ON 28 November 1199 some great nobles of Champagne and Picardy, who had assembled in the castle of Ecri-sur-Aisne for a tournament, resolved to assume the Cross and go to deliver the Holy Land. They elected Theobald (Thibaut) III, Count of Champagne, as leader. The suggested expedition coincided so entirely with the desires of Pope Innocent III that he encouraged it with all his might. At his call, Fulk, parish priest of Neuilly in France, and Abbot Martin of Pairis in Germany, began a series of sermons, which by their fervour easily persuaded the mass of the faithful to enlist in the Crusade. No doubt the Western sovereigns intervened only indirectly in the preparation and direction of the expedition, Philip Augustus being engaged in his struggle with John Lackland, and Philip of Swabia entirely engrossed in disputing the Empire with Otto of Brunswick; the Crusade was essentially a feudal enterprise, led by an oligarchy of great barons, and, even at first, partly inspired by worldly aspirations and material interests. In this particular the fourth Holy War differed greatly from the previous ones. “For many of the crusaders”, says Luchaire, “it was above all a business matter”. And this consideration will perhaps help us to a better understanding of the character which this undertaking quickly assumed.

For the transport of the crusaders to the East a fleet was necessary. In February 1201 the barons sent delegates, of whom Villehardouin was one, to Venice to procure the requisite naval force from the mighty republic. After somewhat troublesome negotiations, recorded for us by Villehardouin, a treaty was concluded in April 1201, whereby in return for a sum of 85,000 marks of silver the Venetians agreed to supply the crusaders by 28 June 1202 with the ships and provisions necessary for the transport of their army overseas. Venice moreover joined in the enterprise, astutely realising the advantage to be gained by guiding and directing the expedition. The Doge, Enrico Dandolo, solemnly assumed the Cross at St Mark’s, and in return the crusaders promised to assign half of their conquests to Venice.

Most of the knights regarded Syria as the goal of the expedition and cherished the ambition of reconquering the Holy Land. The great barons, on the other hand, wished to strike at the heart of the Muslim power, i.e. Egypt. And this divergence of views heavily handicapped the whole Crusade. It has been asserted that the Venetians, who were bound by treaties with the Sultan of Egypt and did not wish to compromise their commercial interests, were from the first hostile to the expedition, and sought means of diverting the crusaders from their path, thus betraying Christendom. There is nothing to prove that they planned this deliberately, but it is obvious that the stiff contract of April 1201 rendered the Christian army dependent on the republic.

The crusaders slowly prepared to cross the Alps. Meanwhile the death of Theobald of Champagne had obliged them to find another leader. On the recommendation of the King of France, an Italian baron was chosen, Boniface, Marquess of Montferrat, whose brothers had played a great part in the East, both Latin and Byzantine. At Soissons on 16 August 1201 he was acclaimed by the barons, after which he betook himself to Germany, where he spent part of the winter with Philip of Swabia, his intimate friend; and to this visit great importance for the ultimate fate of the Crusade has sometimes been attributed. Meanwhile the army was mustering at Venice, where it was assembled in July-August 1202. But the crusaders had only paid the Venetians a small part of the sum agreed upon as payment for the voyage, and it was impossible for them to collect the remainder. Interned in the island of St Niccoló di Lido, harassed by demands from the Venetian merchants and threats that their supplies would be cut off if the money were not forthcoming, the crusaders were finally obliged to accept the doge’s proposal that they should be granted a respite if they helped the republic to reconquer the city of Zara, which had been taken by the Hungarians. In spite of the indignant protests of Innocent III and his legate at an attack directed against a Christian city and a crusading ruler, the enterprise had to be undertaken in order to satisfy the Venetian demands. The barons unwillingly agreed to engage in it (September 1202); and on 8 November 1202 the fleet sailed amidst general rejoicings. On 10 November Zara was attacked, and surrendered in five days, when the Venetians destroyed it utterly. It was in vain that Innocent III threatened and excommunicated the Venetians. The crusaders were now preoccupied by considerations of greater importance, which diverted the Crusade to a new objective. It had been undertaken with the object of delivering Jerusalem, or attacking Egypt; it ended in the conquest of Constantinople.

For over a century the West had for many reasons been casting looks of hate and envy towards Byzantium. The Norman Kings of Sicily and their German successor, the Emperor Henry VI, had several times directed their dreams of conquest towards the Greek Empire. The leaders of the various crusades, indignant at the treachery and of the Byzantines, had more than once contemplated taking Constantinople and destroying the monarchy. Finally the Venetians, who had for a century been masters of the commerce with the Levant and were anxious to keep for themselves the fine markets of the East, were becoming uneasy, both at the increasing animosity displayed by the Greeks, and at the rivalry of the other maritime cities of Italy. In the course of the twelfth century they had several times been obliged to defend their position and privileges by force of arms; therefore their politicians, and especially the Doge Enrico Dandolo, were considering whether the easiest way of resolving the problem and securing the commercial prosperity of the republic in the East would not be to conquer the Byzantine Empire and establish on its ruins a colonial Venetian empire. All these various causes, unrealised ambitions of conquest, old accumulated grudges against the Greeks, threatened economic interests, almost inevitably led to the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople; all that was necessary was that an opportunity should offer itself.

This opportunity occurred in the course of 1202. The Basileus reigning in Constantinople, Alexius Angelus, had dethroned his brother Isaac in 1195, and had cast the deposed monarch and his young son Alexius into prison. The latter succeeded in escaping and came to Germany, either at the end of 1201 or else in the spring of 1202, to seek the help of his brother-in-law, Philip of Swabia, husband of his sister Irene. But Philip had no means of giving direct support to the young prince. Did he arrange with Boniface of Montferrat, or with the Venetians, who were interested in re-opening the Eastern question, that the crusading army, then inactive at Venice, should be utilised against Byzantium? Scholars of today have devoted much discussion to this very obscure historical point. It has been suggested that Philip of Swabia, deeply interested in his young brother-in-law, and moreover cherishing, like his brother Henry VI, personal ambitions with regard to the East, immediately on the arrival of Alexius agreed with Boniface of Montferrat that the Crusade should be diverted to Constantinople. It has been suggested that he hoped by this means to checkmate the Papacy, and, by threatening to ruin the projected Crusade, force Innocent III to seek a reconciliation with him. The question has also been raised whether the Venetians had long premeditated their attack on Zara, and whether or not they had agreed with the Marquess of Montferrat that the fleet should next set sail for Byzantium; in a word, whether the diversion of the Crusade sprang from fortuitous causes, or was the result of deep intrigues and premeditated designs. "This," says Luchaire wisely, "will never be known, and science has something better to do than interminably to discuss an insoluble problem." All that can be said is that the arrival of young Alexius in the West suited the policy of the Doge Enrico Dandolo admirably, and that the latter used it with supreme ability to insist on an attempt upon Byzantium against the wishes of some of the crusaders, thereby ensuring enormous advantages to his country.

Even before leaving Venice in September 1202 the leaders of the Crusade had received messengers from the Greek claimant, and had entered into negotiations with Philip of Swabia. After the capture of Zara, envoys from the German king and his young brother-in-law brought them much more definite proposals. In return for the help to be given him in recapturing Constantinople, Alexius promised the crusaders to pay the balance still owing to the Venetians, to provide them with the money and supplies necessary for conquering Egypt, to assist them by sending a contingent of 10,000 men, to maintain five hundred knights to guard the Holy Land, and, finally, to bring about religious reunion with Rome. It was a tempting offer, and, under pressure from the Venetians and Montferrat, the leading barons decided to accept it. No doubt a certain number of knights protested and left the army, starting for Syria direct. It was represented to the majority that the expedition to Constantinople in no way superseded the original plan, that, in fact, it would facilitate its execution, that moreover it would be a meritorious act and one pleasing to God to restore the legitimate heir to the throne; it is also clear that at this time no one contemplated the destruction of the Greek Empire. Whatever their real wishes, the majority allowed themselves to be persuaded. On 25 April 1203 Alexius joined Montferrat and Dandolo at Zara, and at Corfu in May was signed the definitive treaty which established the diversion of the great enterprise. The Pope, solicitous as always that the Crusade should not fall to pieces, allowed matters to go their own way. On 25 May the crusading fleet left Corfu, and on 24 June 1203 it appeared outside Constantinople.


Breach with the Byzantine government

Every one knows the celebrated passage in which Villehardouin describes the impressions which the crusaders experienced at first sight of the great Byzantine city. “Now wit ye well that they gazed at Constantinople, those who had never seen it; for they had not dreamed that there was in all the world so rich a city, when they beheld the high walls and the mighty towers by which she was enclosed all round, and those rich palaces and those great churches, of which there were so many that none might believe it if he had not seen it with his own eyes, and the length and breadth of the city, which was sovereign among all. And wit ye well that there was no man so bold that he did not tremble; and this was not wonderful; for never was so great a matter undertaken by any man since the world was created”.

The crusaders had expected that the Greeks would welcome with enthusiasm the monarch whom they had come to restore. But on the contrary every one rallied round Alexius III, who was regarded as the defender of national independence. The Latins were therefore obliged to resort to force. They stormed the tower of Galata, forced the chain across the harbour, and entered the Golden Horn; then on 17 July 1203 they assaulted the town by land and sea. Alexius III, realising his defeat, fled; his victims, Isaac and the young Alexius, were restored to the throne; on 1 August they were solemnly crowned at St Sophia in the presence of the Latin barons. The new sovereigns received the Latins “as benefactors and preservers of the Empire”; they hastened to carry out the promises they had made, and lavished on them the wealth of the capital, thereby only increasing the covetousness of the crusaders, which was already excited. This friendship did not last long. Torn between the demands of his allies and the hostility of the national party, which accused him of having betrayed Byzantium to aliens, the young Alexius IV was soon unable to fulfil his promises. Urged by the Venetians, the Latins had decided to pass the winter season in Constantinople, but they had made the mistake of evacuating the capital after an occupation of a few days, and the insolence of the Greeks had been thereby greatly increased. Finally Dandolo, who during the temporary absence of Montferrat was in command, seized the opportunity of multiplying difficulties and preparing a breach by his unreasonableness. In these circumstances a catastrophe was inevitable. There were affrays and riots, followed by a revolution. In February 1204 the son-in-law of the Emperor Alexius III, Alexius Ducas, nicknamed Mourtzouphlos, the leader of the national party, caused the downfall of the two weak Emperors who were incapable of resisting the demands of the crusaders; and a few days later Alexius IV was strangled in prison. Henceforth any agreement was impossible. The only means of realising the great hopes inspired by the capture of Constantinople, ensuring the success of the Crusade, and attaining the union of the Churches, was to seize Constantinople and keep it. The Venetians especially insisted on the necessity of finishing the work and founding a Latin Empire; and in the month of March 1204 the crusaders agreed on the manner in which they should divide the future conquest. The French and the Venetians were to share equally in the booty of Constantinople. An assembly of six Venetians and six Frenchmen were to elect the Emperor, to whom was to be assigned a quarter of the conquered territory. The other three quarters were to go, half to the Venetians, half to the crusaders. Dandolo succeeded in arranging everything to the advantage of Venice. The city of St Mark obtained a promise that she should receive the lion's share of the booty by way of indemnity for what was due to her, that all her commercial privileges should be preserved, and that the party which did not provide the Emperor (a privilege to which Venice attached no importance) should receive the Patriarchate of Constantinople and should occupy St Sophia. Moreover the doge arranged matters so that the new Empire, feudally organised, should be weak as opposed to Venice. Having thus ordered all things “to the honour of God, of the Pope, and of the Empire”, the crusaders devoted themselves to the task of taking Constantinople.


Sack of Constantinople

The first assault on 9 April 1204 failed. The attack on 12 April was more successful. The outer wall was taken, and while a vast conflagration broke out in the town, Mourtzouphlos, losing courage, fled. On the morrow, the leaders of the army established themselves in the imperial palaces and allowed their soldiers to pillage Constantinople for three days. The crusaders treated the city with appalling cruelty. Murder, rape, sacrilege, robbery, were let loose. “These defenders of Christ”, wrote Pope Innocent III himself, “who should have turned their swords only against the infidels, have bathed in Christian blood. They have respected neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed in open day adultery, fornication, and incest. Matrons and virgins, even those vowed to God, were delivered to the ignominious brutality of the soldiery. And it was not enough for them to squander the treasures of the Empire, and to rob private individuals, whether great or small. They have dared to lay their hands on the wealth of the churches. They have been seen tearing from the altars the silver adornments, breaking them in fragments over which they quarrelled, violating the sanctuaries, carrying away the icons, crosses, and relics”. St Sophia was the scene of disgraceful proceedings: a drunken soldiery might be seen destroying the sacred books, treading pious images underfoot, polluting the costly materials, drinking from the consecrated vessels, distributing sacerdotal ornaments and jewels torn from the altars to courtesans and camp-followers; a prostitute seated herself on the throne of the Patriarch and there struck up a ribald song. The most famous works of art were destroyed, bronze statues melted down and used for coinage, and, among so many horrors, the Greek historian Nicetas, who in an eloquent lament described and mourned the ruin of his country, declared that even the Saracens would have been more merciful than these men, who yet claimed to be soldiers of Christ.

The Latins themselves at last experienced some feelings of shame. The leaders of the army took severe pleasures to restore order. But pillage was followed by methodical and organised extortion. Under pain of excommunication all stolen objects must be brought to a common store; a systematic search for treasure and relics was instituted, and the spoils were divided between the conquerors. “The booty was so great”, writes Villehardouin, “that no man could give you a count thereof, gold and silver, plate and precious stones, samite and silks, and garments of fur, fair and silver-gray and ermine, and all the riches ever found on earth. And Geoffrey de Villehardouin, marshal of Champagne, truly bears witness, according to his knowledge and in truth, that never, since the world was created, was so much taken in a city”. The total share of the crusaders—three-eighths—seems to have amounted to 400,000 marks of silver. The churches of the West were enriched with sacred spoils from Constantinople, and the Venetians, better informed than the rest as to the wealth of Byzantium, knew very well how to make their choice.

After the booty, there was still the Empire to be divided. On 9 May 1204 the electoral college assembled to elect the new sovereign. One man seemed destined to occupy the throne: the leader of the Crusade, the Marquess Boniface of Montferrat, who was popular with the Lombards because of his nationality, with the Germans because of his relationship to Philip of Swabia, and even with the Greeks because of the marriage he had recently contracted with Margaret of Hungary, widow of Isaac Angelus. But for these very reasons, Montferrat was likely to prove too powerful a sovereign, and consequently a source of uneasiness to Venice, which meant to derive great advantages for herself from the Crusade. Boniface was therefore passed over in favour of a less important noble, Baldwin, Count of Flanders. On 16 May the latter was crowned with great pomp in St Sophia. And those who admired the magnificent ceremonial displayed in these festivities might well believe that nothing had changed in Byzantium since the glorious days of the Comneni.

But this was only a semblance, as was obvious a little later when the final division of the Empire took place. As his personal dominions, the new Emperor was awarded the territory which stretched west and east of the sea of Marmora, from Tzurulum (Chorlu) to the Black Sea in Europe; and, in Asia Minor, Bithynia and Mysia to the vicinity of Nicaea; some of the larger islands of the Archipelago were also assigned to him, Samothrace, Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and Cos. This was little enough, and even in his capital the Emperor was not sole master. By a somewhat singular arrangement he only possessed five-eighths of the city; the remainder, including St Sophia, belonged to the Venetians, who had secured the lion’s share of the gains. They took everything which helped them to maintain their maritime supremacy, Epirus, Acarnania, Aetolia, the Ionian Islands, the whole of the Peloponnesus, Gallipoli, Rodosto, Heraclea in the sea of Marmora and Hadrianople in the interior, several of the islands in the Archipelago, Naxos, Andros, Euboea, and finally Crete, which Boniface of Montferrat relinquished to them. The doge assumed the title of “despot”; he was dispensed from paying homage to the Emperor, and proudly styled himself “lord of one fourth and a half of the Greek Empire”. A Venetian, Thomas Morosini, was raised to the patriarchate, and became the head of the Latin Church in the new Empire. Venice, indeed, was not to hold in her own hand all the territory granted to her. In Epirus she was content to hold Durazzo, and, in the Peloponnesus, Coron and Modon; she granted other districts as fiefs to various great families of her aristocracy; Corfu and most of the islands of the Archipelago thus became Venetian seigniories (the duchy of Naxos, marquessate of Cerigo, grand-duchy of Lemnos, duchy of Crete, etc.). But, by means of all this and the land she occupied directly, she secured for herself unquestioned supremacy in the Levantine seas. The Empire was very weak compared with the powerful republic.

Nor was this all. Some compensation had to be given to Boniface of Montferrat for having missed the imperial dignity. He was promised Asia Minor and continental Greece, but finally, despite the Emperor, he exchanged Asia Minor for Macedonia and the north of Thessaly, which formed the kingdom of Thessalonica held by him as vassal of the Empire. The counts and barons had next to be provided for, and a whole crop of feudal seigniories blossomed forth in the Byzantine world. Henry of Flanders, the Emperor’s brother, became lord of Adramyttium, Louis of Blois was made Duke of Nicaea, Renier of Trit Duke of Philippopolis, and Hugh of St Pol lord of Demotika. On one day, 1 October 1204, the Emperor knighted six hundred and distributed fiefs to them. Some weeks later other seigniories came into being in Thessaly and the parts of Greece conquered by Montferrat. The Pallavicini became marquesses of Boudonitza, the La Roche family first barons, and subsequently dukes, of Athens; Latin nobles settled in Euboea, over whom Venice quickly established her suzerainty; finally, in the Peloponnesus, William of Champlitte and Geoffrey of Villehardouin, the historian's nephew, founded the principality of Achaia.


Assises of Romania

In this new society, the crusaders introduced all the Western institutions to the Byzantine East. The Latin Empire was an absolutely feudal State, whose legislation, modelled on that of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, was contained in the Assises of Romania. Elected by the barons, the Emperor was only the foremost baron, in spite of the ceremony with which he had surrounded himself and the great officers of his court. To render the Empire, thus born of the Crusade, living and durable, a strong government and a perfectly centralised State were necessary, whereas Baldwin was almost powerless. Boniface of Montferrat in particular was a most unruly subject, and, to impose on him the homage due to his suzerain, Baldwin was obliged to make war on him and to occupy Thessalonica for a while (August 1204); and in these civil disorders there was danger, for, as is said by Villehardouin, “if God had not been pitiful, all that had been gained would have been lost, and Christendom would have been exposed to the peril of death”. Matters were arranged more or less satisfactorily; but the emergency had clearly demonstrated the Emperor's weakness. As to the vassals of the outlying parts of Greece, the dukes of Athens and princes of Achaia, they generally took no interest in the affairs of the Empire. The position with the Venetians was even more difficult, engrossed as they were in their own economic interests and impatient of all control. Romania was their chattel, and they meant to keep the Emperor dependent on them. By the agreement of October 1205, a council was established, in which sat the Venetian podestà, and the great Frank barons, to assist the Emperor; it combined the right of superintending military operations with judicial powers, and had the privilege of controlling the sovereign's decisions. A High Court of Justice composed of Latins and Venetians similarly regulated everything which affected the relations between vassals and suzerain. Furthermore the Venetians were exempted from all taxation.


Weakness of the Latin Empire

Thus the “New France”, as it was called by the Pope, which had come into being in the East, was singularly weak owing to the differences between the conquerors, and Innocent III, who at first hailed with enthusiasm “the miracle wrought by God to the glory of His name, the honour and benefit of the Roman See, the advantage of Christendom”, very soon experienced a grave disillusion. Many other difficulties, indeed, endangered the new Empire. The manner in which the Latins had treated Constantinople was ill adapted to gain the friendship of the Greeks; the fundamental misunderstanding between victors and vanquished could not fail to become intensified. It was impossible to establish agreement between the two races, the two Churches, the two civilizations. The brutal methods of conquest and the inevitable confiscations (from the first the Latins had seized all the property of the Greek Church) did not conduce to settle difficulties and to quell hatred.

There were, indeed, some Latin princes of greater political insight, —Montferrat in Thessalonica, Villehardouin in Achaia, and Baldwin's successor, Henry of Flanders—who sought to conciliate the vanquished by assuring them that their rights and property would be respected. But, except in the Peloponnesus, the results obtained were disappointing. With the exception of some great nobles, such as Theodore Branas, who adhered to the new government, the great mass of the Greek nation remained irreconcilable, and the patriotic party felt deep contempt for those “servile souls whom”, as Nicetas wrote, “ambition armed against their country, for those traitors, who to secure some territory, had submitted to the conquerors”, when they should have wished to remain eternally at war with the Latins.

The principal effect of the taking of Constantinople by the crusaders was to arouse patriotic sentiment in the Greeks and to reawaken in them the sense of nationality. Round the son-in-law of the Emperor Alexius III, Theodore Lascaris, had collected any of the Byzantine aristocracy and leading Orthodox clergy that had escaped disaster, and in 1206 the Greek prince caused himself to be solemnly crowned as Emperor of the Romans. Other Greek states rose from the ruins of the Empire. Some princes of the family of the Comneni founded an Empire at Trebizond, which lasted until the fifteenth century. In Epirus, a bastard of the house of Angelus, Michael Angelus Comnenus, established a Despotat which reached from Naupactus to Durazzo; and other seigniories were founded by Gabalas at Rhodes, by Mankaphas at Philadelphia, and in Greece by Leo Sgouros. Of these States, two were specially formidable, Epirus which threatened Thessalonica, and Nicaea which aspired to conquer Asia Minor preparatory to regaining Constantinople.

Herein were many sources of weakness for the Latin Empire. The Bulgarian peril added yet another cause for uneasiness. Since the end of the twelfth century an independent state had arisen in Bulgaria, at whose head was the Tsar Kalojan, or Johannitsa (1197-1207), who styled himself Tsar of the Wallachians and the Bulgars. He was hostile to the Byzantines and quite disposed to be friendly with the Latins. He was also on good terms with Rome, and had even been crowned by a legate of Innocent III. When, therefore, he heard of the taking of Constantinople, he was quite ready to come to terms with the crusaders. But they took a high hand, and summoned the Bulgarian Tsar to restore the “portion of the Greek Empire unjustly retained by him”. This was a grave mistake, and was recognised as such by Pope Innocent III. Had the Latins been on peaceful terms with the Bulgars, they might have had some chance of opposing the Greeks, but their methods were such as to unite all their adversaries against them.


Defeat and death of the Emperor Baldwin I

Without money, without authority, almost without an army, what could the weak sovereign of the new Latin Empire do, when faced by the hostility of his Greek subjects and of the external enemies, Byzantines and Bulgars, who were threatening him? It was in vain that he posed as the successor of the Basileus, and sometimes caused uneasiness to the Pope by his daring claims on Church property; his position was precarious. The Latin Empire, offspring of the Fourth Crusade, lasted barely half a century (1204-1261), and this short-lived and fragile creation embittered yet more the antagonism which separated the Greeks and the Latins.

Nevertheless, in the first period of confusion which followed the taking of Constantinople, the Latins met with success everywhere. Boniface of Montferrat made a magnificent sally across Thessaly and Central Greece which carried him to Athens and to the very walls of Corinth and Nauplia (the end of 1204–May 1205). About the same time Henry of Flanders undertook the conquest of Asia Minor (November 1204). With the assistance of the Comneni of Trebizond, who were jealous of the new Empire of Nicaea, he defeated the troops of Theodore Lascaris at Poimanenon (December 1204), and seized the most important cities of Bithynia—Nicomedia, Abydos, Adramyttium, and Lopadium. The barely-established Greek State seemed on the point of destruction, when suddenly the Frank troops were recalled to Europe by a grave emergency, and Theodore Lascaris was saved.

The Greek population of Thrace, discontented with the Latin rule, had revolted, and, at their call, the Bulgarian Tsar Johannitsa had invaded the Empire. The Emperor Baldwin and the aged Doge Dandolo advanced boldly with the weak forces at their disposal to meet the enemy. On 14 April 1205, in the plains of Hadrianople, the Latin army was defeated. Baldwin, who was taken prisoner by the Bulgars, disappeared mysteriously a few weeks later, and Dandolo led all that remained of the army back to Constantinople, where he died and was buried with solemnity in St Sophia, his conquest. It seemed as though in this formidable crisis the Empire must perish, but it was saved by the energetic measures of Henry of Flanders, Baldwin's brother. Chosen by the barons first as regent of Romania, then crowned as Emperor on 21 August 1206, Henry of Flanders, by his courage, energy, and intelligence, was quite equal to the task imposed on him. He was able not only to encounter the Bulgarian invasion and repel it, but also to restore unity among the Latins, and even to secure the submission of the Greeks; during his ten years' reign (1206-1216) he was the real founder of the Latin Empire.


Accession of Henry of Flanders: his early successes

The Greeks, indeed, began to be uneasy at the violence and brutality of their terrible Bulgarian ally. Johannitsa pillaged everything, burnt everything, and massacred every one, in his path. He longed to avenge the defeats which in bygone days Basil II had inflicted on his nation, and, just as the Byzantine Emperor had styled himself the slayer of Bulgars" (Bulgaroctonos), so he proudly flaunted the title of "slayer of Romans" (Romaioctonos). The horrified Greeks therefore soon reverted to the side of the Latins. The Emperor Henry knew how to profit by these sentiments. He secured the assistance of Theodore Branas, one of the great Byzantine leaders, by granting him Demotika and Hadrianople as fiefs (October 1205). In person he waged victorious warfare with the Bulgars. He relieved Renier of Trit, who was besieged in Stenimachus, and retook Hadrianople (1206). Finally, to the great advantage of the Empire, he became reconciled with Boniface of Montferrat, whose daughter Agnes was betrothed to him. Undoubtedly the death of the marquess-king, killed in battle in 1207, and the Bulgarian attack on Thessalonica, were fresh causes of disquietude. Fortunately for the Latin Empire, Johannitsa was assassinated outside the city he was besieging (October 1207). The Greek legend assigns the credit for his death to the saintly patron of the city, St Demetrius, who, mounted on his war­horse and armed with his invincible spear, is said to have stricken down the terrible enemy of Hellenism in his own camp. It is unnecessary to add that it happened in a less miraculous manner. But the death of the Bulgarian Tsar delivered the Empire from a great danger. His successor, Boril, after his defeat in 1208 at Philippopolis, soon made peace, which was sealed in 1215 by the marriage of the Emperor Henry with the Tsar’s daughter.

About the same time matters improved in Asia Minor. In 1206, at the instigation of David Comnenus, Emperor of Trebizond, who was uneasy at the aggrandisement of Theodore Lascaris and wrathful at the imperial title recently assumed by the Despot of Nicaea, the Latins resumed the offensive in Asia Minor and seized Cyzicus and Nicomedia, which they retained until 1207. But the Bulgarian danger necessitated the concentration of all the forces of the Empire; in order to be able to recall all his troops from Asia Minor, Henry concluded a two years’ armistice with Lascaris. The struggle was resumed as soon as the Bulgarian peril had been averted. Lascaris, having vanquished the Turks on the Maeander (1210), became a source of uneasiness to the Latins, as he contemplated attacking Constantinople. The Emperor boldly took the offensive, crossed to Asia, and on 13 October 1211 overwhelmingly defeated the Nicaean sovereign on the river Luparkos (Rhyndakos). Lascaris determined to make peace. By the treaty of 1212 he relinquished to the Latins the north-west of Asia Minor, all the western part of Mysia and Bithynia.

While Henry thus waged victorious warfare with his external enemies, he also strengthened the imperial authority at home. On the death of Boniface of Montferrat, the throne of Thessalonica passed to his infant son Demetrius, in whose name the government was carried on by the Queen-regent, Margaret of Hungary, and Count Hubert of Biandrate, Baile or guardian of the kingdom. The Lombard party, whose leader Hubert was, was unfriendly to the queen-regent, and even more hostile to the French and the Emperor, whose suzerainty they wished to repudiate. Henry had no hesitation in marching on Thessalonica, and in spite of Biandrate’s resistance he succeeded in occupying the city ; then, sup­ported by the queen-regent, he enforced the recognition of his suzerainty, settled the succession which had been left open by the death of Boniface, and caused the young Demetrius to be crowned (January 1209). Henry, indeed, had still much to do in combating the intrigues of Biandrate, whom he arrested, and in neutralising the hostility of the Lombard nobles of Seres and Christopolis, who intended to bar the Emperor's return to Constantinople. He had, however, solidly established the prestige of the Empire in Thessalonica. Thence he proceeded to Thessaly, and, after having crushed the resistance of the Lombard nobles at Larissa, at the beginning of 1209 in the parliament of Ravennika he received the homage of the French barons of the south, above all of the Megaskyr of Athens and of the Prince of Achaia, who since the death of Boniface wished to be immediate vassals of the Empire because of their hatred of the Lombards. Henry displayed no less energy in religious matters, and his anti-clerical policy, whereby he refused to return ecclesiastical property seized by laymen, caused displeasure to Innocent III more than once. The concordat signed at the second parliament of Ravennika (May 1210) seemed for a time to have arranged matters. The barons undertook to return any Church property illegally detained by them; the clergy promised to hold these from the civil State, and to pay the land-tax for them. But this attempt at an agreement led to no lasting results. Henry also insisted on opposing the claims of the Patriarch Morosini to govern the Latin Church despotically, and at Morosini’s death in 1211 he secured the election to the patriarchate of a candidate chosen by himself. He was equally careful to protect his Greek subjects against the demands of the Latin Church. Unfortunately this monarch, the best of the Emperors whom fate gave to the Latin Empire of Constantinople, died, perhaps of poison, on 11 June 1216, when he was still under forty. This was an irreparable loss for the Empire; henceforward, under the weak successors of the Emperor Henry, the State founded by the crusaders moved slowly towards its ruin.


Decline of the Empire after Henry's death

Yolande, sister of the two first Latin Emperors, was married to Peter of Courtenay, Count of Auxerre, and he was elected Emperor by the barons in preference to Andrew, King of Hungary, a nephew by marriage of Baldwin and Henry. Peter set out for Constantinople. But in the course of an expedition which he undertook in Epirus, with the object of reconquering Durazzo which had been taken from the Venetians by the Greeks, he was betrayed into the hands of Theodore Angelus, Despot of Epirus, and died soon afterwards in his prison (1217). The Empress Yolande, who had reached the shores of the Bosphorus in safety, then assumed the regency provisionally in the name of the missing Emperor, and, with the help of Conon of Bethune, one of the heroes of the Crusade, she governed for two years (1217-1219). But a man was needed to defend the Empire. The barons elected Philip, the eldest son of Peter and Yolande, who declined the honour offered to him. His younger brother, Robert of Courtenay, was then chosen in his place; he set out in 1220, and was crowned by the Patriarch on 25 March 1221. He reigned for seven years (1221-1228); after him his throne passed to his brother, Baldwin II, a boy of eleven, during whose minority (1228­1237) the government was entrusted to John of Brienne, formerly King of Jerusalem, a brave knight but an absolutely incapable statesman. Under these feeble governments which succeeded each other for twenty years, Greeks and Bulgars found an easy victim in the exhausted Latin Empire.

In 1222 a grave event took place. The Latin kingdom of Thessalonica succumbed to the attacks of the Despot of Epirus. Theodore Ducas Angelus had succeeded his brother Michael in 1214, and by a series of successful undertakings he had, at the expense of both the Greeks and Bulgars, greatly augmented the State he had inherited. He had retaken Durazzo (1215) and Corfu from the Venetians, and occupied Ochrida and Pelagonia; he appeared to the Greeks as the saviour and restorer of Hellenism. In 1222 he attacked Thessalonica, where the youthful Demetrius, son of Boniface of Montferrat, was now reigning; he took the city easily, and was then crowned Emperor by the Metropolitan of Ochrida. In the ensuing years (1222-1231) the new Basileus extended his sway at the expense of the Bulgars to Macedonia and Thrace, to the neighbourhood of Hadrianople, Philippopolis, and Christopolis. In 1221 he attacked the Latin Empire, and defeated Robert of Courtenay's troops at Seres.


Wars with Greeks and Bulgarians

At the very time when the peril which threatened it in Europe was thus increasing, the Latin Empire lost Asia Minor. When Theodore Lascaris (1206-1222), first Emperor of Nicaea, died, he left a greatly increased and solidly established State to his son-in-law, John Vatatzes. He had, by victories over the Comneni of Trebizond and over the Seljuq Turks, advanced his frontiers to the upper streams of the Sangarius and the Maeander. Vatatzes, who was as good a general as he was an able administrator, during his long reign (1222-1254) completed the work of Lascaris, and bestowed a final period of prosperity on Greek Asia Minor. By 1224 he had recaptured from the Latins almost all the territory they still held in Anatolia, and in a fierce battle at Poimanenon he defeated their army commanded by Macaire of St Menehould. At the same time his fleet seized Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Icaria, and Cos, and compelled the Greek ruler of Rhodes to recognise Vatatzes as suzerain. Before long the Emperor of Nicaea, who was jealous of the success of the new Greek monarch of Thessalonica and suspicious as to his aims, despatched troops to Europe; Madytus and Gallipoli were taken and sacked, and, at the call of the revolted Greeks in Hadrianople, the army of the Nicaean sovereign occupied the city for a time (1224). There they encountered the soldiers of the Emperor of Thessalonica, to whom they had to yield the city. Unfortunately, the Latins were incapable of profiting by the quarrels of the two Greek Emperors, who fell out over their spoils.

They were no better able to profit by the chances offered them by Bulgaria. Since 1218 John Asen had been Tsar at Trnovo (1218-1241). He had married a Latin princess related to the Courtenay family, and, like Johannitsa in bygone days, was quite disposed to side with the Latins against the Greeks; when the Emperor Robert was deposed in 1228, he would gladly have accepted the office of regent during the minority of Baldwin II, as many wished, and he promised to help the monarchy to regain from Theodore Angelus all that had been lost in the West. The foolish obstinacy of the Latin clergy, who were violently opposed to an Orthodox prince, wrecked the negotiations. Thus vanished the last chance of salvation for the Latin Empire.

The Bulgarian Tsar, justly indignant, became a relentless enemy to the Latins, to the great advantage of the Greeks of Nicaea, to whom he rendered yet another service; he conquered their European rival, the Emperor of Thessalonica, whose ambition was becoming a source of uneasiness to Bulgaria. In 1230 he attacked Theodore Angelus, defeated him, and took him prisoner in the battle of Klokotinitza, forcing him to renounce the throne. As is recorded in a triumphal inscription engraved in this very year 1230 on the walls of the cathedral of Trnovo, he annexed “all the country from Hadrianople to Durazzo, Greek territory, Albanian territory, Serbian territory”. The Empire of Thessalonica was reduced to modest proportions (it only included Thessalonica itself and Thessaly), and devolved on Manuel Angelus, Theodore’s brother.

Reign of Baldwin II

Thus all-powerful in Europe, John Asen joyfully accepted the pro­posals of an alliance against the Latins made by John Vatatzes (1234). The two families were united by the marriage of John Asen's daughter to Vatatzes’ son; and the two sovereigns met at Gallipoli, which the Nicaean Emperor had taken from the Venetians in 1235, to arrange the division of the Frank Empire. Encompassed on all sides, Constantinople nearly succumbed in 1236 to the combined attack of its two adversaries. But this time the West was roused by the greatness of the danger. The Pisans, Genoese, and Venetians all sent their fleets to succour the threatened capital; Geoffrey II, Prince of Achaia, brought a hundred knights and eight hundred bowmen, and lent an annual subsidy of 22,000 hyperperi for the defence of the Empire. Thanks to these aids, Constantinople was saved, and the Latin Empire survived another quarter of a century. But it was a singularly miserable existence. During the twenty-five years of his personal reign (1237-1261), Baldwin II, last Latin Emperor of Constantinople, who had already visited Rome and Paris in 1236, had to beg all over the Western world for help in men and money, which he did not always get. To raise funds he was reduced to pawning the most famous jewels in Constantinople, the crown of thorns, a large piece of the true cross, the holy spear, the sponge, which St Louis bought from him. And such was the distress of the wretched Emperor that for his coinage the lead roofing had to be used, and to warm him in winter the timbers of the imperial palace were chopped up. Some rare successes indeed prolonged the life of the Empire. The Greco-Bulgarian alliance was dissolved; in 1240 Baldwin II recaptured Tzurulum from the Greeks, and thus cleared the approaches to the capital to a certain degree; in 1241 the death of John Asen began the decay of the Bulgarian Empire. Nevertheless the days of the Latin State were numbered. One question remained: would the Greek Empire of Epirus or that of Nicaea have the honour of reconquering Constantinople?

It was secured by Nicaea. While the Latin Empire was in its last agony, John Vatatzes was succeeding in restoring Byzantine unity against the aliens. He drove the Latins from their last possessions in Asia Minor (1241); he gained the powerful support of the Western Emperor Frederick II, whose daughter Constance he married (1244), and who, out of hatred for the Pope, the protector of the Latin Empire, unhesitatingly abandoned Constantinople to the Greeks; he deprived the Franks of the support of the Seljuq Sultan of Iconium (1244); and he seized the Mongol invasion of Asia Minor as an opportunity of enlarging his state at the expense of the Turks. He was specially active in Europe. Since the year 1237, when Michael II Angelus (1237-1271) had founded the despotat of Epirus in Albania at the expense of the Empire of Thessalonica, anarchy had prevailed in the Greek States of the West. In 1240, with the help of John Asen, the aged Theodore Angelus had taken Thessalonica, overthrown his brother Manuel, and caused his son John to be crowned as Emperor (1240-1244). Vatatzes took advantage of this weakness. In 1242 he appeared outside Thessalonica and forced John to renounce the title of Emperor, to content himself with that of Despot, and to become vassal of Nicaea. In 1246 he returned to the attack; this time he seized Thessalonica and expelled the Despot Demetrius. Then he fell on the Bulgarians and took from them a large part of Macedonia—Seres, Melnik, Skoplje, and other places—and the following year he deprived the Latins of Vizye and Tzurulum; finally, a family alliance united him to the only Greek prince who still retained his independence in the West, Michael II, Despot of Epirus. This ambitious and intriguing prince was doubtless about to go to war with Nicaea in 1254. Nevertheless, when on 30 October 1254 Vatatzes died at Nymphaeum, the Empire of Nicaea, rich, powerful, and prosperous, surrounded the poor remnants of the Latin Empire on all sides. Only Constantinople remained to be conquered.

The final catastrophe was delayed for seven years by discords between the Greeks. Theodore II Lascaris (1254-1258) had at one and the same time to carry on war with the Despot of Epirus and to fight with the Bulgars, who after the death of Vatatzes had considered the time favourable for avenging their defeats. Theodore Lascaris routed them at the pass of Rupel (1255); but it was only after the assassination of their King Michael (1257) that he succeeded in imposing peace on them. On the other hand, in spite of his great military and political qualities, the new Greek Emperor was of a delicate constitution. The field was therefore clear for the intrigues of ambitious men, and especially for Michael Palaeologus, who, having married a princess of the imperial family, openly aspired to the throne.

When by Theodore’s premature death the throne passed to a child, Michael had no difficulty in seizing the real power after the assassina­tion of Muzalon the regent, nor a little later in superseding the legitimate dynasty by causing himself to be crowned Emperor at Nicaea on 1 January 1259. He soon justified this mean usurpation by the victories he achieved.

He first brought the war with Michael II, Despot of Epirus, to a successful conclusion. Michael II was a formidable enemy: he was the ally of Manfred, King of Sicily, and of William of Villehardouin, Prince of Achaia, who had both married daughters of the despot; he was supported by the Albanians and the Serbs, and was very proud of the successes he had secured; since the capture of Prilep (1258) he was master of the whole of Macedonia, and was already threatening Thessalonica. Michael Palaeologus boldly took the offensive, reconquered Macedonia, and invaded Albania. In spite of the help brought by the Prince of Achaia to his father-in-law, the army of Michael II was over­whelmingly defeated at Pelagonia (1259). William of Villehardouin himself fell into the hands of the Byzantines; and the Emperor seized the opportunity to recover a part of the Peloponnesus. Henceforth the despotat of Epirus was swallowed up by the Empire of Nicaea. The time had come when Michael Palaeologus was to restore Hellenism by reconquering Constantinople.

End of the Latin Empire

In 1260 he crossed the Hellespont, took Selymbria and the other strongholds still retained by the Latins outside the capital, and threatened Galata. At the same time he very astutely utilised the rivalry of the Venetians and Genoese to gain the alliance of the latter. On 13 March 1261, by the Treaty of Nymphaeum, he promised that, in return for their help against Venice and their support against his other enemies, he would grant them all the privileges enjoyed by the Venetians in the East. The Genoese secured counting-houses at Thessalonica, Adramyttium, Smyrna, Chios, and Lesbos; they were to have the reversion of the Venetian banks at Constantinople, Euboea, and Crete; the monopoly of commerce in the Black Sea was assigned to them. At this price they consented to betray Western Christendom.

Venice had realised, rather late in the day, the necessity of defending the Latin Empire; since 1258 she had maintained a fleet of some importance at Constantinople. But in July 1261 it happened that the fleet had temporarily left the Golden Horn to attack the neighbouring town of Daphnusia. One of Michael Palaeologus’ generals, the Caesar Alexius Strategopulus, seized the opportunity; on 25 July 1261, by a lucky surprise, he captured the capital of the Latin Empire, almost without resistance. Baldwin II had no alternative but to take to flight, accompanied by the Latin Patriarch, the podestà, and the Venetian colonists; on 15 August 1261 Michael Palaeologus made his solemn entry into Constantinople, and placed the imperial crown on his head in St Sophia.

Thus, after an existence of half a century, fell the State established in Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade. Even though the Empire had only an ephemeral existence, yet the East remained full of Latin settlements. Venice, in spite of the efforts of her enemies, retained the essential portions of her colonial empire in the Levant, Negropont, and Crete, and the strong citadels of Modon and Coron; her patrician families kept most of their seigniories in the Archipelago. So also did the other Latin States in Greece born of the Crusade. Under the government of the La Roche family, the duchy of Athens lasted until 1311; and although the disastrous battle of the Cephisus then transferred it to the hands of the Catalans (1311-4334), who were superseded by the Florentine family of Acciajuoli (1334-1456), the Byzantines never regained possession of it. The principality of Achaia, under the government of the three Villehardouins (1204-1278), was even more flourishing. These settlements were really the most lasting results, within the Latin Empire of Constantinople, of the Crusade of 1204.