This is the fourth part of Deadliest Blogger’s politically incorrect look at the Crusades. Considering the sheer volume of material and scope of history involved, this can only be a cursory examination of the Crusades*; with the politically correct blinders removed. In this part we will look at the First Crusade, and the establishment of the Christian Crusader States in Syria and Palestine.
In 1204 a singular event occurred which shook the Western World: Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire, long the impregnable bastion of Eastern Christendom and bulwark against Islamic expansion, was captured and sacked. Not by its Muslim enemies; but by an Army of Christian “Crusaders”!
Thus began a period in which the Crusader movement became misdirected, seemingly attacking everywhere except to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land!
From 1204 until 1272 there were eight Crusades (only six of which are counted as “official” Crusades) launched. Of these, only two actually arrived in the “Holy Land” (Syria/Lebanon/Palestine).
The Crusader movement had indeed “gone wild”!
It should be remembered that the original purpose of the Crusades, motivated by Pope Urban II’s sermon at Clermont in 1095, was to succor the beleaguered Christian empire of Byzantium from the Seljuk Turks; and to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land, captured by the Muslims in the 7th century. Yet in 1204, just 109 years later, Byzantium was captured and sacked by a Crusader army! How had this movement become so misdirected?
Constantinople, “Miklagaard” the Golden City to the Vikings, was the greatest city in Europe till 1204. Within its walls were priceless works of art and literature from the Classic Age of Greece and Rome. Istanbul (below) echoes the glories of its imperial past.
The answer is that like all things created by man, the Crusades were able to be turned to the uses of the venial and corrupt; to be twisted for their own purposes by powerful and ambitious men.
THE FOURTH CRUSADE
The Third Crusade had failed to liberate Jerusalem; ending instead with a negotiated settlement between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. (See Part Three here) The dust had barely settled when the new Pope, Innocent II, was preaching another Crusade. After some time and effort, the Fourth Crusade was launched.
In 1202, a 13,000 strong Crusader army of mostly French and Flemings contracted with the blind Doge (ruler) of Venice, Enrico (Henry) Dandolo, for transport to Egypt. From there, it was planned to deliver a crippling blow to the Ayyubids; the successors of Saladin who ruled both Egypt and Syria. From here, it was thought Jerusalem could subsequently be liberated.
Enrico (Henry) Dandolo, the “Blind Doge” of Venice
However, the cost of transportation was more than the Crusaders could pay. They reached a compromise with the Venetians: to stop in route and capture the Adriatic coastal city of Zara; a former Venetian dependency now aligned with Hungry. As the Crusader army invested the city, the terrified citizens hung banners marked with crosses from the battlements and windows of the city; to show that they were fellow Catholics. This did not save them, and the Crusader forces nevertheless stormed the city, followed by the usual sack-and-pillage.
The unscrupulous Enrico Dandolo had thus used the zealous but impoverished Franks to achieve Venetian political ends; however irrelevant to the goals of the Crusade.
When word reached Pope Innocent III, he was immediately outraged at this attack upon fellow Christians; and in a letter to the army’s leadership, threatened the Crusaders with excommunication. However, the Crusader leaders did not disclose the Pope’s letters to the rank-and-file; who continued to believe they had Papal absolution for any acts committed while on Crusade.
At this junction, an exiled Byzantine prince arrived in the Crusader camp; and history reached one of its turning points….
(Deadliest Blogger has moved. To continue this article, go here.)