Episode 260 – The Fourth Crusade (Part 2)

‘The Taking of Constantinople’ by Palma Le Jeune (1544–1620)

‘Conquest of Constantinople’ by David Aubert (1449-79)

Fire Damage at Constantinople 1203-4 from Michael Angold’s book ‘The Fourth Crusade Event and Context’

The Latins assault the city and Alexios Angelos Komnenos flees. Alexios Angelos becomes Emperor and empties the treasury into the Crusaders’ hands. But when he runs out of money the two sides face an inevitable confrontation.

Period: 1203-4

Pic: Alexios V Doukas – “Mourtzouphlos.” (Miniature portrait from a 15th-century codex containing a copy of the Extracts of the History by Joannes Zonaras))

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Categories: Uncategorized | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Episode 260 – The Fourth Crusade (Part 2)

  1. At some point, the crown just doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

  2. Lenry

    I started listening The History of Rome many years ago. Then continued with your excellent podcast, so I’m into roman history for at least 5 or 6 years – 439 episodes. I can say I’m really invested into them.
    So… after all these… This episode was the most sad thing I could listen to. To think about the many many treasures, cultural heritage that was lost to… to ALL THAT STUPIDITY! It’s unimaginable. And all that in the name of the same God the romans worship… Sad. Just sad.

  3. Denis Nardin

    So, I have an end of the century question, but it might be somewhat speculative. Was the collapse of the Roman Empire inevitable at this point? What I mean is, without the fourth crusade acting as a catalyst, it still feels like the Roman empire was basically collapsing on its own before. From when Andronikos took power it just felt like there would be more and more rebellions, more and more parts of the empire declaring independence until nothing was left supporting Constantinople. And we all know that without the tax revenue of the empire, Constantinople could not exist.

  4. George

    It’s interesting to observe how, times and times again, what is essentially the Roman worldview and perception ends up biting them in the arse. We saw it when the Turks conquered Anatolia, where the Romans couldn’t conceive of the Turks as having a state-forming potential, same with the Latins now. They see them almost like fauna, dangerous, and potentially useful, but not on the same playing field. To be fair to them in both cases that appears to have been largely a correct observation, neither the Turks nor the Latins came there intending to overthrow the Roman Empire, but in the end, the Romans were too blind to the very real threat.

    As for my end-of-the-century questions:

    I don’t recall the podcast ever discussing in detail what the Byzantine *local* administration (Meaning below the Thematic Strategos) was like. In the west things like jurisdiction were usually devolved to local noble landowners, and by our period also local city communes. I understand that Byzantium is a pre-modern state, and much could be done in an ad-hoc manner or delegated to local notables (such as the local bishop), and that duties may not be attached as much to the office but more to certain individual officials whom the emperor or the governor trusts. But still, what sort of officials could one encounter on the town or village level? What were they called? How many were there? How would they interact with the local community? How were they selected? How would something like crime or inheritance or other such matters be handled and by whom? How would a Byzantine town be run? How did tax collection work (Who would collect it? How would it make its way physically from the taxpayer to Constantinople?) How did all of this change over time?

    What was the relationship like between the centre and the periphery? It appears like during the siege of Constantinople the court must have been pretty much cutting off from the provinces (or anyway, they wouldn’t have time to deal with provincial matters) what sort of matters would the emperor or the court be required to deal with? What impact would a sudden disappearance of the emperor and his court have on the provinces? What was happening in the provinces anyway while the siege was ongoing (I suppose you will get to this in later podcast episodes as it is directly relevant to the origin of many of the successor states, both Greek and Latin.

    Also, I think you might change your mind on this as you do further research but I’m still curious to hear your take. You mentioned that the Latins didn’t do much with the empire once they seized it and always maintained a certain distance. I think this is true with Constantinople itself, but places like Attica and Morea seem to have done quite well under Latin rule, I get the impression they were almost like backwaters under imperial rule, is that the right impression or just the result of the podcast focusing more on the likes of Thrace and Anatolia?

    Anyway. Good luck with the next centuries, the chessboard is about to get even more crowded than previously thought. I will be looking forward to how you handle it.

    • George

      Forgot one more question about Byzantine provincial administration: How much of it and what would have been used and preserved by new states on former Byzantine territory? Such as the Sultanate of Rum, the Second Bulgarian Empire and the Latin states.

  5. Vicky

    I’ve been looking forward to this episode with a combination of dread and eagerness for many years now. At first it loomed very distantly, but even as it got closer it felt like a point we’d never truly reach. Now we’re here and you absolutely knocked it out of the park. You did a fantastic job detailing the tragedy, showing why all those involved acted the way they acted, and also kept a healthy dose of perspective about it. The little epilogue at the end of the episode got me very eager for the next season.

    As for a question, I second the request for information on what was going on in the provinces, which I guess ties in to them spinning off into their own successor states. The other question I have is about Alexios IV Angelos. What was he thinking promising such impossible rewards to the crusaders? Did he overestimate the empire’s riches or did he expect he’d be able to easily wiggle out of his promise once he was emperor ?

    Finally, I am curious about Enrico Dandolo and his advanced age. Being so active at 90 is surprising these days but in the middle ages it’s basically unheard of! We’ve never had an emperor live that long, and I believe in the entire history of the Papacy Benedict XVI is the first to have reached 90. How well is his age actually substantiated by sources? How did his contemporaries remark upon a 90 year old going on crusade? I would imagine Dandolo was planning to die crusading, yet at the same time he comes off as by far the most level-headed and pragmatic of the crusaders. I would love to hear any further insight into his character, which seems quite unique. Was he less unusual when compared to other Venetian Doges?

    • Denis Nardin

      Hopefully our esteemed host will give a more in depth answer, but I wanted to mention that there’s a recent biography of Enrico Dandolo by Thomas Madden (“Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice”), which I found a very interesting read. It has been criticized for being rather friendly to the Venetians in the depiction of the fourth crusade though, so read with care :). I still found it extremely interesting for seeing how the events of the last few decades looked on the other side of the Adriatic. For example, the failure of the 1172 expedition resulted in the lynching of the doge Vitale Michiel, which must have been *very* present in the mind of Dandolo during the fourth crusade…

      Regarding his age, all the members of his family seem to be rather long-lived (his father, was ninety as well when he went in embassy to Costantinople after the failed punitive expedition of 1172)

  6. Caleb Charles

    What happened to that system of watchtowers across anatolia that warned of enemy attack? Obviously at this point the romans no longer have it. But are they still up? When exactly did they lose control of them?

  7. Bob

    None of this would have happened had the coup of John the fat succeeded.

  8. MGM

    An end of the century question: what ever happened to the Byzantine possessions in the Black Sea? Last I remember you mentioning them was when discussing Justinian II’s return to power. Did the Byzantine Empire manage to maintain control of them throughout all of its turbulence?

  9. James5b

    For an end of century question, I may be missing something obvious, but why couldn’t an army be raised to drive off the Latins? I understand there were troops in the city but I’d imagine this would only be a fraction of the men the emperor could raise since the countryside was never rallied to the capital’s defense. Was there just too much of a fear that whoever raised an army would immediately proclaim themselves emperor?

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