The Crusades are one of the most significant events in the history of Europe and the Middle East. They were a series of religious wars carried out by Christian crusaders from Europe during the timeframe of the Middle Ages. Beginning in 1095 CE, the Crusades saw European knights and noblemen travel to the Middle East in an attempt to capture the Holy Land away from Muslim people that had controlled the region for the previous centuries. The term crusade means ‘cross’. Therefore, the Europeans that became crusaders viewed themselves as ‘taking up the cross’. In fact, many of the crusaders wore crosses on their clothing and armor as they made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This article details the events of the Fourth Crusade. Click here to read more information about the other major Crusades.
The Fourth Crusade took place from 1202 until 1204 CE and was a major event in the history of the Crusades. In general, the Fourth Crusade was caused by the events of both the Second Crusade and Third Crusade. Firstly, the failure of the Second Crusade in 1148 left a lasting impression in Europe, and caused many to want to return to the Holy Land and fight for control of the territory. For example, the Muslim leader, Saladin, had gained control over the city of Jerusalem in the Second Crusade. The crusaders returned to recapture Jerusalem in the Third Crusade, which lasted from 1189 until 1192. While the crusaders of the Third Crusade had made major gains in the Holy Land, they ultimately failed to take control of the city of Jerusalem. This caused many in Europe to want to return to the Holy Land again, which led to the events of the Fourth Crusade.
The city of Jerusalem was the heart of the fighting of the Crusades. The city was centrally located in the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. While the history of the city itself goes back much further, it was a significant site in the Crusades because of the importance it holds in the three main religions of the region: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For Christians, Jerusalem was the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. As such, the city was vitally important to their understanding of the teachings and history of Jesus.
The Fourth Crusade was ultimately called by Pope Innocent III in 1198. While the leaders of Europe played important roles in the earlier Crusades, the Fourth Crusade was notable for the lack of support from the European Monarchs of the time. Instead, the Fourth Crusade was led by Boniface of Montferrat. Montferrat was a kingdom in modern-day Italy. Boniface moved quickly and began to organize transport for himself and the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade. The main goal of the Fourth Crusade was to attack Egypt, since it was the main center of Muslim power in the Middle East at the time. As a result, the crusaders sought a sea route, in the hopes that it would be faster. In fact, in 1201, the crusaders reached an agreement with the powerful city-state of Venice to supply ships for their Crusade.
Venice was an important city at the time due to its significance and history as a naval power. Venice is located along the coast of the northeastern section of the Italian peninsula next to the Adriatic Sea. The city is located in the Venetian Lagoon which is a shallow region filled with hundreds of islands. The city itself is constructed on a collection of 118 small islands which are connected by bridges and canals. In fact, the city of Venice is still world renown today for its famous canal system. Furthermore, the Venice city-state established itself as a military power in the Italian region due to its significant naval units, which were better equipped than others in the area. More specifically, throughout the time period of the Middle Ages, the Venice navy was made up of galleys, which were warships that were mainly propelled by an array of large oars that were used to row the ship forward. The galley was the largest and most heavily armed ship in the Venetian navy. At its height, Venice had over 3,000 ships in its navy, making it a formidable force in the Adriatic Sea and surrounding areas. The geographic location of Venice and its powerful navy were important in establishing it as a major center for trade on the Italian peninsula. For instance, throughout the timeframe of the Middle Ages, Venice grew in both wealth and power due to its ability to control trade between Europe and the Middle East. This is exemplified by Venice’s participation and role in the Crusades.
As for the Fourth Crusade, Venice agreed to supply the crusaders with ships that were considered necessary to transport nearly 33,000 crusaders. The vast majority of the crusading army of the Fourth Crusade came from different regions of France. Thousands of knights and soldiers made their way to Venice in order to participate in the newest crusade. In fact, the Fourth Crusade was set to sail on June 24th of 1203 from Venice for Egypt. However, the crusade suffered from economic problems due to a lack of crusaders arriving in Venice. For instance, only an estimated 12,000 crusaders set sail from Venice, which made it difficult for the crusaders to pay their debts to the Venetian government for the ships. This led the crusaders attacking Zara in November of 1202 as a means of capturing wealth, which they paid to Venice for their debts. Zara was a costal city along the Adriatic Sea, which is located in modern-day Croatia. The crusader attack on Zara was controversial, as Zara was generally populated with fellow Christians. As such, this created a divided between Pope Innocent III and the crusaders. Regardless, the Fourth Crusade is best remembered today for its failure to carry out an attack against the Holy Land, and instead focus on the city of Constantinople.
Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which was the eastern portion of the former Roman Empire. Today, the city of Constantinople is referred to as Istanbul and is the capital city of the country of Turkey. In the early 1200’s, which is the timeframe of the Fourth Crusade, the city was a vitally important site of Christian strength in the east. For instance, it was a major trading center between the east and west as it was a central site along the Silk Road. With that said, Constantinople’s trade power put it at odds with the other major city-states of the Mediterranean, including Venice.
Historians are unsure of the exact reasons for why the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade changed their plan of attack from Egypt to Constantinople, but many agree that the role of Venice in the crusade likely played a significant role. As such, the crusaders set sail for Constantinople and arrived on June 23rd in 1203. When they arrived the crusaders discovered the city of Constantinople, which had a population of about 500,000 people, was defended by 15,000 soldiers and a naval fleet of galleys.
The crusaders were supported by approximately 4,500 knights and nearly 15,000 more soldiers. As well, they also had siege weapons and Venetian galleys that were guided by Venetian sailors. As a result, the crusaders continued and carried out the Siege of Constantinople in July of 1203.
The Siege of Constantinople occurred from July 11th until August 1st in 1203. The crusaders and Venetians launched attacks against the Byzantine defenders by using their galleys to carry horses and knights across the sea. The attacks against the Byzantine defenders proved very successful and caused devastating losses for the city of Constantinople. For instance, the crusaders launched both land and sea attacks against he walls of Constantinople, which weakened the defenses of the city. It was finally defeated on August 1st of 1203. In the months that followed, the city struggled with poor leadership by Emperor Isaac II and his son Alexios Angelos IV. This situation was made worse by an economic crisis that gripped the city and of which the father and son were unable to resolve. Alexios Angelos IV was seen as a supporter of the crusader cause and hated by his own people. As a result of this, Alexios Angelos IV was captured and killed by a Byzantine nobleman and anti-crusader - Alexios Doukas.
Alexios Doukas had himself crowned as the next emperor of the Byzantine Empire, and renamed Emperor Alexios V. He then moved quickly to force the crusaders out of the city. This, of course, angered the crusaders and Venetians and caused them to again lay siege against Constantinople. The two sides fought throughout the Spring of 1204 until the crusaders again captured the city on April 13th. When they captured the city, the crusaders raided the wealth from the citizens and destroyed large parts of the city. In fact, it is said that thousands of people in the city were murdered and their goods stolen. Pope Innocent III was horrified by the news, as it was not what he had hoped for from the Fourth Crusade.
The Fourth Crusade was very significant historically, as it saw the end of the Byzantine Empire. In fact, the Byzantine Empire was divided at the end of the crusade between the Venetians and the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. Another major outcome of the Fourth Crusade was the strengthening of the East-West Schism. In general, the East-West Schism was the divide that occurred between the belief systems of Christianity in Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Western Europe was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church while Eastern Europe was dominated by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. While the East-West Schism had began centuries earlier, historians consider the events of the Fourth Crusade to be a pivotal point in solidifying the divided between the East and West. This is likely due to the fact that the Fourth Crusade, generally saw Western Christian crusaders attacking Eastern Christians. Due to these factors, many modern historians consider the Fourth Crusade to be a failure, and a shift away from the goals and intentions of the first three crusades.
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