Episode 261 – The Sack

St Mark’s Square – an imitation of a Byzantine forum. St Mark’s Basilica is prominent with the bronze horses taken from the Hippodrome.

The ‘Pillars of Acre’ (from the Church of St Polyeuktos) and the Porphyry statue of the Tetrachs. Both sit outside St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and both were taken from Constantinople.

We discuss what happened once the Latins started looting. How were the Byzantines treated? What was taken and what has survived?

Period: 1204

Pic: The Colossus of Barletta. Most likely this is the Emperor Leo I (457-74 AD)

Stream: The Sack

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Categories: Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Episode 261 – The Sack

  1. John M. Atkinson

    I have to comment on a detail you missed.

    The comment about St. Justinian the Great’s remains being undecayed would have actually meant something and would be intended to be taken literally. Embalming was not practiced, and is not considered Orthodox practice even today. The Emperor Justinian was and is venerated as a Saint, and this would have been meant to paint the Latins as ignoring the evidence of their own eyes that they were plundering the grave of a saint.

    Incorruption is frequently attributed to Orthodox saints, even unto today.


  2. Russ Rutherford

    Hello Robin,

    First of all, I have been enjoying the podcast like always. I find these crisis episodes are always a little hard to listen to at first, but the analysis is first rate and once I get over the shock, I really enjoy figuring out what went wrong and exactly what happened. So, I have my end of the century questions ready so here we go. My first two come from earlier questions you asked me to revisit in 1204

    1. I asked when Manuel re-kitted out the Germans in the Second Crusade with Byzantine gear how that might have been different than what they were already using. In essence, I’m wondering what weapons and armor looked like in the Roman army at this time. Do we know of any newer technologies or how the kit might have evolved in this time period? The trebuchet and projectile throwers seem to have improved and the Venetians seem to have new ship technology, but I was wondering if there are any updates to the army, gear or military technology that we know of.

    2. Would it be possible to get a walking tour of recently lost and remaining Imperial territory at this point? There has been a lot of fragmentation, rebellion, and foreign conquest in the last run of episodes and I would find a review of imperial territory and neighbors helpful as a lot has changed in the last two decades. In an earlier post I asked about the state of the Balkans at this time especially I am curious about population, demography, who is in charge where, or how the Romans and their post Basil II subjects had been getting along in this period? Some of this was covered in the narrative, but in particular the sudden re-emergence of the Bulgarian Empire was fascinating. The whole area was quiet and dependable territory for a long time, and the Vlachs were denied pronoia and BOOM! Anyway any review or insights would be valuable and appreciated.

    3. One thing that really struck me in the narrative was how quickly the Hungarians and the Turks took territory from the empire once Manuel was gone. Particularly in Anatolia, I don’t remember Sozopolis or the forts on the way to Attalia as being under threat since John Komnenos took them at the beginning of his reign but Kilij Arlsan II seemed to make very short work of them. Do we know why that is?

    4. It seems to me that at the beginning of Alexious’ reign that Anna Dalassene’s connection of her family to as many of the important families she could manage and her negotiations may well have saved Byzantium in her day. I sometimes wonder if she was the unsung hero of the Roman state in many ways.

    5.Would it also be fair to say that Andronicus is the most responsible person for the post Manuel collapse? He seems to have unraveled the coalition almost completely. (or at least fragmented it to the point that there was no natural obvious leader left.) I mean, somebody might have been able to put the pieces back together but is it fair to say it is mostly his fault?

    6. How much blame do you think the Angeoli should be assigned for the disaster? It seems to me like Isaac II in particular very unwisely antagonized the Vlachs and the Barbarosa during the 3rd Crusade when he was not in a good position to do so, and neither group seemed too hostile at the time. Do you think he might have had better results if he had campaigned in person more and not left his army so much to other generals while he stayed behind? It seems to me that the Angeoli and Andronicus are more responsible for the collapse than any of the earlier Komnenoi. What do you think?

    7. Do you think that if Andronicus had not massacred the Latins when he came to power, that the empire might have been able to keep it’s fleet stronger for when the Normans came using the Genoese and Pisan alliance, and have reinstated the Venetians and better controlled their aggressive tendencies within the empire using competition between the three city states? I feel like the Venetians had gotten out of hand during John and Manuel’s reigns and I went back and forth for a long time over Manuel’s actions in that he clearly needed to do something to get them in line, but that his arrest was seen as treacherous (although ironically I think it ended in less bloodshed for the Venetians than if he had tried to control them another way). I wonder if long term Manuel’s actions did more damage or if it was all the Latin horse switching in the subsequent reigns. Manuel arrests and releases them, Andronicus massacres the Pisans and Genoese, then pays the Venetians to come back, then Isaac restores all the privileges that allowed them to become too powerful in the first place. It is all a very complex issue. What do you think?

    8. One thing I noticed about Roman government during this time, would it be fair to say that having a more centralized state is an advantage until it isn’t? What I mean by that is though Roman administration was slower moving, it seemed to have much better staying power than any contemporary state so far in the podcast. Did the Roman way of doing things make the empire more resilient and stronger until it was too thoroughly fractured to easily reunify? (i.e. loosing Constantinople?) At that point, did the centralization (or lack there of) start to damage it?

    9. Finally, I am wondering about how the economy, life in the provinces and any interesting cultural, religious or daily life changes that have occurred lately. End of the centuries are always big projects, but whatever you uncover is always fascinating.

    Anyway, thanks again, Robin, for all the excellent work and the great ride through Roman history. I’m looking forward to the end of the century tour, and the next chapter of the story. Though it will never be quite as strong again, the phoenix will rise yet again (man, the Byzantines are like watching a Rocky movie sometimes) and they will contribute more to the world and there is still a lot of great history to go.

  3. Alf Westelius

    The fall and sack of Constantinople certainly seem understandable, the way you describe them. And that seems to go for much of the high-level political world history: what goes on at the top has little impact on most people, at least not in the short run. If a new ruler does not drastically try to change the way the city/country/empire is governed, who is actually at the top, makes little difference to people. So what was life like in Contantinople – and in some other major cities ot the empire – at this point? (Is living In Constantinople really different from living in some other major city?)
    What was actually traded to and from Constantinople, and where from/to? Was there a large difference in what the Venetians, the Genovese and the Pisans traded with and the range of their trading networks? And a large difference in what reached Constantinople and what reached lesser (but still substantial) major cities?
    What was the actual level of masonry, other crafts, and art at this point? You state that it was (considerably?) less advanced than at the hight of the empire. Is it a matter of skill, or is it more a matter of top-level scale – that truly spectacular buildings and works of art are not commissioned any longer, but could hav been skillfully produced, if money had been directed towards such ends?
    Were the poor(er?) masses in the city dependent on hand-outs and relief work, or were they self-sustaining? Were there any guilds around, and if so, which ones? And those working as weavers, tailors, sculptors and painters, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, bakers, brewers, scribes, etc, would they constitute some kind of middle class, leading rather comfortable lives, considerably more affluent than “workers” – and un(der)employed(?) – or would they, too, have been very far from the lifestyle enjoyed by the people who actually appear in your account? And if they were reasonably affluent, were there any attempts by them to organise and act to run society, at least at their level (if not aiming for self-rule at hgher levels in the city/cities)?

    Really looking forward to your future episodes,

  4. George

    Forget about the sadness of the sack. I’m here for the story of how the Romans somehow managed to come back from this AGAIN.

  5. Briton (from USA - Colorado)

    I just discovered your podcast after finishing a whilrwind trip through the History of Rome and have to say I am thrilled that your humor and thoroughness are captivating! Thank You!!

  6. Eric

    Hello. I happen to be in the middle of reading Scribes and Scholars, which describes the transmission of ancient texts to the modern day. The author remarks that a couple of participants in this journey (John Tzetzes and Michael Choniates) were the last Byzantines known to have access to more ancient poetry than we do, due to the Fourth Crusade. This prompts my end of the century/sack question: what can we say about the fate of the texts in Constantinople in the sack? Are there any that were definitely known to be lost forever due to the sack? Any known to have survived? Do we have any idea of the contents of the imperial archives before the sack, and what became of them? Thanks!

  7. This is too depressing for me to listen to. But you are very heroic who have created it.

    • Russ Rutherford

      You know, I always struggle with the disaster/ collapse episodes, too. But after the shock wears off, I still like them because they help me to understand exactly how it happened and to better understand the history of it all.

      • The last emperor and the very end against the Ottomans is as epic as it can possibly get. Or at least, that is my current preconception.

  8. Russ Rutherford

    A couple more questions in the end of the century vein. I mentioned earlier that I was wondering about a tour of the provinces and near neighbors of the empire so as to know who is in charge where and how life was going in these highly disrupted places so as to know who is where to better understand the narrative. In that vein, I am wondering what is left of the Roman army at this point and what forces are available to the pockets of Roman resistance or successor states that will form and how they will be recruited/ lead/ organized when the narrative resumes. I am also curious as to the troop types that will be used and what has happened to all the foreign recruits that were in the army when Constantinople was taken? Do they stay with the Romans, move on somewhere else, just fade away? Will the Roman army/ state become more ethnically homogeneous? Any insights will be great.

    Specifically, I am wondering if there are any updates on the Varangian Guard over the last century or even post sack. From the narrative I recall that more Anglo-Saxons/ Danes from England were recruited these last two centuries. Do we know anything about the guard’s make up in these last years or if they were still being recruited for shorter term service as they were in the Macedonian era? Specifically, I’m wondering if post 1066 England guardsmen continued to go home or did they have more permanent homes in Byzantium? It seems since Botaniates (or even Michael the V) the guard has been involved in more palace intrigue, could that be a function of them being more permanent? Do we know if any stuck with the Byzantine successor states or beyond?

    Also, have there been any updates to chariot racing over the last centuries? Did it/ will it remain popular going forward? Before the sack, was it still a few times a year deal like it was under the Komnenoi? Also, it seems like the Komnenoi were big fans of polo. Have there been any other changes in sport or public spectacles/ entertainments recently?

    Since the 4th Crusade and the post Manuel years were more the result of a political collapse rather than a truly military one, how does this era compare to the post Macedonian collapse? It seems like the Roman elites were behaving like after the battle of Manzikert, wishing to preserve their status at court rather than defend the empire or using foreign mercenaries to unseat rivals to the detriment of the state. Has this phenomenon been similar?

    Also, could the anemic Roman response before the 4th crusade be seen as similar to the Muslim response to the first Crusade in that they were so divided that they were incapable of uniting to defend themselves effectively? Do I understand correctly that small cavalry forces could defeat numerically superior forces because they were weak, divided and not a dedicated as a crusading force fighting for its survival?

    Finally, I am wondering about education in the Roman Empire. In previous centuries you mentioned there had been a decline then an increase in learning and literacy. How does this era compare to previous ones? Are the Romans more educated or showing signs of technological development?

    Thanks again for all your great work. I feel like I understand history in general so much better thanks to the show, and it is a lot of fun to listen and learn.

  9. Robert G

    Hello Robin,

    Firstly, I cannot believe that we finally reached this point. It isn’t the end, but certainly it is the beginning of it. The last three episodes were amazing, and yet so sad to listen to. I knew the inevitable was coming, and yet, I was still hoping to the see the light at the end of the tunnel…. Perhaps it will still shine upon the Romans before the true end.

    I know that I am quite late to the party, but I was hoping you could help me figure out the following questions:

    1. Do we have any sources on the non-Latin factions reacting to the sack, such as from Novgorod, Kieven-Rus, the Ayyubid Sultanate, the Kingdom of Georgia, and the Seljuk Turks? Were there also any Latin kingdoms that openly denounced the acts of their brethren for taking Constantinople?

    2. Do we have information on what happened to the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of Constantinople during the sack?

    3. What was Alexios Angelos Komnenos up to after he fled the city with the thousand pounds of gold? Did he attempt to raise an army to retake Constantinople?

    4. Did the Orthodox Church or the Roman populace by any chance view the fall of Constantinople as a biblical sign representing the end of times?

    Thank you!

  10. Frank P

    Not really an end-of-the century episode, but more of a comprehensive retrospective question: how often has relying on foreign patrons _worked_ as strategy to becoming Roman Emperor? I seem to recall the Bulgarians or the Rus’ playing their part centuries ago, (and being tricked when they won) but more recently it seems like all of the pretenders hanging out with the Normans or the Arabs had shown that these adventures got nowhere.

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