Treaties during the Fourth Crusade

Following Michael’s post earlier this week on the Early Christian Church this post will be about one of the many crusades linked to the church. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) is fairly notorious in its outcomes, as its original aims came to nothing. The Fourth Crusade was initially meant to attack Egypt, to disrupt the Saracen power base, before continuing on to the Holy Land. However the armies of the crusade never made it to Egypt, instead it attacked two Christian holdings, Zara and Constantinople. The events that preceded the two diversions can be viewed in terms of treaties and vows made by the various parties that made up the armies involved.

The original call to crusade, in 1198, issued by Pope Innocent III not long after his election went about relatively unheard. Innocent then issued a revised call to crusade on 31st December 1199. This call, and the preaching of the crusade that accompanied it, was much more successful. The success of a call to crusade can be measured in vows, as when each crusader agree to go on crusade they pledge an oath to the cross to undertake what is asked of them by the pope who calls the crusade. In the case of the Fourth Crusade the most noted oaths were taken during a tournament in Champagne, at a castle called Ecri. This tournament was held by Thibaut, Count of Champagne, who was named the secular leader of the Fourth Crusade. This is documented by the chronicler Geoffrey de Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne.

Villehardouin provides an account of the bulk of the crusade, including what happened at the Treaty of Venice in 1201. After the leadership of the crusade had been decided six envoys were sent to Venice to organise passage of the army by sea. The envoys, according to Villehardouin, were himself, Miles the Brabant, Conon of Béthune, Alard Maquereau, John of Friaise and Walter of Gaudonville. These six men travelled to Venice and led the discussion that led to the treaty of Venice. What was eventually decided was that the Venetians would build a fleet of ships that would carry 4500 horses, 9000 squires, 4500 knights and 20,000 foot-soldiers. They also promised enough food for the horses and people for nine months. This was on the condition that the crusaders paid 4 marks for each horse and 2 marks for each man. This came to a total of 85,000 marks to be paid when the armies reached Venice a year later. The Venetians also promised to add 50 armed galleys on the condition that the Venetians were given half of all the spoils of crusade. This was agreed by the six envoys, concluding the Treaty of Venice. The Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandalo, who conducted the Venetian side of the Treaty also pledged to take the cross and join the crusade, prompting many other Venetians to do the same. All in all this was a good agreement in the eyes of the crusaders, when the envoys returned to the leaders of the crusade they were happy to hear the conditions of the treaty.

If we fast-forward to a year later, when the crusade was due to embark we see that Thibaut had died, and was replaced by Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat as leader of the crusade. Boniface seemed to hold up his end of the Treaty of Venice, however many others did not. When the army reached Venice to travel to Egypt, they found that a large portion of the remaining army had decided to attempt the land route, rather than travel through Venice. This meant that the 85,000 marks that was promised to Venice could not be paid in full. Once every crusader had given all that they would, as some refused to give more than the initial 2 marks, they were still short 34,000 marks.

It is at this point that some historians disagree on the chain of events. What is known is that the crusading army agreed to attack Zara, a city that was under the control of the Hungarians, in order to fulfil their agreement to Venice. The disagreement between historians is whether the crusaders agreed to do this freely or if they were imprisoned by the Venetians until they agreed to do so. Villehardouin suggests that the army was not imprisoned, and chose to attack Zara freely, however, a letter from Pope Innocent III suggests the opposite. Innocent vilifies the Venetians, and even goes to the extent of excommunicating all of those who were involved on the attack on Zara.

After the attack on Zara was successful the Treaty of Zara was concluded. This treaty was between the crusading army, including the Venetians, and the son of the dethroned Byzantine Emperor Isaac, Alexius. Alexius and his father Isaac were imprisoned by Isaac’s brother, also named Alexius (III). Alexius III had been in contact with Pope Innocent III shortly after his election, however he refused to capitulate to Innocent’s requests to return to the Western Church following the Schism of 1054. The younger Alexius came to the army at Zara requesting their help in overthrowing Alexius III and restoring his father Isaac as Emperor. This proposal was banned by Innocent as it would mean a further attack on other Christians, which was not Innocent’s aim with the Fourth Crusade, however Innocent exercised little power with the secular leaders of the crusade after they left Venice and the Treaty of Zara was agreed upon in 1204.

The crusading army would divert to Constantinople and would dethrone Alexius III and restore Isaac to the throne, alongside his son Alexius (soon to be Alexius IV). In return Alexius would return the Eastern Church to the Western Church, he would pay the army 200,000 marks of silver, he would provide food for the entire army and he would join the crusade himself, or provide 10,000 men in his stead. He promised to provide this for one year from the day he was restored to power. This was a fairly lucrative deal for the crusaders, who were mostly poor and would not be able to reach the Holy Land without further help. Alexius also promised to establish a protective detail of 500 knights in the Holy Land for the rest of his life.

Eventually the majority of the army agreed on the treaty, and left to attack Constantinople. The attack was successful and Alexius was crowned co-emperor with his father Isaac, who had been blinded by Alexius III. The crusaders were given an initial lump sum of silver marks, not anywhere near as much as they were promised. This sum was primarily used to settle the debt the crusaders had with the Venetians. However Alexius quickly started ignoring the crusaders who were mainly camped outside the city. After several attempts by the crusade leaders to talk to Alexius to organise the rest of what was promised to them the crusaders started looting the villages and towns that were near Constantinople. They saw this as right as they were retrieving what was due to them.

Soon, Isaac dies and Alexius is first imprisoned and then strangled by the usurper Mourzuphles. As Alexius was now dead his treaty with the crusaders was now null and void. The crusaders now had no way to travel to the Holy Land successfully. The leaders, seeing the majority of the army getting restless to fulfil their vow to fight in the Holy Land, decided to attack Constantinople again, this time to avenge Alexius. They argued that the people who killed Alexius were murderers and were enemies of the church, as they had refused to re-join the Western Church. The leaders argued that this meant that they were an enemy worthy of a crusading army. After several attempts to take the city the crusaders won the battle on the 12th April 1204. After the city was divided between the Venetians and the crusaders Baldwin, Count of Flanders was elected the first emperor of the Latin Empire in the East. With the success of this war the laity who made up the majority of the crusading army saw that their crusading vow was complete and they could return to their homes.

It is clear to see how vows, oaths and treaties played their part in the events of the Fourth Crusade, from the initial vow to go on crusade, until the Treaty of Zara which dictated the first assault on Constantinople, which eventually led to the second assault. Admittedly there are more influential factors that played a part in the crusade, however one must consider the treaties a valuable tool in understanding the crusade as a whole.


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