Image: Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I with Pope John Paul II.
The sack of Constantinople by armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 ranks as one of the odder and most lamentable events of the broader medieval crusading movement. This is because Constantinople was the Christian capital city of the Byzantine Empire, obviously an odd target for Christian crusaders. Historians debate the causes of the crusaders straying so far from their original destination of Egypt, whether it can be blamed on duplicitous Venetians, or was instead an accident of history- with one misfortune after another leading the- by then- excommunicated, misguided, and desperate crusaders to Constantinople.
In terms of consequences, some have argued, unconvincingly in my view, that the sack of Constantinople so weakened the Byzantine Empire that it is at least partly responsible for its eventual conquest by the Turks in 1453… more than two centuries later. A lot can happen over two centuries. Others argue the broader crusading movement instead artificially preserved the Byzantine Empire as it was severely threatened by Turkish military expansion into Asia-Minor in the late eleventh century. Turkish aggression prompted the calling of the First Crusade in 1095 which restored control of considerable territories to Byzantine authority (e.g. the city of Nicaea, much of Asia-Minor, etc…). The aggression of Muslim armies was an issue that the Byzantines continued to struggle with from 1095 until the events of 1204 (before and after as well). Thus, the unique circumstances of the crusaders’ conquest of Constantinople in 1204 is (at least in part) a reflection of the pre-existing military and (especially) political weakness of the Byzantine Empire, rather than its cause.
Regardless of the causes or consequences, Continue reading