The Fourth Crusade of 1203 ended in the large-scale destruction of Constantinople. After some detours in the cities of Venice, Zadar, and Constantinople, not a single Crusader arrived in Jerusalem to reconquer it. After they deposed the Greek ruling family, the Crusaders then declared Baldwin, Count of Flanders, as the new ruler of the city. The Byzantine Empire briefly disappeared after the establishment of the Latin Empire in 1204 where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History.
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The Latin Empire
After they had destroyed Constantinople in April 1204, the Crusaders elected Baldwin, Count of Flanders, as the Emperor of the new Latin Empire. In reality, what he held was far from an empire as the Venetians and the Franks divided the lands between them. The result was the Partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae (or Partitio Romaniae), and the Byzantine lands were divided as follows:
- One-quarter of the so-called Empire went to Emperor Baldwin. It included a part of Constantinople, Thrace, and northwestern part of Asia Minor.
- Three-eighths of the land was given to the Franks under Marquis Boniface of Montferrat (Thessalonica). The territories were given to the marquis after he was passed over for the role of the emperor during the election.
- Three-eighths of the land was given to the Republic of Venice. It included a part of Constantinople, as well as the islands between Venice and the Dardanelles.
Many parts of the empire were not even in their hands, so the deal was effective in paper only. The presence of Alexius (the usurper), Mourtzouphlos, and the kings that surrounded the Byzantine empire also made the Crusader rulers’ job difficult. In 1205, many of the Crusader soldiers went home which left the ex-emperors free to come back if they wanted. To safeguard their hold on the empire, Baldwin captured Mourtzouphlos and ordered his execution. Meanwhile, Marquis Boniface also captured the former usurper Alexius. But this did not mean that their thrones were safe.
Three other men rose to challenge the Crusaders’ claim to the empire. The first was Alexius I of Trebizond who came from the powerful Komnenus family. His son-in-law, Theodore I Laskaris, also declared himself the first independent Emperor of Nicaea. Michael I Komnenos Doukas, a cousin of Alexius, declared himself the ruler of the Despotate of Epirus as well.
A hostile neighbor, King Kaloyan of Bulgaria (nicknamed Ionnitsa), also threatened the Latin Empire. He conquered the city of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Emperor Baldwin when he and his knights rushed in to take the city back. Baldwin died in Kaloyan’s prison, and the Latin Empire passed on to his brother Henry. It seemed that the odds were in the Latin Empire’s favor once again as Henry proved to be a competent ruler. He toppled the rulers of the rogue states one by one, but his reign was cut short when he died in 1216.
The Latin Empire passed on to another member of Henry’s family when he died. It took many years before Constantinople recovered from the destruction it suffered. The recovery was also hampered because of the incompetence of the rulers who succeeded the emperor. The rule of the Latin Emperors ended in 1261 when the last emperor fled Constantinople for his homeland in Western Francia.
Picture By Varana – own work; base map from Natural Earth, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Jacoby, David. The New Cambridge Medieval History C. 1198-1300. Edited by David Abulafia. Vol. V. Cambridge: University Press, 1995.
Madden, Thomas F. Crusades: The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004.
Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
Roberts, J. M., and Odd Arne. Westad. The History of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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