The Crusades

The Fourth Crusade


Pope Innocent III initiated a fourth crusade in 1198 to retake Jerusalem through a campaign that would begin in Egypt. Following the lack of success in military conquests during the previous half-century, only a small number of cities on the coast remained in the hands of the crusaders. Motivation for further conflict was also lacking in Europe, particularly as France and England were currently at war. By 1202, provisions were in place for a crusade involving 33,500 men, to be transported to Egypt by the Venetians. The majority of the army was French, supplemented by crusaders from Flanders and the Holy Roman Empire. By July the troops were ready to sail on Cairo, with explicit instructions from the Pope that no attacks would occur on Christian cities.

Despite agreement being in place with the Venetians for the transport of the troops, many crusaders sailed from other ports. As a consequence, the contract with the Venetians went mostly unfulfilled. Due to the crusaders’ lack of funds, Doge Enrico Dandalo of Venice conscripted them to restore the Christian city of Zara (Zadar) to obedience. In reality the siege that practically destroyed the city was little more than an attempt by the Venetians to dent the links of one of their rivals. Innocent deplored the attack and excommunicated all involved. The attack was the first Catholic attack on a Catholic city.

Lacking the funds to travel to Egypt, the majority of the leaders continued to Constantinople, where they sought to restore the crown to the exiled Isaac II. On reaching the city, the crusader army, travelling with Isaac’s son, Prince Alexius, expecting a welcome were taunted by the Byzantines, leading to attacks on the cities of Chalcedon and Chrysopolis. After a group of 80 Franks defeated 500 Byzantine horseback riders, the crusaders then laid siege to Constantinople, toppling it in 1204. The crusader victory proved a decisive event in relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and also saw the creation of the Latin States, a feudal crusader state established by its new leaders.