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Fourth Crusade
Part of the Crusades

A 15th-century miniature depicting the conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204

Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae


Crusaders from:

 Republic of Venice
In Europe:
Commanders and leaders


4,000-5,000 knights
8,000 infantry
300 siege weapons

10,000 sailors and marines
60 war galleys
100 horse transports

50 troop transports

10,000 Byzantine infantry and city militias
5,000 Varangians

20 war galleys

The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) was a Latin Christian armed expedition called by Pope Innocent III. The stated intent of the expedition was to recapture the Muslim-controlled city of Jerusalem, by first defeating the powerful Egyptian Ayyubid Sultanate. However, a sequence of economic and political events culminated in the Crusader army's 1202 siege of Zara and the 1204 sack of Constantinople, rather than the conquest of Egypt as originally planned. This led to the Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae or the partition of the Byzantine Empire by the Crusaders and their Venetian allies leading to a period known as Frankokratia, or "Rule of the Franks" in Greek.

The Republic of Venice contracted with the Crusader leaders to build a dedicated fleet to transport their invasion force. However, the leaders greatly overestimated the number of soldiers who would embark from Venice, since many sailed from other ports, and the army that appeared could not pay the contracted price. In lieu of payment, the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo proposed that the Crusaders back him in attacking the rebellious city of Zadar (Zara) on the eastern Adriatic coast. This led in November 1202 to the siege and sack of Zara, the first attack against a Catholic city by a Catholic Crusader army, despite Pope Innocent III's calls for the Crusaders not to attack fellow Christians. The city was then brought under Venetian control. When the Pope heard of this, he temporarily excommunicated the Crusader army.

In January 1203, en route to Jerusalem, the Crusader leadership entered into an agreement with the Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos to divert their main force to Constantinople and restore his deposed father Isaac II Angelos as emperor, who would then add his support to their invasion of Jerusalem. On 23 June 1203, the main Crusader army reached Constantinople, while other contingents (perhaps a majority of all crusaders) continued to Acre.

In August 1203, following the siege of Constantinople, Alexios was crowned co-emperor. However, in January 1204 he was deposed by a popular uprising, depriving the Crusaders of their promised bounty payments. Following the murder of Alexios on 8 February, the Crusaders decided on the outright conquest of the city. In April 1204, they captured and plundered the city's enormous wealth. Only a handful of the Crusaders continued to the Holy Land thereafter. Several prominent Crusaders, including Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy, Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester and Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, among others, disagreed with the attacks on Zara and Constantinople, refused to take part in them and left the crusade.

The conquest of Constantinople was followed by the fragmentation of the Byzantine Empire into three states centered in Nicaea, Trebizond and Epirus. The Crusaders then founded several new Crusader states, known as Frankokratia, in former Roman territory, largely hinged upon the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The presence of the Latin Crusader states almost immediately led to war with the Byzantine successor states and with the Bulgarian Empire. The Nicaean Empire eventually recovered Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire in July 1261.

The Fourth Crusade is considered to have solidified the East–West Schism. The crusade dealt an irrevocable blow to the Byzantine Empire, contributing to its decline and fall as all the unstable governments in the region, the Sack of Constantinople, and the thousands of deaths had left the region depleted of soldiers, resources, people, and money which left the region vulnerable to attack. Plus, the empire had shrunk as it lost control of most of the Balkans, Anatolia, and islands. This made it vulnerable to invasion from a small ghazi Turkish beylik called the Ottoman Sultanate.


Loss of Jerusalem to the truce of 1198

Between 1176 and 1187, the Ayyubid Sultanate under Saladin conquered most of the Crusader states in the Levant. Jerusalem was lost to the Ayyubids as a result of the siege of Jerusalem in 1187 leading to the calling of the Third Crusade.[1] The Crusader states were then reduced by Saladin to little more than three cities along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea: Tyre, Tripoli and Antioch.[2]

The Third Crusade (1189–1193) was launched in response to the fall of Jerusalem, with the goal of recovering the city. It successfully reclaimed an extensive territory, effectively reestablishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Although Jerusalem itself was not recovered, the important coastal towns of Acre and Jaffa were. On 2 September 1192, the Treaty of Jaffa was signed with Saladin, bringing the crusade to an end. The truce would last for three years and eight months.[3]

The crusade had also been marked by a significant escalation in longstanding tensions between the feudal states of western Europe and the Byzantine Empire.[4][5] During the crusade, Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, had almost besieged Constantinople because of the failure of the Byzantine government and Emperor, Isaac II Angelos to provide him with safe passage across the Dardanelles because Isaac was busy fighting a pretender named Theodore Mangaphas. The Byzantines for their part suspected him of conspiring with the breakaway Byzantine provinces of Serbia and Bulgaria as Frederick Barbarossa was on friendly terms with Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja of Serbia and also got a letter getting support and fealty from Tsar Ivan Asen I of Bulgaria. King Richard I Lionheart of England also seized the breakaway Eastern Roman province of Cyprus. Rather than return it to the Empire (and realizing his inability to govern it), he gave the island to Guy of Lusignan, the former king of Jerusalem, who lost the crown to a former Eastern Roman ally, Conrad of Montferrat.[6]

Saladin died on 4 March 1193, before the expiration of the truces, and his empire was contested and divided between three of his sons and two of his brothers. The new ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Henry II of Champagne, signed an extension of the truce with Egyptian Sultan al-Aziz Uthman. In 1197, the peace was interrupted by the arrival of the German Crusade of 1197. Without the permission of Henry, the Germans attacked the territory of al-Adil I of Damascus, who responded by attacking Jaffa. The sudden death of Henry prevented the relief of the port and the city was taken by force. The Germans did, however, succeed in capturing Beirut in the north.[3]

Henry was succeeded by Aimery of Cyprus, who signed a truce with al-Adil of five years and eight months on 1 July 1198. The truce preserved the status quo: Jaffa remained in Ayyubid hands, but its destroyed fortifications could not be rebuilt; Beirut was left to the crusaders; and Sidon was placed under a revenue-sharing condominium. Before the expiration of the new truce on 1 March 1204, al-Adil succeeded in uniting the former empire of Saladin, acquiring Egypt in 1200 and Aleppo in 1202. As a result, his domains almost completely surrounded the diminished Crusader states.[3]


Constantinople had been in existence for 874 years at the time of the Fourth Crusade and was the largest and most sophisticated city in Christendom.[7] Almost alone amongst major medieval urban centres, it had retained the civic structures, public baths, forums, monuments, and aqueducts of classical Rome in working form. At its height, the city was home to an estimated population of about half a million people[8] protected by 20 km (around 13 miles) of triple walls.[9] Its planned location made Constantinople not only the capital of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire but also a commercial centre that dominated trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea,[10] China, India and Persia.[11] As a result, it was both a rival and a tempting target for the aggressive new states of the west, notably the Republic of Venice.

In 1195, the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos was deposed in favour of his brother by a palace coup. Ascending as Alexios III Angelos, the new emperor had his brother blinded (a traditional punishment for treason, considered more humane than execution) and exiled. Ineffectual on the battlefield, Isaac had also proven to be an incompetent ruler who had let the treasury dwindle and outsourced the navy to the Venetians. His actions in wastefully distributing military weapons and supplies as gifts to his supporters had undermined the empire's defenses.[12] The new emperor was to prove no better. Anxious to shore up his position, Alexios bankrupted the treasury. His attempts to secure the support of semi-autonomous border commanders undermined central authority. He neglected his crucial responsibilities for defence and diplomacy. The emperor's chief admiral (his wife's brother-in-law), Michael Stryphnos, reportedly sold the fleet's equipment down to the very nails to enrich himself.[13][14]

Rendezvous at Venice

Venetian Navy landing in Constantinople, from a XV Century miniature

Pope Innocent III succeeded to the papacy in January 1198, and the preaching of a new crusade became the prime goal of his pontificate, expounded in his bull Post miserabile.[15] His call was largely ignored by the European monarchs: the Germans were struggling against Papal power, and England and France were still engaged in warfare against each other. However, due to the preaching of Fulk of Neuilly, a crusading army was finally organised at a tournament held at Écry-sur-Aisne by Count Thibaut of Champagne in 1199.[16][17] Thibaut was elected leader, but he died in 1201 and was replaced by Boniface of Montferrat. Boniface was the brother of Conrad of Montferrat and succeeded Conrad as marquis of Montferrat after he had died at Tyre.[18]

Boniface and the other leaders sent envoys to Venice, Genoa, and other city-states in 1200 to negotiate a contract for transport to Egypt, the stated objective of their crusade; one of the envoys was the future historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin. Earlier crusades focused on Palestine had involved the slow movement of large and disorganised land hosts across a generally hostile Anatolia. Egypt was now the dominant Muslim power in the eastern Mediterranean but also a major trading partner of Venice.[19] An attack on Egypt would clearly be a maritime enterprise, requiring the creation of a fleet. Genoa was uninterested, but in March 1201 negotiations were opened with the doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo who agreed to transport 33,500 crusaders, a very ambitious number. This was the moment, according to him, for the Venetian Republic to gain wealth, prestige, land, and trading routes in the Holy Land. This agreement required a full year of preparation on the part of the Venetians to build numerous ships and train the sailors who would man them, all the while curtailing the city's commercial activities. The crusading army was expected to consist of 4,500 knights (as well as 4,500 horses), 9,000 squires, and 20,000 foot-soldiers.[20]

The majority of the crusading army that set out from Venice in early October 1202 originated from areas within France. It included men from Blois, Champagne, Amiens, Saint-Pol, the Île-de-France, and Burgundy. Several other regions of Europe sent substantial contingents as well, such as Flanders and Montferrat. Other notable groups came from the Holy Roman Empire, including the men under Martin, abbot of Pairis Abbey and Bishop Conrad of Halberstadt, together in alliance with the Venetian soldiers and sailors led by the doge, Enrico Dandolo. The crusade was to be ready to sail on 24 June 1203 and make directly for the Ayyubid capital, Cairo. This agreement was ratified by Pope Innocent, with a solemn ban on attacks on Christian states.[21]


Attack on Zara

Main article: Siege of Zara

The crusaders conquering the City of Zadar, painted by Tintoretto

There was no binding agreement among the crusaders that all should sail from Venice. Accordingly, many chose to sail from other ports, particularly Flanders, Marseille, and Genoa. By May 1202, the bulk of the crusader army was collected at Venice, although with far smaller numbers than expected: about 12,000 (4–5,000 knights and 8,000 foot soldiers) instead of 33,500.[22] The Venetians had performed their part of the agreement: there awaited 50 war galleys and 450 transports – enough for three times the assembled army.[23] The Venetians, under their aged and blind Doge Dandolo, would not let the crusaders leave without paying the full amount agreed to, originally 85,000 silver marks. The crusaders could only initially pay 35,000 silver marks. The Doge threatened to keep them interned unless full payment was made so a further 14,000 marks were collected, and that only by reducing the crusaders to extreme poverty.[24] This was disastrous to the Venetians, who had halted their commerce for a great length of time to prepare this expedition. In addition, about 14,000 men or as many as 20–30,000 men (out of Venice's population of 60–100,000 people) were needed to man the entire fleet, placing further strain on the Venetian economy.[23][25]

Dandolo and the Venetians considered what to do with the crusade. It was too small to pay its fee, but disbanding the force gathered would harm Venetian prestige and cause significant financial and trading loss. Dandolo, who joined the crusade during a public ceremony in the church of San Marco di Venezia, proposed that the crusaders pay their debts by intimidating many of the local ports and towns down the Adriatic, culminating in an attack on the port of Zara in Dalmatia.[26] The city had been dominated economically by Venice throughout the 12th century but had rebelled in 1181 and allied itself with King Emeric of Hungary and Croatia.[27][28] Subsequent Venetian attempts to recover control of Zara had been repulsed, and by 1202 the city was economically independent, under the protection of the King.[29]

King Emeric was Catholic and had himself taken the cross in 1195 or 1196. Many of the crusaders were opposed to attacking Zara, and some, including a force led by the elder Simon de Montfort, refused to participate altogether and returned home or went to the Holy Land on their own. While the Papal legate to the Crusade, Cardinal Peter of Capua, endorsed the move as necessary to prevent the crusade's complete failure, the Pope was alarmed at this development and wrote a letter to the crusading leadership threatening excommunication.[21]

In 1202, Pope Innocent III, despite wanting to secure papal authority over the Roman Orthodox Church, forbade the crusaders of Western Christendom from committing any atrocious acts against their Christian neighbours.[30] However, this letter, delivered by Peter of Lucedio, may not have reached the army in time. The bulk of the army arrived at Zara on 10–11 November 1202 and the attack proceeded. The citizens of Zara made reference to the fact that they were fellow Catholics by hanging banners marked with crosses from their windows and the walls of the city, but nevertheless the city fell on 24 November 1202 after a brief siege. There was extensive pillaging, and the Venetians and other crusaders came to blows over the division of the spoils. Order was achieved, and the leaders of the expedition agreed to winter in Zara, while considering their next move.[31] The fortifications of Zara were demolished by the Venetians.

When Innocent III heard of the sack, he sent a letter to the crusaders excommunicating them and ordering them to return to their holy vows and head for Jerusalem. Out of fear that this would dissolve the army, the leaders of the crusade decided not to inform their followers of this. Regarding the Crusaders as having been coerced by the Venetians, in February 1203 he rescinded the excommunications against all non-Venetians in the expedition.[32]

Decision to go to Constantinople

Dandolo Preaching the Crusade by Gustave Doré

The commercial rivalry between the Republic of Venice and the Byzantine Empire and the living memory of the Massacre of the Latins did much to exacerbate the feeling of animosity among the Venetians towards the Byzantine Greeks. According to the Chronicle of Novgorod Doge Enrico Dandolo had been blinded by the Emperor Manuel I Komnenos the Great while part of an embassy to Constantinople in 1171, and accordingly held personal enmity towards the Byzantines.[33]

Boniface of Montferrat, meanwhile, had left the fleet before it sailed from Venice, to visit his cousin Philip of Swabia. The reasons for his visit are a matter of debate; he may have realized the Venetians' plans and left to avoid excommunication, or he may have wanted to meet with the Roman prince Alexios IV Angelos, Philip's brother-in-law and the son of the recently deposed Roman emperor Isaac II Angelos. Alexios IV had recently fled to Philip in 1201 but it is unknown whether or not Boniface knew he was at Philip's court. There, Alexios IV offered to pay the entire debt owed to the Venetians, give 200,000 silver marks to the crusaders, 10,000 Byzantine professional troops for the Crusade, the maintenance of 500 knights in the Holy Land, the service of the Byzantine navy to transport the Crusader Army to Egypt, and the placement of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the authority of the Pope, if they would sail to Constantinople and topple the reigning emperor Alexios III Angelos, brother of Isaac II. This offer, tempting for an enterprise that was short on funds, reached the leaders of the Crusade on 1 January 1203 as they wintered at Zara.[34] Doge Dandolo was a fierce supporter of the plan; however, in his earlier capacity as an ambassador to the Byzantine Empire and someone who knew the finer details of how the empire's politics worked, it is likely he knew the promises were false and there was no hope of any Byzantine emperor raising the money promised, let alone raising the troops and giving the church to the Holy See. Count Boniface agreed and Alexios IV returned with the Marquess to rejoin the fleet at Corfu after it had sailed from Zara. Most of the rest of the crusade's leaders, encouraged by bribes from Dandolo,[32] eventually accepted the plan as well. However, there were dissenters. Led by Renaud of Montmirail, those who refused to take part in the scheme to attack Constantinople sailed on to Syria.[32] The remaining fleet of 60 war galleys, 100 horse transports, and 50 large transports (the entire fleet was manned by 10,000 Venetian oarsmen and marines) sailed in late April 1203.[35] In addition, 300 siege engines were brought along on board the fleet.[36] Hearing of their decision, the Pope hedged and issued an order against any more attacks on Christians unless they were actively hindering the Crusader cause, but he did not condemn the scheme outright.[37]

Defences of Constantinople

When the Fourth Crusade arrived at Constantinople on 23 June 1203, the city had a population of approximately 500,000 people,[38] a garrison of 15,000 men (including 5,000 Varangians), and a fleet of 20 galleys.[39][40][41][42] For both political and financial reasons, the permanent garrison of Constantinople had been limited to a relatively small force, made up of elite guards and other specialist units. At previous times in East Roman and Byzantine history when the capital had come under direct threat, it had been possible to assemble reinforcements from frontier and provincial forces.[43] On this occasion, the suddenness of the danger posed by the Fourth Crusade put the defenders at a serious disadvantage.[38] The main objective of the crusaders was to place Alexios IV on the Byzantine throne so that they could receive the rich payments he had promised them. Conon of Bethune delivered this ultimatum to the Lombard envoy sent by the Emperor Alexios III Angelos, who was the pretender's uncle and had seized the throne from the pretender's father Isaac II. The citizens of Constantinople were not concerned with the cause of the deposed emperor and his exiled son; hereditary right of succession had never been adopted by the empire and a palace coup between brothers was not considered illegitimate in the way it would have been in the West. First the crusaders attacked and were repulsed from the cities of Chalcedon and Chrysopolis, suburbs of the great city. They won a cavalry skirmish in which they were outnumbered, defeating 500 Byzantines with just 80 Frankish knights.[44]

Siege of July 1203

Main article: Siege of Constantinople (1203)

The Crusader attack on Constantinople, from a Venetian manuscript of Geoffrey de Villehardouin's history, c. 1330

To take the city by force, the crusaders first needed to cross the Bosphorus. About 200 ships, horse transports, and galleys delivered the crusading army across the narrow strait, where Alexios III had lined up the Byzantine army in battle formation along the shore, north of the suburb of Galata. The Crusader knights charged straight out of the horse transports, and the Byzantine army fled south. The Crusaders followed and attacked the Tower of Galata, which held the northern end of the massive chain that blocked access to the Golden Horn. The Tower of Galata held a garrison of mercenary troops of English, Danish, and Italian origin.[45] On 6 July the largest ship in the crusaders' fleet, the Aquila (Eagle), broke the chain. A section of it was then sent to Acre to boost the defences in the Holy Land.[3]

As the crusaders laid siege to the Tower of Galata, the defenders routinely attempted to sally out with some limited success, but often suffered bloody losses. On one occasion the defenders sallied out but were unable to retreat back to the safety of the tower in time, the Crusader forces viciously counterattacked, with most of the defenders being cut down or drowning in the Bosporus in their attempts to escape.[46] The tower was swiftly taken as a result. The Golden Horn now lay open to the Crusaders, and the Venetian fleet entered. The Crusaders sailed alongside Constantinople with 10 galleys to display the would-be Alexios IV, but from the walls of the city citizens taunted the puzzled crusaders, who had been led to believe that they would rise up to welcome the young pretender Alexios as a liberator.[47]

On 11 July, the Crusaders took positions opposite the Palace of Blachernae on the northwest corner of the city. Their first attacks were repulsed, but on 17 July, with four divisions attacking the land walls while the Venetian fleet attacked the sea walls from the Golden Horn, the Venetians took a section of the wall of about 25 towers, while the Varangian guard held off the Crusaders on the land wall. The Varangians shifted to meet the new threat, and the Venetians retreated under the screen of fire. The fire destroyed about 120 acres (0.49 km2) of the city and left some 20,000 people homeless.[48]

Alexios III finally took offensive action, leading 17 divisions from the St. Romanus Gate, vastly outnumbering the crusaders. Alexios III's army of about 8,500 men faced the Crusaders' seven divisions (about 3,500 men), but his courage failed, and the Byzantine army returned to the city without a fight.[49] The unforced retreat and the effects of the fire greatly damaged morale, and the disgraced Alexios III abandoned his subjects, slipping out of the city and fleeing to Mosynopolis in Thrace.[50] The Imperial officials quickly deposed their runaway emperor and restored Isaac II, robbing the crusaders of the pretext for attack.[50] The crusaders were now in the quandary of having achieved their stated aim while being debarred from the actual objective, namely the reward that the younger Alexios had (unbeknownst to the Romans) promised them. The crusaders insisted that they would only recognize the authority of Isaac II if his son was raised to co-emperor, and on 1 August the latter was crowned as Alexios Angelos IV, co-emperor.[50]

Reign of Alexios IV

Capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204

Alexios IV realised that his promises were hard to keep. Alexios III had managed to flee with 1,000 pounds of gold and some priceless jewels, leaving the imperial treasury short on funds. At that point the young emperor ordered the destruction and melting of valuable Roman icons in order to extract their gold and silver, but even then he could only raise 100,000 silver marks. In the eyes of all Greeks who knew of this decision, it was a shocking sign of desperation and weak leadership, which deserved to be punished by God. The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates characterized it as "the turning point towards the decline of the Roman state".[51]

Forcing the populace to destroy their icons at the behest of an army of foreign schismatics did not endear Alexios IV to the citizens of Constantinople. In fear of his life, the co-emperor asked the crusaders to renew their contract for another six months, to end by April 1204. Alexios IV then led 6,000 men from the Crusader army against his rival Alexios III in Adrianople.[52] During the co-emperor's absence in August, rioting broke out in the city and a number of Latin residents were killed. In retaliation armed Venetians and other crusaders entered the city from the Golden Horn and attacked a mosque (Constantinople at this time had a sizable Muslim population), which was defended by Muslim and Byzantine Greek residents[citation needed]. In order to cover their retreat the Westerners instigated the "Great Fire", which burnt from 19 to 21 August, destroying a large part of Constantinople and leaving an estimated 100,000 homeless.

In January 1204, the blinded and incapacitated Isaac II died, probably of natural causes.[51] Opposition to his son and co-emperor Alexios IV had grown during the preceding months of tension and spasmodic violence in and around Constantinople. The Byzantine Senate elected a young noble Nicolas Canabus as emperor, in what was to be one of the last known acts of this ancient institution. However he declined the appointment and sought church sanctuary.[53]

A nobleman Alexios Doukas (nicknamed Mourtzouphlos) became the leader of the anti-crusader faction within the Byzantine leadership. While holding the court rank of protovestilarios, Doukas had led Byzantine forces during the initial clashes with the crusaders, winning respect from both military and populace. He was accordingly well-placed to move against the increasingly isolated Alexios IV, whom he overthrew, imprisoned, and had strangled in early February. Doukas then was crowned as Emperor Alexios V Doukas Mourtzouphlos. He immediately moved to have the city fortifications strengthened and summoned additional forces to the city.[54]

War against Alexios V

Venetian mosaic from 1213 depicting the fall of Constantinople

The crusaders and Venetians, incensed at the murder of their supposed patron, demanded that Mourtzouphlos honour the contract that Alexios IV had promised. When the emperor refused, the Crusaders assaulted the city once again. On 8 April Alexios V's army put up a strong resistance, which did much to discourage the crusaders.[51] The Byzantines hurled large projectiles onto the enemy siege engines, shattering many of them. Bad weather conditions were a serious hindrance to the crusaders. A fierce wind blew from the shore and prevented most of the ships from drawing close enough to the walls to launch an assault. Only five of the wall's towers were actually engaged and none of these could be secured; by mid-afternoon it was evident that the attack had failed.[51]

The Latin clergy discussed the situation amongst themselves and settled upon the message they wished to spread through the demoralised army. They had to convince the men that the events of 9 April were not God's judgment on a sinful enterprise: the campaign, they argued, was righteous and with proper belief it would succeed. The concept of God testing the determination of the crusaders through temporary setbacks was a familiar means for the clergy to explain failure in the course of a campaign.[51] The clergy's message was designed to reassure and encourage the Crusaders. Their argument that the attack on Constantinople was spiritual revolved around two themes. First, the Greeks were traitors and murderers since they had killed their rightful lord, Alexios IV.[51] The churchmen used inflammatory language and claimed that "the Greeks were worse than the Jews",[51] and they invoked the authority of God and the pope to take action.

Although Innocent III had again demanded that they not attack, the papal letter was suppressed by the clergy, and the crusaders prepared for their own attack, while the Venetians attacked from the sea. Alexios V's army stayed in the city to fight, but when the unpaid Varangians left the city, Alexios V himself fled during the night. An attempt was made to find a further replacement emperor from amongst the Byzantine Greek nobility, but the situation had now become too chaotic for either of the two candidates who came forward to find sufficient support.[citation needed]

On 12 April 1204, the weather conditions finally favoured the crusaders. A strong northern wind aided the Venetian ships in coming close to the walls, and after a short battle approximately seventy crusaders managed to enter the city. Some were able to knock holes in the walls, large enough for only a few knights at a time to crawl through; the Venetians were also successful at scaling the walls from the sea, though there was fighting with the Byzantine infantry. The remaining Anglo-Saxon "axe bearers" had been amongst the most effective of the city's defenders, but they now attempted to negotiate higher wages from their Byzantine employers, before dispersing or surrendering.[55] The crusaders captured the Blachernae section of the city in the northwest and used it as a base to attack the rest of the city. While attempting to defend themselves with a wall of fire, however, they burned even more of the city. This second fire left 15,000 people homeless.[52] The crusaders completely took the city on 13 April.

Sack of Constantinople

Main article: Sack of Constantinople

The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (Eugène Delacroix, 1840). The most infamous action of the Fourth Crusade was the sack of the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople.

The crusaders sacked Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Greco-Roman works of art were stolen or ruined. Many of the civilian population of the city were killed and their property looted. Despite the threat of excommunication, the crusaders destroyed, defiled and looted the city's churches and monasteries.[56][21] It was said that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks. The Venetians received 150,000 silver marks that were their due, while the crusaders received 50,000 silver marks. A further 100,000 silver marks were divided evenly up between the crusaders and Venetians. The remaining 500,000 silver marks were secretly kept back by many crusader knights.[57][58] The eyewitness accounts of Niketas Choniates, Geoffrey of Villehardouin, Robert of Clari, and the anonymous Latin author of the Devastatio Constantinopolitana all accuse the crusaders of egregious rapacity.[59]

Speros Vryonis in Byzantium and Europe gives a vivid account of the sack:

The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church's holy vessels. The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became easy prey to the Turks. The Fourth Crusade and the crusading movement generally thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.[56]

When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his pilgrims he was filled with shame and rage, and he strongly rebuked them.

Holy Land

The main army that sailed from Venice to Constantinople experienced several waves of defections as men sought to fulfill their vows independently of the leadership. Most of them sailed directly from ports in Apulia (southern Italy) to Acre. According to Villehardouin, the majority of those who set out on the Fourth Crusade went to the Holy Land, while only a minority participated in the attack on Constantinople. Villehardouin, however, regarded those who went to the Holy Land as deserters of the main army and its leadership and he may have exaggerated their number in order to magnify the accomplishments of the minority that besieged Constantinople.[3][60]

Modern historians have tended to disregard Villehardouin's claims. Steven Runciman thought that only a "tiny proportion" and Joshua Prawer only some "pitiful remnants" of the original army arrived in the Holy Land. Recent studies suggest that the number was substantial but shy of a majority. Of the 92 named individuals who took the crusader vow in Villehardouin's account, between 23 and 26 of them went to the Holy Land. The rate of "desertion" seems highest among the French faction.[60] Only about a tenth of the knights who had taken the cross in Flanders arrived to reinforce the remaining Christian states in the Holy Land, but over half of those from the Île-de-France did. All told, about 300 knights with their retinues from northern France made it to the Holy Land.[61] Of the contingents from Burgundy, Occitania, Italy and Germany there is less information, but there were certainly defections among the Occitan and German contingents.[3]

A large sum of money raised by the preacher Fulk of Neuilly did reach the Holy Land. Before his death in May 1202, Fulk gave the money to the Abbey of Cîteaux. Abbot Arnaud Amalric sent it to Acre in two installments. It was used to repair walls, towers and other defences that had been damaged by the earthquake of May 1202. A second wall was even added at Acre sometime before 1212.[3]

Apulia to Acre

Several crusaders, instead of going on to Venice, turned south at Piacenza in the summer of 1202 intending to go directly to the Holy Land from ports in southern Italy. Among them were Vilain of Nully, Henry of Arzillières, Renard II of Dampierre, Henry of Longchamp and Giles of Trasignies with their retinues. They do not seem to have been acting in concert or travelling together. Ultimately, several hundred knights and accompanying infantry reached the Holy Land via south Italian ports. The force was so small that King Aimery of Jerusalem refused to break his truce with the Ayyubids to allow them to go to war, despite the pleas of Renard, who was fulfilling the crusading vow of the late Count Theobald III of Champagne and possessed ample funds. As a result, eighty crusaders under Renard decided to go to the Principality of Antioch, which had no such truce. Advised against such a move, they were ambushed on the road and all but Renard were killed or captured. Renard remained in captivity for thirty years.[60]

When the crusade was diverted to Zara, many crusaders returned home or else remained behind in Italy. Some bypassed the Venetian fleet and found other means of going to the Holy Land. Geoffrey of Villehardouin, the historian's nephew, was one of them. Stephen of the Perche, was prevented from going with the main army on account of illness. Upon his recovery in March 1203, he took ship in southern Italy and travelled directly to the Holy Land with many others who had remained behind, including Rotrou of Montfort and Yves of La Jaille. Stephen re-joined the main army after the fall of Constantinople.[60]

Following the siege of Zara, more contingents abandoned the main army. The crusaders sent Robert of Boves as an envoy to the pope, but after his mission was done he went straight to the Holy Land. Abbot Martin of Pairis joined him on the trip to Rome and afterwards took ship for Palestine at Siponto. Martin arrived in Acre on 25 April 1203 in the midst of an outbreak of plague. According to the Devastatio Constantinopolitana, after the decision was made at Zara to place Alexios IV on the throne of Constantinople, the leaders of the crusade granted permission for about 1,000 men to leave and find their own way to the Holy Land. In fact, about 2,000 men abandoned the main army at that stage. Most of them were among the poorer crusaders, and two ships carrying them sank with loss of life. The German crusader Garnier of Borland also abandoned the main army after Zara.[60]

From Zara, an official embassy, led by Renaud of Montmirail, was dispatched to the Holy Land. It included Hervé of Châtel, William III of Ferrières, Geoffrey of Beaumont and the brothers John and Peter of Frouville. They were supposed to return to the main army within fifteen days of accomplishing their mission. In fact, they remained in the Holy Land and did not return until after the fall of Constantinople.[60]

In the winter of 1203–1204, Simon V of Montfort led a large contingent of defectors disgusted with the attack on Zara and opposed to the Constantinople venture. He and his men had even avoided the ruins of Zara and camped in Hungary.[62] Among Simon's followers were his brother, Guy of Montfort; the Yvelinois Simon V of Neauphle, Robert IV Mauvoisin and Dreux II of Cressonsacq; Abbot Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay; and the unnamed abbot of Cercanceaux. Shortly afterwards they were joined by Enguerrand II of Boves.[60][63] They marched up the coast from Zara back to Italy and then down the Italian coast, where they embarked for Palestine.[60]

Flemish fleet

For reasons unknown, Baldwin of Flanders divided his forces, leading half to Venice himself and sending the other half by sea. The Flemish fleet left Flanders in the summer of 1202 under the command of John II of Nesle, Thierry of Flanders and Nicholas of Mailly.[a] It sailed into the Mediterranean and, according to the chronicler Ernoul, attacked and captured an unnamed Muslim city on the African coast. The city was left in the hands of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the fleet went on to Marseille, where it wintered in 1202–1203. There the fleet was joined by a number of French crusaders, including Bishop Walter II of Autun, Count Guigues III of Forez, Bernard IV of Moreuil, Henry of Arraines, Hugh of Chaumont, John of Villers, Peter Bromont and the brothers Walter and Hugh of Saint-Denis and their retinues.[60]

The pilots of Marseille had more experience sailing out of sight of land than those of any other Mediterranean port, having been doing it since the mid-12th century. In summer, they could make the trip to Acre in fifteen days. They possessed a fleet sufficient to transport the army of Richard the Lionheart on the Third Crusade in 1190. It was also a cheaper and more accessible port for the French contingent.[60]

Baldwin sent orders to his fleet in Marseille to sail at the end of March 1203 and rendezvous with the Venetian fleet off Methoni.[b] His messengers must also have brought news of the decision to go to Constantinople before proceeding to the Holy Land. For this reason the Flemish leaders may have opted to ignore the rendezvous and sail directly to Acre. It is also possible that they kept the rendezvous, but not finding the Venetian fleet (which did not get to Methoni before May) went on to Acre alone. They probably arrived there before Martin of Pairis on 25 April 1203.[60] At least a part of the fleet stopped at Cyprus, where Thierry of Flanders made a claim on the island in the name of his wife, the Damsel of Cyprus, daughter of Isaac Doukas Komnenos, former emperor of Cyprus. Thierry, his wife and those knights that had supported him were ordered by Aimery to leave his kingdom, so they went to the Kingdom of Armenia, homeland of Thierry's mother-in-law.[64]

The Flemish crusaders in Acre encountered the same difficulty as Renard of Dampierre. King Aimery was unwilling to break his truce for the sake of such a small army. The crusaders, therefore, split up. Some entered the service of the Principality of Antioch and others that of the County of Tripoli. Bernard of Moreuil and John of Villers joined Renard of Dampierre and were captured along with him. John of Nesle went to the aid of Armenia and thus found himself fighting some of his former comrades, since Armenia and Antioch were then at war. Sometime before 5 November 1203, however, the truce was broken. The Muslims seized two Christian ships and in retaliation, the Christians had seized six Muslim ships. The Flemish crusaders returned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem to fight.[60]

On 8 November, Martin of Pairis and Conrad of Swartzenberg were sent to the main army, then besieging Constantinople, to press for it to continue on to the Holy Land now that the truce was broken. The envoys arrived on 1 January 1204, but the army was in the midst of heavy fighting and nothing came of their embassy.[60]

East–West schism

Main article: East–West Schism

Assessing the disastrous results of the expedition he had started, Pope Innocent III spoke against the crusaders thus:

How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks, no matter how severely she is beset with affIictions 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.[65]

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Partition of the Byzantine Empire

Partition of the Byzantine Empire into The Latin Empire and its Crusader Vassals, Empire of Nicaea, Trapezuntine Empire, and Despotate of Epirus after 1204. Please note that this map's borders may not be accurate.

According to a subsequent treaty, the empire was apportioned between Venice and the leaders of the crusade, and the Latin Empire of Constantinople was established. Boniface was not elected as the new emperor, although the citizens seemed to consider him as such; the Venetians thought he had too many connections with the former empire because of his brother, Renier of Montferrat, who had been married to Maria Komnene, empress in the 1170s and 1180s and also because they thought that Boniface would favor the Genoese more than the Venetians as Montferrat was on Genoa's northern border. Instead, they placed Baldwin of Flanders on the throne. Boniface went on to found the Kingdom of Thessalonica, a vassal state of the new Latin Empire. The Venetians also founded the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Meanwhile, Byzantine refugees founded their own rump states, the most notable of these being the Empire of Nicaea under Theodore Laskaris (a relative of Alexios III), the Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus. This was known as the Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae in Latin.[citation needed]

Venetian colonies

The Republic of Venice accumulated several possessions in Greece, which formed part of its Stato da Màr. Some of them survived until the fall of the Republic itself in 1797:

Genoese colonies

Genoese attempts to occupy Corfu and Crete in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade were thwarted by the Venetians. It was only during the 14th century, exploiting the terminal decline of the Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos dynasty, and often in agreement with the weakened Eastern Roman rulers, that various Genoese nobles established domains in the northeastern Aegean:

Crusader Colonies

The Latin Empire and the 4th Crusade's leaders all created their own kingdoms in the Byzantine Empire.

Map of the Greek and Latin states in southern Greece ca. 1278


The Frankokratia (Greek: Φραγκοκρατία, Latin: Francocratia, sometimes anglicized as Francocracy, lit. "rule of the Franks"), also known as Latinokratia (Greek: Λατινοκρατία, Latin: Latinocratia, "rule of the Latins") and, for the Venetian domains, Venetokratia or Enetokratia (Greek: Βενετοκρατία or Ενετοκρατία, Latin: Venetocratia, "rule of the Venetians"), was the period in Greek history after the Fourth Crusade (1204), when a number of primarily French and Italian states were established by the Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae on the territory of the shattered Byzantine Empire.

The terms Frankokratia and Latinokratia derive from the name given by the Orthodox Greeks to the Western French and Italians who originated from territories that once belonged to the Frankish Empire, as this was the political entity that ruled much of the former Western Roman Empire after the collapse of Roman authority and power. The span of the Frankokratia period differs by region: the political situation proved highly volatile, as the Frankish states fragmented and changed hands, and the Greek successor states re-conquered many areas.

With the exception of the Ionian Islands and some islands or forts which remained in Venetian hands until the turn of the 19th century, the end of the Frankokratia in most Greek lands came with the Ottoman conquest, chiefly in the 14th to 17th centuries, which ushered in the period known as "Tourkokratia" ("rule of the Turks"; see Ottoman Greece). During the ensuing half-century, the unstable Latin Empire siphoned off much of Europe's crusading energy. The legacy of the Fourth Crusade was the deep sense of betrayal felt by the Greek Christians. With the events of 1204, the schism between the Churches in the East and West was not just complete but also solidified.[81]

During the Frankokratia, the Latin Empire was faced with a number of enemies. After taking Constantinople the crusaders were not able to take possession of the entire empire. The Franks were faced by several Eastern Roman rump states, whose rulers considered themselves the legitimate successors to the Imperial throne. The three most important of these surviving Byzantine entities were the Despotate of Epirus in Epirus, the Empire of Nicaea in Anatolia, and the Empire of Trebizond in Paphlagonia, Pontus, Bithynia, and Crimea. Besides the individual Eastern Roman rump states in Epirus, Nicaea and Trebizond, the crusaders were threatened by the Christian Second Bulgarian Empire in Bulgaria, Wallachia, and the Balkans and the Muslim & nomadic Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm in Anatolia, and later the Mongol Empire, or more specifically, the Golden Horde. Ultimately the crusaders lacked the numbers sufficient to permanently hold their new conquests.

The fragmented Eastern Roman rump states fought against the crusaders, Bulgarians, Turks, and each other.[82] The unstable Latin Empire siphoned off much of Europe's crusading energy. The legacy of the Fourth Crusade and Frankokratia was also a deep sense of betrayal felt by the Greek Christians. With the events of 1204, the schism between the Churches in the East and West was not just complete but also solidified.[81] During the Frankokratia various Latin–French lordships throughout Greece – in particular, the Duchy of Athens and the principality of the Morea – provided cultural contacts with western Europe and promoted the study of Greek. There was also a French cultural influence, notably the production of a collection of laws, the Assises de Romanie. The Chronicle of Morea appeared in both French and Greek (and later Italian and Aragonese) versions. Impressive remains of Crusader castles and Gothic churches can still be seen in Greece. Nevertheless, the Latin Empire always rested on shaky foundations.

Constantinople was re-captured by the Nicaeans under Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261, with naval support from the Genoese in the Reconquest of Constantinople. This led to the restoration of a diminished Byzantine Empire. Commerce with Venice was re-established but the Nicaeans gave their Genoese allies possession of Galata, a fortress on the northern banks of the Golden Horn.[citation needed]

The Fourth Crusade had other and greater historical impacts. During the Frankokratia those Eastern Roman lands which were not under a stable government were permanently lost to the Seljuks in Anatolia. Southern Greece and the Greek islands remained mostly under rule of the crusaders, Italian nobles, and Venice. Even the Byzantine Greek Despotate of Epirus would also be ruled by another Italian noble family. Most of these crusader kingdoms would be annexed into the future Ottoman Empire, not the resurgent Byzantine-Nicaean state. The treasury of the Byzantine Empire was depleted, most of it stolen by the crusaders. All of these factors would hasten the final fall of the Byzantine Empire (also the Roman Empire since the Byzantines were actually the Eastern Romans) to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 to the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II. This final fall of the Eastern Roman Empire would usher in a new era to the ancient land of Greece which the Greeks would know as Tourkokratia, or "the Rule of the Turks."

Who Diverted the Fourth Crusade?

Redirecting Redemption to Ruin

The Fourth Crusade was a failure that can still be felt through the tension between the Eastern and Western churches. Crusaders found their cause being diverted through terms of contracts they signed with Venice and Alexius IV. The army never reached Jerusalem, and its military pilgrimage turned against fellow Christians. It resulted in the temporary Latin Empire, and centuries worth of animosity and distrust. The fault lies in questionable organization and the fear of a growing debt.

The sources differ and must thus be analyzed for validity and reliability. Considering who was an eyewitness and who was writing secondhand narratives, the following list of given sources is in order of highest to lowest priority: Geoffrey of Villehardouin (French leader), Robert of Clari (French knight), Nicetas Choniates (Byzantine bureaucrat), Gunther of Pairis (German Cistercian monk), an anonymous writer using the public letters of Pope Innocent III (papal curia), and an anonymous writer in Venice (high-ranking Venetian). It is important to note the difference between personal accounts and official reports – lending more weight to the Venetian source while minding the possible bias of otherwise useful sources.

The Fourth Crusade ended in 1204; any source that was not recorded in a timely manner was more likely to stray from factual events. As such, the following order is listed from dates given based on this collection: an anonymous author (d. 1204-1206) in Gesta Innocentii III on public letters from Innocent III (pope 1198-1216; within two years), account of Abbot Martin of Pairis (1204) which was written August 1207 - June 1208 (between three and four years), Geoffrey of Villehardouin, Marshall of Champagne, Chronicles (d. around 1213; nine years), Robert of Clari (d. about 1216; twelve years) in La Conquête de Constantinople, Nicetas Choniates in History (d. 1220; sixteen years), Gunther of Pairis (d.1220), and The History of the Doges of Venice by an unnamed high-ranking Venetian with no discernible position (after 1229; twenty-five years).

What the sources say about the Crusades differs in content: economic and geopolitical ties influence each writer and their perspective. First, the eyewitness accounts reflect the experiences of two French Crusaders – one of meager rank, and one of superior authority. Geoffrey of Villehardouin was the Marshall of Champagne and an influential leader of Fourth Crusade. He thus participated in many politically important events; his source could reveal the motives behind the Crusade. He records the events as follows: the treaty of Venice, the change of leadership (Count Thibaut III to Marquis Boniface of Montferrat), the fall of Zara and the subsequent treaty with Alexius IV, the first siege of Constantinople and the fleeing of Emperor Alexius III, the enthronement of Alexius IV and Isaac II, their deposition and coronation of Alexius V (Mourtzouphlus). He continues the record with the second siege of Constantinople, the looting of the captured city, and the election of Count Baldwin of Flanders as the new Emperor (Joinville 5-73).

Robert of Clari was a knight of no politically significant role. Due to his low rank, he was not made privy to higher ranked information (such as the motives of those leading the Crusade). He explains the deal made with the Venetians, and he gives details that are lacking in other sources. One such is how half of the Venetians were made to join the effort – drawing lots to determine their fate (Robert 39). He describes the evil deeds of the Emperor (Robert 50; 57). According to Robert, Emperor Alexius III, upon learning of the arrival of the Crusaders and Venetians, sent word that he would give them resources and money if they wanted (Robert 67). He also goes into the Battle of Adrianople.

Nicetas Choniates, a Byzantine bureaucrat, cannot explain the motives of the Crusaders but can give valuable information about the events that took place during the conquest of Constantinople (which might suggest possible motives itself). He states that Emperor Alexius III deposed Isaac II, but he does not go into detail like other sources (such as how he blinded him). Where sources typically mention the imprisonment of Isaac in harsh terms, Nicetas paints an image of "free" movement and correspondence (Nicetas). In his narrative, Alexius III is benevolent and willing to even release his nephew, Alexius IV. This backfires when Alexius IV escapes.

Gunther of Pairis, a Cistercian monk, wrote the story of Abbot Martin of Pairis. The introduction states that the Abbot despoiled the churches of Constantinople – partaking in centuries of self-presumed "justified" stealing of Holy relics. It also notes that the decision to go to Constantinople was partially influenced by "desire for relics." Gunther portrays the Abbot as a man who didn’t want to "remain empty-handed while all the others became rich," so he designed a plan that would allow him to plunder without tainting his hands with "worldly" loot (Gunther 172). He explains that the Abbot, mistaking an old priest for a layman, threatened to kill him if he did not lead the way to "more potent relics." Gunther clarifies that the Holy loot was not necessarily intended to be given to the Western Church, but to be kept by the Abbot himself (Gunther 173).

When reading a source with an unknown author, the authority and knowledge of the writer is called into question. It is difficult to determine their role or possible bias, but it could also show that they had nothing to gain from publishing falsehoods. The first anonymous author was an unnamed high-ranking Venetian with no discernible position. His official report for Venice was not published until after 1229, following the death of Doge Pietro Ziani (1205-1229). The source starts by establishing itself as a secondary reflection of the "testimony of those who have died and by what history tells of their deeds" (Anonymous One). This romantic language implies that the facts cannot be checked with those who actually experienced what the author is relaying – they are dead so the reader must trust the unknown writer with questionable credentials. In contrast, the source lists great menial details which would be hard to replicate without reliable correspondence. He states that the fleet eventually sailed to Zara and "decided to winter there;" however, the Venetians (specifically without the Crusaders) fought and overtook the city (Anonymous One). The writer also explains how Emperor Isaac II was betrayed by his brother Alexius III, and how Alexius III started committing trespasses against the Venetians after becoming the new Emperor. He also outlines how the son of Isaac, also known as Alexius IV, made promises to the army if they were to assist him with Constantinople (Anonymous One).

The second anonymous author in question is known for his membership in the papal curia. He used public letters of Pope Innocent III, who called the Crusade, as the basis of his composition. He could possibly reveal motives of the religious leaders in Vatican City. As recorded in a letter to Emperor Alexius III, Innocent said he would recall the Crusaders who aimed to "use weapons against Christians" in Constantinople (Anonymous Two 130). In this same letter, Innocent declares that Alexius IV had no right to claim wrongful enthronement to claim his uncle’s place. The source also reveals that Alexius IV was prepared to aid the army with fiscal resources and honor towards the Holy Roman Church (Anonymous Two 131). The source also states that the Venetians were the ones who refused to agree to the terms that the "societas" had to be completed without cause to "injure Christians" without prior "approval of the legate of the Apostolic See" (Anonymous Two 132). Regarding the Apostolic See, Peter, Cardinal priest of the title Saint Marcellus, was chosen to be the legate sent to the gathering in Venice. The Venetians are once more marked as a manipulative group with questionable motives; they, "fearing lest he get in the way of their plan of laying siege to Zara," set terms for him to join them. These terms, at the displeasure of the franks, stated that if he was to attend, it would be as a preacher – not a legate (Anonymous Two 139). It is important to note that as Innocent called the Crusade, it would not reflect well if they strayed from their original purpose to ignore church orders and fight fellow Christians. Therefore, it is reasonable to question whether the Venetians are at fault – either solely or as part of the collective. The letters blame Venetians for destroying the Christian city of Zara and its churches while the Franks were "absolved" (Anonymous 2 141-142). It does, however, condemn the Franks for proceeding to Constantinople with Alexius IV (persuaded by promises of aid and money) despite the warnings given by Apostolic letter (Anonymous Two 152). It ends by explaining that Alexius IV "did not keep faith with the Latins," and Count Baldwin of Flanders became the Emperor of the new Latin Empire (Anonymous Two 155).

Reconstructing a viable possibility of historical events can be difficult, but I will attempt to do so through reoccurring facts presented in the sources (as well giving more credit to more reliable sources). Many of the sources agree that the Venetians significantly influenced the Franks - diverting the Crusading effort through terms of their contract (Anonymous One, Anonymous Two, Joinville, Robert). They also explain how the Venetians and Alexius IV were able to get them to ignore the purpose of their Crusade, and to focus on fighting their battles through persuasive promises such as war ships and wealth (Robert 8, 42; Anonymous One; Anonymous Two 131; Joinville). A lot of the sources state that the clergymen were actively working against the new designs of the Crusade, but others suggest that the clergy also felt drawn to Constantinople for their Holy relics (Gunther). It is my belief, then, that the majority of the Western church officials were not pleased with the new Crusade objective, but that a few were willing to profit from the nonconformity of the Crusaders.

Almost all of the sources point towards Philip, King of Germany, helping his wife and her relative, Alexius IV. The escape of Alexius IV and "his presence in the West" is an entire year off when comparing the sources from Nicetas and Villehardouin (Nicetas, Joinville). It is harder to determine who is correct since (1) Villehardouin was a Crusade leader and would have received the proposal of Alexius IV, and (2) Nicetas was a Byzantine noble who would have had access to information about escaped royals (especially given the context of his political role, the campaign against Manuel Kamytzes, and the dispatchment of agents to retrieve Alexius IV)(Nicetus, Joinville). Given that Villehardouin would have personally interacted with and witnessed his presence, most historians choose to believe that his account would reflect a more accurate timeframe.

It is extremely important to consider the debt that is illustrated in the sources from Robert, Villehardouin, and the anonymous writer of the "History of the Doges of Venice. The Crusaders, owing debt to Venetians, lent more to their decisions to follow their lead, and it also gives significant reasons to follow along with the request of Alexius IV. They were in need of soldiers and money, so it seems more likely that the Crusaders themselves did not conspire to ruin the Crusade. More so, it seems that they became the victims of their own ignorance and negligence – contracts bound them to their diverted course. If anyone should be pinpointed for fault, some would say the Venetians took advantage of the Latins. As businessmen, it is hard to blame them for profiting off ignorant buyers, especially if they could target their competitors and enemies along the way (they acted in self-interest, but they were not Crusaders, so the Holy War was not as consequential for their perceived moral redemption).

Pope Innocent did not have much to gain from destroying Christian Cities, the fall of the Jerusalem Kingdom already weakened Christian footing, and the Latin Empire was divided and draining for Crusade resources. The first call to Crusade in 1095 was partly motivated by Pope Urban’s desire to reconcile the relationship of the Western and Eastern churches, so what benefit would Pope Innocent III receive from damaging that relationship (which is strained even in modernity)? While greed comes to mind when reading the sources, some believe that the Crusaders simply saw the deal extended by Venice to be good, but the debt started to weigh on them. They were further distracted when Alexius IV presented a deal that could release them from their debt, and a deal that would allow them to transgress upon their long-time suspected traitorous allies (of previous Crusades), the Byzantines of Constantinople.

In summary, diversion was deliberate, but the events leading to the Latin conquest of Constantinople seemed to be coincidental. Alexius IV requested help after the Crusaders finished helping the Venetians; a truly fated timing. The Crusaders were tangled in debt and contracts, and the promise of riches and freedom from their Venetian constraints ironically ensnared them.[83][84][85][86][87][88]

Reactions to the Crusade

Contemporary opposition to the sack of Constantinople

Several prominent Crusaders, including Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy, Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester and Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, among others, disagreed with the attacks on Zara and Constantinople, refused to take part in them and leaving the crusade.[89] According to Queller, Compton & Campbell (1974), the majority of the Crusaders did not take part in the attacks in Constantinople, or did so unwillingly, for various reasons.[89] Byzantinist Jonathan Harris wrote that when the decision was made to divert to Constantinople "A sizeable proportion [of Crusaders] left the army and made their own way to the Holy Land. Those who remained only agreed very reluctantly to the diversion when subjected to a mixture of financial and emotional blackmail. Even then, many hesitated before the final attack in April 1204, and had serious doubts as to whether it was legitimate to attack a Christian city in this way".[90]

The French nobleman Simon de Montfort, in particular, did not participate and was an outspoken critic. He and his associates, including Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, left the crusade when the decision was taken to divert to Constantinople to place Alexius IV Angelus on the throne. Instead, Simon and his followers travelled to the court of King Emeric of Hungary and thence to Acre.[91]

Monk and poet Guiot de Provins wrote a satirical play in response to the Crusade accusing the papacy of avarice.[92] Somewhat later, the Guilhem Figueira wrote a sirventes and repeated these accusations, asserting that greed was the primary factor behind the crusade. He harshly stated:[92]

Deceitful Rome, avarice ensnares you, so that you shear the wool of your sheep too much. May the Holy Ghost, who takes on human flesh, hear my prayer and break your beak, O Rome! You will never have a truce with me because you are false and perfidious with us and the Greeks [...] Rome, you do little harm to the Saracens, but you massacre Greeks and Latins. In hell-fire and ruin you have your seat, Rome.

However, Pope Innocent III also opposed the sack; he neither sanctioned it nor knew about it. Innocent III had forbidden the Crusaders to attack the Byzantine Empire, instructing the leader, Boniface of Montferrat, that "The crusade must not attack Christians, but should proceed as quickly as possible to the Holy Land".[93] When he found out about the events he wrote two angry letters addressed to Boniface. One of them reads:[59]

How will the Greek Church... return to ecclesiastical unity and devotion to the Apostolic See, a church which has seen in the Latins nothing except an example of affliction and the works of Hell, so that now it rightly detests them more than dogs?... It was not enough for them [the Latins] to empty the imperial treasuries and to plunder the spoils of princes and lesser folk, but rather they extended their hands to church treasuries and, what was more serious, to their possessions, even ripping away silver tablets from altars and breaking them into pieces among themselves, violating sacristies and crosses, and carrying away relics.

Historian Robert Lee Wolff interprets the two letters from Innocent III as a sign of the Pope's "early spirit of understanding for the Greeks".[59]

Modern assessment

"O City, City, eye of all cities, universal boast, supramundane wonder, nurse of churches, leader of the faith, guide of Orthodoxy, beloved topic of orations, the abode of every good thing! Oh City, that hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury! O City, consumed by fire..."

Niketas Choniates laments the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders.[94]

The prominent medievalist Sir Steven Runciman wrote in 1954: "There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade."[95] According to historian Martin Arbagi, "The diversion of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was one of the great atrocities of medieval history, and Pope Innocent III placed most of the blame on Venice".[96] The controversy that has surrounded the Fourth Crusade has led to diverging opinions in academia on whether its objective was indeed the capture of Constantinople. The traditional position, which holds that this was the case, was challenged by Donald E. Queller and Thomas F. Madden in their book The Fourth Crusade (1977).[97]

Constantinople was considered as a bastion of Christianity that defended Europe from the advancing forces of Muslims, and the Fourth Crusade's sack of the city dealt an irreparable blow to this eastern bulwark. Although the Greeks retook Constantinople after 57 years of Latin rule, the Byzantine Empire had been crippled by the Fourth Crusade. Reduced to Constantinople, north-western Anatolia, and a portion of the southern Balkans, the empire fell to the Ottoman Muslims who captured the city in 1453.[98]

Eight hundred years later, Pope John Paul II twice expressed sorrow for the events of the Fourth Crusade. In 2001, he wrote to Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens, "It is tragic that the assailants, who set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret."[99] In 2004, while Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, was visiting the Vatican, John Paul II asked, "How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the pain and disgust."[100] This has been regarded as an apology to the Greek Orthodox Church for the massacres perpetrated by the warriors of the Fourth Crusade.[101]

In April 2004, in a speech on the 800th anniversary of the city's capture, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formally accepted the apology. "The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred," he said during a liturgy attended by Roman Catholic Archbishop Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France. "We receive with gratitude and respect your cordial gesture for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade. It is a fact that a crime was committed here in the city 800 years ago." Bartholomew said his acceptance came in the spirit of Easter. "The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection... incites us toward reconciliation of our churches."[102]

The Fourth Crusade was one of the last of the major crusades to be launched by the Papacy, though it quickly fell out of Papal control. After bickering between laymen and the papal legate led to the collapse of the Fifth Crusade, later crusades were directed by individual monarchs, mostly against Egypt. One subsequent crusade, the Sixth, succeeded in restoring Jerusalem to Christian rule for 15 years.


Venetian possessions (till 1797):

See also


  1. ^ Nicholas of Mailly joined the main army after the fall of Constantinople.[60]
  2. ^ Baldwin of Flanders' wife, Marie of Champagne, sailed from Marseille to Acre in the spring of 1204. She was there when she learned of his election as emperor.[60]


  1. ^ John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, (1995; repr., London: Folio Society, 2003), 169
  2. ^ Mayer, Hans Eberhard (1988). The Crusades. Oxford University Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-19-873097-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Benjamin Z. Kedar (2005), "The Fourth Crusade's Second Front", in A. Laiou (ed.), Urbs Capta: The Fourth Crusade and its Consequences, Paris: Lethielleux, pp. 89–101.
  4. ^ Haldon, John (2002). Byzantium at War. Oxford: Osprey. p. 87.
  5. ^ Phillips, Jonathan (2004). The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. New York: Viking. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-14-303590-9.
  6. ^ "Templar Rule on Cyprus 1191–1192". HeSchrader. Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  7. ^ Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202–04 – the Betrayal of Byzantium. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-84908-319-5.
  8. ^ Nicolle, David (2011). The Fourth Crusade 1202–04. Bloomsbury USA. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-84908-319-5.
  9. ^ Sheppard, Si (24 March 2020). Constantinople AD 717-18. Bloomsbury USA. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-4728-3692-2.
  10. ^ Norman Davies, p. 311, "Vanished Kingdoms. The History of Half-forgotten Europe", ISBN 978-0-141-04886-4
  11. ^ Sherrard, Philip (1967). Byzantium. Nederland: Time-Life Books. pp. 42–43.
  12. ^ John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, (1995; repr., London: Folio Society, 2003)
  13. ^ Brand, Charles M.; Cutler, Anthony (1991). "Stryphnos, Michael". In Kazhdan, Alexander (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 1968. ISBN 0-19-504652-8.
  14. ^ Guilland, Rodolphe (1967). "Le Drongaire de la flotte, le Grand drongaire de la flotte, le Duc de la flotte, le Mégaduc". Recherches sur les institutions byzantines [Studies on the Byzantine Institutions]. Berliner byzantinische Arbeiten 35 (in French). Vol. I. Berlin and Amsterdam: Akademie-Verlag & Adolf M. Hakkert. pp. 535–562. OCLC 878894516.
  15. ^ Runciman, Steven (1954). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (Volume 3). Penguin. pp. 107–111. ISBN 0-14-013705-X.
  16. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer (1976). The Papacy and the Levant, 1204–1571: The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. American Philosophical Society. p. 7. ISBN 978-0871691149.
  17. ^ Edgar H. McNeal (1953), "Fulk of Neuilly and the Tournament of Écry", Speculum, 28 (2): 371–375, doi:10.2307/2849695, JSTOR 2849695, S2CID 162545150.
  18. ^ Runciman, Steven (1954). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (Volume 3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-521-34772-3.
  19. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 15th ed., p. 306, Macropaedia Vol. 5
  20. ^ 'The compact with the Venetians. Villehardouin: Conquête de Constantinople, ch. iv, v, vi, Nos. 18, 24, 30 Old French.
  21. ^ a b c Hughes, Philip. "Innocent III and the Latin East", History of the Church Archived 2018-12-23 at the Wayback Machine (Sheed & Ward, 1948), vol. 2, pp. 370–372.
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  24. ^ Robert de Clari, La Prise de Constantinople, xi–xii, in Hopf, Chroniques Greco-Romaines, pp. 7–9. Old French.
  25. ^ Phillips. The Fourth Crusade, p. 57.
  26. ^ Zara is the today the city of Zadar in Croatia; it was called "Jadera" in Latin documents and "Jadres" by French crusaders. The Venetian (Italian) "Zara" is a later derivation of the contemporary vernacular "Zadra".
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Primary sources

Secondary sources

Further reading