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The Fourth Crusade
The real author of the Fourth Crusade was the famous pope, Innocent III. Young,
enthusiastic, and ambitious for the glory of the Papacy, he revived the plans of Pope Urban
II and sought once more to unite the forces of Christendom against Islam. No emperor or
king answered his summons, but a number of knights (chiefly French) took the crusader's
vow. None of the Crusades, after the Third, effected much in the Holy Land; either their
force was spent before reaching it, or they were diverted from their purpose by different
objects and ambitions. The crusaders of the Fourth expedition captured Constantinople
instead of Jerusalem.
The Crusaders and the Venetians
The leaders of the crusade decided to make Egypt their objective point, since this country
was then the center of the Moslem power. Accordingly, the crusaders proceeded to Venice,
for the purpose of securing transportation across the Mediterranean. The Venetians agreed
to furnish the necessary ships only on condition that the crusaders first seized Zara on the
eastern coast of the Adriatic. Zara was a Christian city, but it was also a naval and
commercial rival of Venice. In spite of the pope's protests the crusaders besieged and
captured the city. Even then they did not proceed against the Moslems. The Venetians
persuaded them to turn their arms against Constantinople. The possession of that great
capital would greatly increase Venetian trade and influence in the East; for the crusading
nobles it held out endless opportunities of acquiring wealth and power. Thus it happened
that these soldiers of the Cross, pledged to war with the Moslems, attacked a Christian city,
which for centuries had formed the chief bulwark of Europe against the Arab and the Turk.
The Sack of Constantinople in 1204
The crusaders, now better styled the invaders, took Constantinople by storm. No "infidels"
could have treated in worse fashion this home of ancient civilization. They burned down a
great part of it; they slaughtered the inhabitants; they wantonly destroyed monuments,
statues, paintings, and manuscripts - the accumulation of a thousand years. Much of the
movable wealth they carried away. Never, declared an eye-witness of the scene, had there
been such plunder since the world began.
The Wealth of Constantinople
The victors hastened to divide between them the lands of the Roman Empire in the East.
Venice gained some districts in Greece, together with nearly all the Aegean islands. The
chief crusaders formed part of the remaining territory into the Latin Empire of
Constantinople. It was organized in fiefs, after the feudal manner. There was a prince of
Achaia, a duke of Athens, a marquis of Corinth, and a count of Thebes. Baldwin, Count of
Flanders, was crowned Emperor of the East. Large districts, both in Europe and Asia, did
not acknowledge, however, these "Latin" rulers. The new empire lived less than sixty years.
At the end of this time the Greeks returned to power.
Consequences of the Fourth Crusade
Constantinople, after the Fourth Crusade, declined in strength and could no longer cope
with the barbarians menacing it. Two centuries later the city fell an easy victim to the
Turks. The responsibility for the disaster which gave the Turks a foothold in Europe rests
on the heads of the Venetians and the French nobles. Their greed and lust for power turned
the Fourth Crusade into a political adventure.