Fall of Constantinople

The Fall of Constantinople

Most writers on the crusades have noticed the change which followed the battle of Tiberias. Pigeonneau, for example, in his History of Commerce, pointed out that, after the loss of Jerusalem, the Christians “became more and more intent on economic interests,” and the “crusades became more and more political and commercial, rather than religious, expeditions.” [124]

In other words, when decentralization reached its limit, the form of competition changed, and consolidation began. With the reopening of the valley of the Danube, the current turned. At first the tide ran feebly, but after the conquest of the Holy Land the channels of trade altered; capital began to accumulate; and by the thirteenth century money controlled Palestine and Italy, and was rapidly subduing France. Heyd remarked that “the commerce to the Levant took a leap, during the crusades, of which the boldest imagination could hardly have dreamed shortly before,”[125] because the possession of the Syrian ports brought Europe into direct communication with Asia, and accelerated exchanges.

From the dawn of European history to the rise of modern London, the Eastern trade has enriched every community where it has centred, and, among others, North Italy in the Middle Ages. Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Pisa were its creations.

In the year 452, when the barbarian migrations were flowing over the Roman provinces in steadily increasing volume, the Huns sacked Aquileia, and the inhabitants of the ravaged districts fled for shelter to the islands which lie in the shallow water at the head of the Adriatic. For many generations these fugitives remained poor, subsisting mainly on fish, and selling salt as their only product; but gradually they developed into a race highly adapted to flourish under the conditions which began to prevail after the council of Clermont.

Isolated save toward the sea, without agriculture or mines, but two paths were open to them, piracy and commerce: and they excelled in both. By the reign of Charlemagne they were prosperous; and when the closing of the valley of the Danube forced traffic to go by sea, Venice and Amalfi obtained a monopoly of what was left of the Eastern trade. For many years, however, that trade was not highly lucrative. Though Rome always offered a certain market for brocades for vestments and for altar coverings, for incense, and jewels for shrines, ready money was scarce, the West having few products which Asiatics or Africans were willing to take in exchange for their goods. Therefore it was not through enterprises sanctioned by the priesthood, that Venice won in the economic competition which began to prevail in the eleventh century.

Venetians prospered because they were bolder and more unscrupulous than their neighbours. They did without compunction what was needful for gain, even when the needful thing was a damnable crime in the eyes of the devout.

The valley of the Nile, though fertile, produces neither wood nor iron, nor men of the fighting type; for these the caliphs were ready to pay, and the Venetians provided them all. Even as early as 971 dealings with the common enemy in material of war had reached proportions which not only stimulated the Emperor John Zimisces to energetic diplomatic remonstrance, but made him threaten to burn all the ships he captured laden with suspicious cargoes.

To sell timber for ships, and iron for swords, to the Saracens, was a mortal sin in children of the Church; but such a sin was as nothing beside the infamy of kidnapping believers as slaves for infidels, who made them soldiers to fight against their God. Charlemagne and the popes after him tried to suppress the traffic, but without avail. Slaving was so lucrative that it was carried on in the streets of Rome herself,[126] and in the thirteenth century two thousand Europeans were annually disposed of in Damietta and Alexandria, from whom the Mamelukes, the finest corps of soldiers in the East, were recruited.

Thus a race grew up in Italy, which differed from the people of France and Germany because of the absence of those qualities which had caused the Germans to survive when the inhabitants of the Empire decayed. The mediæval Italians prospered because they were lacking in the imagination which made the Northern peoples subservient to the miracle-worker, and among mediæval Italians the Venetians, from their exposed position, came to be the most daring, energetic, and unscrupulous. By the end of the eleventh century their fleet was so superior to the Greek, that the Emperor Alexis had to confide to them the defence of the harbour of Durazzo against Robert Guiscard. Guiscard attacked Durazzo in 1081, at the time of the revolution which immediately preceded the debasement of the Byzantine coinage; and the demonstration that Venice had already absorbed most of the carrying trade, seems to prove that, during the last half of the eleventh century, the centre of exchanges had a pronounced tendency to abandon Constantinople. Moreover, the result of the campaign showed that the Venetian navy was the strongest in the Mediterranean, and this was of vital moment to the success of the crusades twenty years later, for, without the command of the sea, the permanent occupation of Palestine would have been impossible.

After the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, almost the first operations of Godfrey de Bouillon were against the Syrian ports; but as he controlled too small a force to act alone, he made a treaty with Venice, by which, in consideration of two hundred ships, he promised to cede to her a third part of every town taken. Baldwin made a similar arrangement with the Genoese, and, as the coast was subdued, the Italian cities assumed their grants, and established their administrations. In the end the Venetians predominated at Tyre, the Genoese at Acre, and the Pisans at Antioch. Before the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, the spices, drugs, brocades, carpets, porcelains, and gems of India and China, reached the Mediterranean mainly by two routes. One by way of the Persian Gulf to Bagdad, up the Euphrates to Rakka, and by land to Aleppo, whence they were conveyed by caravan either to Antioch or Damascus. Damascus, beside being the starting-place of caravans for Mecca and Egypt, and the emporium for the products of Persia, had important manufactures of its own. Its glass, porcelain, steel, and brocades were famous, and it was a chief market for furs, which were highly prized throughout the Middle Ages, when heating was not understood.

The second route was by water. Indian merchants usually sold their cargoes at Aden, whence they were taken to a port in Upper Egypt, floated down the Nile to Cairo, and bought by Europeans at Damietta or Alexandria. The products of Egypt itself were valuable, and next to Constantinople, Cairo was the richest city west of the Indus.

What Europe gave to the Orientals in return is not so well known; but, beside raw materials and slaves, her woollens were much esteemed. At all events, exchanges must have become more favourable to her, as is proved by the increased supply of the precious metals.

Why the short period of expansion, which followed upon the re-establishment of the silver standard in the West, should have been succeeded by a sharp contraction is unknown, but the fact seems proved by the coinage. In the reign of Charlemagne a silver pound of 7680 grains was made the monetary unit, which was divided into 240 denarii, or pence.[127]

For some time these pence were tolerably maintained, but as the empire of Charlemagne disintegrated, they deteriorated until, by the end of the twelfth century, those coined at Venice were but a quarter of their original weight and three parts alloy.[128] After Hattin a new expansion began, in which Venice took the lead. The battle was fought in 1187, and some years later, but probably before 1200, the grosso was struck, a piece of fine silver, of good weight, which thereafter was maintained at the standard. Half a century later gold appeared. Florence coined the florin in 1252, Venice the ducat in 1284, and between the two dates, Saint Louis issued his crowns.

The return of the precious metals to the West indicated a revival of trade and a change in the form of competition. Instead of the imagination, the economic faculty began to predominate, and energy chose money as its vent. Within a generation the miracle fell decisively in power, and the beginning of this most crucial of social revolutions is visible in the third crusade, the famous expedition led by Philip Augustus and Cœur de Lion.

These two great soldiers probably learned the art of fortification at the siege of Acre, the most remarkable passage of arms of the Middle Ages. The siege is said to have cost one hundred thousand lives, and certainly called forth all the engineering skill of the time. Guy de Lusignan, having been liberated by Saladin soon after Hattin, wandered about the country, abandoned and forlorn, until at last he sat down before Acre, in 1189, with a force inferior to the garrison. There he was joined by the kings of France and England, who succeeded in capturing the city after a desperate defence of two years. An immense booty was taken, but the clergy complained that two secular princes had embezzled the heritage of God. On the other hand, the troops had not received the usual assistance from miracles; for though assaults were delivered almost daily, none were worked, and the Virgin herself only appeared once, and then so quietly as to arouse no enthusiasm.

After the surrender Philip went home, while Richard remained in command. The whole country had been overrun, only a few strongholds like the Krak des Chevaliers and Tortosa held out; and Richard, far from following the example of the first crusaders, who marched straight for the relics at Jerusalem, turned his attention to re-establishing the centres of trade upon the coast.

He moved south along the shore, keeping close to his fleet, with the enemy following on the mountains. As he approached Joppa, the Saracens descended into the plain and gave battle. They were decisively defeated, and Richard occupied Joppa without resistance. From Joppa the road ran direct to Jerusalem. The way was not long nor the country difficult, and there is no reason to suppose an attack to have been particularly hazardous. On the contrary, when Richard advanced, the opposition was not unusually stubborn, and he actually pursued the enemy to within sight of the walls. Yet he resolutely resisted the pressure of the clergy to undertake a siege, the inference being that the power which controlled him held Jerusalem to be worthless. That power must have been capital, for the treaty which he negotiated was as frankly mercenary as though made in modern times. The seaboard from Tyre to Joppa was ceded to the Franks; Ascalon, which was the key to Egypt, was dismantled, and the only mention made of Jerusalem was that it should be open to pilgrims in the future, as it had been in the past. Of the cross, which fifty years before had been prized above all the treasures of the East, not a word was said, nor does it appear that, after Hattin, either Infidels or Christians attached a money value to it.

Some chroniclers have insisted that Richard felt remorse at thus abandoning his God; and when, in a skirmish, he saw the walls of Jerusalem, they related that he hid his face and wept. He may have done so, but, during his life, the time came when Christian knights felt naught but exultation at having successfully bartered the Sepulchre for money. After Richard's departure, the situation of the Franks in the Holy Land went rapidly from bad to worse. The decay of faith constantly relaxed the bond which had once united them against the Moslems, while they were divided amongst themselves by commercial jealousies. The Temple and the Hospital carried on perpetual private wars about disputed property, the fourth crusade miscarried, and the garrison of Joppa was massacred, while Europe looked on with indifference.

When this point was reached, the instinct of self-preservation seems to have roused the clergy to the fact that their fate was bound up with the fate of the holy places: if the miracle were discredited, their reign was at an end. Accordingly, Innocent III., on his election, threw himself into a new agitation with all the intensity of his nature. Foulques de Neuilly was chosen to preach, like Saint Bernard; but his success, at first, was not flattering. He was insulted publicly by Richard, and was even accused of having embezzled the funds entrusted to him. At length, in the year 1199, Tybalt, Count of Champagne, and Louis, Count of Blois, took the cross at a tournament they were holding at the castle of Ecry. They soon were joined by others, but probably the most famous baron of the pilgrimage was Simon de Montfort.

At the end of the twelfth century the great fiefs had not been absorbed, and the Count of Champagne was a powerful sovereign. He was therefore chosen leader of the expedition, and, at a meeting held at Compiègne, the three chief princes agreed to send a committee of six to Venice to contract for transportation. In this committee, Ville-Hardouin, who wrote the chronicle of the war, represented Tybalt.

The doge was then Henry Dandolo, perhaps the most remarkable man Venice ever produced. Though nearly ninety-five, he was as vigorous as in middle life. A materialist and a sceptic, he was the best sailor, the ablest diplomatist, and the keenest speculator in Europe; and while, as a statesman and a commander, he raised his country to the pinnacle of glory, he proved himself the easy superior of Innocent III. in intrigue. So eminent were his abilities that, by common consent, he was chosen leader of a force which held some of the foremost captains of the age; and when, by his sagacity, Constantinople had been captured, he refused the imperial crown.

Ville-Hardouin always spoke of him with deep respect as “the good duke, exceeding wise and prudent;” and, indeed, without him the Frankish princes would certainly have fallen victims to the cunning of the Greeks, whom he alone knew how to over-reach, and whom he hated because his eyes had been seared by the Emperor Manuel Comnenus, when he had been upon a mission at his court.

In his hands the Frankish envoys were like children, bewildered by the wealth and splendour which surrounded them. After stating their errand to Dandolo, they waited eight days for an answer, and were then tendered a contract which has the look of having been part of a premeditated plan to ensnare the crusaders, and make them serve the republic.

The Venetians bound themselves to provide shipping for 4500 knights with their horses, 9000 squires, and 20,000 foot, with provisions for nine months, for 85,000 marks of silver; probably about equal to $5,500,000 of our money. But beside this the city proposed, “for the love of God,” to add fifty galleys, and divide the conquests equally. Whatever its character, and however much such obligations were beyond the ability of the Franks, the contract was executed and sent to Innocent for ratification, who approved it with the proviso that no hostilities should be undertaken against Christians during the crusade. The pilgrims were to meet at Venice in the spring.

When Ville-Hardouin returned, Tybalt was dying, and his loss threw all into confusion. Possibly also the suspicion spread that the Venetians had imposed on the committee, for many of the nobles sailed from other ports where better terms were to be made, among whom was Reginald de Dampierre, to whom Tybalt had confided his treasure. So, in the spring of 1202, hardly more than half the knights presented themselves at Venice, and these found it quite impossible to meet their engagements. Even when the princes had sent their plate and jewels to the Ducal Palace, a deficit, estimated at 34,000 marks, remained.

On their side the Venetians declined to make any abatement of their price, but offered as a compromise to give time, and collect the balance from plunder. As a preliminary they proposed an attack on Zara, an Adriatic port, which had revolted and transferred its allegiance to the King of Hungary.

Few propositions could have been a greater outrage on the Church. Not only were the people of Zara fellow-Christians, against whom the Franks had no complaint, but the King of Hungary was himself a crusader, his dominions were under the protection of the pope, and an attack on him was tantamount to an attack on Rome herself.

On these points difference of opinion was impossible, and the papal legate, with all the other ecclesiastics, denounced the Venetians and threatened them with excommunication. The result showed that force already expressed itself in the West through money, and not through the imagination.

What followed is the more interesting since it can be demonstrated that, when beyond the Alps, and withdrawn from the pressure of capital, the French barons were as emotional as ever. While these very negotiations were pending, the subjects of Philip Augustus had deserted him in a mass, and had grovelled before Innocent as submissively as if he had been Hildebrand.

The first wife of Philip Augustus was Ingeburga, a Danish princess, for whom he had an irrepressible disinclination. In 1195 he obtained a divorce from her, by an assembly of prelates presided over by the Cardinal of Champagne. He then married Agnes de Méranie, to whom he was devotedly attached; Ingeburga appealed to Rome, and Innocent declared the divorce void, and ordered Philip to separate “from his concubine.”

Philip refused, and Innocent commanded his legate to put the kingdom under interdict. At Vienne, in the month of January, 1200, at the dead of night, the magical formulas were recited. When the Christ upon the altar had been veiled, the sacred wafer burned, the miracle-working corpses hidden in the crypt, before the shuddering people, the priest laid his curse upon the king until he should put away his harlot.

From that hour all religious rites were suspended. The church doors were barred, the bells were silent, the sick died unshriven, the dead lay unburied. The king summoned his bishops, and threatened to drive them from France: it was of no avail. The barons shrank from him, his very men-at-arms fell off from him; he was alone as Henry had been at Canossa. The people were frenzied, and even went to England to obtain priestly aid. The Count of Ponthieu had to marry Philip's sister at Rouen, within the Norman jurisdiction.

In his extremity Philip called a parliament at Paris, and Agnes, clad in mourning, implored protection, but not a man moved; a mortal terror was in every heart. She was then in the seventh month. The assembly decided that the king must submit, and Agnes supplicated the pope not to divide her from her husband; the crown, she said, was indifferent to her. But this was a struggle for supremacy, and Innocent was inexorable. A council was convened at Néelle, where Philip promised to take back Ingeburga and part from Agnes. He explained that she was pregnant, and to leave the realm might kill her; but the priests demanded absolute submission, and he swore upon the evangelists to see her no more. Agnes, broken by her misery, set forth for a Norman castle, where she died in bearing a son, whom she called Tristan, from her sorrow at his birth.

The soldier, who belonged to the old imaginative society, had been conquered by the Church, which was the incarnation of the imagination; but Dandolo was a different development. He was the creation of economic competition, and he trampled the clergy under his feet.

Although, apparently, profoundly sceptical, as the man must be who is the channel through which money acts, he understood how to play upon the imaginations of others, and arranged a solemn function to glorify the Sepulchre. One Sunday he summoned both citizens and pilgrims to Saint Mark's, and mounting the pulpit, he addressed the congregation.

“My lords, you are engaged to the greatest people of the world, for the highest enterprise that ever was undertaken; and I am old and feeble, and need repose, and am infirm in body; but I see that none can command and control you as I can, who am your doge. If you will permit me to take the cross to lead you, and let my son stay here in my place and conduct the government, I will go to live or die with you, and with the pilgrims.”[129]

Ville-Hardouin's simple chronicle shows how perfectly the old man knew his audience:—

“There was great pity among the people of the country and the pilgrims, and many tears were shed, because this worthy man had so much cause to stay behind; for he was old and ... his sight poor.”[130]

Amidst an outburst of enthusiasm assent was given. Then, while the church rang with shouts, Dandolo knelt before the altar, in a passion of tears fixed the cross to the ducal bonnet, and rose, the commander of the finest army in the world.

And Dandolo was a great commander; a commander of the highest stamp. He tolerated no insubordination, and trod the clergy down. When Peter of Capua, the papal legate, interfered, Dandolo sternly told him that the army of Christ lacked not for military chiefs, and that if priests would stay therein they must content themselves with prayers.

A Cistercian monk, named Gunther, who had been appointed to follow his abbot on the pilgrimage, kept a chronicle of what he saw. His superior, named Martin, was so disheartened at Venice that he asked the legate for absolution from his vow, and for permission to return to his convent at Bâle; but this request the cardinal refused. The priests had determined to stay by Dandolo and fight him to the last. Therefore the abbot sailed with the Venetians, but he learned a bitter lesson at Zara. There the clergy received a letter from Innocent, explaining the position of the Church, and threatening with excommunication all who should molest the King of Hungary. Simon de Montfort and a portion of the more devout, who had from the first been scandalized at the contract made with Dandolo, then withdrew and camped apart; and, at a meeting called to consider the situation, Guy, Abbot of Vaux-de-Cernay, tried to read the letter. An outbreak followed, and some of the chroniclers assert that the Venetians would have murdered Guy, had not Simon de Montfort stood by him sword in hand.[131]

On the main point there is no doubt. The priests ignominiously failed to protect their ally; the attack was made, and nothing shows that even de Montfort refused to share in it, or to partake of the plunder after the city fell. There was no resistance. The besieged made no better defence than hanging crosses on their walls, and on the fifth day capitulated. First the Franks divided the plunder with the Italians; then they sent an embassy to Rome to ask for absolution.

They alleged that they were helpless, and either had to accept the terms offered by Dandolo, or abandon their enterprise. Innocent submitted. He coupled his forgiveness, indeed, with the condition that the plunder should be returned;[132] yet no record remains that a single mark, of all the treasures taken from Zara, ever found its way back to the original owners.

The Venetians neither asked for pardon nor noticed the excommunication. On the contrary, Dandolo used the time when the envoys were at Rome in maturing the monstrous crime of diverting the crusade from Palestine to Constantinople.

Just before the departure from Venice, an event happened which Ville-Hardouin called “one of the greatest marvels you ever heard of.” In 1195 the Greek emperor, named Isaac, had been dethroned, imprisoned, and blinded by his brother Alexis, who usurped the throne. Isaac's son, also named Alexis, escaped, and took shelter with his brother-in-law, Philip of Swabia. Philip could not help him, but suggested to him to apply to the crusaders in Venice, and ask them for aid. Whether or not this application had been arranged by Dandolo, does not appear. Alexis went to Venice, where he was cordially received by the doge; but as the fleet was then weighing anchor, his affairs were postponed until after the attack on Zara, when an embassy from Philip arrived, which brought up the whole situation at Constantinople for consideration. In the struggle which followed between the Venetians and the Church, the Franks lay like a prize destined to fall to the stronger, and in Gunther's narrative the love the priests bore their natural champions can be plainly seen. In the thirteenth century, as in the fifth century, the ecclesiastics recognized that over a monied oligarchy they could never have control; accordingly the monks hated the Venetians, whom Gunther stigmatized as “a people excessively greedy of money,” always ready to commit sacrilege for gain.

On his side Dandolo followed his instinct, and tried to bribe the pope by offering him an union of the communions. But Innocent was inflexible. He wrote in indignation that the crusaders had sworn to avenge the wrongs of Christ, and likened those who should turn back to Lot's wife, whom God turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying his commands.[133]

Yet, though the priesthood put forth its whole strength, it was beaten. The power of wealth was too great. No serious defection took place. Ville-Hardouin gave a list of those who left the fleet, among whom was Simon de Montfort, adding contemptuously, “Thus those left the host, ... which was great shame to them.”[134]

Judging by the words alone, a century might have separated the writer and his comrades from the barons who abandoned Agnes to Innocent; yet they were the same men transplanted to an economic civilization, and excited by the power of wealth.

On Easter Monday, 1203, the fleet sailed for Corfu, where another and more serious split occurred. But the dazzling prize finally prevailed over the fear of the supernatural, and, getting under way once more, the pilgrims crossed the Sea of Marmora, and anchored at the convent of Saint Stephen, about twelve miles from Constantinople. Since exchanges had again returned to Italy, the vitality of the Greek Empire had burned low. It was failing fast through inanition. But Byzantium was still defended by those stupendous fortifications which were impregnable from the land, and only to be assailed from the sea by an admiral of genius.

Such an one was Dandolo, a born seaman, sagacious yet fiery; and, besides, a pilot of the port. At a council of war he laid out a plan of campaign:—

“My lords, I know more of the character of this country than you do, for I have been here before. You have before you the greatest and most perilous enterprise which any men have ever undertaken, and therefore it would be well that we should act prudently.”[135]

He then explained how the attack should be made; and had the Franks implicitly obeyed him, the town would have been carried at the first assault. Three days later the allies occupied Scutari, the Asiatic suburb of Constantinople, and lay there ten days collecting supplies. On the twelfth they stormed the tower of Galata, which commanded Pera, the key to the Golden Horn. While the action was going on, Dandolo forced his way into the port. The entrance was defended not only by a great tower, but by a huge iron chain, fastened to piles, and covered by twenty galleys armed with machines.

Nothing stopped the Venetians. Disregarding the fire, the sailors sprang on the chain, and from thence gained the decks of the Greek galleys, whose crews they threw overboard. Meanwhile, one of the Italian ships, provided with steel shears, bore down on the cable, cut it, and led the way into the harbour.

The weakest part of the walls being uncovered, Dandolo insisted that the only hope for success lay in assaulting from ship-board where the battlements were lowest; but the French obstinately refused to depart from their habits, and determined to fight on horseback. The event proved Dandolo's wisdom; for though the attack failed through the mistake of dividing the force, and of attempting the fortifications toward the land, the doge so led his sailors that Ville-Hardouin kindled with enthusiasm as he told the tale.

When the old man saw his ships recoil before the tremendous fire from the battlements,

“so that the galleys could not make the land, then there was seen a strange sight, for the duke of Venice, who was an old man, and saw not well, was fully armed and commanded his galley, and had the gonfalon of Saint Mark's before him; and he cried to his men to put him ashore, or if they would not he would do justice on their bodies; and they brought the galley to shore, and they sallied forth and carried the banner before him to the shore. And when the Venetians saw the gonfalon of Saint Mark's ashore, and the galley of the lord ashore before them, they were all ashamed and made for the land, and rushed out from their ships pell-mell. Then might one see a marvellous assault. And thus testifies Geoffrey de Ville-Hardouin, the marshal of Champagne, who dictates this book, that more than forty declare they saw the banner of Saint Mark of Venice on one of the towers, and none knew who carried it thither.”[136]

Once a foothold on the ramparts had been gained, the Greeks fled, twenty-five towers fell in quick succession, and the Italians had already entered the streets and fired the houses to drive the enemy from the roofs, when news was brought that Alexis was advancing from the gates, and threatened to envelop the French. Indeed, the danger was extreme; for, as Ville-Hardouin explained, the crusaders were wondrous few when compared with the garrison, for they “had so many men we should all have been engulfed amongst them.”[137] With the instinct of a great commander, Dandolo instantly sounded a retreat, abandoned the half-conquered town, and hastened to the support of his allies. He reached the ground opportunely, for Alexis, when he saw the reinforcement, retreated without striking a blow.

That night Alexis fled, leaving Constantinople without a government; and the people took the blind Isaac from his dungeon and set him on the throne. In theory, therefore, the work of the crusaders was done, and they were free to embark for Palestine to battle for the Sepulchre. In fact, the thing they came for remained to be obtained, and what they demanded amounted to the ruin of the empire. Young Alexis had promised 200,000 marks of silver, to join the crusade himself, to provide rations for a year, and to recognize the supremacy of Rome; but such promises were impossible to fulfil. During a delay of six months the situation daily grew more strained, a bitter hatred sprang up between the foreigners and the natives, riots broke out, conflagrations followed, and at last the allies sent a deputation to the palace to demand the execution of the treaty.

In despair, Alexis attacked the fleet with fire-ships, and his failure led to a revolution in which he was killed. Isaac died from terror, and one Moursouffle was raised to the throne. In their extremity the Greeks had recourse to treachery, and nearly succeeded in enticing the Frankish princes to a banquet, at which they were to have been assassinated. The plot was frustrated by the sagacity of Dandolo, who would allow no one to trust themselves within the walls; then both sides prepared for war.

Defeat had taught the Franks obedience, and they consented to serve on the galleys. They embarked on April 8, 1204, to be ready for an assault in the morning. But though the attack was made in more than one hundred places at once, “yet for our sins were the pilgrims repulsed.” Then the landsmen proposed to try some other part of the walls, but the sailors told them that elsewhere the current would sweep them away; and “know,” said the marshal, “there were some who would have been well content had the current swept them away” altogether, “for they were in great peril.”[138]

This repulse fell on a Friday; the following Monday the attack was renewed, and at first with small success, but at length—

“Our Lord raised a wind called Boreas ... and two ships which were lashed together, the one named the Pilgrim  and the other the Paradise, approached a tower on either side, just as God and the wind brought them, so that the ladder of the Pilgrim  was fixed to the tower; and straightway a Venetian and a French knight ... scaled the tower, and others followed them, and those in the lower were discomforted and fled.”[139]

From the moment the walls were carried, the battle turned into a massacre. The ramparts were scaled in all directions, the gates were burst open with battering rams, the allies poured into the streets, and one of the most awful sacks of the Middle Ages began.

Nothing was so sacred as to escape from pillage. The tombs of the emperors were violated, and the body of Justinian stripped. The altar of the Virgin, the glory of Saint Sophia, was broken in pieces, and the veil of the sanctuary torn to rags. The crusaders played dice on the tables which represented the apostles, and drank themselves drunk in the holy chalices. Horses and mules were driven into the sanctuary, and when they fell under their burdens, the blood from their wounds stained the floor of the cathedral. At last a young prostitute mounted the patriarch's chair, intoned a lewd chant, and danced before the pilgrims. Thus fell Constantinople, by the arms of the soldiers of Christ, on the twelfth day of April, in the year one thousand two hundred and four. Since the sack of Rome by Alaric no such prize had ever fallen to a victor, and the crusaders were drunk with their success. Ville-Hardouin estimated that the share of the Franks, after deducting some fifty thousand marks which the Venetians collected from them, came to four hundred thousand marks of silver, not to speak of masses of plunder of which no account was taken. The gain was so great there seemed no end to the gold and silver, the precious stones, the silks, the ermines, and whatever was costly in the world.

“And Geoffrey de Ville-Hardouin testifies of his own knowledge, that since the beginning of time, there was never so much taken in one town. Every one took what he wanted, and there was enough. Thus were the host of the pilgrims and of the Venetians quartered, and there was great joy and honour for the victory which God had given them, since those who had been poor were rich and happy.”[140]

In obedience to the soothsayers, the devotees of Louis the Pious had perished by tens of thousands, and over their corpses the Moslems had marched to victory. The defenders of Christ's cross had been slaughtered like sheep upon the mountains of the Beatitudes, and sold into slavery in herds at Damascus and Aleppo; even the men who, at the bidding of God's vicar, had left Dandolo to fight for the Sepulchre upon the barren hills of Palestine, had been immolated. Five hundred had perished in shipwreck, more had been massacred in Illyria, none had received reward. But those who, in defiance of the supernatural and in contempt of their vow, had followed the excommunicated Venetian to plunder fellow-Christians, had won immeasurable glory, and been sated with incalculable spoil.

The pilgrims who, constant to the end, had been spilling their blood in God's service, came trooping to the Bosphorus to share in the last remaining crumbs; the knights of the Temple and the Hospital set sail for Greece, where money might still be made by the sword, and the King of Jerusalem stood before the Tomb, naked unto his enemies. Innocent himself was cowed; his commands had been disregarded and his curse defied; laymen had insulted his legate, and had, without consulting him, divided among themselves the patronage of the Church; and yet for the strongest there was no moral law. When Baldwin announced that he was emperor, the pope called him “his dearest son,” and received his subjects into the Roman communion.[141]

But yesterday, the greatest king of Christendom had stood weeping, begging for the life of his wife; a hundred years earlier an emperor had stood barefoot, and freezing in the snow, at the gate of Canossa, as a penance for rebellion; but in 1204 a Venetian merchant was blessed by the haughtiest of popes for having stolen Christ's army, made war on his flock, spurned his viceregent, flouted his legate, and usurped his patrimony. He had appointed a patriarch without a reference to Rome. All was forgiven, the appointment was confirmed, the sinner was shriven; nothing could longer resist the power of money, for consolidation had begun.

Yet, though nature may discriminate against him, the emotionalist will always be an emotionalist, for such is the texture of his brain; and while he breathes, he will hate the materialist. The next year Baldwin was defeated and captured by the Bulgarians, and then Innocent wrote a letter to the Marquis of Montferrat, which showed how the wound had rankled when he blessed the conqueror.

He said bitterly:—

“You had nothing against the Greeks, and you were false to your vows because you did not fight the Saracens, but the Christians; you did not capture Jerusalem, but Constantinople; you preferred earthly to heavenly treasures. But what was far graver, you have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex, and you have committed adulteries, fornications and incests before men's eyes.... Nor did the imperial treasures suffice you, nor the plunder alike of rich and poor. You laid your hands on the possessions of the Church, you tore the silver panels from the altars, you broke into the sanctuaries and carried away the images, the crosses and the relics, so that the Greeks, though afflicted by persecution, scorn to render obedience to the apostolic chair, since they see in the Latins nothing but an example of perdition and of the works of darkness, and therefore rightly abhor them more than dogs.”[142]

For the north and west of Europe the crusade of Constantinople seems to have been the turning point whence the imagination rapidly declined. At the opening of the thirteenth century, everything shows that the genuine ecstatic type predominated in the Church—the quality of mind which believed in the miracle, and therefore valued the amulet more than money. Innocent himself, with all his apparent worldliness, must have been such a man; for, though the material advantages of a union with the Greek Church far outweighed the Sepulchre, his resistance to the diversion of the army from Palestine was unshaken to the last. The same feeling permeated the inferior clergy; and an anecdote told by Gunther shows that even so late as the year 1204 the monks unaffectedly despised wealth in its vulgar form.

“When therefore the victors set themselves with alacrity to spoil the conquered town, which was theirs by right of war, the abbot Martin began to think about his share of the plunder; and lest, when everything had been given to others, he should be left empty-handed, he proposed to stretch out his consecrated hand to the booty. But since he thought the taking of secular things unworthy, he bestirred himself to obtain a portion of the sacred relics, which he knew were there in great quantities.”[143]

The idea was no sooner conceived than executed. Although private marauding was punished with death, he did not hesitate, but hastened to a church, where he found a frightened old monk upon his knees, whom he commanded in a terrible voice to produce his relics or prepare for death. He was shown a chest full to the brim. Plunging in his arms, he took all he could carry, hurried to his ship and hid his booty in his cabin; and he did this in a town whose streets were literally flowing with gold and silver. He had his reward. Though a sacrilegious thief, angels guarded him by sea and land until he reached his cloister at Bâle. Then he distributed his plunder through the diocese.

Occasionally, when the form of competition has abruptly changed, nature works rapidly. Within a single generation after Hattin, the attitude, not only of the laity but of the clergy, had been reversed, and money was recognized, even by the monks, as the end of human effort.

The relics at Jerusalem had first drawn the crusaders to the East, and, incidentally, the capture of the Syrian seaports led to the reopening of trade and the recentralization of the Western world. As long as imagination remained the dominant force, and the miracle retained its power, the ambition of the Franks was limited to holding the country which contained their talismans; but as wealth accumulated, and the economic type began to supplant the ecstatic, a different policy came to prevail.

Beside the cities of the Holy Land, two other portions of the Levant had a high money value—the Bosphorus and the valley of the Nile. In spite of Rome, the Venetians, in 1204, had seized Constantinople; at the Lateran council of 1215, Innocent himself proposed an attack on Cairo. Though conceived by Innocent, the details of the campaign were arranged by Honorius III., who was consecrated in July, 1216; these details are, however, unimportant: the interest of the crusade lies in its close. John of Brienne, King of Jerusalem, nominally commanded, but the force he led little resembled Dandolo's. Far from being that compact mass which can only be given cohesion by money, it rather had the character of such an hysterical mob as Louis the Pious led to destruction.

After some semblance of a movement on Jerusalem, the army was conveyed to the Delta of the Nile, and Damietta was invested in 1218. Here the besiegers amounted to little more than a fluctuating rabble of pilgrims, who came and went at their pleasure, usually serving about six months. Among such material, military discipline could not exist; but, on the contrary, the inflammable multitude were peculiarly adapted to be handled by a priest, and soon the papal legate assumed control. Cardinal Pelagius was a Spaniard who had been promoted by Innocent in 1206. His temperament was highly emotional, and, armed with plenary power by Honorius, he exerted himself to inflame the pilgrims to the utmost. After a blockade of eighteen months Damietta was reduced to extremity, and to save the city the sultan offered the whole Holy Land, except the fortress of Karak, together with the funds needed to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. King John, and all the soldiers, who understood the difficulty of invading Egypt, favoured a peace; but Pelagius, whose heart was fixed on the plunder of Cairo, prevented the council from reaching a decision. Therefore the siege went on, and presently the ramparts were carried without loss, as the whole population had perished from hunger and pestilence.

This victory made Pelagius a dictator, and he insisted on an advance on the capital. John, and the grand masters of the military orders, pointed out the disaster which must follow, as it was July, and the Nile was rising. In a few weeks the country would be under water. Moreover, the fleet could not ascend the river, therefore the army must be isolated in the heart of a hostile country, and probably overwhelmed by superior numbers.

Pelagius reviled them. He told them God loved not cowards, but champions who valued his glory more than they feared death. He threatened them with excommunication should they hang back. Near midsummer, 1221, the march began, and the pilgrims advanced to the apex of the delta, where they halted, with the enemy on the opposite shore.

The river was level with its banks, the situation was desperate, and yet even then the sultan sent an embassy offering the whole of the Holy Land in exchange for the evacuation of Egypt. The soldiers of all nations were strenuously for peace, the priests as strenuously for war. They felt confident of repeating the sack of Constantinople at Cairo, nor can there be a greater contrast than Martin spurning the wealth of Constantinople as dross, and Pelagius rejecting the Sepulchre that he might glut himself with Egyptian wealth.

But all history shows that the emotionalist cannot compete with the materialist upon his own ground. In the end, under free economic competition, he must be eliminated. Pelagius tarried idly in the jaws of death until the Nile rose and engulfed him.


[124] Histoire de la Commerce de la France, 132.
[125] Histoire du Commerce du Levant, Heyd, French trans., i. 163.
[126] Histoire du Levant, Heyd, French trans., i. 95.
[127] See, on this question of cheaper money in the Carlovingian period, Nouveau Manuel de Numismatique, Blanchet, i. 101; also Histoire du Commerce de la France, Pigeonneau, 87 et seq.
[128] Le Monete di Venezia, Papadopoli, 73.
[129] Ville-Hardouin, ed. Wailly, xiv. 65.
[130] Ibid.
[131] Historiens de la France, xix. 23.
[132] Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Migne, ccxiv. 1180.
[133] Historiens de la France, xix. 421.
[134] Chronique, ed. Buchon, 44.
[135] Ville-Hardouin, ed. Buchon, 51.
[136] Chronique de Ville-Hardouin, ed. Buchon, 69.
[137] Chronique, ed. Wailly, xxxvii. 178.
[138] Chronique, ed. Wailly, lii. 239.
[139] Chronique, ed. Buchon, 96.
[140] Chronique, ed. Buchon, 99.
[141] Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Migne, ccxv. 454.
[142] Migne, ccxv. 712.
[143] Historia Captæ a Latinis Constantinopoleos, Migne, ccxii. 19.