Historical revisionists, cultural Marxists, and those who piously intone that Islam-Is-Peace and merriment, always without exception, use the 'Crusades' to highlight Christian 'barbarity' and 'imperialism'. Such attitudes are puerile, mendacious, and the products of deformed intellects. Real investigation, archaeology, and true history make it clear that the Crusades were necessary and in the main, successful. They in effect saved Europe from Islamicization [see here as to why that is]. The Crusades were a laggardly response, by a superior cadre of civilized yet divided and disunited nation states, against 400 years of Muslim aggression, conquest, slave-trading, raiding, plundering and rapine. Vast tracts of former Jewish and Christian territories stretching from Armenia, the Levant, North Africa and into southern France and Spain, had been conquered by the Muslim Jihad, with all the attendant murder, enslavement, Dhimmitude, and effacement of civilization that would entail. Islam is history's most successful barbaric pagan fascism. Such ideological constructs do not promote civilization.
The more informed of the anti-Christian and anti-Western zealots, including Muslimophiles and apologists for Islamic Jihad, will highlight the 'sack of Constantinople' in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade, as the apogee of Western uncivilized savagery. According to almost every account of this event, the Fourth Crusade's indiscriminate destruction of Christendom's most important city, was the greatest and most heinous crime in medieval history. Nothing like it – according to these 'scholars' and 'students' – can be seen within Islamic history since Islam is peace and love [notwithstanding the fact that the Muslim rape, slaughter and enslavement of the same city's 80.000 remaining citizens in 1453 far exceeded any bloodletting in 1204]. No 'crime' like it would be seen again until the 'criminal actions' during World War II such as the bombing of Dresden by those imperialist British, [which the Russians demanded since it was the major German communications and transport center for the Eastern war], and the uncultured Americans wiping out Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, killing 100.000 [and only saving most likely 5 million casualties during a prolonged assault on the Japanese home islands].
For those who equivocate between West and East, and who need to find reasons to detest the Crusades, which saved Europe and civilization, the 1204 sack of Constantinople is a main argument. But are the recriminations against the sack true or based on historical fact and common-sense? In almost every account I have read about the Fourth Crusade, I cannot find any historical data to support the key suppositions which are forwarded and which include inter-alia;
1. The 1204 sack of Constantinople was unprovoked;
2. The Byzantines were innocents who were 'murdered' en masse, and
3. The siege and plunder was particularly vicious or violent for the era;
None of these assumptions is right. In fact they are lies. The reality of the Fourth Crusade is this: after almost 100 years of 'Crusading' in the Holy Land, the Western 'Franks' had learnt very well that the Greeks or Byzantine Romans could not be trusted. In fact I would state that the taking of the city in 1204 by the Latins was overdue and deserved. This is not based just on Western propaganda but on reality. For 100 years the Greeks had done their best to disrupt the Crusades, profit from them without doing anything, and even actively aiding the Turks. Greek perfidy which rightly excited Western hatred included inter-alia:
1. Never fighting with the Westerners to retake once Christian lands;
2. Never financing the expeditions;
3. Expecting that the lands once conquered would be returned without compensation to Byzantium;
4. Leading the second crusade into a trap and destruction which doomed the entire Crusading enterprise and made the defense of the First Crusades gains highly improbable; and
5. Demonstrating an arrogance in dealing with the 'Franks' that shocked the Westerners.
All of these facts together make the case against the orientalized Greeks very compelling. There is every factual reason to believe most Western accounts about Byzantium during the Crusading era. The Franks rightly viewed the Greeks as effeminate, oriental, despotic, hierarchical, religiously intolerant, superstitious, perfidious, and self-absorbed. All of this is true. All of this can be viewed when reading the history of the Byzantine state. This is not to suggest that Byzantium was not during its existence, a rich, complex, and culturally advanced state. There are many eras and much evidence of Greek brilliance in all areas of life, within the 1100 year long history of Byzantium. But facts are facts. Byzantium by 1204 was in obvious decline and ready to exit history and its execrable treatment of its supposed Western 'allies' merited a military response.
That the Eastern Roman state was in ill-health was clear long before 1204. The Turkish victory at Manzikert in 1071 over poorly-led Eastern Roman mercenaries and ill-equipped professional Byzantine forces, punctuated what was clear to all observers by the middle of the 11th century, that the Eastern Romans were finished. The glorious empire of Justinian was a pale glimmer of its former self. Much of this decline was due to culture and religious fundamentalism. Culture is after all king. Within Byzantine's history too much energy was taken up through the imposition of religious obscurantism and intolerance. By the 12th century the general culture was infected with a rigidity of belief which was antithetical to individualism, freedom of thought, innovation and wealth creation. It was a culture of superstition, failure, and obscurantism. There was no flourishing of pre-Renaissance ideas which could be found throughout all of Western Europe. Oriental despotism, high taxes, endless civil wars and the crushing boot of the religious-bureaucratic state, ensured an impoverished and shrinking empire.
Like the old Roman empire in the West during the last 200 years of its existence, the Byzantine or Eastern Roman empire was a dead empire by the 12th century. What needed to happen was a Western takeover. Fresh winds of change and innovation needed to sweep the remaining lands under Byzantine control. Islam was and still is a pagan fascism, mired in fundamentalist and quiet bloodthirsty nonsense. Nothing innovative, moral or useful would ever come out of Islam. The only theology which could save Byzantium by 1200 was Western Christendom's dynamic and efflorescent culture and spirit. Indeed many times during the Crusading era, the Western church offered to annex or 'merge' with the Eastern church. Even during the crisis of 1453 and the last gasps of the dying empire, the Eastern church rejected Western overtures to establish one universal church led by Rome. As one Byzantine cleric so pompously suggested, it was better to wear a Turkish turban, than to submit to Rome. He got his wish.
In any event, contrary to most commentators and historians, the Western Europeans were far richer, more advanced and engaged in more innovative projects and developments than anything found in the long history's of Islam, India, China and Byzantium. Western advances in all matters of science, rationality, theology, culture, urban living, agriculture and war, between 500 AD and 1200 AD dwarf anything found anywhere else in the world, ever. In 1204 Byzantium, like the Islamic states, was poor, backwards and arrogant. The West was the opposite.
The taking of Constantinople in 1204, by then the head of a small and shrivelled empire, was in the main an economic act. The Venetians wanted to control the Eastern Mediterranean trade routes. A Venetian island empire in the eastern sea was being established. Byzantium was a competitor. By eliminating Byzantine shipping or at least through controlling it, the Venetians could establish a monopoly on the trade routes between Europe and the Islamic states and beyond. And as already expressed, there was by 1204, 100 years of hatred between the 'Franks' and the Greeks, which needed to find an outlet. An excellent recitation of this enmity and its historicity is summarized by historian Skip Knox:
“Then, on March 12, 1171, Manuel ordered the arrest of all Venetians everywhere within the Empire. All their goods were confiscated. The Doge of Venice sent a fleet to attack cities in Dalmatia and some desultory fighting resulted, but despite the dramatic gesture, relations between Venice and the Empire were gradually restored. By this time, Venice understood that Constantinople was a key to its wealth and to its ability to compete against Genoa and Pisa; she could not afford a pitched war. Conversely, a war with Venice would be more expensive than the Empire could manage. Consequently, both sides gradually backed down over the next decade and the situation in 1180 was much the same it had been in 1170. One legacy persisted, however: bitterness.”
The Byzantine's are not the passive, acculturated innocent's portrayed in most histories. They were cunning, conniving, cruel and viewed the Crusades, and Venice, as threats. There was no avoiding the inevitable conflict between the 'West', and Byzantium. The Greeks persisted in their efforts to win superiority over the Franks, using every technique imaginable including open alliances with the Turks, expulsion of Western traders from Byzantine lands, raiding Western trading ships, and trying to monopolize through bribery Western trade with Muslim ports. Such efforts necessitated a Western response. That reply was the Fourth Crusade, ostensibly organized to reclaim lost Crusading lands in Turkey and Syria, but diverted by Venice to fulfill its own ambition. The Crusaders could not pay the Venetian fees to transport them to the Holy Land. So in lieu of payment the Venetians decided to use the Fourth Crusade to end the Byzantine empire. History World international summarizes the Fourth Crusade:
“They agreed to take part in an attack on one of the Venetians’ rivals, Zara, a trading port on the Adriatic Sea, in the nearby Kingdom of Hungary. When Innocent III learned of the expedition, he excommunicated the participants, but the combined force captured Zara in 1202. The Venetians then persuaded the Crusaders to attack the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, which fell on April 13, 1204. For three days the Crusaders sacked the city. Subsequently the Venetians gained a monopoly on Byzantine trade. The Latin Empire of Constantinople was established, which lasted until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantine emperor in 1261.”
If you read the history of this era and put into context 100 years of janus-faced and quite treacherous Greek activity, it is obvious that Constantinople was destined to be attacked by the 'Franks'. The 'Fourth Crusade' was thus not a Crusade but simply the long-delayed Western invasion of a failing empire which refused to honor its Christian heritage and refused to aid the Franks in retaking Christian lands from the Muslims.
Far from being the 'disaster' of devilish proportions that Byzantine [and also Muslim] apologists report, the scale of the rape, plunder and civilian killing in 1204 was nothing unusual for the era. Less than 4.000 people were killed by the Franks. This is hardly the 'blood running up the knees' carnage that we so often read about. The Turks in 1453 killed some 30.000 during the siege and marched off close to 30.000 slaves to be sold on Muslim slave markets. No one in 1204 was tied up and hauled off to a slave market. Most citizens went on with their normal lives. The city was culled for relics, gold and booty but that was to be expected. Greek payment for pernicious Greek hypocrisy it could be called. Keep in mind as well that medieval warfare's 'rules' decreed that a city which did not surrender before a siege began, would be subjected to 3 days of plunder, once it was taken. Everyone knew this and everyone did it – including those fun-loving, 'moderate' Muslims. In fact the Muslim rapine of Constantinople in 1453 was so horrific, that the Sultan Mehmet II, had to stop it after only one day. The city would have been a corpse if the usual 3 day period of indiscriminate brigandage had been observed.
The Fourth Crusade is more complex and more interesting than most accounts render it. It was not the bloody devastation so exaggeratedly portrayed by emotional revisionists. Neither was it unique. In reality the taking of Constantinople in 1204 was necessary, inevitable, and reasonably civilized. The Venetians only stayed for less than 60 years. The city was reconquered in 1261 by the Byzantine's. Pity. It would have been better for the West, and for the world, if the Franks had stayed permanently and rebuilt Christian power in the East. Maybe if that occurred, the city would still be Christian today.