. Sophia, Count Baldwin of Flanders was solemnly crowned as the first emperor of the new empire, which contemporaries did not call Latin, but the Empire of Constantinople, or Romania. Considering themselves the successors of the Byzantine emperors, its rulers retained much of the etiquette and ceremonial of palace life. But the emperor treated the Greeks with extreme disdain.

In the new state, the territory of which at first was limited to the capital, soon began to quarrel. The multilingual knighthood only acted in harmony during the conquest and plundering of the city. Now the former unity was forgotten. It almost came to open clashes between the emperor and some crusader leaders. To this were added conflicts with the Byzantines over the division of Byzantine lands. As a result, the Latin emperors had to change tactics. Already Heinrich of Hennegau (1206-1216) began to seek support in the old Byzantine nobility and allowed it to run the state. Some Byzantines became his cronies. A great success was achieved by the Byzantine archon Theodore Vrana, who with the consent of the Latin emperor began to govern Adrianople and Didymotich, which became part of the Latin empire.

In the Latin Empire, the Orthodox Church was preserved. Most of the churches in Constantinople belonged to the Orthodox. Under Emperor Henry I equal taxation was introduced for the Orthodox and Catholic churches. In 1213 the Latin emperor protected the Orthodox from forced conversion to Unia, which Cardinal Pelagius attempted. Wishing to smooth over the conflict caused by the fact that part of the lands of the Byzantine Orthodox Church had been appropriated by the secular lords, the Latin emperor Henry I conceded to the clergy 1

The Venetians had great influence in the lands of the Latin Empire. The territories subordinated to Venice and involved in its trade relations developed better than the rest of the lands of the empire. A large part of Constantinople, three quarters of eight, passed into the hands of the Venetians. The Venetians had their own judicial apparatus in the city. They made up half the council of the imperial curia. The Venetians got a huge part of the spoils after the looting of the city.

Many valuables were taken to Venice, and some of the wealth became the foundation of the enormous political power and commercial strength that the Venetian colony in Constantinople had acquired. Some historians do not unreasonably write that after the catastrophe of 1204 there were actually two empires – the Latin and the Venetian. Indeed, in the hands of the Venetians passed not only part of the capital, but also the lands in Thrace and on the coast of the Propontid. The territorial gains of the Venetians outside Constantinople were small compared with their plans at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, but this did not prevent the Venetian Doges from further magnificently calling themselves the “lords of a quarter and a half of the Byzantine Empire. However, the Venetians’ dominance in the commercial and economic life of Constantinople (they possessed, in particular, all the most important harbors on the shores of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn) was almost more important than the territorial gains. Once settled in Constantinople as masters, the Venetians increased their commercial influence throughout the fallen Byzantine Empire.

The capital of the Latin Empire was for several decades the seat of the most noble feudal lords. They preferred the palaces of Constantinople to their castles in Europe. The nobility of the empire quickly became accustomed to Byzantine luxury, and adopted the habit of constant festivities and merry feasts. The consumerist character of life in Constantinople under the Latins became even more pronounced. The crusaders came to this region with the sword and in half a century of their rule never learned how to create. The empire existed under conditions of constant wars with the former Byzantine lands and neighboring states. The financial condition of this crusader state was bad enough for a long time. In the middle of the thirteenth century the Latin Empire fell into complete decline and lost many Byzantine lands, shrinking to Constantinople and its environs.

The Fourth Crusade, which was transformed from a “journey to the Holy Sepulchre” into a Venetian commercial enterprise that led to the sacking of Constantinople by the Latins, marked a profound crisis of the Crusader movement. The result of this campaign was the final split of Western and Byzantine Christianity. Many call the Fourth Crusade “cursed” because the crusaders, who vowed to return the Holy Land to the bosom of Christianity, turned into dishonest mercenaries who only hunted for easy profits.

Having plundered the richest and largest city in Europe, they did not go to Jerusalem, but settled in Byzantium, creating their own state with Constantinople as its capital, the Latin Empire.

Byzantium itself ceased to exist as a state for more than 50 years after this campaign; the Latin Empire, the Empire of Nicaea, the Despotate of Epirus and the Empire of Trebizond were created in place of the former empire, as well as the Kingdom of Thessalonica, the Duchy of Athens, the Principality of Achaea, the Senoria of Negroponte. The Venetians founded the Duchy of Archipelago (or Duchy of Naxos). Part of the former imperial lands in Asia Minor were seized by the Seljuks, in the Balkans by Serbia, Bulgaria, and Venice. It was not until 1261 that the Latin Empire fell and Byzantium was restored as an orthodox monarchy, but could never again achieve its former power.


  1. Четвёртый крестовый поход
  2. Fourth Crusade
  3. 1 2 Харрис, 2017, с. 305.
  4. 1 2 3 4 С. П. Карпов Латинская империя // Православная энциклопедия под редакцией Патриарха Московского и Всея Руси Кирилла, Т. 40, С. 148—153.
  5. ^ a b Alvise Zorzi, La Repubblica del Leone – Storia di Venezia, Milano, Rusconi, 19802
  6. ^ Frederic C. Lane, Storia di Venezia, Torino, Edizioni Einaudi, 1978, p. 44.
  7. ^ a b c Steven Runciman, Geschichte der Kreuzzüge, dtv, ISBN 3-423-04670-8
  8. ^ Frederic C. Lane, Storia di Venezia, Edizioni Einaudi, 1978, Torino, p. 44
  9. ^ În 1204, Bonifaciu I de Monferrat s-a căsătorit cu văduva împăratului bizantin Isaac al II-lea Angelos, Margareta, fiică a regelui Béla al III-lea al Ungariei și a soției acestuia Ana de Châtillon.
  10. Queller et Madden 1997, p. 1.
  11. a et b Balard 1988, p. 39.
  12. a b c d et e (en) Ernest Barker, « Crusades » Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 7, 1911. [lire en ligne]
  13. a b et c « La Quatrième croisade (1202-1204) », sur Histoire pour tous (consulté le 14 mai 2021)
  14. Galibert 1847, p. 53.
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.