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Fourth Crusade

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Author Topic: Fourth Crusade  (Read 654 times)
Carolina Brewer
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« on: November 18, 2007, 03:50:37 am »

Alexius IV realised that his promises were hard to keep. Alexius III had managed to flee with 10,000 pounds of gold and some priceless jewels, leaving the imperial treasury short on funds. At that point the young emperor ordered the destruction and melting of valuable Byzantine and Roman icons in order to extract their gold and silver. In the eyes of all Greeks who knew of this decision, it was a shocking sign of desperation and weak leadership, which deserved to be punished by God. The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates characterized it as "the turning point towards the decline of the Roman state".

Thus Alexius IV had to deal with the growing hatred by the citizens of Constantinople for the "Latins" and vice versa. In fear of his life, the co-emperor asked the Crusaders to renew their contract for another six months, to end by April 1204. There was, nevertheless, still fighting in the city. In August 1203, the crusaders attacked a mosque, which was defended by a combined Muslim and Greek opposition.

On the second attempt of the Venetians to set up a wall of fire to aid their escape, they instigated the "Great Fire", in which a large part of Constantinople was burned down. Opposition to Alexius IV grew, and one of his courtiers, Alexius Ducas (nicknamed 'Murtzuphlos' because of his thick eyebrows), soon overthrew him and had him strangled to death. Alexius Ducas took the throne himself as Alexius V; Isaac died soon afterwards, probably naturally.

The crusaders and Venetians, incensed at the murder of their supposed patron, demanded that Murtzuphlos honor the contract which Alexius IV had promised. When the Byzantine emperor refused the Crusaders assaulted the city once again. On April 8th, Alexius V's army put up a strong resistance which did much to discourage the crusaders.

The Greeks pushed enormous projectiles onto the enemy siege engines, shattering many of them. A serious hindrance to the crusaders was bad weather conditions. Wind blew from the shore and prevented most of the ships from drawing close enough to the walls to launch an assault. Only five of the Greek towers were actually engaged and none of these could be secured; by mid-afternoon it was evident that the attack had failed.

The clergy discussed the situation amongst themselves and settled upon the message they wished to spread through the demoralized army. They had to convince the men that the events of 9 April were not God's judgment on a sinful enterprise: the campaign, they argued, was righteous and with proper belief it would succeed. The concept of God testing the determination of the crusaders through temporary setbacks was a familiar means for the clergy to explain failure in the course of a campaign.

The clergy's message was designed to reassure and encourage the crusaders. Their argument that the attack on Constantinople was spiritual revolved around two themes. First, the Greeks were traitors and murderers since they had killed their rightful lord, Alexius IV. The churchmen used inflammatory language and claimed that "the Greeks were worse than the Jews", and they invoked the authority of God and the pope to take action.

Although Innocent III had again demanded that they not attack, the papal letter was suppressed by the clergy, and the crusaders prepared for their own attack, while the Venetians attacked from the sea; Alexius V's army stayed in the city to fight, along with the imperial bodyguard, the Varangians, but Alexius V himself fled during the night.

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