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The Commeni Dynasty (1081-1204)-Crusader sack of 1204 during the Fourth Crusade-
The fall of the Byzantine Empire
Venetians attacking Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204)
"Not since the world was made was there ever seen or won so great a treasure, or so noble or so rich, ... had there been so much wealth as was found in Constantinople." Robert of Clari, a French crusader 1204
Map of the Byzantine Empire and Crusader Stats, 1140
Alexius Comnenus came to the throne in 1081and was able to recover parts of the Macedonian coast which had been lost to the Normans. Alexius wanted to use the heavy Frankish cavalry of the western Europeans against the Turks and made an appeal to the Pope, sparking the Crusades. This was a shock to Alexius who expected to gain a force of mercenaries, not great crusading armies led by hard to control land hungry nobles. The Crusaders fended off the threat of the Turks, but in the end so weakened to empire to cause its downfall. There was no love lost between the Crusaders and the Byzantines. The Byzantines considered the Crusaders to be uncivilized barbarians and the Crusaders considered the Byzantine to be ungrateful,conniving and lacking in valor.
Sir Steven Runciman was one of the English language's (if not the world's) leading scholars of the Crusades and the Eastern Roman Empire. He weaves a story that is both historically accurate as well as emotionally moving
The Crusading army reached the Dardanelles without having to strike a blow. The slothful and luxurious emperor let things slide, and had not even a fleet ready to send against them in the Aegean. He shut himself up in Constantinople, and trusted to the strength of its walls to deliver him, as Heraclius and Leo III. and many more of his predecessors had been delivered. If the siege had been conducted from the land side only, his hopes might have been justified, for the Danes and English of the Varangian Guard beat back the assault of the Franks on the land-wall. But Alexius III., unlike earlier emperors, was attacked by a fleet to which he could oppose no adequate naval resistance. Though the Crusaders were driven off on shore, the Venetians stormed the sea-wall, by the expedient of building light towers on the decks, and throwing flying bridges from the towers on to the top of the Byzantine ramparts.
John VIII Palaiologos
Hearing that the enemy was within the ramparts, the cowardly Alexius III. mounted his horse and fled away into the inland of Thrace, leaving his troops, who were not yet half beaten, without a leader or a cause to fight for. The garrison bowed to necessity, and the chief officers of the army drew the aged Isaac II. out of his cloister prison and proclaimed his restoration to the throne. They sent to the Crusading camp to announce that hostilities had ceased, and to beg Prince Alexius to enter the city and join his father in the palace. The end of the expedition of the Crusaders had now been attained, but it may safely be asserted that the chief feeling in their ranks was a bitter disappointment at being cheated out of the sack of Constantinople, a prospect over which they had been gloating ever since they left Zara. They spent the next three months in endeavouring to wring out of their triumphant protégés, Isaac and Alexius, every bezant that could be scraped together.
The winter of 1203-4 was spent in ceaseless wrangling about the subsidy due to the Crusaders, till Alexius, growing seriously frightened, began exactions on his subjects which drove them to revolt. When he seized and melted down the golden lamps and silver candelabra which formed the pride of St. Sophia, stripped its eikonostasis of its rich metal plating, and requisitioned the jeweled eikons and reliquaries of every church in the city, the populace would stand his proceedings no longer. They would not serve an emperor who had sold himself to the Franks, and only reigned in order to subject the Eastern Church to Rome, and to pour the hoarded wealth of the ancient empire into the coffers of the upstart Italian republics. In January, 1204, the storm burst. The populace and troops shut the gates of the city, and fell on the isolated Latins who were within the walls.
The Crusaders took two months to prepare for their second assault on Constantinople, which they felt would be a far more formidable affair than the attack in the preceding autumn. They directed their chief efforts against the sea-wall, which they had found vulnerable in the previous siege, and left the formidable land-wall alone.
The attack was made on April 8th, at more than a hundred points along two miles of sea-wall, but it was beaten off with loss. Alexius Ducas had made his arrangements so well, that the fire of his engines swept off all who attempted to gain a footing on the ramparts. The ships were much damaged, and at noon the whole fleet gave back
Many of the Crusaders were now for returning ; they thought their defeat was a judgment for turning their arms against a Christian city, and wished to sail for the Holy Land. But Dandolo and the Venetians insisted upon repeating the assault. Three days were spent in repairing the fleet, and on April I2th a second attack was delivered. This time the ships were lashed together in pairs to secure stability, and the attack was concentrated on a comparatively small front of wall. At last, after much fighting, the military engines of the fleet and the bolts of its crossbowmen cleared a single tower of its defenders. A bridge was successfully lowered on to it, and a footing secured by a party of Crusaders, who then threw open a postern gate and let the main body in. After a short fight within the walls, the troops of Alexius Ducas retired back into the streets. The Crusaders fired the city to cover their advance, and by night were in possession of the north-west angle of Constantinople, the quarter of the palace of Blachern.
While the fire was keeping the combatants apart, the Emperor tried to rally his troops and to prepare for a street-fight next day. But the army was cowed ; many regiments melted away ; and the Varangian Guard, the best corps in the garrison, chose this moment to demand that their arrears of pay should be liquidated ; they would not return to the fight without their money ! The twenty years of disorganization under the Angeli was now bearing its fruit, and deeply was the empire to rue the next day.Alexius Ducas, in despair at being unable to make his men fight, left the city by night.In cold blood, twelve hours after all fighting had ended, the Crusaders proceeded with great deliberation to sack the place. The leaders could not or would not hold back their men, and every atrocity that attends the storm of a great city was soon in full swing. Though no resistance was made, the soldiery, and especially the Venetians, took life recklessly, and three or four thousand unarmed citizens were slain. But there was no general massacre ; it was lust and greed rather than bloodthirstiness that the army displayed. All the Western writers, no less than the Greeks, testify to the horrors of the three days' carnival of rape and plunder that now ;:et in. Every knight or soldier seized on the house that he liked best, and dealt as he chose with its inmates. Churches and nunneries fared no better than private dwellings;the orgies that were enacted in the holiest places caused even the Pope to exclaim that no good could ever come out of the conquest. The drunken soldiery enthroned a harlot in the patriarchal chair in St. Sophia, and made her rehearse ribald songs and indecent dances before the high altar. There were plenty of clergy with the Crusading army, but instead of endeavouring to check the sacrilegious doings of their countrymen, they devoted themselves to plundering the treasuries of the churches of all the holy bones and relics that were stored in them;, " The Franks," remarked a Greek writer who saw the sack of Constantinople, *' behaved far worse than Saracens ; the infidels when a town has surrendered at any rate respect churches and women."
Map of the Byzantine empire in 1204
Medal of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos(brother of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaeologus, with a distinctive hat, worn by provincial officials
conquest of Constantinople in 1453
A contested throne gave the Crusaders the excuse they needed, aided by the seafaring Venetians to sack Constantinople in 1203-4.Most of the empire was divided up among the conquers. A small part of the Byzantine empire continued to exist in Asia Minor. Count Baldwin of Flanders became emperor of the new Latin Empire, which lasted till 1261, when Greek rule was restored under the Palaeologue dynasty. What remained of the empire was in such a weakened and depopulated situation that the Slavs and Ottoman Turks were able to advance. By 1355 the Ottomans held all of Asia Minor and sent expeditions across the Dardanelles into Thrace and the Ottomans conquered the Balkans, leaving Constantinople a Christian island in an Moslem sea.In 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople and the last Byzantine empire died in battle, never to be found.
Byzantine Empire in 1450
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453
The imperial emblem for the Byzantine Empire was the Double eagle, with the left side representing the Western Roman Empire and the right the Eastern Roman Empire .Sometimes seen with a cross and orb in the claws symbolizing spiritual and secular authority. The four Bs on the shield stand for Βασιλευς Βασιλεων Βασιλευων Βασιλευσιν (King of Kings)