Zeit der Kreuzzüge
um 1090-1153: Bernhard von Clairvaux, Kirchenlehrer; Gründer der Zisterzienser
1096-1099: 1. Kreuzzug
Ziel: Befreiung des Heiligen Grabes zu Jerusalem
Teilnehmer: Ritterkreuzzug unter Gottfried von Bouillon
Ergebnis: Eroberung Antiochias (1098), Eroberung Jerusalems (1099),
Gründung des christlichen Königreichs Jerusalem und des Fürstentums Antiochia,
Gründung der Grafschaften Edessa und Tripolis.
1123: 1. Laterankonzil, 9. ökumenisches Konzil
1139: 2. Laterankonzil, 10. ökumenisches Konzil
1147-1149: 2. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Fall Edessas (1141)
Anführer: Deutscher König Konrad III., Frz. König Ludwig VII.
Ergebnis: Christliche Niederlagen von Dorylaion und vor Damaskus, Eroberung Lissabons.
1139: 3. Laterankonzil, 11. ökumenisches Konzil
1175-1221: Dominikus, Gründer der Dominikaner
1182-1226: Franz von Assisi, Gründer der Franziskaner
1189-1192: 3. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Niederlage bei Hattin 1187
Teilnehmer: Kaiser Friedrich I., engl. König Richard I., frz. König Philipp II.
Ziel: Rückeroberung Jerusalems und Akkos
Ergebnis: Rückeroberung Akkos 1191, Gruendung des Deutschen Ordens durch Buerger von Bremen und Luebeck in Akkon.
1195-1231: Antonius von Padua, Kirchenlehrer, kürzeste Heiligsprechungsprozedur aller Zeiten
1200-1280: Albertus Magnus, Kirchenlehrer; Theologe, Naturforscher, Philosoph
1202-1204: 4. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Aufruf von Papst Innozenz III. (1198)
Teilnehmer: überwiegend frz. Adlige
Ziel: Rückeroberung Jerusalems
Ergebnis: Misserfolg, Eroberung Konstantinopels auf Wunsch Venedigs,
Errichtung des Lateinischen Kaisertums (1204-1261)
1213-1221: 5. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Aufruf von Papst Innozenz III. (1213)
Teilnehmer: ungar. König Andreas u.a.
Ziel: Befreiung Jerusalems (von Ägypten aus)
Ergebnis: Eroberung Damiettes am Nil (1219), Kapitulation der Kreuzfahrer bei Mansurah (1221) und Abzug
1215: 4. Laterankonzil, 12. ökumenisches Konzil
1221-1274: Johannes Bonaventura, Kirchenlehrer
um 1225-1274: Thomas von Aquin, grosser Kirchenlehrer
1228-1229: Kreuzzug Kaiser Friedrichs II.
Auslöser: Kreuzzugsgelöbnis von 1215
Nach Abbruch wegen Krankheit im Jahr 1227 brach Kaiser Friedrich II. 1228 als Gebannter Papst Gregors IX. zum zweiten Mal auf.
Ergebnis: Rückgabe Jerusalems an die Christen für 10 Jahre durch Sultan al-Kamil
1245: 1. Konzil von Lyon, 13. ökumenisches Konzil
1248-1254: 6. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Islamische Rückeroberung Jerusalems (1244)
Teilnehmer: frz. König Ludwig IX.
Ergebnis: Eroberung Damiettes am Nil (1249), Niederlage der Kreuzfahrer bei Mansurah (1250),
Gefangennahme Ludwigs IX.
1260-1328: Meister Eckhart
1270: 7. Kreuzzug
Auslöser: Kreuznahme König Ludwigs IX. (1267)
Teilnehmer: Könige von Frankreich, Aragon und England
Ziel: Eroberung von Tunis
Ergebnis: Misserfolg. Tod König Ludwigs IX.
The Byzantine Empire was on a losing streak. Muslim invaders had overtaken much of the Byzantine territory since the west had emancipated Jerusalem and gave Jerusalem self-rule in the First Crusade of 1096 A.D. Muslims had retaken Jerusalem leaving only three coastal cities under the rule of the Kingdom of Jerusalem – Tyre, Tripoli and Antioch. The 2nd and 3rd Crusades failed to regain the Holy City. Meanwhile, the Muslims had taken large portions of the Byzantine Empire which set as a buffer between the Muslim onslaught and Europe. Sweeping through Jerusalem into Byzantine Territories, conquering Egypt and North Africa, Muslims were finally slowed midway through Spain on their way into Western Europe by desperate defensive measures of the European powers. Fond and romanticized ideals of the honorable intentions and success of the First Crusade lingered in the hearts and minds of both Latin Western Romans and Byzantine Eastern Romans but by the time of the 4th Crusade in 1202 A.D., the Crusades had become a string of demoralizing failures and a business for profiteers preying on the virtuous. Crusaders, who paid their own expenses for the honor of defending the Holy Land, were at the mercy of often underhanded merchants who arranged their travel and supplies. By 1202, the normal disembarkation ports out of Italy, mainly Venice and Genoa, had grown tired of disruptive crusaders causing problems campaigning through their cities and withdrew from aiding them. The Byzantines had developed a similar attitude with the added concern that Western Roman Empire soldiers marching through their Eastern Roman Empire territories might decide to reunite the old Roman Empire on a whim. The Byzantine culture also considered the western Europeans to be unkempt, uncouth and literally unwashed. This only added to the already longstanding political and theological rifts between western Latin Christian and eastern Greek Christian churches. The typically poor and stringently virtuous Crusaders were equally at the mercy of political winds which emanated from continuous intrigue at the highest levels of imperial courts.
Andronikos I Komemnos was a favored cousin of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I and an avid playboy. While his battlefield exploits only rated marginally, his bedroom exploits maintained a consistent win. After a 15 year stretch in prison for conspiring with others against his cousin, the Emperor, he escaped in 1153 A.D. Adding a pattern of infuriating the emperor by inappropriately seducing women of the imperial family kept Andronikos on the run for many years. He managed to continually land on his feet, however, with the aid of royal friends and relatives who would find him one princely position or another to keep him afloat. Bartering a successful alliance between Galicia and the Byzantines brought him temporarily back into Manuel’s favor. However, after seducing the sister of the Empress, he was forced to flee all the way to Jerusalem, where King Almaric took a liking to him and created him the title, Lord of Beirut. Unfortunately, meeting and seducing the niece of Emperor Manuel, Theodora, in Jerusalem forced him to then flee to Muslim Damascus to escape further imperial fury. Andronikos and Theodora ultimately settled back in Byzantine territory with two children in a castle near the Black Sea. A local governor took advantage of an absence by Andronikos to seize them and return them to the emperor. Appearing in chains before the emperor, Andronikos pleaded mercy for them both which resulted in their banishment in 1180 to a retired life together in their Black Sea home.
Later in 1180, Emperor Manuel died leaving his 10 year old son Alexios II to reign under the guardianship of his mother, Empress Maria. Antioch born Maria was viewed as an outsider in the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople and 10 year olds did not garner much confidence with the public. Eventually, dis-satisfaction led to open street rioting and built toward all out civil war. So when Andronikos decided it was a prime time to come out of retirement, raise an army and march on Constantinople to illegitimately claim the throne for himself, the citizens of the city cheered his arrival in 1182 A.D. With the naval and army commanders abandoning their positions, the city laid wide open for Andronikos to enter. The citizenry and Andronikos’ men celebrated the victory by slaughtering 70,000 foreigners, mostly western Europeans and selling 4000 of them as slaves to the Turks. Andronikos allowed his 10 year old competitor for the throne to be crowned but never let the boy become involved in government affairs. Within three years, 14 year old Alexios II and his mother met with fatal stranglings. No culprit was ever found. Without the crowned emperor to add some legitimacy to his sole reign, Andronikos married Alexios II’s 12 year old widow, Agnes, daughter of the king of France. Andronikos then devoted himself to weakening anyone who might pose as a threat to his rule. He dramatically reduced the powers of the nobles and kept a tight leash on the populace. This resulted in a growing dislike for his reign. Potentially legitimate heirs and other members of the nobility recruited extended family in other kingdoms to raise armies against Andronikos to usurp him without success. But the constant battering further degraded Andronikos’ standing in Constantinople. Then, a bizarre turn of events triggered one of the most catastrophic chapters in Christendom with one overwhelming exception – the discovery of the Treasures of Christ.
On September 11th, 1185, Isaac II Angelos, a member of the Byzantine extended royal family attracted the suspicions of Andronikos’ lieutenant, Stephen Hagiochristophrites. Stephen had previously been a Byzantine courtier under Manuel, but was banished from court and had his nose cut off for attempting to seduce a noblewoman. Andronikos welcomed Stephen back into the Byzantine court where it was believed that he was the talented strangler of Andronikos’ enemies. According to ancient Greek historians, Stephen’s nickname was ‘Antichristophorites’, or “the bearer of the Anti-Christ”. Andronikos was not in Constantinople when Stephen issued the order to arrest Isaac II. In a daring play for self-preservation, Isaac II thwarted the guard and launched an attack on Stephen successfully killing him. He then desperately sought refuge in the nearby Hagia Sophia cathedral, the official seat of the Eastern Roman Patriarch, head of the Eastern Roman Church. Built in 360 A.D., the cathedral was named for Saint Sophia, and dedicated to The Logos, the incarnated Word of God, Logos the Christ. From within the safety of the cathedral, Isaac II put out an impassioned appeal to the people of the city who responded affably. When Andronikos returned to the city, he discovered that he’d been overthrown. The people declared Isaac II Emperor of Byzantium. Isaac turned Andronikos over to the crowds in the street. According to some sources, they tied Andronikos to a post, beating him, gouging out his eyes, pulled his teeth, severed his right hand, tore out his hair and threw boiling water on him among a litany of other tortures before dragging him to the Hippodrome of Constantinople, hanging him by his feet and killing him with a sword on September 12th. Immediately upon hearing of the death of Andronikos, his son’s own soldiers murdered him in Thrace, ending the Komemnos reign.
Isaac II’s reign would prove frustrating. Floundering in politics, alliances and military goals his older brother, Alexios III Angelos, conspired to have himself named Emperor. Isaac had outsourced the Byzantine navy to the Venetians, given military weapons and supplies to those nobles loyal to him and allowed the treasury to dwindle leaving the Empire dangerously weakened. With the backing of the military, Alexios III seized the imperial crown in 1195. Alexios III imprisoned Isaac II and had his eyes stabbed out to ensure he could never be considered eligible for the crown again. The son of Isaac II, Alexios IV Angelos, however, managed to bribe his way out of his uncle’s imprisonment and flee west to the germanic Duchy of Swabia in 1201 A.D. Swabia was ruled by the Hohenstaufen family. From these Swabian dukes, most early Holy Roman Emperors were selected until they fell into disfavor with the papacy and the French dynasties began to be favored. The Hohenstaufen dynasty would be much later regarded as Germany’s First Reich.
Alexios IV managed to escape one earthshaking imperial court intrigue and land squarely at the heart of another. Just three years prior, a young and determined Pope Innocent III had ascended the papacy. Innocent III had a clear vision of issues he wanted corrected. Secular nobility had been increasingly gaining influence in church affairs in order to manipulate situations in their favor against rivals, a large heretical movement formed in the south of France, European states waged continuous wars on each other, Muslims were pushing northward through Spain and Innocent III viewed the loss of Jerusalem as a divine judgment on the poor behavior of Christendom in general. He successfully set about negotiating truces among European states, firmly re-asserted to secular nobility that church authority comes from God who remains superior to them, saw through a successful crusade to quash the heretical movement, summoned large councils of clergy and nobles to address issues both within and without the church to include aligning imperial law with scriptural law, and laying out strict conduct codes for clergy including banning clergy from participating in any punishment which used torture or pain to elicit atonement for sins. Then Alexios IV arrived at the exact place and time that Innocent’s largest project was getting underway – final preparation for a Fourth Crusade to re-take Jerusalem.
At the court of Swabia, Alexios IV was introduced to the Marquis Boniface de Montferrat, cousin of the King of Germany, who had been selected as the military leader of the Fourth Crusade. Besides having earned a successful battlefield record, Boniface’s brother and nephew had been kings of Jerusalem. Realizing a great opportunity, Alexios IV proposed to Boniface that his army strike Constantinople on its way to Jerusalem to re-instate the rightful emperor, his father, to the eastern throne. On hearing the proposal, Innocent III was adamant. The Crusaders were denied permission to attack any Christian territories, including Byzantium, or spill the blood of a single Christian in their mission. Unfortunately, a rapidly changing situation on the ground would undermine Innocent’s good intentions. Most of Europe ignored his call for a crusade. England and France were locked in war with each other. The German nobility turned aloof to send the signal to the papacy that they were not accepting the idea of unconditional papal supremacy. Envoys to the Italian city-states seeking ships and ports of disembarkation including Genoa were being rejected. Only Venice agreed to take up the challenge with a highly profitable contract for their services. To raise the needed troops, Innocent held a huge tournament in France to draw as many knights as he could muster and inspire them to the glory of a crusade. The manpower and number of ships necessary to move the army would require the Venetians to abandon most of their normal commercial activities. But the Doge of Venice was promised 85,000 silver marks in exchange for building and manning 50 war galleys and 450 transport ships to move the army from Venice to Cairo where part of Innocent’s plan was to change previous crusade tactics and strike Jerusalem through Egypt. The ships would transport 33,500 crusaders – 4500 knights, 4500 horses, 9000 squires and 20,000 foot soldiers. It took one third of all the men of Venice to abandon their normal business and complete the work and serve as crew for the ships. Pope Innocent’s final and firm reminder was to swear the crusaders to their oath to attack no other Christian land and retake the Holy City in the name of Christ.
Unfortunately, as the assembly date in Venice arrived, only a fraction of the anticipated number of Crusaders did. Around 4 to 5000 knights and 8,000 foot soldiers arrived generating a mere 35,000 silver marks out of the 85,000 agreed. This was a disaster for the Venetians who had invested a year’s manpower, money and materials into the fleet. Worse, the Crusaders would need the Venetians to crew and sail the ships, leaving Venice without a large number of workers for an extended period. The irate Doge of Venice refused to let the ships sail until the Crusaders produced the money owed. Passing the hat once again, the Crusaders were able to scrape together an additional 14,000 marks, leaving them all nearly poverty stricken and the Venetians uncompensated for their investment. The debt only worsened as some Crusaders were forced to request loans from the Venetians to survive.
Enrico Dandolo, the Venetian Doge, conferred with the Venetian Council on what to do. Allowing the Crusaders to sail might mean never being reimbursed. Sending the Crusaders away would still leave Venice with their losses and serve as a public embarrassment to the city’s reputation once the whole catastrophe was exposed. But the crafty businessmen found a solution. Pope Innocent III and the Marquis de Montferrat suddenly found themselves on the sidelines and the virtuous crusaders found themselves mercenary tools of the wealthy Venetian merchants. The elderly, and blind, Doge’s price for releasing the Crusaders was for him to accompany the fleet to the coastal Adriatic city of Zara, which had been under Venetian control but had rebelled, and re-conquer it in the name of the Republic of Venice. Not only did the old man set his price, but after a rousing and emotional speech, Dandolo unexpectedly took up the cross in the cause of the Crusade inspiring a few thousand Venetian men to join the army with him. Now it became the Crusader’s turn for painful decisions. Either they violate their solemn oath to attack no other Christian territory during the Crusade, or they abandon the Crusade altogether. The Venetians intended to hold them to their debts upon their chivalric honor regardless of which choice they made. It was nearing the end of September 1202, provisions were running out and the Crusaders knew with winter fast approaching they would need a safe haven and re-supply no matter what action they took. The city of Zara seemed the most painless of options. Marquis de Montferrat slipped off to Swabia, possibly to avoid excommunication for participation. In Swabia, Alexios IV offered Montferrat a resolution to their problem by paying the Crusader’s debts to the Venetians. He sweetened the deal by offering 200,000 silver marcs rather than the original 85,000 by Montferrat. He also promised 10,000 Byzantine soldiers and more ships for the crusade. Most intriguing, he vowed to subjugate the Eastern Roman Church to the Pope uniting all of Christendom once again. It had the added bonus of wreaking some vengeance on the Byzantines for Andronikos’ brutal slaughtering of Latins, Venetians counted among them, for which many Western Europeans still held a grudge. Innocent III was informed of the plan and vetoed it. His veto was ignored by Alexios and King Philip of Germany who kept it to themselves. The fleet set sail for Zara in the first week of October. Some Crusaders protested the violation of their oath and sat out the invasion. Most felt the only way out of their situation was forward. Zara fell to the Crusaders late that November and the army wintered and re-supplied there. They had done the deed and the financial debt appeared paid at the cost of their honor. Innocent III was irate. For violating their sworn oath, Innocent excommunicated the entire army and all participating Venetians. Montferrat ensured the Crusader did not learn of their excommunication. Alexios IV appeared in Zara with an envoy from Swabia shortly after it fell. The Doge accepted his offer insisting it was the only way the Crusaders could truly square their debt. The Crusaders began to divide further in opposition to violating their papal oath. Some abandoned the crusade altogether. Those who remained to clear their debt set sail for Byzantine ports. Innocent III learned of the plot and a letter from him to Montferrat demanding that the Marquis announce the Pope’s previous condemnation and excommunication of the army arrived in Zara too late. The army had already set sail for Byzantium. Those Crusaders who refused to violate their original oath sailed ahead to Syria.
The Crusader army plundered what it needed from Byzantine ports enroute to Constantinople. In June 1203 A.D., the army landed on the Asiatic side of the Golden Horn, the sea strait that divided Constantinople in two, where they faced the bulk of the city across the water. The nobles immediately occupied a palace of Alexius III on their side of the strait with his nephew Alexius IV leading their way. Alexius III saw this as a provocation and sent out 500 soldiers to engage the Latin invaders. After some initial success, 80 Crusader knights drove the 500 Byzantines to the safety of their defensive positions. The Crusaders managed to follow the retreating Byzantine soldiers straight into their defenses and overtake them. Now in control of the Golden Horn strait’s naval defenses, the Crusaders allowed the Venetian ships to flood into the normally protected strait that divided the city. To take the major part of the city, however, they were going to need to cross the strait in boats. The Byzantine army and navy were in shabby condition due to the incompetent leadership of Alexios III and Isaac before him. On July 2nd, Emperor Alexios III sent an envoy to the Latins to try and diffuse the situation. The envoy carried a communication from the Emperor to the nobles of the Crusade,
"Lords, the Emperor Alexius would have you know that he is well aware that you are the best people uncrowned, and come from the best land on earth. And he marvels much why, and for what purpose, you have come into his land and kingdom. For you are Christians, and he is a Christian, and well he knows that you are on your way to deliver the Holy Land overseas and the Holy Cross, and the Sepulchre. If you are poor and in want, he will right willingly give you of his food and substance, provided you depart out of his land. Neither would he otherwise wish to do you any harm, though he has full power therein, seeing that if you were twenty times as numerous as you are, you would not be able to get away without utter discomfiture if so be that he wished to harm you."
The Crusaders replied simply that Alexios III needed to transfer the throne to Alexios IV, him being the son of the rightful Emperor, Isaac II, who remained blind and imprisoned. The Marquis Monteferrat and Doge Dandolo loaded aboard a ship with Alexios IV and sailed him along the sea walls of the city for the Greek citizens to see. The citizens were noticeably unenthused, apparently lacking any motivation to cause such a disruption as unseating the illegitimate but seemingly adequate Alexios III. Montferrat, Dandolo and Alexios IV returned to the far side of the strait determined to attack. The Crusaders, consisting of Germans, Italian Venetians, Belgians and French, attacked the city’s port. The Byzantine Greeks abandoned the port. On July 17th, the Crusaders launched a coordinated attack against the walled city. Four divisions of the Crusaders attacked the land walls as the Venetians under Dandolo attacked the sea walls by ship. The Byzantines managed to hold the Crusaders at bay but fierce attacks by the Venetians managed to capture a section of the city wall. The Venetians managed to start a raging 3-day fire that tore through the city destroying homes, churches and businesses. An estimated 20,000 people were left homeless. Frustrated military leaders finally inspired the cowering Alexios III to action. Alexios led an army of 17 divisions, which vastly outnumbered the 7 divisions of Crusaders, out the St. Romanus Gate of the city. However, Alexios III could not muster the courage to attack the Crusaders and led his army back into the city. On the 18th, the Crusaders launched an all-out onslaught of the city. Alexios III immediately gathered all the treasure he could handle and fled the city leaving behind his people, his army and his own family. The next morning the Crusaders were surprised to discover that the citizens had released and re-instated the blind Isaac II as emperor. The Crusaders forced Isaac to proclaim his son, Alexios IV, as his co-emperor. After reviewing the situation, Isaac and Alexios had bad news for the Crusaders. The years of imperial mismanagement meant that they could not offer anything Alexios had promised in Europe. The Crusaders were no further ahead than they had been back in Venice.
Alexios IV stripped the wealth of his enemies, taxed his churches, melted down treasured artifacts over objections and drew from the imperial treasury to raise only half the promised compensation. He ventured off for a year to Thrace under the guise of generating more funds but returned with nothing. The embittered Crusaders dug in with no intention of leaving without their full compensation having been used so blatantly. By that point, Alexios informed them bluntly, “I have done all I am going to do.” Frustration and friction between the city’s citizens and the Crusaders had been building to a climax. Riots broke out throughout the city as the people grew disgusted with Alexios IV’s inability to resolve the situation. The Crusaders sent an envoy to Alexios IV and Isaac II’s court with a message which was intentionally read openly to them, in a packed court of Byzantine nobles, hoping they would influence him,
"Sire, we have come to thee on the part of the barons of the host and of the Doge of Venice. They would put thee in mind of the great service they have done to thee-a service known to the people and manifest to all men. Thou hast sworn, thou and thy father, to fulfill the promised covenants, and they have your charters in hand. But you have not fulfilled those covenants well, as you should have done. Many times have they called upon you to do so, and now again we call upon you, in the presence of all your barons, to fulfill the covenants that are between you and them. Should you do so, it shall be well. If not, be it known to you that from this day forth they will not hold you as lord or friend, but will endeavour to obtain their due by all the means in their Power. And of this they now give you warning, seeing that they would not injure you, nor any one, without first defiance given; for never have they acted treacherously, nor in their land is it customary to do so. You have heard what we have said. It is for you to take counsel thereon according to your pleasure."
The Greeks were outraged. Never before had the Byzantine Emperor been so insulted within his own court, they argued. The Byzantines attempted to burn the Venetian fleet but were out done by the skilled Venetian sailors. Unable to endure further impotent leadership, Byzantine courtiers Alexios Ducas Murtzuphlus, Constantine Lascaris and his brother Theodorus Lascaris overthrew Alexios IV and Isaac II with the support of the people. Alexios Ducas Murtzuphlus was crowned Eastern Roman Emperor Alexios V Ducas on February 5th, 1204. Alexios IV was strangled in prison on the 8th and Isaac died a few days later, it was said, of shock. So ended the Angelos dynasty. But the Crusaders were having none of it, informing Alexios V that they still held Byzantium to the deal that the previous emperor had given them. On the same day Alexios V executed Alexios IV by strangulation, the Crusaders declared war on Alexios V. By March 1204, the Crusaders and Venetians decided to conquer the entire Byzantine Empire, thus bringing the Eastern Roman Empire under the full control of the Western Roman Empire. The Old Roman Empire was about to make a return.
Crusader attacks on the massive city walls were getting them nowhere. The Venetian ships were unable to get close enough to the defensive towers of the walls to raise ramps from their ships in order to scale over them. On April 9th, 1204, they rushed their boats across the strait. Crusaders quickly pulled their siege engines ashore but were slowed in the muddy flats. Byzantine catapults smashed the siege engines to pieces and then turned on the Venetian ships. The Crusaders were forced to fall back to the far side of the strait. After two days spent repairing their ships, the wind turned northward. This pushed the ships in closer to the city walls. Two ships, the Pilgrim and the Paradise, were able to raise one ramp to a defensive tower. Crusader knights charged up the ramp crashing straight into the Imperial Varangian Guard – an elite guard of recruited Vikings long used by the Byzantine Emperor. As the small contingent of knights managed to drive the Varangian Guard back, Crusaders on the ground managed to finally broke through the city walls at a small gate. Others continued to burrow through the great walls. One such was Robert de Clari, a young, poor knight under the command of Count Peter of Amiens, along with Robert’s cleric brother Aleume whose experience was chronicled,
"Now there was there a cleric, Aleaume of Clari by name, who had shown his courage whenever there was need, and was always first in any assault at which he might be present; and when the tower of Galata was taken, this same cleric had performed more deeds of prowess with his body, man for man, than any one in the host[Crusader Army], save only the Lord Peter of Bracuel; for the Lord Peter it was who surpassed all others, whether of high or low degree, so that there was none other that performed such feats of arms, or acts of prowess with his body, as the Lord Peter of Bracuel. So when they came to the postern they began to hew and pick at it very hardily; but the bolts flew at them so thick, and so many stones were hurled at them from the wall, that it seemed as if they would be buried beneath the stones-such was the mass of quarries and stones thrown from above. And those who were below held up targes and shields to cover those who were picking and hewing underneath; and those above threw down pots of boiling pitch, and Greek fire, and large rocks, so that it was one of God's miracles that the assailants were not utterly confounded; for my Lord Peter and his men suffered more than enough of blows and grievous danger. However, so did they hack at the postern, both above and below, with their axes and good swords, that they made a great hole therein; and when the postern was broken through, they all swarmed to the aperture, but saw so many people above and below, that it seemed as if half the world were there, and they dared not be so bold as to enter.
Now when Aleaume, the cleric, saw that no one dared to go in, be sprang forward, and said that go in he would. And there was there present a knight, a brother to the cleric (the knight's name was Robert of Clari),who-forbade him, and said he should not go in. And the cleric said he would, and scrambled in on his hands and feet. And when the knight saw this, he took hold upon him, by the foot, and began to drag him back. But in his brother's despite, and whether his brother would or not, the cleric went in. And when he was within, many were the Greeks who ran upon him, and those on the walls cast big stones upon him. And the cleric drew his knife, and ran at them; and he drove them before him as if they had been cattle, and cried to those who were without, to the Lord Peter of Amiens and his folk, 'Sire, come in boldly, I see that they are falling back discomfited and flying[fleeing].' When my Lord Peter heard this, he and his people who were without, they entered in; and there were no more than ten knights with him, but there were some sixty sergeants, and they were all on foot. And when those who were on the wall at that place saw them, they had such fear that thev did not dare to remain there, but avoided a great space on the wall, and fled helter-skelter.
Now the Emperor [Alexios V] Mourzuphles, the traitor, was near by, at less than a stone's throw of distance, and he caused the silver horns to be sounded, and the cymbals, and a great noise to be made. And when he saw my Lord Peter, and his people, who had entered in on foot, he made a great show of falling upon them, and spurring forward, came about half-way to where they stood. But mv Lord Peter, when he saw him coming, began to encourage his people, and to say: 'Now, Lord God, grant that we may do well, and the battle is ours. Here comes the emperor! Let no one dare to think of retreat, but each bethink himself to do well' Then Mourzuphles, seeing that they would in no wise give way, stayed where he was, and then turned back to his tents."
Rather than redirect the Varangians to stop the mere 60 intruders at the gate, Alexios V made the mistake of calling up reserves to deal with them instead. The delay in bringing up reserves gave the Crusaders time to open a gate large enough to allow mounted knights to pour in. Alexios retreated to the safety of Boukoleon Palace on the shore with the Varangian Guard. The northern wall was now under the control of the Venetians with the ground under them controlled by the Crusaders. The Crusaders prepared for weeks or months of street to street fighting to take the city. But the citizens of Constantinople saw it differently. They considered the city taken and began flooding out the southern gates. Alexios saw no further hope and escaped the city under Varangian Guard. Theodorus Lascaris tried one last time to motivate the troops to no avail and he fled the city later the same night. The Crusaders awoke the next day, April 13th 1204 to continue the fight only to discover there was no opposing force. The city surrendered.
Dandolo and crusade nobles planned the division of the Byzantine Empire between Venice and the European powers. As the leadership plotted, the Crusaders wreaked havoc in the city. Revenge for the death and enslavement of 80,000 Europeans, angry demand for compensation and two years of being used as pawns resulted in violent retribution. The Crusaders slaughtered, pillaged and looted. Even churches did not escape destruction for anything of value they might contain. When it came time to elect a new leader of Byzantium, Count de Montferrat seemed the obvious choice. In fact, the citizens still in the city thought the Count was indeed the new Emperor. But the wily old Doge had different ideas. Fearing that Count Montferrat was already too well connected back in Europe, he politicked for the selection of the less influential Baldwin, Count of Flanders. When it was so decided, the old Doge had much to celebrate. He manipulated the destruction of one of Venice’s greatest maritime competitors, Byzantium, he had prevented a Crusade attack against Egypt who Venice had just signed a trade agreement with and he had acquired great spoils of war to fill the churches of Venice. Additionally, of the original 200,000 silver marks offered by Alexios IV, the Venetians kept 150,000 giving only 50,000 to the Crusaders.
When Pope Innocent III learned of what transpired, he thundered against the Crusaders,
“How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks, no matter how severely she is beset with afflictions and persecutions, return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness, so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ, not their own ends, who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood, they have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to God, to the sordid lusts of boys. Not satisfied with breaking open the imperial treasury and plundering the goods of princes and lesser men, they also laid their hands on the treasures of the churches and, what is more serious, on their very possessions. They have even ripped silver plates from the altars and have hacked them to pieces among themselves. They violated the holy places and have carried off crosses and relics.”
The Crusaders pursued Alexios V to Boukoleon Palace where they found a great many of the royal women who had fled there for safety, including Maria Komnene, oldest daughter of Emperor Manuel, who Count de Montferrat would eventually marry. But Robert de Clari, who was present at the palace, described a treasure trove of a much more stunning nature,
….they found in the palaces riches more than a great deal. Within this palace….there were fully five hundred halls, all connected with one another and all made with gold mosaic. And in it were fully thirty chapels, great and small, and there was one of them which was the Holy Chapel, which was so rich and noble that there was not a hinge nor a band nor any other part such as is usually made of iron that was not all of silver, and there was no column that was not jasper or porphyry or some other precious stone. And the pavement of this chapel was of white marble so smooth and dear that it seemed to be of crystal, and this chapel was so rich and so noble that no one could ever tell you its beauty and nobility. Within this chapel were found many rich relics. One found there two pieces of the True Cross, as large as the leg of a man and as a long as half a toise, and one found there also the iron lance with which Our Lord had his side pierced and two of the nails which were driven through His hands and feet, and one found there in a crystal phial quite a little of his blood, and one found there the tunic which He wore and which was taken from Him when they led Him to the Mount of Calvary, and one found there the blessed crown with which He was crowned, which was made of reeds with thorns as sharp as points of daggers. And one found there a part of the robe of Our Lady, and the head of my lord St. John the Baptist and so many rich relics that I could not recount them to you or tell you…..” Additionally, a golden vessel hanging from the ceiling contained a burial cloth that bore the image of the Savior – known later as the Shroud of Turin.
Alexios V reached another Greek city where he was initially well received and married into the city’s nobility. He then had his new son-in-law’s eyes stabbed out to ensure he could never claim the imperial title over him. Having no allies left, Crusaders eventually caught up with Alexios and returned him to Constantinople where he was judged a traitor to Alexios IV and executed by being thrown from the top of a column.
Learning of all that had transpired, Innocent III lifted the ex-communication from the Crusaders but not the Venetians who had manipulated them into the situation. Innocent III remained silent on the treasures brought back to Europe and at the Fourth Council of the Lateran, he validated the churches in the newly conquered territories, ignoring their Greek Orthodox origins and placing them under papal authority. This action further fueled the bitter rift between Latin Christians and Greek Christians for the next 800 years. The chaos of those tumultuous years weakened Byzantium until it could barely fend off the many enemies around them. Fleeing Byzantine nobles established competing kingdoms of their own out of the remnants of empire that Rome didn’t want. In the end, very few of the Crusaders of the 4th Crusade ever made it to the Holy Land and the Holy City remained under Muslim control until the 6th Crusade of 1228 A.D.
(Used with permission)