Episode 14 AD 1147-1204

Failed and diverted Crusades and the Fall of Constantinople

The Crusades have become a highly contested theme within Western culture, and a trigger for livid animosity outside it. This was not always the case. Putting aside the moralizing of contemporary attitudes, here we look at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Crusades, and seek to understand how their various outcomes shaped important aspects of our world today, what they were like as they were happening, what the social and political context was within which they occurred.

Their theatres were the Near East, Germany, Portugal, Turkey and above all the Roman Empire of Constantinople.

Contents of the video (64 mins.)

  • What did the Crusades mean to people at that time?
  • A Crusading expedition failed to take Damascus. But two sideshows of this Crusade in 1147 succeeded in winning Lisbon and Berlin as European cities.
  • The lords of Saxony undertake a Crusade against the Slavic Wends of what is now central Germany. ‘Germany’ then lay in the west in the Rhineland, and the south along the Danube. Hildegard of Bingen.
  • Duke Heinrich the Lion took Brandenburg into Christendom. Skilled peasant communities from the west, particularly from Flanders, were recruited to migrate eastward to set up Latin-style villages in the newly conquered lands.
  • A Norman-Flemish-German Crusading fleet was diverted by the Count of Portugal to aid him take the south of Portugal from the Muslims. Lisbon fell in 1147, establishing the kingdom of Portugal.
  • A joint Crusader and east-Roman attack on Egypt failed, prompting the unity of Muslim Egypt and Syria under Saladin. The Kingdom of Jerusalem fell to Saladin 1187. Acre and a few other ports and castles were all that remained in Christian hands.
  • Another great expedition – the 3rd Crusade – united the Latin Emperor, the Norman king of England and the king of France. The ‘Saladin Tithe’ or tax levied across Europe. Cyprus retaken for Christendom. Gains in the Holy Land were small due to dissension among the Christian leaders. The two kings hurried home to compete there. Sicily becomes a family possession of the house of Hohenstaufen, and an important part of the Latin Empire.
  • Goes back to its origins, Venice, like Ravenna, was a direct possession of Constantinople in the 500s AD. By the 1000s it was a formidable sea power and grew rich by its trading concessions at Constantinople. The east Romans resented Venetian wealth and privilege and a bitter conflict took root. Venice built up a string of fortified naval and trading bases in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • In 1170 the Venetians attacked the Pisans in Constantinople. The Emperor launched a pogrom against them in retaliation, seizing their property and imprisoning thousands.
  • The initial failure of the Venetian attempt at revenge precipitated an aristocratic oligarchy to be established in Venice.
  • The east Romans suffered a military catastrophe in Anatolia in 1176, after which the Turks advanced to the Mediterranean coast, greatly weakening the eastern Empire.
  • In 1182 the eastern Emperor launched another bloody pogrom against the Latins living in Constantinople. Meanwhile the Normans of Sicily waged war in northern Greece, aiming to take Constantinople.
  • Another Crusade was launched from the West in 1201. Venice was to provide a naval force and to transport the northern knights to Egypt. Unable to pay, the Crusade’s leaders agreed to compensate Venice by taking Zara. While there, the Roman emperor’s son offered the reunification of the churches and a massive payment if the Crusaders helped him become emperor.
    In 1204 Doge Dandalo of Venice persuaded the others to accept the offer. The Latins subdued Constantinople, but no payment or church reunion was forthcoming. An attempt to lock them out triggered their assault and unrestrained sacking of the city. Venice had brought down its mother city – the first fall of the Roman Empire.

Now with the audio-only version included

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