Fourth crusade

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Fourth crusade
Part of: Crusades
date 1202-1204
location Balkan Peninsula
exit Conquest and sacking of Zadar and Constantinople by the Crusaders
Parties to the conflict

Cross of the Knights Templar.svgCrusader Republic of Venice
Flag of Most Serene Republic of Venice.svg

Byzantine Empire

Zadar (under Hungarian rule)


Theobald III. of the Champagne
Boniface I of Montferrat
Baldwin IX. from Flanders
Enrico Dandolo

Alexios III Angelos
Alexios V. Murtzuphlos

Troop strength
Cross of the Knights Templar.svg10,000 men
Flag of Most Serene Republic of Venice.svg10,000 men, 210 ships
30,000 Byzantine soldiers
20 Byzantine ships

The Fourth Crusade from 1202 to 1204, in which mainly French knights as well as Venetian sailors and soldiers were involved, originally had the conquest of Egypt as its goal. Despite violent objections from the Pope and completely contrary to the idea of the Crusade , Christian Constantinople was captured and plundered instead . The event deepened the already emerging split between the Greek Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West .


Constantinople in the Middle Ages ( Cristoforo Buondelmonti 1422, Description des îles de l'archipel , Bibliothèque nationale , Paris)

In the middle of the 12th century, almost a seventh of the more than half a million inhabitants of Constantinople were of "Latin" (Western European) origin. Most of them were traders from the Maritime Republics of Amalfi , Genoa , Pisa and the Republic of Venice . These traders had the privileges that the Byzantine government had to grant the Italians in times of need in return for military support (see Venice's economic history ). The preferential treatment of the "Latins", their arrogant manner and their ongoing hostilities fueled hatred in the Byzantine population. At the beginning of 1171, the Genoese merchants' quarter in the Pera district on the opposite side of the Golden Horn was destroyed during riots . The culprit was never clarified, but Emperor Manuel I Komnenos accused the Venetians. As a result, on March 12, 1171, all of Venice's merchants throughout the empire were arrested, imprisoned and their property confiscated. Only a few were able to flee.

The Serenissima took the wave of arrests as a declaration of war. In the summer, a war fleet with 120 ships was equipped, which set sail in September 1171 under the command of Doge Vitale Michiel II . The fleet circled the Peloponnese and met Byzantine diplomats near Evia , who asked for negotiations. Vitale Michiel agreed to this, sent an embassy to Constantinople and wintered with the fleet on Chios . When the ambassadors returned from Constantinople in the spring of 1172, it was clear that Manuel Komnenos had no intention of changing his position. He used the alleged negotiations as an excuse to gain time for the expansion of the Byzantine defense line. He had treated the Venetian diplomats in disgrace, perhaps Enrico Dandolo , who was part of the embassy, ​​was blinded on this mission . There could be no more attack on Byzantium, however, because an epidemic broke out on the overcrowded ships in the winter of 1171/72 and had killed thousands. The few survivors were no longer able to wage war. The expedition ended in disaster. Vitale Michiel returned to Venice humiliated, served as a scapegoat and was charged. Before the trial, a Venetian named Marco Casolo stabbed him to death and was then hanged.

The relationship between the former allies Byzantium and Venice suffered permanently as a result of these events, and a peace made between the two parties in 1177 did nothing to change this. In 1182, as a result of turmoil over the succession to the throne, Andronikos I Komnenus seized power, who had been in exile on the Black Sea coast until then . Even before his arrival in Constantinople, almost the entire “Latin” population (Genoese and Pisans were still in the city) was murdered and their neighborhoods burned down in the so-called “Latin pogrom ”.

In August 1189, Emperor Isaak II. Angelos refused to allow the German army of the Third Crusade under Friedrich Barbarossa to pass through, although he had previously promised free passage and transport over the Hellespont (today's name: Dardanelles). He had secretly agreed with Sultan Saladin to delay the Crusaders' advance as long as possible. Only after the occupation and sacking of numerous Byzantine cities and castles and the threat to Constantinople itself, Isaac II Angelus let the crusaders translate to Asia Minor in March 1190.

1195 was Emperor Isaac II by a palace revolt by his brother Alexios III. overturned. With his accession to the throne, the decline of imperial authority in the Byzantine Empire continued. First Trebizond broke away from the empire, then Leon Sgouros established a rule in central Greece with the center Corinth . Alexios was helpless in the face of developments, and Byzantium lost its importance as a European power. When the Armenian prince Leo II in Cilicia declared himself king of the new empire of Lesser Armenia , he demanded his recognition not from the nearby emperor in Byzantium, but from the Roman-German emperor Heinrich VI. as well as by Pope Celestine III. Even more disastrous for Byzantium than the loss of influence was the loss of its naval rule. After a large part of the imperial fleet was destroyed by the Normans off Cyprus in 1186 , the Byzantine Empire still owned 20 ships. This fleet was not even able to keep the Sea of ​​Marmara free from pirates . As a result, sea trade - Constantinople's main source of income - declined dramatically.

From 1195 the Roman Emperor Heinrich VI. a crusade that would presumably have extended his rule to the entire eastern Mediterranean. However, Heinrich died in 1197 at the age of 32, while his crusade fleet was still gathering in Messina .

The crusade

The preparations

In August 1198, Pope Innocent III called. without a special reason (such as the defeat at Hattin , which had triggered the Third Crusade ) with the papal bull Post miserabile Ierusolimitane to the renewed crusade to recapture the Levant . After the minor successes of the Third Crusade and the Crusade of Henry VI. Most of Palestine and especially Jerusalem was still owned by the Muslim Ayyubids . With his call for a crusade, the Pope initially concentrated on northern France and intended to attract smaller rulers in particular (see First Crusade ). Theobald von der Champagne , who was considered the unofficial leader of the crusade until his death, Ludwig von Blois , Baldwin von Flanders and Hainaut and Hugo IV von St. Pol  , were among the first to take the cross after a sermon by Fulkus von Neuilly . In view of the tensions with Byzantium that had existed during the Third Crusade, there was apparently an agreement from the outset to take the sea route to the Holy Land, which is why envoys (among them Gottfried von Villehardouin , the chronicler of the Fourth Crusade) entered into negotiations major Italian port cities. After a while, an agreement was reached with Venice, which agreed to organize the transport of around 33,000 men and also to equip its own fleet with 50 galleys . As payment, the aged doge Enrico Dandolo negotiated 85,000 silver marks and half of the territory to be conquered. On June 29, 1202 the fleet planned to set sail. The official destination of the crusade was, as always, Jerusalem, but in a secret additional protocol the crusaders agreed to capture Egypt . This was intended to conquer the core area of ​​the Ayyubids before the actual attack on the main target. The crusaders expected that Palestine could not hold out without Egypt. After Theobald von der Champagne died in May 1201, Boniface von Montferrat , who had just arrived, was elected leader. At the beginning of October 1202 the crusade could begin.

The conquest of Zara

Fourth Crusade 1202-1204

For Venice, the entire company was a high-risk venture. The city made over 200 ships available, newly built and withdrawn from its own merchant shipping. None of this could be paid for in advance by the Crusaders. If the expedition had failed, Venice would have been bankrupt. In addition, the venture was controversial in the city, as it had good trade relations with the Arabs. When finally only a third of the expected 34,000 crusaders showed up for the departure date, the Venetians suspected that the company would fail. They continued to demand the full contractually guaranteed remuneration, which the crusaders could not pay at the time. It was agreed to take the Dalmatian city ​​of Zara , for which Venice wanted to accept a deferral of the amount due. After two weeks of siege, the city was captured at the end of November 1202. The booty of the conquest was offset against the crusaders' debts. Because of the advanced season of the year, they wintered in Zara.

Turn against Byzantium

Prince Alexios Angelos , son of the fallen Isaac II and nephew of Alexios III, arrived in Zara on April 20 or 25. The decision to go to Constantinople had long since been made. The idea of ​​redirecting the crusade through Constantinople “was older and came from the Crusaders themselves; it went back to the talks in Verona and under pressure from Philip of Swabia ... and the barons had hurried to draw the Pope's attention to the fact that such an undertaking would facilitate the reconquest of the Holy Land only when she received this “message” in January 1203 in the winter camp near Zara. Prince Alexios had in vain with Pope Innocent III. asked for help, but was successful with his brother-in-law, the Roman-German King Philip of Swabia, and Bonifatius von Montferrat , the leader of the crusader army. The latter arrived strangely late with the crusaders, after he had already promised Alexios IV that his father would be restored to his throne with the help of the crusaders. As with the conquest of Zara, opinions on whether to accept this offer were divided. Many refused and left the crusader army. However, the main leaders, including Boniface of Montferrat, Louis of Blois, Baldwin of Flanders and Hainaut, and Hugo of St. Pol, agreed.

Pope Innocent III had expressly forbidden the crusaders to go to war against Christians in a letter. This mainly referred to Zara, which at the time was ruled by the Hungarian king, who himself had vowed a crusade. The Pope punished the Venetians, whom he saw as the source of ideas, with excommunication . The letter was intercepted by the leaders of the crusade. The first ships left Zara on April 7th for Constantinople. Bonifatius von Montferrat had promised the crusaders in Zara rich reward if they would help the overthrown emperor Isaac II back to the throne: an immense sum of 200,000 silver marks, the supply of the crusader army for one year and an army of 10,000 men as support the retaking of Jerusalem. "... and the childish drip (meaning Prince Alexios) nodded to it," commented Niketas Choniates (loc. Quoted on p. 114). They sailed on to Dyrrhachion , where Prince Alexios was received as the representative of the rightful emperor. In Corfu there was resistance from the population when they heard of the intention of the crusaders. On May 24, 1203 they left the island and reached the Dardanelles via Euboea , where the city of Abydos was taken. Then they sailed to Constantinople, which they reached on June 24, 1203. A period of negotiations began, although it quickly became clear that Alexios III. would not abdicate easily. Alexios IV's claims to the throne had to be enforced militarily.

First siege of Constantinople

The first smaller skirmishes on land and water were ineffective. The attacked Byzantines blocked the entrance to the Golden Horn with a chain. However, the Venetians and the rest of the crusaders managed to break through the barrier, and the crusaders camped right outside the city. In a first attack on July 17, 1203, the Venetians concentrated on the weak point of the fortress of Constantinople, namely the comparatively lightly fortified sea wall to the Golden Horn. They managed to storm a section of the wall from the towers on their ships. The French army, known as the Frankenheer, which attacked the Theodosian Land Wall in the west , had to withdraw and was taken over by the troops of Alexios III. tracked. In anticipation of a battle, the Venetians withdrew from the conquered section of the wall after setting fire to the neighboring districts . But there was no open battle because the Byzantine emperor withdrew.

Although the situation seemed anything but hopeless, Alexios III fled. to Thrace . With this the resistance of the besieged collapsed. The blind Isaac II, imprisoned since his disempowerment, was put back on the throne by the Byzantines. A clever move, because now there was no reason for further fighting. At the end of July the leaders of the Crusaders were allowed into the city and Isaac II recognized the promises made to the Crusaders by his son Alexios, who was also appointed co-emperor on August 1st. Until the fulfillment of this, the Franks and Venetians camped in front of the city and planned the campaign against the actual goal of the enterprise: Egypt.

Another coup

The crusaders were now waiting for the promises made to them to be fulfilled. But Isaac II found himself unable to pay his debts or even raise the promised army for the conquest of Palestine. And so the “Latins” stayed in Constantinople, and with each passing day the unrest increased. There were repeated attacks and attacks by Byzantines on Latin merchants, who then left their districts and fled to the crusaders' camp. Attempts were made to attack the Venetian fleet with fire , but this was unsuccessful. For their part, the Franks marched through the city and the surrounding area. The crusader army had an increasing supply problem, and the requisitions increased the rejection of the Latins and the supposedly allied emperor Isaac II among the local population. The unpopularity of the incompetent ruling duo Isaac II and Alexios IV grew. On January 28, 1204, a senate and priestly assembly therefore elected Nikolaos Kanabos as emperor, but in February the leader of the Byzantine party, Alexios V. Murtzouphlos , declared himself the new emperor. His predecessors Alexios IV and Nikolaos were killed, and Isaac II also died a little later under unexplained circumstances, probably also at the hand of Alexios V, who moreover refused to make any payment to the Crusaders and instructed them to return to his city ​​and his city immediately To leave Reich to which he was entitled.

Conquest and sack of Constantinople

Depiction of the conquest of Constantinople, picture probably dates from the 14th or 15th century

A continued journey of the crusaders was unthinkable without sufficient provisions and supplementing their equipment. Nor were they ready to return home without prey. Now they even had a motive and goal to attack the Christian city, namely to replace the word-breaking Greeks with Latin rule. The assault on Constantinople was carefully prepared. A letter from the Pope, which in turn prohibited such an attack, was intercepted.

In March 1204, the participating powers signed a treaty (the so-called Partitio Terrarum Imperii Romaniae ) on the division of booty and Byzantine territory in the event of victory. According to this, the Venetians were to receive three eighths, the crusaders three eighths and the newly named ruler Byzantium a quarter of the booty until the Franks' debts were paid off. Any other booty should be shared one-to-one. It was also agreed that the future Latin emperor should be appointed by six Venetian and six Frankish electors. In addition, the party that did not provide the emperor should in return be allowed to appoint one of its own patriarchs .

The first serious attack on the walls of Constantinople occurred on April 9, 1204. The sea walls on the Golden Horn, reinforced by Alexios V, withstood the attacks of the Venetians this time. Even after several hours there was no success, so in the evening the man and the equipment were withdrawn from the walls and brought to the other side of the Golden Horn. The next attack followed on April 12th. This time the storming of some towers of the sea wall succeeded. After hard fighting, the attackers opened one of the city gates from the inside and were able to establish themselves in the harbor area just behind the wall. They set some houses on fire again, causing a conflagration.

But the battle was by no means decided, because the Byzantines still controlled most of the city. On the night of April 13th, however, Alexios V hastily fled, whereupon the orderly resistance in the city collapsed. The fugitive emperor was caught, first blinded, then killed. The crusaders were now in control of the city. A three-day wave of looting began, in which many residents were mistreated, raped or killed. Centuries-old art treasures were stolen, valuable icons and mosaics destroyed and dozens of relics of all kinds stolen and consequently scattered all over Europe. The knight and eyewitness Robert de Clari reports on the storming of the old imperial palace at the Bukoleon harbor from the reliquary chapel of the Byzantine rulers: even the hinges and bolts

“Were made of silver here, and then there wasn't a pillar that wasn't made of jasper or porphyry or rich precious stones. In this chapel very rich relics were found, because there were found two pieces of the true cross of Christ, as big as a man's leg and about as long as half a fathom, [...] also the iron of the lance with ours Lord was stabbed in the side, two nails hammered through the middle of his hands and the middle of his feet, the tunic he was wearing and that was taken from him as they led him to Calvary and [...] the blessed crown with which he was crowned. "

- Jesus panel Hesemann : Hesemann, 1999, p. 238, quoted by Robert de Clari: The Conquest of Constantinople. New York 1936, p. 103 f. ( See crown of thorns and cross of Christ )

In contrast to the Franks, who randomly gathered and melted gold jewelry, the Venetians sent search parties of art experts through the city, who secured the most valuable items. Many of these pieces still adorn the Doge's Palace in Venice today . The total value of the booty is estimated at around 900,000 silver marks.

Consequences of the Fourth Crusade

Map showing the geographical division of the Byzantine Empire after the Fourth Crusade, 1204

According to the contract, the won territories were divided among the winners. A rump area of ​​the former Byzantine Empire became the Latin Empire . Its first emperor, Baldwin of Flanders and Hainaut, only had one destroyed city, once the most splendid metropolis in Christendom, as its capital. The Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica in the east of northern and central Greece as well as various princes and duchies in the Peloponnese and the Aegean islands were also formally subordinate to the Latin Emperor in Constantinople. Crete and a small part of the Peloponnese ( Modon and Koron ) went to Venice as a colony.

However, several other areas were taken over by successor states of the Byzantine Empire, such as the Despotate Epiros in northwestern Greece, the Empire of Trebizond with Alexios I Komnenos at its head, and the Empire of Nikaia with Theodor I Laskaris . Even when it was founded, the Latin Empire lacked any military strength, just a year after the capture of Constantinople, Emperor Baldwin I was defeated by the Bulgarians under Tsar Kaloyan in the battle of Adrianople . A successor of Theodors I of Nicaia, Michael VIII. Palaiologus , succeeded in reconquering Constantinople in a stroke of a hand in 1261 . However, the Byzantine Empire was no longer able to restore the old splendor that it had before the Fourth Crusade. The “bulwark” of Byzantium, which protected Europe from the expansion of the Muslims for over 500 years , had now lost much of its resilience. A wave of Ottoman conquests began, which only came to a standstill after the battles on the Mariza , on the Amselfeld , near Nikopolis and Mohács in the first Turkish siege of Vienna . For the Ottomans , the capture of Constantinople in the course of the 15th century was only a matter of time, the city fell in 1453.

Due to the atrocities during the sacking of Constantinople, the relationship of the Orthodox Christians to Western Europe has been disturbed in some cases up to the present day. Although the Pope in retrospect condemned the events of the Fourth Crusade in the strongest possible terms, the rift between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that had existed since the 11th century became insurmountable, since attempts at theological unification after such experiences with the Catholics were no longer for the Orthodox population were acceptable. This also applies to Russia , which turned away from Europe after the Fourth Crusade and the Mongolian conquest of Europe in the 13th century .

When it became known in the Holy Land that the Fourth Crusade would not reach the Muslim enemies in Egypt and Palestine, King Amalrich II of Jerusalem extended his armistice from 1198, which expired in 1204, with the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Adil I for a further six years.


  • the Greek text of the Chronicle of Morea
  • The conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 by Gottfried von Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne, translated from the edition by Fr. Paris and edited by Franz Getz. Leipzig 1915.
  • Niketas Choniates : The crusaders conquer Constantinople. Translated with an appendix, introduced and explained by Franz Grabler. Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1958; Graz 1971; Berlin / New York 1975.
  • Gerhard E. Sollbach (Ed.): Chronicles of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). The eyewitness accounts of Geoffroy de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari. Pfaffenweiler 1998, ISBN 3-8255-0159-0 .


  • Michael Angold : The Fourth Crusade. Event and Context , Harlow et al. 2003, ISBN 0-582-35610-5 .
  • Ernle Bradford: The great betrayal. Constantinople, 1204. White Lion Publishers, London 1975, ISBN 978-0-85617-078-2 .
  • Nikolas Jaspert: The Crusades. WBG, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-15129-1 .
  • Ralph-Johannes Lily: Byzantium and the Crusades. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-017033-3 .
  • Peter Lock: The Franks in the Aegean, 1204-1500. Longman, London / New York 1995.
  • Werner Maleczek: Petrus Capuanus. Cardinal, legate of the Fourth Crusade, theologian. Vienna 1988.
  • Georg Ostrogorsky: Byzantine History 324 to 1453. C. H. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-39759-X .
  • Jonathan Phillips: The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. Viking, New York 2004, ISBN 978-0-670-03350-8 .
  • Donald E. Queller, Thomas F. Madden: The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. Second edition. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1997, ISBN 0-8122-1713-6 .
  • Kenneth M. Setton (Ed.): A History of the Crusades. Volume 2. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 2006, ISBN 0-299-04844-6 , online here .
  • Ludwig Streit: Venice and the turn of the fourth crusade against Constantinople. Anklam 1887, Reprint oO o. J. (2010)
  • Leon Wystrychowski: Distance and Caesura - Muslim Perspectives on the Fourth Crusade , In: Jusur - Journal for Oriental Studies, Islamic Studies, Arabic Studies Issue 2-2020, pp. 13-19.

Web links

Commons : Fourth Crusade  - collection of images, videos and audio files

(Editing status of the spoken version: November 22, 2005)

Individual evidence

  1. a b Cf. Jonathan Phillips: The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. New York 2004, p. 269.
  2. See Jonathan Phillips: The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. New York 2004, p. 106.
  3. See Jonathan Phillips: The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. New York 2004, p. 159.
  4. See Jonathan Phillips: The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople. New York 2004, p. 157.
  5. ^ Alvise Zorzi: Venice. The history of the lion republic. Düsseldorf 1985, Frankfurt 1987, Hildesheim 1992 (orig .: Milano 1979), p. 116 f.