I’ve recently read ‘The Chronicles of the Crusades’ for my literature class in schooling. The book is divided into two parts. I’m currently reading the second, which is about the life of St. Louis IX, but here is a concise summary of the first:
The Chronicles of the Crusades:
The first book, by Geoffrey de Villehardouin, gives a rather interesting account of the Fourth Crusade, on it’s call, the funding and preparations. The Crusaders made a contract with the Venetians which agreed to transport 33,500 Crusaders for 85,000 silver marks. The Venetians set a year aside to prepare the ships and sailors for transporting the Crusading army, but during the wait for the Venetians, some of the Crusaders, who had their own ambitions and were against taking a long course, decided to leave the Crusading army to take their own path to the Holy Land via Genoa or different routes. The Crusaders were to pay their own way for transport, thus the leaders taking for granted that they would be able to pay the 85,000 marks, but with a portion of the army leaving, the Crusaders lost part of the income which was to be used to pay for their journey. So when the time came to pay the Venetians, the Crusaders were only able to come up with some 51,000 marks. The Venetians, understanding that the Crusaders were not able to keep their part of the bargain with good reason, decided that they would accept a lower the amount of the remaining money to be paid, provided the Crusaders reclaimed the city of Zara which had broken away from Venetian rule some years before. The Crusaders agreed to retake the city, though there were some disputes among the army, particularly on the idea that they were wandering from their goal, the Holy Land. In defense of their actions, the Crusaders were filling their part if the contract with the Venetians, in the only way they could, since they were short on the payment for the fleet. Another interesting fact to consider is that the Doge (Duke) of Venice didn’t simply view his dealings with the Crusaders as simply business, he personally took the Cross of the Crusades along with the French warriors, promising to go to the Holy Land with the rest of the Crusading army. The Crusaders successfully took the city of Zara after a short siege, but were delayed there by the winter and preparations. The Crusaders were worried about not moving on with their mission, and sent a letter to the Pope explaining their situation, especially on the grounds of how they were fighting in repayment of their debt to the Venetians. The Pope gave a reply that he was well aware the Crusaders were driven to such actions by the other Crusaders who went to a different port than the rest of the army. He gave them his blessing and begged them to keep the army together. Finding relief with this, the Crusaders eventually were visited by Alexius, the son of the overthrown Emperor of Constantinople Isaac II. Alexius promised the Crusaders military aid for the Holy Land, and to end the schism between the East and Western Churches, if they were to give him assistance in overthrowing his uncle who usurped the throne. The Crusader’s thought it over, and decided that the young Emperor’s help would be valuable when they reached the Holy Land, and so they set out to reclaim Constantinople and depose of Alexius’s uncle. The events following this ‘crusade’ against the invalid Emperor went well for a while, until the Emperor Alexius failed to keep his end of the bargain with the Crusaders. All of this ended up leading to the Crusaders taking Constantinople, and placing a frenchman on the throne, who would be able to fulfill the obligation of the Empire towards the Crusaders. Modern Historians often paint the picture that the Crusaders were a bunch of greedy noblemen who didn’t have inheritances and who set out to seek fortune and wealth in the East. This may have been so for some Crusaders, but there were many who went on the Crusades out of love of God and for the good of Europe and the Church. My point is not to justify the sack of Constantinople, but rather to show that there is more of a history surrounding the event which in the long run could justify the Crusader’s actions than what is often taught in the modern world. Plus what could be better than reading about the Conquest of Constantinople by someone who was actually there?