Battle of Świecino

The Battle of Świecino (named for the village of Świecino, near Żarnowiec Lake, northern Poland) also called the Battle of Żarnowiec or in German Battle of Schwetz, took place on September 17, 1462 during the Thirteen Years’ War. The Poles commanded by Piotr Dunin, consisting of some 2000 mercenares and Poles, decisively defeated the 3300 man army of the Teutonic Knights commanded by Fritz Raweneck and Kaspar Nostyc. Auxiliary forces sent by duke Eric II of Pomerania, an ally of the Polish king, did not enter the battle.

The Teutonic Order’s armies in terms of troop types, on this occasion the army was comprised of 1,000 heavy cavalry, 600 light cavalry, 1,300 militia and 400 other infantry.

The battle started in the evening. Adopting a relatively new tactic, Polish units built a fortified camp on the Hussite model consisting of wagons linked by a chain surrounded by a deep ditch (tabor). The units of Raveneck and his subordinate, Kaspar Nostyc (commander from Conitz (Chojnice) also created a tabor. Piotr Dunin decided not to wait for the enemy and attacked first, setting infantry with crossbows on the left, defended by cavalry between the tabor and the coast of the nearby lake of Rogoźnica. Raveneck placed cavalry in front of his tabor, and infantry behind it, without any strategic plan. The first phase of the battle was started by a charge of Polish heavy cavalry under Paweł Jasieński. Fierce fighting continued for three hours and ended without a clear winner. After a short pause at midday, Teutonic units were able to push the Poles back; however, they found themselves under very heavy fire from crossbows of the Polish infantry, which caused huge losses and a withdrawal. During this fight Raveneck was wounded. He stopped his soldiers and tried to attack again, but this charge ended with a total defeat – Raveneck died and the rest of the cavalry surrendered or escaped. The Teutonic infantry tried to defend themselves at the tabor but its resistance was broken by a quick attack of Polish cavalry.

The Teutonic Order’s army lost around 1000 soldiers, including some 300 cavalrymen. Fifty soldiers were captured. The Teutonic commander was also killed in battle and was buried in the Żarnowiec chapter church.

The Poles lost just 100 soldiers, although 150 later died from their wounds. Among the dead on the Polish side was Maciej Hagen from Gdańsk. Piotr Dunin was wounded twice.

War of the Cities (1454–1466)

The leading cities of Prussia (Danzig, Elblag, Torun, Elbing, and Thorn), later joined by 16 other towns, and the Junkers formed the Preussische Bund (‘‘Prussian Confederation’’) in 1440. In 1452 the Bund appealed to Emperor Friedrich III to mediate their grievances with the Brethren. Instead, early the next year Friedrich ordered all Prussians to submit. This forced the Bund to seek help from the Poles. In early 1454, the Bund secretly asked to be incorporated into Poland. Casimir IV signaled that he would support the rebels if they made a public request: his interest was to detach Prussia from the Teutons and annex it to Poland- Lithuania. From February 6, the Bund began taking over and destroying lightly garrisoned Teutonic castles. On March 6 a formal agreement was reached between Casimir and the Bund asserting Polish sovereignty over Prussia and declaring war on the Brethren.

Since most of the Teutonic castles in Prussia had fallen to the rebels even before the war officially started, it was widely expected to be a short campaign. In fact, it lasted thirteen years. Cracks in the Teutonic edifice were offset by initial Polish weakness: despite sharing Casimir as joint sovereign, the Lithuanians refused to send troops or finance the war in Prussia. Other Polish troops were tied down by the threat to southern Poland of a possible Ottoman attack. As a result, an undersized Polish army was sent into Prussia. After a desultory and unsuccessful siege of Chojnice by the Prussians, this force engaged in a major battle outside the city. On the field at Chojnice (September 18, 1454) the Poles and Prussians were soundly defeated by the Teutonic Knights, aided by a large band (9,000 horse, 6,000 foot) of German mercenaries. Teutonic victory at Chojnice ensured that the war would go on. The rebels seized most of the Order’s arsenals and castles in Prussia, but failed in an effort to storm the citadel and Teutonic capital of Marienburg (Malbork). The financial weakness of the Order meant that its Grand Master had to promise the mercenaries control of Prussian cities in lieu of wages. Still, the Knights raised small armies from among loyal Brethren outside Prussia and by conscripting their enserfed peasants. While the Prussian towns remained determined to break free of Teutonic overlordship, the larger Hanse cities allied with the Knights. Nor did the international situation favor either side: most other powers were preoccupied with their own unsettled internal affairs or other wars, and remained neutral.

The Poles were also forced to hire mercenaries, primarily Czechs and Silesians, greatly straining the royal purse which was light in the best of times. Casimir’s repeated call-ups of peasant levies were only agreed to by the Sejm after he made heavy political concessions to the nobility, which started the Polish state down a road that ultimately led to a fatal weakness at the center. The Poles besieged Lasin in 1455, but again their lack of siegecraft and cavalry-heavy army told against success. As war taxes began to bite into the rebel cities the Teutons enjoyed better luck. Their army was better equipped for siege work, and several towns fell to a combination of internal unrest and external military pressure: Konigsberg surrendered on April 17, 1455, and Knipawa gave in on June 14, 1455. When the Brethren again ran out of money, however, some mercenary captains took Prussian towns for themselves and milked them dry. Several companies also negotiated with the Poles to transfer possession of fortified cities. Now, external powers also intervened: the Holy Roman Empire moved to ban the Bund and the pope threatened to excommunicate any who refused to come to terms with the Teutonic Knights. Denmark declared war on Poland and the Bund but that was largely an empty gesture since Denmark was already engaged in a major naval war with Sweden. Still, this emboldened the Knights, who refused terms to the Poles and rebels. The Poles replied by hiring still more mercenaries from Silesia, more mercenaries from Russia, and even Tatars from the Crimea. Fighting resumed, but with both sides suffering internal dissension and bad finances the war settled into a pattern of minor raids and indeterminate sieges.

A Prussian fleet, mostly built in Danzig on orders from Poland, defeated a Teutonic fleet at Bornholm (August 1457). As the war lengthened, the fundamental economic weakness of the Brethren was revealed. They were not as rich as in the past and struggled unsuccessfully to meet the payroll of their mercenary troops. In 1457 Bohemian mercenaries garrisoning Marienburg mutinied, sold the fortress to the Poles, and went home. The loss of the Teuton capital should have ended the war but on September 28, 1457, Marienburg was retaken in a surprise assault by the Knights that was abetted by internal treachery which opened its gates before they were forced. In 1458 the Poles invaded Prussia again, employing Tartar auxiliaries, and besieged Marienburg. Yet again the Poles proved incompetent at siege warfare. The campaign collapsed and a cease-fire took effect that lasted nine months, into 1459. The Danes withdrew from the war, an act almost as little noticed as their entry. Pope Pius II tried to mediate peace, hopeful that he could get all sides to join in a new crusade against the Ottomans. The Poles rejected the pope’s entreaties and his threats of excommunication (eternal damnation was not what it used to be).

The Knights were briefly resurgent: they defeated the Danzig militia and burned part of the city in July 1460. The fundamental weakness of the Polish recruitment system, based still on feudal levies of peasants and independently minded noble cavalry, became apparent in deep resistance to new enlistment drives. Casimir finally persuaded the nobles to turn the fight over to professionals. That meant raising funds to hire a mercenary army rather than raising peasant levies to be led by amateur noble captains. These harder and more skilled troops crossed into Prussia in 1461. At Swiecino (August 17, 1462), the defeat they handed to the Brethren’s field army was so sharp that the end of Teuton rule in the eastern Baltic came into sight. Loss of the Brethren’s fleet at Zatoka Swieza (September 15, 1463) so severely damaged the Order’s maritime interests and profits in the eastern Baltic that the Knights could no longer pay for a war being fought mainly by privateers at sea and mercenaries on land. A complete defeat was only averted by the internal divisions of Poland-Lithuania.

Świecino 1462 (2005)


King Peter’s Crusade

Andrea Bonaiuti’s fresco ‘The Church Militant’ in the Spanish Chapel, St Maria Novella, Florence, portraying the leading lights in crusading at the time (back row, right to left, beginning with the black-bearded noble carrying a sword): Amadeus VI count of Savoy, King Peter I of Cyprus, the Emperor Charles IV, Pope Urban V, the papal legate in Italy, Gil Albornoz; (back row, fourth from far left) Juan Fernandez Heredia, master of the Hospitallers; and, standing in front of Peter of Cyprus, Thomas Beauchamp earl of Warwick, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Garter below his left knee.

King Peter I of Cyprus

There was no dearth of crusading spirit in fourteenth-century Europe. In a delayed reaction to the loss of Palestine, many thousands of townspeople and peasants from England, Flanders, northern France and Germany took the Cross in 1309. They made their way across Europe expecting to be provided with a passage to the East, but in the end a comparatively small expedition sailed to help consolidate the Hospitaller possession of Rhodes. So many crusades to the East in the fourteenth century started well but never got anywhere. In 1319, for example, the Pope diverted a Franco-papal fleet of ten galleys to the papal wars in Italy. The Italian wars were a constant diversion as successive Popes, exiled from Rome and living in Avignon, proclaimed crusades against their traditional enemies in northern Italy. In the early part of the fourteenth century there was a short-lived reappearance of ‘shepherd crusaders’ and in 1334 a three-part plan was set in train for a crusade strategy that had not been tried before: the Venetians, the Hospitallers and the Byzantines agreed to maintain a force of twenty galleys in the eastern Mediterranean for five years. The French king and the Pope added another eight galleys between them, and a naval league was established to rid the eastern Mediterranean of Saracen corsairs. It was an effective force but the other two stages planned in the crusade, an invasion of Asia Minor followed by a full-scale invasion of the Holy Land, faltered as relations between England and France worsened. When Pope John expired at the end of 1334 his strategy to recover the Holy Land died with him. But after an interval of almost ten years another Pope revived the naval league and, in the spring of 1344, a squadron of Christian galleys defeated a Turkish fleet in the Aegean and sailed on to take the port of Smyrna (Izmir), a major Muslim naval base. The Hospitallers’ galleys played an important part in the capture of the Emir of Aydin’s principal port, and after 1374 the Hospitallers took control of Smyrna and held the port until 1402. The Pope was jubilant about Smyrna and there was much talk in crusading circles about the tide turning at last; events in the Aegean inspired Humbert II, Dauphin of Viennois, to change his crusading plans, which were centred on Spain, and go instead to the East. He was appointed ‘Captain General of the Crusade against the Turks and the Unfaithful to the Holy Church of Rome’ and he promised to contribute five galleys and at least 100 men-at-arms. He arrived in the East in late 1345. But by the summer of 1347 Humbert had achieved very little, and on the death of his wife he packed up his crusade and returned to France to end his days as a Dominican friar.

The next big assault on the Saracens switched the focus of crusading from the Turks of Asia Minor back to thirteenth-century objectives – the Holy Land itself and its Mamluk masters. The initiative came not from any European monarch but from the Latin Cypriot King Peter I. His enthusiasm for crusading was almost equal to that of the thirteenth century’s St Louis; the recovery of the Holy Land was an ideal which he had cherished as a young man and, on coming to the throne, King Peter began his holy war in earnest. He first fought the Turks in Asia Minor and won the coastal fortress of Korykos (Kis Kalesi) for his kingdom. That was followed by two years spent travelling around the capitals of Europe to win support for what was going to be the crusade of the century. He saw the Pope at Avignon; King Edward III of England entertained him for a month in London and presented him with 12,000 francs’ worth of ship called the Catherine; King Peter received encouragement from the kings of France, Hungary and Poland, the Duke of Saxony, the Holy Roman Emperor – Charles IV – and from a host of lesser nobles and wealthy merchants from the Atlantic seaboard to the River Danube. He was honoured at banquets, jousts and tournaments wherever he went. Vienna was his last stop, before returning to Venice in November 1364, where a large army had already assembled. Two years on the road spent fundraising had delivered a sizeable force of about 10,000 men to his crusading banner but, apart from the King of France, who had already died by this time, the big names he had so diligently courted made their excuses, and left the challenge to be taken up by lesser nobles. By the time the Hospitallers added their squadron of galleys, however, Peter could count on 165 ships ready to sail from the assembly point off the island of Rhodes. He then deliberately gave the impression that they were bound for Syria – not even the galley commanders knew the truth – but after sailing along the coast of Asia Minor the fleet received orders to alter course – south toward the mouth of the Nile and the important Egyptian city of Alexandria. No doubt many saw that decision as a wise move. If Alexandria could be captured and held, it could serve as a base for future incursions into Egypt, or perhaps, as the Franks had noted in the past, the captured Egyptian city might be exchanged for Jerusalem. It had, of course, not been forgotten that Alexandria, with its warehouses stuffed to the rafters with every imaginable valuable commodity, was the sultan’s richest trading centre.

Peter’s fleet surprised the city’s small garrison when it appeared off Alexandria on 9 October 1365 but the city’s defences were strong, consisting of a double wall system and moats. Peter landed troops the following morning and, after engaging the defenders along the west wall, suddenly switched his attack to the area of the Customs House gate. The wall there was surprisingly thinly defended. Some crusaders burned the Customs House gate while others threw up scaling ladders and scrambled into the city. Seeing the walls breached, the frightened inhabitants surged towards the land gates with whatever they could carry; there was a counter-attack through one of the land gates by the regrouped garrison, but that was quickly repulsed, and within forty-eight hours Alexandria was under Christian control. Sir Steven Runciman, in his History of the Crusades, compared the scene that followed the crusaders’ conquest of Alexandria with the excesses that had occurred during the sieges of Jerusalem and Constantinople: ‘They spared no one. The native Christians and the Jews suffered as much as the Moslems; and even the European merchants settled in the city saw their factories and storehouses ruthlessly looted. Mosques and tombs were raided and their ornaments stolen or destroyed; churches too were sacked, though a gallant crippled Coptic lady managed to save some of the treasures of her sect at the sacrifice of her private fortune. Houses were entered, and householders who did not immediately hand over all their possessions were slaughtered with their families.’ Large numbers of camels and donkeys that had been used to carry the loot to the harbour were also slaughtered and left to rot in the streets; and there was to be no question of holding the city. Once the crusader army had humped its treasure aboard the ships, the galley captains were eager to be off, and the appearance of the sultan’s army from Cairo making its way towards the city was an even greater incentive to weigh anchor. Some historians think that Peter had no intention of holding Alexandria as a crusading base and that his real motive was to limit, or eliminate, Alexandria as a major trading port. Since papal restrictions on trade with the Muslims had been relaxed during the course of the fourteenth century, Famagusta had suffered because merchants, who had previously used the Cypriot port as an entrepôt, were now dealing directly with the Muslims. But if Peter’s only motive was a commercial one his crusade produced a very poor balance sheet. Alexandria was held for only a matter of days; in Europe prices went sky high for exports from the East, the Mamluks persecuted the native Christian population under their control, and in an act of retaliation the Holy Sepulchre was closed for several years.

Peter himself was the victim of a coup d’état, and in 1372, at the coronation of his son as titular King of Jerusalem in Famagusta, a brawl broke out between Venetians and Genoese that ended in commercial ruin for Cyprus. The Genoese, whose shops had been sacked, sought compensation, and the failure of the king to satisfy them actually triggered a war between Cyprus and Genoa which debilitated Cyprus and hastened the fall of another Christian power in the East – the Armenian allies of the Franks in Cilicia. While the Cypriots were struggling to repel the Genoese, the Mamluks and the Turks made further inroads into Cilicia, and in 1375 the Armenian king, Leo IV, fled the country to live out the rest of his life as an exile in Paris. By the third quarter of the fourteenth century, the Turks of Asia Minor had embarked upon a policy of aggressive expansion and Rome was obliged to accept them as a serious threat, not just to Christendom’s reconquest of the Holy Land, but also to the very heartland of Christian Europe. The princely Ottoman state, which had its origins in the north-west of Anatolia, had already caused problems for the Byzantines in the early part of the century, but after 1326 the Ottomans rapidly changed the map of Asia Minor, and the boundaries of former western provinces of the old Byzantine empire. In 1331 Nicaea was taken. The Turks had crashed into Europe by 1348 through Thrace and their unstoppable armies spread like a floodtide into the Balkans and across much of Anatolia. The Popes of the later fourteenth century worked ceaselessly to organize crusades against the Turks, but the great schism of 1378-1417, when there were two, and at one point three, competing Popes, made concerted action difficult. The Hospitallers on Rhodes were themselves divided and there were even crusades launched against the rival Popes. There was, for instance, enthusiasm for crusading in England of the early 1380s – England supported Pope Urban VI in Rome – and two crusading expeditions started out with great enthusiasm. The bishop of Norwich led one of these crusades against the so-called ‘Clementists’ who were the supporters of the Avignon-based Pope Clement VII. The bishop and his followers crossed the Channel in May 1383 and took several seaside towns on the Channel coast but at Ypres the French army confronted the English and the crusade collapsed. John of Gaunt sailed from England in July 1386 and tried to seize the Castilian kingdom, but he withdrew in consideration for a large sum of money.

Albania and the Ottomans

A memorial wall dedicated to George Kastrioti (1405–1468), also known as Skanderbeg, the national hero of the Albanian people, who repulsed 13 Ottoman invasions between 1444 and 1466.

Albania is a country in southeastern Europe in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula on the Strait of Otranto, the southern entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Present-day Albania is bordered by Greece to the south, Macedonia to the east, the Adriatic Sea to the west, and Montenegro and Kosovo to the north. Albanians are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who lived originally in central Europe and migrated south to the territory of present-day Albania sometime around 2000 BCE.

Because of its strategic location, Albania has been used as a land bridge by conquering armies and empires whose ambitions reached farther afield. In the second century BCE Albania was conquered by the Romans. Beginning at the end of the fourth century CE the Byzantine Empire seized the territory of present-day Albania. In the following centuries the country was invaded by Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars, and Slavs.

In the second half of the 14th century, when Sultan Murad I (r. 1362–1389) began to expand his territorial possessions in the Balkan Peninsula, Albania became a target of Ottoman expansion. A coalition of Christian states under the leadership of Prince Lazzar of Serbia fought the Ottomans but was eventually defeated at Kosovo Polje (Plain of Blackbirds) near Pristina in present-day Kosovo in 1389. Murad I was killed on the battlefield, but his son and successor, Bayezid I (r. 1389–1402), continued his father’s expansionist policies, pushing the boundaries of the Ottoman sultanate to the borders of Albania. Albanian princes were forced to submit, pay tribute, and demonstrate their loyalty to the Ottoman sultan by sending their sons as hostages to his court in Edirne (Adrianople). Gjon (John) Kastrioti, the ruler of Emathia in central Albania, was one of these princes; he sent his son, Gjergj (George) Kastrioti (1405–1468), to the court of the Ottoman sultan in Edirne.

After he had arrived in the Ottoman court, Kastrioti converted to Islam and received a traditional Ottoman education. He also participated in the Ottoman military campaigns against Serbs and Hungarians, displaying unrivaled courage and bravery on the battlefield, which won him the name Iskander or Skander (Alexander), after Alexander the Great, and the rank of bey (hence Iskender Bey or Skanderbeg). When the armies of the Ottoman sultan Murad II (1421–1444, 1446–1451) were defeated by the Hungarian general János (John) Hunyadi (1407–1456) at Nish in present-day southeastern Serbia in November 1443, Skanderbeg deserted Ottoman service and returned home to Albania. Once there, he renounced Islam and re-embraced Christianity.

In 1444 Skanderbeg created a league of Albanian princes, which repeatedly defeated the Ottomans. The Ottoman armies were defeated twice in 1450, then again at the battle of Mokrea in 1453, and yet again in 1456. In September 1457 Skanderbeg scored an impressive victory over the Ottomans west of Mount Tomoritsa, which he followed with the conquest of Satti (Shati) in present-day northwestern Albania in 1459. Skanderbeg and the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, agreed to a truce in 1461, but this proved to be short-lived. In 1462 Skanderbeg was back on the battlefield, fighting two successful campaigns against the Ottomans in the Dibra in present-day western Macedonia, followed by a successful invasion of Macedonia. Once again a peace treaty was negotiated, in April 1463. Conflict resumed in 1464, with Skanderbeg inflicting defeats on the Ottomans twice in the Dibra, followed by yet another victory near Tirana (present-day capital of Albania) in 1465. To the shock of the Ottomans, in 1466 at Kroya (Kruja) in north-central Albania, Skanderbeg attacked and defeated a large Ottoman army led by Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople (Pitcher: 88). In 1467 he repeated this feat, first defeating an Ottoman army led by the Albanian commander Ballaban near Kroya, then repelling Mehmed’s second major campaign to pacify Albania (Pitcher: 88).

Considering this extraordinary set of accomplishments and victories, it is not surprising that Skanderbeg was and remains to this day the unchallenged national hero of the Albanian people and a legend in European history. In his battles with the Ottomans, Skanderbeg received assistance from the papacy, Naples, and Venice. He formed a formal alliance with Venice in 1463. Skanderbeg died in January 1468. After the death of Skanderbeg, Albanian resistance continued for another decade. In 1477 the Ottoman commander Gedik Ahmed Pasha besieged Kroya, the birthplace of Skanderbeg. The town surrendered to the Ottomans in June 1478. Scutari (Shkodër) in northwestern Albania then surrendered to Mehmed in 1479. By 1501 the Ottomans had pacified much of the territory of present-day Albania. Albania remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the country declared its independence.

As the Ottoman Empire began to disintegrate in the 19th century, the Albanians, who had remained loyal to the sultan, began to organize their own national movement as a means of protecting their communities from encroachments by their Greek and Slavic neighbors. In the earlier part of the 19th century Albania had been divided between two pāshālik, both of which enjoyed considerable autonomy. Ali Pasha of Janina and the Bușati (Bushati) family of Shkodër had dominated Albanian politics for decades. In 1820 the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, who was determined to impose the authority of the central government over the empire’s distant provinces, dismissed Ali Pasha and attacked his territory. Ironically, the suppression of Ali Pasha, who was killed by Ottoman agents in 1822, allowed Greek nationalists to stage their revolution against the Ottoman Empire. Following Ali Pasha’s downfall, the Ottoman government turned against the head of the Bușati family, Mustafa Pasha. After his defeat at the hands of Ottoman forces, Mustafa Pasha accepted his fate and settled in Istanbul, where he lived the rest of his life (Jelavich: 362).

The establishment of direct Ottoman rule over Albania allowed the government to introduce a series of reforms. The principal objective of these reforms was to remove the intermediary class of notables and replace it with a new administrative organization run by officials sent from Istanbul. The Ottoman government also intended to bring under its control the local landowners who had converted the old timārs into privately owned estates and create a more efficient tax collection system, which would increase the state revenue. The central government also wished to establish a new recruitment system, which would provide troops for a new military force. In implementing this ambitious agenda, the sultan abolished the timārs in 1832 and created two eyālets of Janina and Rumelia, which were reorganized into the three vilāyets of Janina, Shkodër, and Bitola in 1865 (Jelavich: 362–363). The reforms introduced by the central government in Istanbul were vehemently opposed by the notables who preferred being ruled by their own local beys. But, it was the inability of the Ottoman state to protect Albanian communities from Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro that forced the Albanians to arm themselves and organize their own independent national movement.

The Ottoman defeat at the hands of the Russians in 1878 and the Treaty of San Stefano, which rewarded Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria with Albanian-populated areas, marked the beginning of a transformation in the relationship between Albania and the central government in Istanbul. Until 1878 the Ottoman government, which viewed the majority of Albanians as members of the Muslim community, did not treat them as a separate national group. Muslim Albanians, who attended school, studied Arabic, the language of the holy Quran, and Turkish, the language of the government and the army. Christian Albanians, on the other hand, were viewed as members of the Christian Orthodox community, who studied Greek as the principal language of their religious community (Shaw: 2:199–200).

In response to the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, a group of prominent Albanian leaders organized a secret committee in Istanbul and called for a larger gathering at Prizren in June 1878. The meeting at Prizren brought together Muslim and Christian Albanians, who agreed to create the League of Prizren. The league had the authority to collect taxes and raise an army (Shaw: 2:199; Jelavich: 363–364). It also sent an appeal to the European powers participating in the Congress of Berlin, which was ignored (Jelavich: 364).

With Serbia and Montenegro emerging as independent states, the Ottoman government was forced to negotiate the delineations of its new borders with the two countries. Since several towns and districts, such as Bar, Podgorica, and Plav, that were handed over to Montenegro had significant Albanian populations, the League of Prizren turned to resistance. The Ottoman government was caught in a dilemma. It had to abide by the terms of the Congress of Berlin, but it was also determined to benefit from Albanian resistance and use it as a means of reducing its territorial losses (Jelavich: 364–365).

With arms from the Ottoman government, the Albanians resisted the occupation, forcing the European powers to recognize the power of the newly emerging nationalist movement. Realizing the intensity of Albanian national sentiments and the potential for eruption of ethnic conflicts, the European powers reversed their position and agreed to allow Plav and Gusinje to remain within the Ottoman Empire. Instead, they offered a port, namely Ulcingi (Dulcigno), to Montenegro (Jelavich: 365). But the Albanian resistance was not confined to the towns and districts that were handed over to Montenegro. There was also strong opposition to handing over any Albanian territory, such as Epirus, to Greece.

In 1881 the Albanian resistance against Greek occupation of Epirus forced the European powers to agree that aside from Thessaly, the Greeks would only receive the district of Arta in Epirus. Despite the successes of the Albanian resistance and the support it enjoyed from the Ottoman government, the sultan remained bound by provisions of the agreement to hand over Ulcinji to Montenegro even if it meant crushing the Albanian League. An Ottoman army was dispatched to capture Prizren, which fell in April 1881 (Jelavich: 366). Another Ottoman force routed the Albanian resistance at Ulcinji before the town was handed over to Montenegro. Despite its suppression, the League of Prizren had accomplished a great deal. The European powers had recognized that Albanian lands could not be partitioned among their Balkan allies without formidable resistance from the local population (Jelavich: 366).

Ottoman rule in Albania ended shortly after the eruption of the First Balkan War in October 1912. On October 8, 1912, Montenegro, a member of the Balkan League, declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The other members of the Balkan League, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria, followed suit 10 days later. The Bulgarians quickly seized Thrace, defeating the Ottomans at the battles of Kirklareli/Kirkkilise (October 22–24) and Lüleburgaz (October 22–November 2). The Serbs also scored an impressive victory at the battle of Kumanovo (October 23–24) in Kosovo Vilayet in present-day northern Macedonia. The Greeks captured Salonika on November 8. To the west the Serbs went on to capture Bitola in present-day southwestern Macedonia and joined forces with Montenegrins, who besieged Shkodër in northwestern Albania. The Serbs eventually would seize Durrës on the western coast of Albania.

Without a coordinated plan and in the absence of a unified command, the Ottomans were forced either to retreat or to take defensive positions. The major urban centers of the empire in Europe (Edirne, Janina, and Shkodër) were surrounded by armies of the Balkan League. By December 3 the Ottoman government was willing to conclude an armistice. As the discussions dragged on in London, Bulgaria demanded the city of Edirne. This was too much for a group of young officers in Istanbul, who staged a military coup on January 23, 1913. The former commander of the army, Mahmud Şevket (Shevket) Pasha, assumed the posts of grand vizier and minister of war. When the news of the coup in Istanbul reached London, the Balkan states resumed their military campaigns. Bulgarian forces captured Edirne on March 28, and the Serbs entered Shkodër on April 22. On May 30 the Ottoman government was forced to sign the Treaty of London, which resulted in the loss of much of its territory in Europe.

Instead of worrying about the disintegration of the Ottoman state in the Balkans, the Albanian nationalists were increasingly more concerned about Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro undermining Albania’s territorial integrity by invading and occupying Albanian-populated cities and towns. It was under these circumstances that the Albanian leader, Ismail Kemal Bey Vlora (1844–1919), known in Albanian as Ismail Qemali, returned to Albania with the support and blessing of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to convene a national assembly, which declared Albanian independence on November 28, 1912, in the coastal town of Vlora (Vlorë) in southern Albania.

Further Reading

Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Jelavich, Charles, and Barbara Jelavich. The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.

McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. London and New York: Wesley Longman Limited, 1997.

Pitcher, Donald Edgar. An Historical Geography of the Ottoman Empire. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Sugar, Peter. Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1805. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.

Zürcher, Erik-Jan. Turkey: A Modern History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

The Knights of the Temple 1118 to 1139

‘Wayne Reynolds Artwork’

Hugh De Payens, a knight of the lower nobility of Champagne, approached King Baldwin II with a completely new concept, born of its time and place. He and eight other knights had joined together to dedicate their entire lives to the service of the Holy Land. The extraordinary aspect of this little band was that its members had evidenced their dedication by approaching the patriarch of Jerusalem to take the same triple vow that was common to monastic orders, the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. All three of those pledges were precisely opposed to the life goals of the secular medieval knight.

The knight fought for a price, usually a piece of land and the people who worked it. In exchange he pledged war service to the man who gave him the land, for a specified number of days each year. He loathed the concept of poverty. He needed money for horses, armor, weapons, and servants. He needed money for his own household. If he fought beyond the contract period, he negotiated for pay. He was always on the lookout for loot. He learned as part of his informal training that common soldiers could be killed freely, but that he must not kill men of obvious rank and wealth unless absolutely necessary to save his own life. Such men were too valuable to die. Their capture and the ransoms they would bring were a major objective of the battlefield. If the captive was a poor knight whose family could not afford to purchase his freedom, there were always his sword, his ax, his shield, his armor, his horse, all items of value that enriched his captor. A defeated knight, on the other hand, might find himself totally destitute. Unable to fulfill his feudal contract with his lord, he could lose his land. It happened too many. Much has been written about the disgrace of the ronin, the Japanese samurai with no lord to serve, but the destitute European knight was no better off. Only if he had armor, weapons and horses could he serve his lord. The very word “knight” derived from knecht, a servant.

As for chastity, the twelfth century was long before the age of chivalry, and even when it arrived the knight’s chivalrous conduct toward women was limited to those of his own class. All others were fair game, from the women on his own lands to those on lands taken from others. Chastity was for children, not for fighting men. That monks gained respect for taking such a vow is a measure of how difficult the state of chastity was known to be. The monk or hermit who tortured his body with hair shirts and whips to drive out evil thoughts was painfully driving out thoughts of sex. If he found himself with an erection he had physical proof that Satan was taking control of his mind and body. The only proper remedy was to inflict pain upon his body until that evil indicator went away. It was part of the mystique of monasticism, and a big part of the mystery was how any man could willingly embrace such a way of life. Chastity was the opposite of what the lusty knight longed for, especially in the great emotional upheaval that occurred at the end of a battle. The knight under accumulated stress often sought the relief of sex, with no importance attached to whether his partner was willing or not.

As for obedience, the medieval knight was obedient only when he had to be, or when he saw some personal advantage. If the feudal world had to be summed up in just three words, they would be strong, stronger, strongest. As the alternative to helplessness, men pledged themselves to a strong man who would shelter and protect them in return for their obedience, a portion of their income, and military service. Those strong men were pledged to men still stronger, until the pyramid came to its point in a sovereign lord, who might be a count, a duke, or a king, depending upon the extent of his independent power. Obedience was extracted not by a pledge, or trust, or loyalty, but as the result of raw fear of the punishment that disobedience could bring. To tell a noble that you were not afraid of him was a personal insult and frequently led to a challenge.

At that time, fear was the fountainhead of government control throughout the world. Off in China the emperor ended his orders with “Hear, and tremblingly obey!” In Japan, it was so important to express fear to ensure personal safety that an entire language style was developed to convince a superior that he generated terror: the fast breathless speech we see in Japanese movies, almost always coming from people on their knees. Rulers wanted to be feared, not loved, and that feudal attitude carried over into the Church, where “Fear God” meant exactly that: Be terrified of the punishments God can bring down on you. The clergy had a difficult time describing the precise joys of heaven, but it had an inexhaustible supply of loathsome details to identify the agonies of hell.

As to secular punishments, except in the special cases to be kept secret, they were very public, so that the lesson learned from watching a whipping, a branding, or a mutilation would be passed on to others. Platforms were erected so that everyone could have a clear view of a man having his bones broken with iron rods, and the bodies of the executed were often left dangling in a marketplace until they fell apart, a display also posted outside city gates to let visitors know that this was a place to stay in line. Obedience was not a virtue, but a safety precaution.

That a group of secular knights took such vows in that age was remarkable, especially since they were not going to disappear behind the walls of a monastic cloister but planned to patrol the roads of Jerusalem fully armed, ready to fight any enemy to protect the Christian pilgrims to the Holy Places of Jesus Christ. Such a service was sorely needed, since the number of pilgrims had grown to the point that they had become a substantial business. They spent money, they brought gifts. They paid tolls to enter city gates or to use the roads. The owners of the ships that brought them paid a tax based on the amount of their fare. Pilgrims bought religious merchandise, some as easy to deliver as bottles of water from the Jordan River. Other items, such as fraudulent holy relics, were more difficult to produce and authenticate, but extraordinarily profitable. The greatest danger to that growing source of revenue was the threat to every pilgrim’s life and property.

Only the Christian cities were guarded, and only the cities were safe. All the deserts, plains, and rocky hills between them were a noman’s- land. Merchants would hire guards to protect their caravans, and the wiser pilgrims would attach themselves to a larger party, but most pilgrims were blithely innocent. Their mere arrival on the actual soil of the kingdom of Jerusalem lit a spark of euphoria. Never had they felt the protection of God more than while traveling in Christ’s own land, and never were they more wrong. Arab and Egyptian marauders were constantly on the search for plunder and for prisoners to sell to the slave traders. Most pilgrims walked, making it easy for bandits to ride ahead to set an ambush, while others were simply ridden down or taken in their sleep. The roads to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the River Jordan were strewn with the bones of the fallen faithful, bleaching in the bright sun.

Not the least of those hurt by the Muslim bandits was the Church. It was expected that Christian pilgrims, especially the increasing number of penitents who had been ordered to make the pilgrimage to earn the remission of their sins, would bring gifts to lay on the altars of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the other shrines memorializing the life of Christ. Only anger and frustration could result from those Christian contributions being diverted to the purchase of jewelry for some Bedouin sheikh’s favorite wife, but there had appeared to be no solution. It could only have been with enthusiasm that the patriarch of Jerusalem received and heard the vows of those nine dedicated knights, who would fight to restore and maintain that flow of silver and gold.

A problem that de Payens’s group had was to find a means of support. They needed a place to live for themselves and their servants, stabling for their horses, and food for all. That is why Hugh de Payens approached Baldwin II, soliciting his royal patronage. The housing and the supplies they were asking was much less than the usual knight’s plea for land and revenues. The king would favor any proposition that would increase his meager standing army, and these were all battle-proven warriors who had been fighting in the Holy Land for years. In answer to their petition he assigned to them a portion of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, a structure said to have been built on the site of the original Temple of Solomon. It has been rebuilt several times over the centuries and still stands today. (It made headlines in October 1990 when young Muslim worshipers coming out of the al-Aqsa Mosque allegedly threw rocks at the Jews worshiping at the Western Wall immediately below them, an act that led to retaliatory gunfire and death.) It was from this headquarters location that the group ultimately took its name, Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonis, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. The members became known as the Knights of the Temple and later, by the name most popular, the Knights Templar.

Although the Knights of the Temple would have had occasional revenue from the possessions of the bandits they killed or captured, the king must also have given them some kind of subsidy to cover their substantial expenses. A knight required at least two horses: a muscular, heavy war-horse that would carry a man, his armor, and his heavy weapons into battle, and a lighter horse on which to travel. Each knight required at least one attendant who helped him with his armor and carried extra weapons and his master’s heavy shield, which the knight wore in battle secured by a strap around his neck and shoulders. With one hand required to hold his lance, sword, ax, or mace, and one hand needed to control his horse, he had no choice but to hang his thick shield around his neck when actually engaged in fighting. The shield, known in French as the knight’s escu, was thus carried by his shield-bearer, or escuier, a term that entered the English language as “esquire.” Only later would the esquire be an apprentice knight: In the early Templar period, the attendant was a sergeant or man-at-arms, who required at least one horse of his own. Knights also would have needed packhorses to carry supplies on the road and servants to tend the pack animals, care for the spare horses, and cook the food. Although there is no record of the actual numbers, the starting group of nine knights would have meant an establishment of twenty-five to thirty men, with forty to fifty horses.

There is no documentation to show that the Templars took in additional members during their first nine years, but there is also no documentation that they did not. There does exist, however, evidence that their services earned the approval of King Baldwin II. In 1127 Baldwin II wrote a letter to the most influential churchman in Europe, Bernard (later St. Bernard), abbot of Clairvaux, who was generally respected as the “second pope.” The suggestion probably came from Hugh de Payens, who was a cousin of Bernard, and from Andre de Montbard, one of the nine founding Templars, who was Bernard’s uncle. Baldwin asked Bernard of Clairvaux to use his considerable influence to intercede with Pope Honorius II. Hugh de Payens was coming to Rome to ask for official papal sanction of his military order and to ask the pope to provide it with a formal Rule to govern the life and conduct of the Knights Templar. Baldwin was loud in his praise of the Templars, but nowhere near as loud as Bernard was to become in their behalf.

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of Bernard of Clairvaux’s role in the establishment of the Templar order. He was a man on fire with zeal, but too physically frail to seek outlets for his talents and obsessions on the battlefields of secular war. He chose instead to fight on the broader spiritual battlefields of the Church. He joined the Cistercian order at the age of twenty-one, and with the persuasive power that would soon make him famous he recruited his own father, four brothers, an uncle, and a number of others to declare for the cloth with him. Backing his powers of oratory with a genius at organization, in a little over five years Bernard had established the abbey of Clairvaux, had become its abbot, and had set up over sixty-five “daughter” houses, whose complements of monks he recruited himself.

Just twenty-eight years old when he got the letter from Baldwin II, Bernard was already the most powerful voice in Christian Europe. He exerted an influence that almost amounted to control over Pope Honorius II, who was his former pupil. At heart, Bernard was a reformer who wanted to purify the Church, to drive it closer to the morality taught by Jesus Christ, and to destroy its enemies.

Bernard leaped with enthusiasm at the concept of an order of knights functioning under monastic vows. His enthusiasm went beyond merely gaining papal approval; it extended to taking a hand in shaping the order. He defined its aims and ideals in a Rule to govern the conduct of the new order, taking the opportunity to put his personal stamp on an army of God. Descended from generations of French knights, Bernard could now experience the vicarious satisfaction of creating and giving direction to a military force that his frail body would not permit him to join on the field of battle.

When Hugh de Payens arrived at the papal court with his companions, he found that his saintly cousin Bernard had paved the way. The papal welcome was warm and complimentary. Honorius called for a special council to be convened during the following year at Troyes, the capital of Champagne, to grant the Templars their wish. Hugh and Andre de Montbard met with Bernard while waiting for the council. It was very much a family reunion, where Bernard could assure his cousin and his uncle that they would have all they dreamed of, and more, for their military order.

The order also had the full support of the count of Champagne, whose vassals made up the order’s leadership. His was the first response to Bernard’s call for gifts of land and money for the Templars, with a grant of land at Troyes. This became the base for a new concept, that of “preceptories” throughout Europe. These establishments in each Christian country acted as provincial supply bases to support Templar operations in the Holy Land. They recruited new members, instructed them in the Rule, and even gave them basic training in fighting together, something of a new idea to the medieval military. The officers in charge, the “preceptors,” were charged with extracting the maximum revenues from the Templar properties, which came to include farms, orchards, and vineyards, and gradually extended to include mills and bakeries, market franchises, and even whole villages. Those revenues, after expenses, were forwarded to Jerusalem. Frequently they were used to fill requisitions for heavy war-horses, weapons, armor, and military supplies such as iron and arrow shafts. They provided tools for masonry and other crafts, and even timbers for siege engines, ships, and buildings, which were not readily available in the scrub-covered plains and hills of the Holy Land.

Battle of Lake Peipus, 5 April 1242

Battle of Lake Peipus, 5 April 1242, in which forces of Novgorod under Alexander Nevskii defeated Northern Crusaders led by Bishop Hermann of Tartu. Following wide-ranging manoeuvres largely confined to areas of frozen marsh between dense forests, both sides crossed the frozen channel linking Lake Peipus with its southern extension, often called Lake Pskov.

Initial dispositions:

(A) Alexander Nevskii’s household cavalry drawn up behind Novgorod militia;

(B) Russian left wing;

(C) Russian right wing, including contingent of Turco-Mongol horse-archers;

(D) Crusader array, with Livonian feudal contingent on right, Teutonic Knights in centre, and Danish feudal forces from northern Estonia on left;

(E) Estonian auxiliaries.


(1) Russian army crosses frozen lake, then adopts a defensive position at Raven’s Rock;

(2) Probable route of pursuing Crusader army across frozen lake;

(3) Alternative Crusader route, via Piiris Island;

(4) Crusader frontal attack forces back Novgorod militia;

(5) Attack by Russian right, including horse-archers, hits Danes in flank, causing them to flee. They are followed by the Crusader right flank and Estonian auxiliaries, leaving the Teutonic Knights surrounded.

The Teutonic Knights in Prussia were concerned about the Mongol threat. Even though a legend concerning the Prussian master, Poppo, has been repeatedly demonstrated to be false, popular historians continue to revive the story that he met his death at the battle of Liegnitz under a hail of Tatar arrows. The kernel of truth to this myth is based on the order’s responsibility to defend Christendom against all its armed foes, and perhaps Poppo had been present at the battle and wounded. Direct evidence is lacking. Poppo did die at Liegnitz and was buried there, but that was many years later, when he was visiting his wife’s convent.

In any event, the current moment was not a good one for Andreas to risk Livonian knights who might be needed elsewhere. Andreas was aware also that the knights most eager to attack Novgorod were rebels who were determined to annul the Treaty of Stensby and plunge his order into war with Denmark. Perhaps the temporary nature of his authority, that of acting-master, limited his confidence to offer bold leadership. Whatever his reasons, Andreas does not seem to have been committed to the crusade after the spring of 1241.

More importantly, Andreas von Felben had a more pressing problem to deal with than assisting crusaders in an attack on Novgorod. That was to subdue an uprising on Oesel, which he accomplished that winter by leading an army across the ice and overawing the rebels. The peace treaty survives, providing us with valuable insight into the crusaders’ demands on their subjects. First of all, anyone performing pagan ceremonies was to be fined and whipped. Second, farmers were to convey their taxes by ship either to Riga or the bishop. Third, anyone who was guilty of infanticide was to be fined, and the mother was to be taken to the cemetery nine successive Sundays, stripped, and whipped. Fourth, once a year, at the time the taxes were paid, the advocate would hold court, rendering justice as advised by the elders of the land. Lastly, murderers were to pay a wergild of ten marks for homicides committed on strangers or among themselves, a heavy penalty which could be paid only with the help of one’s clansmen. In short, the treaty dealt with a variety of concerns – religious, financial and social – which presumably were not covered by existing agreements. The treaty also demonstrates that the Oeselian Estonians were by no means powerless serfs. A master does not sign a formal treaty requiring the presence of priests, friars, vassals, his marshal and numerous knights and multorum aliorum fidelium, Theutonicorum et Estonum, unless the seniores de Estonibus Maritimae et alii quam plures were men of power and substance.

Meanwhile, Duke Alexander had been invited to return to Novgorod. The abased citizens, now persuaded that they could not fight the German-Pskov forces alone, apparently conceded all the points over which they had quarrelled. Late in 1241 Alexander overwhelmed the German-Danish garrisons east of Narva. Significantly, he spared the Westerners for ransom but hanged the Estonians as rebels and traitors. He thus demonstrated his limited aim: to retain control of the vital border territories. He had no intention of driving the crusaders into the sea; his attention was directed more to the south – where the Mongols held sway – than to the west. His intent was merely to guarantee that he would not be attacked from the rear while he was engaged with the Tatars. His move against the Western garrison in Pskov on 5 March 1242 was described by a German chronicler in these terms:

He marched toward Pskov with many troops. He arrived there with a mighty force of many Russians to free the Pskovians and these latter heartily rejoiced. When he saw the Germans he did not hesitate long. They drove away the two Brothers, removed them from their advocacy and routed their servants. The Germans fled . . . If Pskov had been defended, Christianity would be benefited until the end of the world. It is a mistake to conquer a fair land and fail to occupy it well . . . The king of Novgorod then returned home.

The corresponding account in the Chronicle of Novgorod is very short: ‘Prince Alexander occupied all the roads right up to [Pskov], seized the Germans and the Chud men, and having bound them in chains, sent them to be imprisoned in Novgorod’.

Alexander led a relatively small force into the diocese of Dorpat, only to turn back after Bishop Hermann’s men routed his scouts at a bridge. Perhaps a small number of Teutonic Knights joined in the pursuit of Alexander’s retreating forces, making the order’s total contribution more respectable. The Orthodox and Catholic armies then met at Lake Peipus – the famous Battle on the Ice. Neither army was large. The Westerners had perhaps 2,000 men, the Russians perhaps 6,000, but these numbers were, in effect, balanced by the superior armament of the crusaders

The battle has become undeservedly famous, having been endowed – for twentieth-century political considerations – with much more significance than it merited in itself, through Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, and the stirring music of Sergei Prokoviev. Indeed, although this movie is a reasonably accurate portrayal of some aspects of the battle, especially the costumes and tactics, and gives us an impressive sense of the drama of medieval combat, other aspects are pure propaganda. Certainly the ancestors of today’s Estonians and Latvians were not dwarfs, as the movie suggests, nor were they serfs. Master Andreas was in Riga, and thus could not have been taken prisoner by Alexander himself and ransomed for soap. The Russian forces were mainly professionals, not pre-Lenin Communist peasants and workers facing the equivalent of German armoured columns; the Germans were not proto-Nazis, blonde giants who burned babies alive. In short, many scenes in Alexander Nevsky tell us much more about the Soviet Union just before Hitler’s invasion than about medieval history. On the other hand, it is just possible that the crusaders did possess a portable organ – Henry of Livonia had mentioned an incident in an earlier combat in which the playing of a musical instrument caused the two armies to stop fighting momentarily to listen in wonder, and records from the end of the century list organs among the religious objects destroyed by Lithuanian pagans. Certainly Lake Peipus is far enough inland that the last days of cold weather might have preserved sufficient ice along the shores to support the weight of men on horseback.

Spring had not yet come on 5 April as the crusader army proceeded across the lake or, more likely, along the shore to meet the Russian forces that were massed in a solid body. Although some of the fighting probably took place on the ice, it is unlikely that the cavalry forces ventured onto it in significant numbers. The heavily armed Western knights formed the spearhead of a column followed by light cavalry and foot soldiers, which charged into the Russian infantry. The Livonian Rhymed Chronicle summarised the battle tersely:

The [Russians] had many archers, and the battle began with their bold assault on the king’s men [Danes]. The brothers’ banners were soon flying in the midst of the archers, and swords were heard cutting helmets apart. Many from both sides fell dead on the grass. Then the Brothers’ army was completely surrounded, for the Russians had so many troops that there were easily sixty men for every one German knight. The Brothers fought well enough, but they were nonetheless cut down. Some of those from Dorpat escaped from the battle, and it was their salvation that they fled. Twenty brothers lay dead and six were captured.

The battle, of course, had repercussions beyond the Livonian-Rus’ian border region: revolts broke out in Kurland and Prussia which threatened to involve the Teutonic Knights on so many fronts that they could not cope with their enemies. Alexander Nevsky, however, had no interest in destroying the crusader states in Livonia. First of all, the former Swordbrothers and Teutonic Knights who were represented at the battle lost only half as many knights as had perished at Saule. When one considers that these would be quickly reinforced by troops that the master held in reserve, the Teutonic Order remained a formidable foe; moreover, the crusaders would be fighting on the defensive in well-constructed wooden forts, and Alexander Nevsky had not equipped his forces for sieges. Moreover, the Mongol threat was so immediate that the prince could not afford to postpone attending to it. Consequently he offered generous terms to the Roman Christians, which the crusaders immediately accepted: Novgorod withdrew from Pskov and other border territories, Alexander freed his prisoners, and the Germans released their hostages. Three years later Alexander defeated a Lithuanian effort to exploit Novgorod’s weakened condition. In the end, however, like the other Russian princes, he acknowledged the authority of the Golden Horde and performed military service for the Mongol khan. For the next twenty years there was no war between Rus’ians and Germans.

It had been a dangerous moment for Novgorod, but perhaps less dangerous than is sometimes thought. If Novgorod had been occupied by the Westerners, the Rus’ian state might indeed have shared the fate of Byzantium after the Fourth Crusade, to be dominated temporarily by foreigners, perhaps so permanently lamed in political and economic terms that it would be unable to ward off the more dangerous enemy advancing from the East. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine the crusaders permanently suppressing Russian culture, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian nobility. If the Golden Horde could not do this, could the Westerners, whose capacity vis-à-vis the Mongols’ pales into insignificance? It is easy to exaggerate the importance of the Battle on the Ice. In the short term, it was more important for the crusaders, in that it put an end to the eastward drive of the armed mission; in the long term it gave Russians a memory of a glorious victory over formidable foes, a victory that stood out so brightly because of its rarity.

Victory, if the outcome had been reversed, would have given new life to the tensions in Livonia and Estonia. Those Teutonic Knights who had been former Swordbrothers and wholeheartedly supported the attack might have incurred new obligations that the Teutonic Knights as a whole would have to meet. Although the survivors of the former Swordbrother Order would continue to complain that they had not been properly supported (‘The bishop . . . had brought along too few people, and the brothers’ army was also too small’), they had no choice other than to submit to Master Dietrich. Only one of their knights appears later in Livonian records, and he only after the lapse of many years. At least one of their surviving leaders was sent to the Holy Land. Were other former Swordbrothers among those Teutonic Knights there who left the order in 1245 to join the Templars? We do not know. Even Andreas von Felben left the country temporarily, being stationed in his native Netherlands in 1243. Defeat seems to have provided Master Dietrich with the opportunity for a thorough housecleaning, a task he performed with such efficiency that in 1246 he was elected Prussian master, then eight years later German master.

Venetian Naval Crusades

Venetian merchant ship ” Venicia ” 1270 AD

After the crushing defeat of the Franks of Antioch by the Turks at the Ager Sanguinis in 1119, the king and patriarch of Jerusalem requested assistance from Pope Calixtus II, who, preoccupied with the Investiture Controversy, passed the request on to Venice. In 1120 Doge Domenico Michiel (1118–1129) made an impassioned appeal to the people, who consented to a new crusade. Michiel suspended all overseas commerce while the Venetians prepared a fleet of approximately 120 major vessels. With the doge in command, it set sail on 8 August 1122, carrying more than 15,000 Venetian crusaders. During the winter, it tried without success to capture Corfu in retaliation for John II Komnenos’s refusal to renew Venetian trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire. The Venetian fleet arrived at Acre in May 1123, where it destroyed the Fatimid navy. The following year, the Venetians joined with the Franks to capture the coastal city of Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon), which fell in July 1124. The Venetians were granted one-third of Tyre as well as a street, bakery, bath, and church in every city in the kingdom of Jerusalem. More than sixty years later, Doge Orio Mastropiero sent a large crusade fleet to join the Third Crusade (1189–1192), which took part in the siege of Acre.

Given a century of Venetian involvement in the crusades, it is not too surprising that Pope Innocent III turned to Venice for support when he proclaimed the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) in 1198. The aged and blind Doge Enrico Dandolo (1192–1205) was inclined to support the crusade, but he pointed out to the pope that Venetian merchants were already paying a heavy price for the good of Christendom because of the ban on trade with Muslims. The pope responded by allowing the Venetians to trade in nonstrategic goods with Egypt. The failure of the Frankish crusaders to meet their commitments forced Dandolo to balance the good of the crusade against the enormous financial losses of the commune. The diversion of the crusade to Zara (mod. Zadar, Croatia) solved several problems, getting the expedition under way, providing a place to winter, and in part compensating the Venetians for their losses. But the attack on Zara, which was under papal protection, convinced Innocent that Dandolo and the Venetians had hijacked the crusade for their own purposes. He excommunicated all of the Venetian crusaders, although this was kept secret from the rank-and-file, including the Venetians.


The setbacks suffered by the Third Crusade did not dampen enthusiasm for crusading. The election of a youthful pope, Innocent III, in 1198 marked the beginning of a new effort to organize the crusade along more effective lines. Innocent, who was an able administrator, proclaimed his commitment to reform of the church and the crusade. In August 1198 Innocent called upon all Christian people to participate in a crusade. Times were not propitious for royal participation. The German Crown was in dispute. Philip II of France, who had repudiated his marriage to Ingeborg of Denmark, was under a papal interdict. Richard the Lionheart died in March 1199, to be succeeded by his brother John. By default, the crusade, which was received enthusiastically by many among the nobility, especially those whose families already had strong ties to the movement, found its leadership in their midst.

A seaborne expedition was planned in order to avoid the arduous journey overland and the attendant military risks. Agreement was reached with the republic of Venice to provide transport, which specified the number of crusaders (about 30,000) and the charges, as well as providing that the Venetians would themselves participate with fifty ships and would share equally in the conquest. The total price to the crusaders was 85,000 marks. There was also a secret codicil specifying that the goal of the crusade was to be Egypt: the main power base of the Ayyubids, Saladin’s successors, was increasingly seen as the key to the recovery of the Holy Land. The date for departure was set for late June 1202. Innocent ordered a general tax of a fortieth of all church incomes for one year and pledged that the Roman Church would pay a tenth of its income. He also issued a generous crusade indulgence to all who would take part in the crusade at their own expense.

The death of Count Thibaud III of Champagne deprived the crusade of its putative leader at a critical stage. His replacement was Boniface, marquis of Montferrat. Well connected to both the French and German royal houses, Boniface was a friend to one of the claimants to the German Crown, Philip of Swabia, who was married to a Byzantine princess, Irene. Her father, Emperor Isaac II Angelos, had been deposed and blinded by his brother, who had assumed the throne as Alexios III. Isaac’s son, also named Alexios, escaped and came to the West seeking aid to restore his father, but he found no support from Innocent III, who was already negotiating with Alexios III.

The crusaders began to gather in Venice during the summer of 1202. Yet many had decided on alternative routes, and the number that appeared at Venice was insufficient to raise the money needed to pay the Venetians for passage. After paying about 50,000 marks, almost 35,000 was still owed. The Venetians proposed that the crusaders should join them in retaking Zara (mod. Zadar, Croatia), a port on the Dalmatian coast, which had thrown off Venetian rule. The town was in the possession of King Emeric of Hungary, who had himself taken the crusade vow and was thus under the protection of the papacy. Despite the pope’s prohibition and internal divisions among the crusaders, the majority of the crusaders agreed to help the Venetians. The leaders also listened to the younger Alexios, who promised to solve their economic problems with the Venetians and to provide aid for the crusade in return for their support. Behind Innocent’s refusal to countenance this idea lay not only the fact that it represented a diversion of the crusade but also, in all likelihood, his hopes for cooperation with Alexios III and for a reunification of the Latin and Greek Orthodox churches.

Zara was captured after a short siege. Innocent’s attempt to punish the Venetians with excommunication was thwarted by Boniface of Montferrat, who delayed publication of the pope’s decree until the crusaders had moved on to Constantinople. There, the Venetians and their crusader allies met with quick success. After their initial attack on the city, Alexios III fled and Isaac was restored, with his son as coemperor. But it soon became clear that the newly crowned Alexios IV had promised more than he could deliver. As the winter of 1202–1203 came and went, the crusaders sought absolution from the pope and tried to persuade Alexios IV to further the reunification of the Greek and Latin churches. From the Greek side, however, opposition mounted, and Isaac II and Alexios IV were overthrown by a Greek nobleman, who seized the throne as Emperor Alexios V. The crusaders now decided to take the city: in April 1204 they breached the walls, and the great capital of the eastern Roman Empire fell. In the sack that followed, the riches of the empire were dispersed to the West. Religious relics found their way to Venice and to virtually every French homeland.

The Venetians and the crusaders had conquered not only the city of Constantinople but much of the European territory of the Byzantine Empire. Count Baldwin IX of Flanders was elected and crowned as emperor, to the disappointment of Boniface of Montferrat. For all practical purposes, the crusade was over. Only a few of the crusaders ever arrived in the Holy Land, and their presence there made no difference. Although some effort was made to view the con quest of Constantinople as a stepping-stone to further success, that expectation was doomed to disappointment. Reunification of the Latin and Greek churches, which had long proved to be elusive, was now still more remote. The energies of the crusaders and their supporters and an increasing amount of Western resources were devoted to defending and conquering lands and fending off the efforts of various Greek claimants to reconquer the empire. New Frankish principalities were established throughout Greece, but their existence did nothing to further the liberation of the Holy Land.

Even though the Greeks recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the restored Byzantine Empire was a shadow of its former self. Most of all, the events of 1204 gave rise to a deep distrust of the Latin West on the part of Greek Orthodox Christians that persisted for centuries and still finds its echoes today. Innocent III had suffered a severe setback in his dream of a successful crusade. He tried to make the best of things, but his letters reveal a bitterness, especially toward the Venetians, that never entirely receded. This experience undoubtedly helped shape the attitude of the pope to the crusade. It did not discourage him so much as act as a challenge. He would build on this experience.

Venice: The Lion City II

It has become customary to describe the eleventh century as the period in which Latin Christendom emerged triumphant. This is nowhere more powerfully evinced than in the history of the Crusades. They have been construed as a direct attack upon the Muslim world, or as a form of spiritual imperialism, but the participation of Venice in the First Crusade had no such motives. The Venetians were waging economic warfare by other means. They were not concerned with the cross, or with the sword, but with the purse. The point was that rival trading cities, Genoa and Pisa in particular, were already taking part. Venice could not permit its competitors to gain an advantage in the lucrative markets of Syria and Egypt. To have a permanent presence in Antioch, or in Jerusalem, would be a source of innumerable commercial benefits. So, in the summer of 1100, a fleet of two hundred Venetian ships arrived at Joppa (Jaffa); the Venetian commanders agreed to help the crusaders on condition that the merchants of their city were given the rights of free trade in all dominions recovered from the Saracens. The terms of this practical bargain were accepted. The Venetians were then despatched to besiege the town of Caifa (Haifa) and, having achieved the surrender of that place, they returned to the lagoon before the end of the year. They were not content, however, with this single and relatively simple victory. They wished to acquire more profit from their participation in the holy cause. They established trading stations within the Syrian ports, and began a lucrative business in transporting pilgrims to the newly captured Jerusalem.

On their way to Joppa, too, they had engaged in a peculiarly Venetian piece of business. The fleet had cast anchor at the ancient Lycian town of Myra (Bari), in search of the bones of Saint Nicholas who had been bishop of that place; the saint is now better known as the progenitor of Santa Claus but, in the eleventh century, he was revered as the patron saint of sailors. The Venetians, naturally enough, wanted him. It is alleged that they arrived in the town and put to the torture four Christians, the keepers of the shrine. They learned nothing of any consequence from these unholy proceedings, however, and made do with the theft of the bones of Saint Theodore. Theodore had been the patron saint of Venice before the arrival of Mark; he was a good second-best. Yet before their departure, according to the Venetian chronicles of Andrea Morosini, a wonderful fragrance issued from a recess beneath an altar in the church itself. The scent was that of Saint Nicholas. So he was removed, too, and brought back in triumph to Venice where his bones were lodged in the monastery of Saint Nicholas on the Lido. That is the story, at least. In fact the remains of Saint Nicholas, if such they are, have remained in Bari to this day. Whether the tale reveals more of Venetian mendacity, or of Venetian greed, is an open question.

The crusading venture had been a success for Venice, and in 1108 the Venetian fleet once more sailed under the flag of the cross. It may be noted that the governors of the city were particularly interested in the seaports of the Mediterranean, and that Venetian merchants were established in Acre, Jerusalem and elsewhere. Yet the attentions of the doge and senate were not confined to the principalities and powers of the Middle East. They thought it prudent to maintain and consolidate their presence on the mainland. They took Ferrara and Fano under their control, and moved against Padua. In the process they reasserted their rights over the principal rivers of the territory. On the other side of the Adriatic, they struggled with the Hungarians over the coastal regions of Dalmatia. They now had many enemies. The cities of the mainland were jealous of Venetian wealth, and fearful of Venetian power. The Norman kingdom of Sicily had long regarded Venice as a foe. The German empire of Hohenstaufen still laid claim to northern Italy.

There emerged one other formidable enemy. In 1119 the new emperor of Constantinople decreed that the trading privileges of Venice were at an end. He ordered all Venetian residents within the boundary of his empire to remove themselves and their business. He also proposed a treaty with the king of Hungary, thereby recognising Hungarian claims to the Venetian settlements in Dalmatia. The reaction of Venice was slow but assured. The Venetian fleet raided and sacked a number of Byzantine territories; Rhodes, Chios, Samos, Lesbos and Modon were some of the objects of their vengeance. They had set out to prove that they were now the single most important sea power in an area previously deemed to be the preserve of Constantinople. The emperor signed a new trade agreement with Venice in 1126.

The Venetian empire could justify its existence with the claim that trade, and not conquest, was its purpose. It naturalised its subjects with a spirit of enlightened commercialism. The motive was one of constructive self-aggrandisement. There was no true cult of empire, as there was in nineteenth-century London or in third-century Rome. There was no interest in massiveness or monumentality for their own sake. The only concession to the appetite for glory lay in the construction of gateways at key points in the city—the Torre dell’Orologio, the Porta della Carta, and the Arco Foscari among them. The gateway to the Arsenal is in every guide to the city. These were the Venetian equivalent of the triumphal arch, all the more striking in a city without a defensive wall.

Yet the Venetians who lived and traded in Constantinople, and in the other markets of the kingdom, became increasingly unpopular. They were judged to be arrogant and greedy. Away from Venice, the Venetians became insecure and fractious. They attacked their Genoese and Pisan rivals in trade, and refused to obey Byzantine edicts. They even stole the relics of saints from the churches of Constantinople. They were generally considered by their hosts to be vulgar, mere merchants looking for bargains. In turn the Venetians despised the Greeks, as effete and indolent. Then in 1171, on the command of the emperor, all the Venetians in Constantinople and elsewhere were arrested and imprisoned. A Venetian fleet, despatched to threaten the lands of the emperor, was reduced to impotence by the onset of plague. The commander of the unsuccessful expedition, on his return to Venice, was assassinated in the streets. It was the condign justice meted out to all perceived failures. The Byzantine emperor then sent a message to the doge in which he asserted that the Venetian nation had acted with great foolishness. He noted that they were “once vagabonds sunk in the utmost poverty” who had somehow claimed the right to imperial ambitions. But their abject failure and “insolence” had rendered them “a laughing stock.”

The leaders of Venice reacted cautiously. They formed alliances with some of the emperor’s enemies, and began an insidious campaign against Byzantine territories. There were secret talks and clandestine meetings. An accord was eventually reached and in 1183, twelve years after their arrest, the Venetian merchants were finally permitted to leave the prisons; a formal peace treaty between Venice and Byzantium was signed. It had represented a great crisis, and a vivid token of the real enmity between Constantinople and Venice; one city was dying, and the other was impatiently waiting to emerge supreme. Over the next few years there were pacts and agreements and messages of mutual confidence between the two cities. But in truth there could be no end to the struggle other than a fatal one.

The new eminence of Venice was exemplified by one of those scenes of living theatre at which Venice excelled. The characters in this lavish spectacle were the leaders of Latin Christendom. One was the emperor of Germany, Frederick Barbarossa, and the other was Pope Alexander III. Barbarossa laid claim to the Lombard states, and in particular to Milan; Pope Alexander strenuously resisted the claim, and allied himself with the Italian cities. The emperor was excommunicated. Nevertheless Barbarossa, spurned by the Church, had success with the sword. The Lombard cities were taken. Milan fell, and was largely destroyed. Yet the dominion of Germany over this part of Italy was constantly being threatened by internal rebellion and by the open hostility of other Italian cities that looked to the pope for leadership. The weariness of continual warfare, and the inevitable cycle of victories and defeats, eventually disheartened both sides. The pope and the emperor contemplated the principles of an agreement. But where should they meet formally to ratify their pact?

Venice had largely kept itself aloof from the hostilities, on the very good ground that it is better to remain neutral in any battle between such powerful enemies. Venice did not in any case concern itself with the affairs of Italy if its own interests were not directly touched. So the most serene city became the most appropriate setting for the reconciliation of Barbarossa and Alexander. On 23 March 1177, the pontiff landed at the Lido and was received at the monastery of Saint Nicholas; he was no doubt shown the so-called “relics” of the saint himself. On the following day he sailed into Venice, where he was received by the doge. There were now long and difficult negotiations over the terms of the peace, with the emissaries of both sides raising objections and proposing alterations. Yet the pact was finally sealed. On 23 July the emperor was welcomed to the monastery of Saint Nicholas. On the following day he sailed to Venice, where Alexander awaited him. The pope sat in state upon the papal throne, which had been placed before the central gates of the basilica; he was surrounded by his cardinals, like some crowd scene from the sacred plays of the period. The emperor, disembarking from the glittering barge of the doge, walked in stately procession towards the pontiff. Before him walked the doge himself. Saint Mark’s Square was filled with spectators, eager to see the play unfold. When the emperor reached the papal throne he took off his scarlet cloak and, bowing to the ground, kissed the feet of the pope. Alexander, now weeping, raised up the emperor and gave him the kiss of peace. The audience now began to sing the Te Deum, and all the bells of the city rang out. It had been a great performance.

This dramatic scene was also used by Venice as an advertisement for the city’s strength and sense of justice. It was the seat of a general reconciliation. The city was the place of impartial judgement and of equity because it was subject to God alone. It played no part in the power politics of popes or emperors, except to heal the wounds caused by them. That, at least, was the message of the Venetian chroniclers in reporting these events from the summer of 1177. For that moment, when the bells pealed, Venice was the centre of the world. There were more immediate benefits also. The emperor granted trade privileges to Venice throughout his empire, and the pope gave Venice ecclesiastical dominion over Dalmatia.

The spectacle itself might have acted as an overture for the grander opera that was about to be performed. In the years that followed, Venice entered another, and greater, phase of its imperial power. It conquered and stripped Constantinople. A new scenario began with another holy war. The pope had declared a fourth crusade against the infidels and, in the early months of 1201, the French princes who had taken the cross came to Venice to plead for the ships that would transport them to the Holy Land. They were received in great state by the doge, and were asked to plead their case before the people of Venice in the basilica. So, after mass had been heard, one of their number stepped forward and declared that “no nation is so powerful on the seas as you”; after that piece of flattery, he implored the aid of the Venetian people. The princes then knelt down and wept. Immediately there were cries all around the basilica. “We grant it! We grant it!” It was a fine piece of stage management, in the best traditions of the city.

The doge, Enrico Dandolo, was already old and nearly blind. He was elected at the age of eighty-four, but he was one of those Venetian patriarchs whose tenacity and singleness of purpose were the visible proof of the city’s own ruthlessness. It was said that he had nourished a grievance against Constantinople ever since the mass imprisonment of 1171. According to one Byzantine Greek chronicler, “he boasted that so long as he failed to take revenge on them for what they had done to his people he was living under sentence of death.” It was even reported, in later chronicles, that he had been blinded by the Byzantines themselves when he had once travelled to the city as an ambassador; this is the stuff of legend only.

The carpenters of the Arsenal were set to work, engaged to build and equip enough ships to carry 4,500 horsemen and 30,000 soldiers. In return Venice demanded 84,000 silver marks. The efficiency of the shipbuilding yards was by now well known throughout Europe, and all of the ships were delivered on time. But there was one problem. The crusaders had been unable to find the money to pay for them. So a new arrangement was concluded. The Venetians would waive full payment, on condition that the crusaders would assist them in subduing the rebellious city of Zara on the Dalmatian coast. It was a diversion from the Holy Land, but the leaders of the forces of the cross considered it to be a necessary one. Three hundred ships left the lagoon in October 1202, to the chant of the Veni Creator, and sailed down the Adriatic. Zara, after a siege of five days, surrendered. Christian had turned against Christian rather than the common enemy of the Saracen. The pope, incensed by this unwelcome development, excommunicated the forces of the expedition. It is not reported that the Venetians, in particular, were in any way cowed or humbled by the papal wrath.

Once the Venetians were fully in possession of the town, they were surprised by the arrival of an unexpected guest. The son of the deposed emperor of Constantinople, Alexius Angelus, came to Dandolo in search of justice. He wished the crusaders to overthrow the usurper, on the throne of the empire, and reinstall his father. For his part he pledged to finance and otherwise assist the armies in their high purpose. It was an offer that could not be refused. It has often been surmised that Dandolo had held this aim in mind throughout all the preparations for the crusade, and that he had already determined that Constantinople rather than Syria was to be the destination of the Venetian fleet. There can be no doubt that Dandolo saw a great opportunity for advancement and enrichment in this war at the expense of Constantinople. But there are elements of adventitious chance in all the affairs of men. Dandolo could not have known that the French crusaders would be unable to honour their obligation, although it is likely that he knew in advance of the arrival of Alexius in Zara. The Venetians were always adept at taking advantage of chance and circumstance. Yet in another perspective the great events of the world seem, on close scrutiny, to be made up of a thousand singular elements and accidents and coincidences. In the midst of this swirling world it would be hard to detect a pattern. So we may say that it just happened. As a consequence of these events the power of Byzantium was extinguished, its city and empire weakened beyond repair.

The Venetian fleet, in aid of Alexius, moved against the city. On 24 June 1203, it sailed beside the walls. A French attack by land seemed to have failed and so, under the command of Dandolo, the Venetians tied their galleys together to form a united front; from the decks and turrets of the vessels, military engines discharged their fire into the city. Constantinople was in flames. Dandolo himself stood at the prow of the first ship that struck land. He was dressed in full armour, and the standard of Saint Mark flew at his side. At his urging the Venetian soldiers leapt from their vessels and scaled the ladders swung against the walls. There was some combat, but the forces of the Byzantines were overwhelmed by this swift attack from the sea. The banner of the republic was fixed on the rampart. The city was taken. The deposed emperor, on whose behalf Alexius had pleaded, was rescued from his dungeon and placed upon the throne. Alexius himself was crowned in the basilica of Saint Sophia, and took his place as co-ruler of the empire.

Yet the fatal decline of Constantinople was about to resume its inevitable course. Alexius had promised the crusaders more than he could achieve. He lacked finance and, more importantly, he had forfeited his authority among his countrymen by relying upon the forces of the crusaders to obtain the imperial crown. The citizens of Constantinople, instigated by fear and rumour, rebelled against the new emperor. Alexius was cut down, his father abandoned to his grief.

The Venetians and their allies now had to extinguish this rebellion, and bring the city under their rule. They had not come so far to be simply asked to leave. So once more, in March 1204, they laid siege to the city. On the eve of the assault Dandolo declared to his men that they must “be valiant. And with the help of Jesus Christ, milord Saint Mark, and the prowess of your bodies, you shall be tomorrow in possession of the city, and you shall all be rich.”

Once their victory was assured, the Christian armies, inflamed by greed and anger, began a general sack of the city. Constantinople was pillaged and burned. The wealthiest city of the world, filled with art and sculpture, was laid bare. Its citizens were slaughtered, the frenzy of blood-lust such that it seemed that the gates of hell had been opened. The palaces and houses of the city were ransacked. The churches were despoiled. The statues were melted down, and the pictures ripped apart. The tombs were opened, and the sacred vessels removed. It is reported that a prostitute was enthroned in the chair of the patriarch, in the basilica of Saint Sophia, from where she “hurled insults at Jesus Christ, and she sang bawdy songs, and danced immodestly in the holy place.” One chronicler claimed that the rapine exceeded any other since the creation of the world. And the Venetians were the principal agents of this despoliation. Much of the plunder found its way to Venice. The four great horses that surmount the basilica of Saint Mark’s are part of the fruit of that brutal victory.

There were other spoils. The crusaders claimed the dominions of Constantinople, and carved up its empire among the victors. Venice negotiated its portion with its customary merchant zeal, and was rewarded “the fourth part and the half of the Roman empire”; that is, it commanded three-eighths of the old empire. It already claimed Dalmatia and Croatia, and now it took possession of the Aegean coasts and islands as well as parts of the Mediterranean. It controlled Crete and Corfu as well as the islands of Modon and Coron. It took the western part of Greece and the islands of the Ionian Sea. It demanded the coast of Thrace, as well as the ports on the Hellespont. It seized Negroponte in the Aegean. While the other crusaders were unsure of their geography, the leaders of Venice knew exactly what they wanted. Many of the islands were then granted to various patrician families of Venice, who held them as fiefdoms of the republic. There was now also a large Venetian colony within Constantinople itself, which acquired a large measure of independence from the home city. There were even reports that the capital of the new empire was about to remove from Venice to Constantinople, but these were discounted. Yet one central fact was clear. The markets of the east were beckoning. All thought of the war against the infidel was forgotten and, indeed, the crusaders never did reach the Holy Land. It was the last of the crusades.

The strategy of Venice was that of a sea power intent upon strengthening its command of the sea. That is why the first great conquests were in the Levant, or eastern Mediterranean, where Venice might pose as the begetter of “an apostolic empire of the East” as a fitting successor to the Christian empire established in the East by Justinian and Constantine. It is a typical example of Venetian rhetoric masking policy. To the victors, the spoils. So the imperium of Venice was largely confined to the islands and to the coastal regions. The Venetians wanted no part of the inland empire of Byzantium, whether in Asia or in Europe. The city could never have become another Rome. Instead it settled for secure trading routes across the seas, with a series of ports under Venetian control linking the market of the lagoon to the markets of the Levant. These were not so much colonies as trading posts, stretching from Venice to the Black Sea. The nature of Venetian dominion was now clear for all to observe. The power of Constantinople was effectively gone forever. The consequences of the Venetian adventure, however, were by no means beneficent. That which is born in fire may die in fire. A weakened Constantinople became the prey of the Turks; the newly established Latin empire endured for only sixty years; the colonial possessions of Venice also left it exposed to attack in a long sequence of wars that tested its strength. For the next seventy years the serene city would be engaged in almost constant warfare with its rebellious subjects and with its rivals, with the Saracens and with the pirates of the Mediterranean.