‘The Profit That God Shall Give’



A typical 12th century Genoese trader, at this time merchant ships relied on sails rather than oars. Such vessels displaced between 10-30 tons and were crewed by 40-60 men.​

The principal route followed by the First Crusade bypassed the Mediterranean and took the army overland through the Balkans and Anatolia; many crusaders never saw more of the sea than the Bosphorus at Constantinople until, much reduced in numbers through war, disease and exhaustion, they reached Syria. And even in the East their target was not a maritime city but Jerusalem, so that its conquest in 1099 created an enclave cut off from the sea, a problem which, as will be seen, only Italian navies could resolve. Another force left from Apulia, where Robert Guiscard’s son Bohemond brought together an army. The Byzantines wondered whether he was really planning to revive his father’s schemes for the conquest of Byzantine territory, and so, when he reached Constantinople, he was pressed to acknowledge the emperor’s authority, becoming his lizios, or liegeman, a western feudal term that was used because Bohemond was more likely to feel bound by oaths made according to his native customs than by promises made under Byzantine law. When in 1098 he established himself as prince of Antioch, a city only recently lost by the Byzantines to the Turks, the imperial court made every effort to insist that his principality lay under Byzantine suzerainty. It was amazing that a vast rabble of men, often poorly armed, proved capable of seizing Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099, though the Byzantines were more inclined to regard this as a typical barbarian stroke of fortune than as a victory masterminded by Christ. Seen from Constantinople, the outcome of the crusade was not entirely negative. Western knights had installed themselves in sensitive borderlands between Byzantine territory and lands over which the Seljuk Turks and the Fatimid caliphs were squabbling Bohemond’s religious motives in joining the crusade should not be underestimated, but he was a pragmatist: he saw clearly that the crusader armies would be able to retain nothing without access to the Mediterranean, and without naval support from Christian fleets capable of keeping open the supply-lines to the West. He would therefore need to build ties with the Italian navies. He could count on the enthusiasm that had been generated in Genoa and Pisa by the news of Pope Urban’s speech, conveyed to the Genoese by the bishops of Grenoble and of Orange. The citizens of Genoa decided that the time had come to bury their differences and to unite in a compagna under the direction of six consuls; the aim of the compagna was primarily to build and arm ships for the crusade. Historians have long argued that the Genoese saw the crusade as a business opportunity, and that they were hoping to secure trade privileges in whatever lands the crusaders conquered comparable to those the Venetians had recently acquired in the Byzantine Empire. Yet they could not foresee the outcome of the crusade; they were willing to suspend their trading activities and pump all their energy into the building of fleets that were very likely to be lost far away in battles and storms. What moved them was holy fervour. According to a Genoese participant in the First Crusade, the chronicler Caffaro, even before it, in 1083, a Genoese ship named the Pomella had carried Robert, count of Flanders, and Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Latin ruler of Jerusalem, to Alexandria; from there they had made their way with difficulty to the Holy Sepulchre, and had begun to dream of recovering it for Christendom. The story was pure fancy, but it expresses the sense among the Genoese elite that their city was destined to play a major role in the war for the conquest of Jerusalem.

Twelve galleys and one smaller vessel set out from Genoa in July 1097. The crew consisted of about 1,200 men, a sizeable proportion of its male population, for the overall population of the city of Genoa may have been only 10,000. Somehow the fleet knew where the crusaders were, and made contact off the northern coast of Syria. Antioch was still under siege, and the Genoese fleet stood off Port St Symeon, the outport of the city that had functioned as a gateway to the Mediterranean since the Bronze Age. After the fall of Antioch in June 1098, Bohemond rewarded the Genoese crusaders with a church in Antioch, thirty houses nearby, a warehouse and a well, creating the nucleus of a merchant colony. This grant was the first of many that the Genoese were to receive in the states created by the crusaders. In the early summer of 1099 members of a prominent Genoese family, the Embriachi, anchored off Jaffa, bringing aid to the crusader army besieging Jerusalem – they dismantled their own ships, carrying the wood from which they were built to Jerusalem for use in the construction of siege engines. And then in August 1100 twenty-six galleys and four supply ships set out from Genoa, carrying about 3,000 men. They made contact with the northern French ruler of the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, and began the slow process of conquering a coastal strip, since it was essential to maintain supply-lines from western Europe to the embattled kingdom. They sacked the ancient coastal city of Caesarea in May 1101. When the Genoese leaders divided up their loot, they gave each sailor two pounds of pepper, which demonstrates how rich in spices even a minor Levantine port was likely to be. They also carried away a large green bowl that had been hanging in the Great Mosque of Caesarea, convinced that it was the bowl used at the Last Supper and that it was made of emerald (a mistake rectified several centuries later when someone dropped it, and it was found to be made of glass). Since the bowl is almost certainly a fine piece of Roman workmanship from the first century AD, their intuitions about its origins were not entirely wrong. It was carried in triumph to the cathedral in Genoa, where it is still displayed, attracting attention as one of several candidates for the title Holy Grail.

The green bowl was, for the Genoese, probably as great a prize as any of their commercial privileges, all of which were celebrated in the city annals as signs of divine bounty. The Genoese made friends with the rulers of each of the crusader states (Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch) that needed help in gaining control of the seaports of Syria and Palestine. In 1104 their fortunes were further boosted by the capture of the port city of Acre, with an adequate harbour and good access into the interior. For most of the next two centuries, Acre functioned as the main base of the Italian merchants trading to the Holy Land. The Genoese produced documents to show that the rulers of Jerusalem promised them one-third of the cities they helped conquer all the way down the coast of Palestine, though not everyone is convinced all these documents were genuine; if not, they are still evidence for their vast ambitions. They were even promised a third of ‘Babylonia’, the current European name for Cairo, for there were constant plans to invade Fatimid Egypt as well. To all this were added legal exemptions, extending from criminal law to property rights, that separated the Genoese from the day-to-day exercise of justice by the king’s courts. The Genoese insisted that they were permitted to erect an inscription in gilded letters recording their special privileges inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Whether or not this inscription was ever put in place, the demand for such a public record indicates how determined the Genoese were to maintain their special extra-territorial status in the kingdom of Jerusalem, which never developed a significant navy of its own.

Holy Lance


The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal.

A relic discovered at Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) on 14 June 1098, identified by many participants in the First Crusade (1096–1099) with the weapon that pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion (John 19:33–34).

According to the eyewitness chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, a week after the capture of Antioch from the Turks on 3 June 1098, a Provençal peasant called Peter Bartholomew approached Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, claiming that he had received a series of visions from St. Andrew during the previous months. On one of these visitations, Andrew had revealed to him the spot where the lance that pierced Christ’s side lay hidden within the Church of St. Peter in Antioch. After five days of fasting and penance, twelve men (including Raymond of Aguilers) accompanied Peter Bartholomew to the church on the morning of 14 June 1098 and began to excavate the site in search of the relic. That evening the lance was uncovered by Peter Bartholomew himself. Both Raymond of Aguilers and the anonymous Gesta Francorum report that the discovery of the Holy Lance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crusaders, at that point themselves besieged within Antioch by Turkish forces. These same sources, as well as a letter sent by the crusade leaders to Pope Urban II on 11 September 1098, relate that the lance was carried into combat when the crusaders broke the siege of Antioch on 28 June 1098. From these accounts, it seems clear that the crusaders attributed their success in that battle to the inspiration and divine protection offered by the holy relic.

Over the following months, however, while factionalism among the crusade leaders delayed the army’s departure for Jerusalem, the authenticity of the lance was called into question, particularly by the Norman followers of Bohemund I, future prince of Antioch. In addition to claiming lordship over the newly conquered city, Bohemund was vying for authority over the crusade army with Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the guardian of the lance, and his southern French supporters. This situation came to a head when certain nobles and the less privileged elements of the army beseeched Count Raymond to lead them to Jerusalem or surrender the lance to those who were willing to continue the march. Raymond acquiesced and led a substantial portion of the crusaders toward Jerusalem in early January 1099.

Nevertheless, a faction led by Arnulf of Chocques, chaplain to Robert, duke of Normandy, persisted in questioning the legitimacy of the relic. This situation encouraged Peter Bartholomew to undertake an ordeal in order to prove the lance’s authenticity. On 8 April 1099, Peter hazarded an ordeal by fire while bearing the lance. Raymond of Aguilers reports that Peter crossed safely between two piles of burning wood, but was mortally crushed by the thronging crowds that greeted him on the other side. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Peter Bartholomew died on 20 April 1099. Though this turn of events did not diminish Raymond of Aguilers’s enthusiasm for the lance, it clearly contributed to the relic’s controversial status among contemporary crusade historians. Fulcher of Chartres, who was at Edessa (mod. Şanliurfa, Turkey) when the lance was discovered, expressed his skepticism about its authenticity and wrote that Peter Bartholomew’s death was a clear sign of his duplicity in the matter, adding that the ordeal’s outcome greatly disheartened the bulk of the relic’s supporters.

Writing around 1115 in praise of the recently deceased Norman crusader Tancred, the chronicler Raduph of Caen excoriated both Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Peter Bartholomew for their fabrication of the supposedly holy relic. Raduph asserts that Peter Bartholomew’s demise was clear proof of the lance’s falsity. Writing from a less polemical standpoint, subsequent generations of crusade historians, including Albert of Aachen, Guibert of Nogent, and William of Tyre, present the discovery of the lance as a moment of great significance during the course of the First Crusade, but also acknowledge the controversy that surrounded the relic and its discoverer’s ordeal.

The question of the Holy Lance’s authenticity was further complicated by the existence of well-known competitors, including a lance kept at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) since the seventh century and one possessed by the Holy Roman Emperors since the tenth century. The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal. According to second-hand sources, Count Raymond may have given the lance to the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, or he may have lost it during his participation in the ill-fated Crusade of 1101. If the lance discovered by the crusaders did find its way to Constantinople, it may have been the same one purchased in 1241 by King Louis IX of France from Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople.


Outremer’s Demise


Salah ad-Din, or Saladin as he is known in the West, had been born in Tikrit in modern-day Iraq in 1137.



Saladin’s forces besiege the walls of Jerusalem.

Having set to rights the last of Nur al-Din’s legacy, Saladin faced a Frankish problem rather different from the one that had occupied the Almohads in al-Andalus. In Syria the Franks were comparatively isolated from their European sources of support; manpower and supplies were a constant source of weakness for them. Yet Saladin had the backing of the caliph in Baghdad and had methodically crushed or subdued all his Muslim foes in the region. The Almohads never had such luxuries, and so their campaigns against the Franks produced much less satisfying results than did the accomplishments of Saladin.

After touring the last of his newly conquered lands in northern Syria, Saladin was ready to focus on the Franks. He arrived in Damascus in May 1186. On the way, he had summoned his son al-Afdal from Cairo, who set out for Syria after mustering a small army. He was obliged to pause, however, as Frankish raids on the Egyptian border blocked his passage. Saladin was not particularly concerned. By instigating this raid, the Franks had broken the four-year truce they had once demanded and that had inconveniently tied his hands. If the Franks were going to engage in such practices, “then the wheel of ruin will turn against them,” his secretary smugly wrote. In August al-Afdal arrived in Damascus, while other of Saladin’s sons were sent to take charge in Aleppo and Cairo.

Much had happened in the Latin kingdom since Saladin first arrived in Syria nearly a decade earlier. By 1186 the leper-king Baldwin IV was dead, succeeded by his nephew Baldwin V, another child, who ruled only under the regency of Raymond of Tripoli. Then, when this Baldwin died a few months later, his mother, Sibyl, took the throne. As queen of Jerusalem, Sibyl came with her husband, Guy of Lusignan, whom she crowned in the summer of 1186 as king.

This reshuffling in the palace at Jerusalem resulted in two changes of direct interest to Saladin. On the one hand, it created a potential new ally in Raymond of Tripoli, the former regent. At court his talents were no longer needed, and he was put out to pasture. As a result he opened negotiations with Saladin and, it appears, entered into a treaty with him, opening passage to the Muslims through his lands around Tiberias. On the other hand, the new situation in Jerusalem also created a new enemy, in the form of Reynald of Chatillon. By 1186 Reynald could not really be called “new” as if he were an unknown quantity. Indeed his problem was that he was all too well known. Formerly prince of Antioch and now lord of Transjordan, Reynald was a hard-liner who came east with the Second Crusade and stayed on to make his name, eventually winding up as a guest in Nur al-Din’s prison in Aleppo for seventeen years. Later, as lord of Transjordan, he had outraged Muslims by sending a squadron of ships out on the Red Sea to attack merchants and pilgrims bound for Mecca. From his base at Karak, he followed the same modus operandi on dry land, harassing the caravans that crossed from Syria to Egypt, even while the truce between Saladin and Jerusalem was supposed to be in effect.

In this context Saladin’s options seemed fairly clear. He badly needed a victory against the Franks to silence those who criticized him for spending so much time at war with his fellow Muslims. Reynald’s actions were provocative, and Transjordan was an important jigsaw piece of territory connecting Saladin’s lands in Egypt to those in Syria. In itself the conquest of Transjordan would be a small gain against the Franks-but perhaps a threat there could lure the rest of the Franks out into the field. When Reynald captured a large Egyptian caravan and its guard, Saladin had his pretext. He demanded the immediate release of the prisoners, but Reynald refused, even (or perhaps especially) when Raymond of Tripoli arrived to serve as an intermediary. In March 1187 Saladin arrived at Karak for retribution and spent the spring harassing the countryside. The peasants fled in droves to Muslim territory. Meanwhile his son al-Afdal was mustering a large army at the Sea of Galilee; he led one impetuous raid to Saffuriya (ancient Sepphoris) in Palestine, where the Muslims overwhelmed a smaller Frankish force. Among the slain was the master of the military order of St. John, or Hospitallers, a valued Frankish commander. By May Reynald’s lands in Transjordan were devastated and virtually every stronghold, including Karak, was in Saladin’s hands. However, when news reached Saladin that his erstwhile ally Raymond of Tripoli had made peace with his fellow Franks, he knew that now was the time to strike at the Latin kingdom.

All of Saladin’s forces that were in the field, from Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, made for Tiberias. Additional troops were on the move from Egypt if needed, and Saladin’s nephew in Aleppo made a truce with the Franks of Antioch to ensure his army would not be distracted. The sultan even sent a polite invitation to the Byzantine emperor, but he declined to join in. The Franks, led by King Guy, assembled at Saffuriya and had at their disposal the entire army of the Latin kingdom, including Templars and Hospitallers, assisted by much smaller contingents from Antioch and Tripoli. The exaggerated figures given by our medieval sources on the disposition of the Muslim and Frankish troops are hard to swallow, but Saladin’s army, soberly estimated at about thirty thousand, seems to have grossly outnumbered the combined forces mustered by the Franks. Indeed the very size of Saladin’s army may have added to his sense of urgency, as it would be very difficult to muster so many soldiers again and to keep them supplied and in the field for very much longer. If Saladin was to act against the Franks, he needed to act then and there.

In late June Saladin camped with his army at Kafr Sabt, to the southwest of Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. There he controlled access to abundant sources of water and, more important, to the road running east from the Frankish camp at Saffuriya to the town of Tiberias. The city’s lord, the once-friendly Raymond of Tripoli, was of course away with most of his men in the camp of King Guy, but a small garrison, and Raymond’s wife, remained behind. Rather than stampeding into the Frankish camp, Saladin instead put Tiberias under siege in the hope of drawing the Franks into territory of his own choosing. The plan worked; after much argument, which even the Arabic sources take note of, the Frankish army marched east to relieve Tiberias. As the Franks strung themselves out along the road, a division of Saladin’s army maneuvered behind them to prevent their retreat. Other troops harassed them with feints and arrow fire as they traveled. In the heat of the season (now early July 1187) the battle became, at base, a battle about water. Saladin had ready access to his sources, but the Frankish troops were now sealed off from the secure sources at Saffuriya. Such springs that Guy could gain en route were utterly insufficient to the needs of his army; this seems to be what pushed him to make the fateful decision on July 4 to direct his army to the springs near the little village of Hattin.

At the Horns of Hattin, a double hill formed by the basalt rim of an extinct volcanic crater, the Frankish army saw that their progress was blocked even here. Trapped, unable to punch through the Muslim lines to Tiberias, most of the army retreated to the Horns, where Guy pitched his tent and the walls of ancient ruins atop the hill provided some semblance of cover. The Franks mounted numerous charges against the Muslim army, but Saladin’s men simply closed up around any men who came through. Only Saladin’s former ally Raymond III and a few of his men were allowed to pass through unharmed-a fact that cannot have buoyed Raymond’s stock among the few who survived the battle. The Muslim troops had the Franks on the Horns surrounded by fire and smoke, cut off from retreat or water, exhausted and decimated. By the end of the day the Muslims had managed to gain the summit. Saladin’s son al-Afdal later provided this dramatic eyewitness account:

When the king of the Franks was on the hill with that band, they made a formidable charge against the Muslims facing them, so that they drove them back to my father. I looked towards him and he was overcome by grief and his complexion pale. He took hold of his beard and advanced, crying out “Give the lie to the Devil!” The Muslims rallied, returned to the fight and climbed the hill. When I saw that the Franks withdrew, pursued by the Muslims, I shouted for joy, “We have beaten them!” But the Franks rallied and charged again like the first time and drove the Muslims back to my father. He acted as he had done on the first occasion and the Muslims turned upon the Franks and drove them back to the hill. I again shouted, “We have beaten them!” but my father rounded on me and said, “Be quiet! We have not beaten them until that tent [Guy’s] falls.” Even as he was speaking to me, the tent fell. The sultan dismounted, prostrated himself in thanks to God Almighty and wept for joy.

The Battle of Hattin left the Frankish military gutted and thereby opened the Frankish kingdoms to reconquest by Saladin’s seemingly unstoppable armies. It was celebrated in Saladin’s sword-rattling chancery as “a day of grace, on which the wolf and the vulture kept company, while death and captivity followed in turns. The unbelievers were tied together in fetters, astride chains rather than stout horses.” Those Franks who did not die that day were taken as captives to be ransomed or sold. The most prized were taken to Saladin’s tent to be dealt with personally; Guy and many other lords were eventually ransomed. Reynald of Chatillon did not join them. Instead, following the letter of Islamic law when dealing with dangerous prisoners, Saladin urged Reynald to convert to Islam and, when he refused, personally executed him, as he had twice vowed to do. It was the social implications of the act, not its finality, for which Saladin felt he should apologize, saying to Guy, “It is not customary for one prince to kill another, but this man had crossed the line.” The same process attended the execution of the Templars and Hospitallers, who were considered such a danger that Saladin personally ransomed any such prisoners found in the hands of his men, to ensure that they would meet their end. He also had any Turcopoles (Turkish light cavalry in the service of the Franks) executed as traitors.

Throughout Syria, it is said, the price of slaves plummeted as the markets were flooded with Frankish captives. According to one source, one Frankish prisoner was traded in exchange for a shoe. When asked, the captive’s seller explained that he insisted on the price because he “wanted it to be talked about.” The nonhuman plunder taken was also said to be considerable. Among the treasures was the relic of the True Cross, which the Franks had carried before them in battle. Its capture was precisely as devastating to the Franks as it was thrilling to Saladin’s subjects in Damascus, who suspended it upside-down on a spear and paraded it through the streets of the city. It was later sent by Saladin’s son al-Afdal as a trophy for the caliph of Baghdad and was never seen again-lost, one presumes, during the Mongol sack of 1258. At Hattin itself Saladin had a “Dome of Victory” constructed to commemorate what was already being seen as a turning point in his life; however, within a few decades, like much Saladin left for his descendants, it was in ruins.

By the end of 1187 Saladin’s armies had captured most of the territory that the Franks had taken since they arrived with the First Crusade. The cities of Syria and Palestine fell one by one, in diverse circumstances. In the wake of the debacle at Hattin, the mere sight of Muslim armies was often enough to convince Frankish leaders to surrender their towns, as at Acre. At Nablus the local villagers-almost all of whom were Muslims-blockaded the Franks in the citadel until one of Saladin’s commanders arrived and accepted their surrender. Jubayl, on the northern coast, surrendered as ransom for its lord, Hugh Embriaco, who had been captured at Hattin. A similar ploy was attempted in the south, where King Guy and the master of the Templars were trotted out to convince the garrison of Ascalon to surrender, but to no avail. Instead Saladin’s armies met fierce resistance, though the Franks there were eventually prevailed upon to surrender. Other cities likewise gave Saladin some serious resistance, as at Beirut and Jaffa. Then again, some places were simply passed over and saved for later, notably the port of Tyre, which Saladin reconnoitered but left untouched not once but twice as he crisscrossed the region. It was an act of expediency he would live to regret.



Siege of Acre 1291 – Guillaume de Clermont Defending Ptolemais from the Saracen invasion. The fall of Acre signaled the end of the Jerusalem crusades. No effective crusade was raised to recapture the Holy Land afterwards, though talk of further crusades was common enough. By 1291, other ideals had captured the interest and enthusiasm of the monarchs and nobility of Europe and even strenuous papal efforts to raise expeditions to retake the Holy Land met with little response.


Map of Acre in 1291

When King Louis IX left Acre in 1254 the kingdom of Jerusalem was, for all practical purposes, leaderless. In that year the absentee king Conrad II (Conrad IV of Germany, 1250-54), the son of the emperor Frederick II and Isabella of Brienne, had been succeeded by his two-year-old son Conrad III (1254-68).

The Mongols were now the dominant force in the region and the Mongol threat actually created a brief period in which the crusader states enjoyed relative peace with their neighbors. Unfortunately, the internal political situation prevented them from taking advantage of this to strengthen their position. The absence of royal authority and the relative freedom from external threat allowed the various factions within the kingdom to give full vent to their grievances.

These included the Venetians and Genoese, who were vying for dominance in the eastern Mediterranean. More crippling, however, was the contest for control of the regency for Conrad II between two factions of the Ibelin family. Their machinations finally led to a state of affairs in which one child, King Hugh II of Cyprus, became regent for another, Conrad III. Hugh’s mother, Plaisance, acted as the regent’s regent. Clearly, in these years, the seat of real power in the crusader kingdom was no longer on the mainland, but in Cyprus.

The five years from 1265 to 1270 witnessed serious losses by the crusader states at the hands of the Mamluk sultan Baibars. In the West, however, attention was focused on internal matters, especially the struggle between the Hohenstaufens and Charles of Anjou. In the critical period of Mamluk expansion, therefore, the crusader states lacked the new infusions of western manpower and money upon which they depended. The internal conflict in the crusader states was partly, or perhaps even mostly, due to the inability of the various factions to find security in a deteriorating situation.

In the mid-1260s another dispute arose over the regency for Hugh II of Cyprus between Hugh of Brienne and Hugh of Antioch-Lusignan. The Frankish barons favored Antioch-Lusignan, one of the most powerful men in Cyprus. They were already looking to Cyprus as the most likely source of their future security.

This was the situation when, in 1265, Baibars launched an offensive against crusader territories of the interior. One by one castles and towns fell, including Caesarea, Haifa, Toron, Arsuf, and, in July 1266, the great Templar fortress of Safad, the key to control of the lands around Acre. In that same year, a second Egyptian army devastated Cilician Armenia. In 1268, Baibars again moved north from Egypt, seizing Jaffa and Beaufort castle. He bypassed Tyre, which was well fortified, and on 14th May besieged Antioch. The city fell on 18th May and was put to the sack.

Antioch, which had been in Christian hands since 1098, was one of the major centers of Christendom and its loss was a disaster for Christianity, removing a key base of support for the Armenians, and an ally of Baibars’ Muslim enemies in the north. The loss alerted the West to the danger that confronted the crusader states. In France, King Louis IX had already taken the cross once more. Lord Edward of England, the future King Edward I, prepared to join him.


So long as the costs of the Crusades were born by the crusaders and their families, there were few who objected to the repeated efforts to free and preserve the Holy Land. But when kings began to lead, the expense of crusading soon was being imposed on everyone, including the clergy and the religious orders, in the form of crusader taxes. Grumbling began at once. The grumbling grew increasingly louder when bloody “crusades” began against “heretics” in Europe: thousands of Cathars, Waldensians, Beghards, and Beguines were condemned by the Church and killed in battle or hunted down and massacred. In the midst of all this, a medieval version of an antiwar movement eventually prevailed; after two centuries of support, the kingdoms in the Holy Land were abandoned.

In February 1289 Saif al-Din Qalawun (or Kalavun), the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, marched a huge army north and laid siege to Tripoli, one of the five remaining crusader ports in the Holy Land. When warned by the Templars that the Egyptians were coming, at first no one in Tripoli believed it. And, confident of the immense strength of their fortifications, they made no special preparations until the enemy was literally at the gates. Much to their surprise, not only was the Muslim army much larger than anyone in Tripoli had thought possible; this Muslim force brought immense siege engines able to smash the citís walls. As the bombardment ensued, members of the Venetian merchant community within Tripoli decided that the city could not be held and sailed away with their most precious possessions. This alarmed the Genoese merchants, and so they, too, scrambled aboard their ships and left. This threw the city into disorder just as the Muslims launched a general assault on the breaches in the walls. As hordes of Egyptian troopers swarmed into the city, some Christians were able to flee to the last boats in the harbor. As for the rest, the men were slaughtered, and the women and children were marched away to the slave markets. Then “Qalawun had the city razed to the ground, lest the Franks, with their command of the sea, might try to recapture it.” He also founded new Tripoli a few miles inland, where it could not be reached by sea.

That left Acre, Tyre, Beirut, and Haifa.

On his deathbed, Qalawun had his son and heir, al-Ashraf, swear he would conquer Acre. So in April 1291, al-Ashraf arrived at Acre with an even larger army than his father had marched to Tripoli and with even more powerful siege machines. The defenders fought bravely and with great skill; several times they sallied out the gates and attacked the Muslim camp. But all the while their fortifications were being reduced to rubble by the huge stones hurled by the siege engines, although supplies continued to arrive by sea from Cyprus and some civilians were evacuated on the return voyages. In May, a month after the siege began, reinforcements consisting of one hundred mounted knights and two thousand infantry came from Cyprus. But they were too few.

Soon the battle was being fought in the streets, and many civilians were crowding aboard rowboats to reach the galleys out in the harbor. But most people were unable to leave, and “[s]oon the Moslem soldiers penetrated right through the city, slaying everyone, old men, women and children alike.” By May 8, all of Acre was in Muslim hands except for the castle of the Templars, which jutted out into the sea. Boats from Cyprus continued to board refugees from the castle while the Templars, joined by other surviving fighting men, held the walls. At this point al-Ashraf offered favorable terms of surrender, the Templars accepted, and a contingent of Mamluks was admitted to supervise the handover. Unfortunately, they got out of hand. As the Muslim chronicler Abu’l-Mahasin admitted, the Mamluk contingent “began to pillage and to lay hands on the women and children.” Furious, the Templars killed them all and got ready to fight on. The next day, fully aware of what had gone wrong, al-Ashraf offered the same favorable terms once again. The commander of the Templars and some companions accepted a safe-conduct to arrange the surrender, but when they reached the sultan’s tent they were seized and beheaded. Seeing that from the walls, the remaining Templars decided to fight to the death. And they did.

Less than a month later this huge Muslim army arrived at Tyre. The garrison was far too small to attempt a defense and sailed away to Cyprus without a fight. Next, the Muslims marched to Beirut. Here, too, resistance was beyond the means of the garrison, and they, too, sailed to Cyprus. Haifa also fell without opposition; the monks on Mount Carmel were slaughtered and their monasteries burned. The last Christian enclave was now the Templars’ fortress island of Ruad, two miles off the coast. The Templars held out there until 1303, leaving then only because of the suppression of their order by the king of France and the pope. After the fall of Acre, the Hospitallers gathered on Cyprus and then, in 1310, seized the island of Rhodes from the Byzantines. There they built a superior navy and played an important role in defending Western shipping in the East.

And so it ended. It should be kept in mind that the kingdoms had survived, at least along the coast, for nearly as long as the United States has been a nation.

Port of Ascalon


General plan of Tell al-Khadra, Ascalon. Having been a port and trade center since the II millennium B.C., the city became famous during the classical era for its temples (Dagon, Apollo, the Heavenly Aphrodite, Atargatis) and many gardens. 1. Cananaean Gate 2. Basilica 3. Bouleuterion 4. Ancient tell 5. Remains of the sea wall 6. “Peace Well” 7. Church of St. Mary the Green.


Ascalon fell to the Franks only in 1153. Its strong walls and outworks, still visible today, were able to repel the Frankish army long after all the other towns in the Holy Land had fallen. Even in 1153 it took two months of siege and the construction of siege towers and battering-rams, constructed as in the siege of Jerusalem from dismantled ships, before the city fell. The Frankish siege tower used at Ascalon was so impressive that it was known about as far away as Damascus, where it was called the ‘cursed tower’. According to William of Tyre, the other trials the citizens had endured were light in comparison to the ills that assailed them from this tower. They tried to set it alight, but the flames spread to the walls which burned all night and finally collapsed. Since the breach of the walls was only partial the siege nearly failed, but the citizens of Ascalon decided to surrender, and fled the city. In 1187, after a two-week siege, the city fell again to the Muslims. However, on the approach of Richard I in 1191, Saladin decided to destroy the city to prevent his regaining it. The walls and towers were filled with wood and burned down. The city burned for twelve days, but the defences were so strong that the principal fortification, the Tower of Blood or Tower of the Hospital, fell only after repeated onslaughts. During a four-month period in 1192 the Crusaders restored the city but, after an agreement with the Muslims the walls were again demolished. In 1240 the Franks built a castle over the ruins, apparently on the north-west hill, but it too was destroyed by Baybars in 1270.

Ascalon is estimated to have had about 10,000 inhabitants. Its walls formed a semicircle surrounding an area of fifty hectares. This was a large area by medieval standards. Jerusalem covered seventy-two hectares and Akko sixty, while Sidon, the next largest town, covered an area of only fourteen hectares. The walls were the continuation of the Roman/Byzantine walls which were rebuilt by the Umayyad Caliph Abd’al Malik in the seventh century and probably restored by the Fatimids in the eleventh. Frankish work consisted largely of repairs and embellishments. The high and very thick walls were built on an artificial mound 7–10 m high, stone-lined to form a glacis, and were constructed of solid sandstone masonry with lateral columns and extremely hard cement. There were also outworks 2 m thick with occasional casemates. There were four gates with indirect access and with high, solid, round and square towers. Sources mention fifty-three towers around the walls, and Benvenisti estimates a distance of about 30 m between them. To the east was the Great Gate (Porta Major) or Jerusalem Gate. It was the best defended of the gates and in the barbican before it were three or four smaller gates with indirect entrances. There was a southern gate facing Gaza (Gaza Gate), a northern gate (Jaffa Gate) and a Sea Gate (Porta Maris). According to Benvenisti the citadel was by the Gaza Gate, where two large towers, the Tower of the Maidens (Turris Puellarum) and the Tower of the Hospital, were located (Benvenisti 1970:124). This area was called the Hill of Towers and is at the highest point of the defences. As mentioned above, however, it would seem that the castle built in 1240 was in the north-west (Pringle 1984a: 144). Frankish remains inside the walls consist of only two of the town’s five churches. The position of the cathedral church of St John is unknown; it was probably located near the centre of the town.

Constantinople 1204

The preaching of Fulk of Neuilly, Peter Capuano, and others bore fruit when Counts Thibaud III of Champagne and Louis I of Blois took the cross at a tournament at Ecry-surAisne on 28 November 1199. Other lords and knights followed suit, including Baldwin IX of Flanders, Hugh of Saint Pol, Geoffrey III of Perche, and Simon of Montfort. The great lords dispatched six plenipotentiaries to secure sea transport and supplies; they included Geoffrey of Villehardouin, marshal of Champagne, the future historian and apologist of the crusade. In late winter 1201, the envoys concluded a treaty with the republic of Venice for the transport and provisioning of 33,500 men and 4,500 horses for a payment of 85,000 marks of silver on the standard of Cologne. A fleet of ships sufficient to carry all of these men and their animals, as well as fifty war galleys to be provided at Venice’s own expense, was to be ready to sail on 29 June 1202, along with provisions for nine months. The objective, Egypt, made strategic sense, as it was the center of Ayyūbid power and potentially the first step on a triumphal march to Jerusalem, but this destination was kept secret from the rank and file. Venice became a full partner in the crusade and was to receive a half-share of spoils. The city suspended commerce and turned to full-time ship refitting and construction, drafting half its able-bodied men as sailors and marines.

The Venetians upheld their contractual obligations, but the leaders of the crusades had far less control over circumstances surrounding their half of the compact. Thibaud of Champagne died on 24 May 1201. The nominal leadership of the crusade was then offered to, and accepted by, Boniface I, marquis of Montferrat in Lombardy. Boniface duly assumed the crusader’s cross at Soissons in late summer 1201 and probably added a substantial number of followers to the crusade. They were not, however, enough to swell the army’s forces to anything approaching the number that the French envoys had estimated would sail from Venice. What is more, the contracted embarkation date of 29 June 1202 arrived and passed with crusaders still straggling into Venice. Even Boniface did not leave home until early August. Many crusaders chose not to rendezvous at Venice but sailed to Outremer from other ports. The cost of passage also dissuaded many. In the end, no more than 12,000-13,000 warriors assembled at Venice. After their money was collected and after the great lords had contributed everything they had or could borrow, the army could only raise 51,000 marks, a shortfall of 40 percent. Venice needed to recoup its investment in time, lost commerce, and materials. To make matters worse, the army’s campsite on the sands of the Lido became increasingly oppressive as the hot summer wore on, and the rate of deaths and defections rose alarmingly.

The Diversion to Zara (1202)

In the midst of this crisis, a compromise was proposed by Enrico Dandolo, doge of Venice: the republic would defer payment of the 34,000-mark balance until the army enriched itself with plunder in Egypt, if the army would assist Venice in regaining control over the rebellious city of Zara on the coast of Dalmatia. This proposal was consonant with contemporary mores, inasmuch as every lord or city had the right to secure the loyalty of subject territories before setting off on crusade. Yet it was dangerous, in that Zara, a Latin Christian city, had pledged its loyalty to King Imre of Hungary, himself a sworn crusader, which meant that his lands were under papal protection.

Faced with the choice of accepting the doge’s offer or allowing the crusade to disintegrate, the lords agreed to go to Zara. The aged and blind doge requested permission from the Venetians to take up the crusader’s cross himself, which he received on 8 September. In response to Dandolo’s display of piety, many Venetians who had escaped being drafted for the crusade fleet now flocked to the cause. Venetian draftees and the new volunteers, as well as conscripts later enrolled from Adriatic port cities under Venetian hegemony, combined to raise the number of crusaders to probably over 44,000. This meant that 70 percent or more of the crusaders who sailed with the fleet were Venetians or citizens of cities subject to Venice.

Some of the non-Venetian crusaders from northern Europe who heard of the decision to go to Zara were troubled. These included Abbot Martin of Pairis and Bishop Conrad of Halberstadt, who were commanded by the legate Peter Capuano to stay with the army and work to reduce the level of violence at Zara. However, the Venetians, fearing Peter would forbid the attack once the fleet was under way, refused to accept him as a papal legate, and he returned to Rome, where he informed the pope of this turn of events. Innocent III forbade any attack on Zara under threat of excommunication and dispatched a letter to the army to that effect. It was a canonical yet ultimately impractical response to the crusaders’ predicament.

The fleet, consisting of 50 war galleys, about 150 horse transports, and an unknown number of other transport vessels, set sail at the beginning of October 1202, reaching Zara in two divisions on 10 and 11 November. Initially the Zarans were ready to capitulate, but they were dissuaded by some dissidents within the army who believed the pope’s warning would forestall any attack. It was bad advice. Despite hearing the pope’s words forbidding any violence to the Zarans, most soldiers joined the Venetians in bombarding the city and undermining its walls. On 24 November the Zarans capitulated, and their city was sacked.

The Venetian and Frankish crusaders settled down in winter quarters in the captured city. During the winter, a number of dissident crusaders left the army, some for home and others to the Holy Land. Those who remained behind were eager to have the ban of excommunication lifted from their shoulders. They prevailed upon the clergy traveling with the army to absolve them and sent a legation to Rome to beg papal forgiveness.

Despite his anger, Innocent accepted the Frankish crusaders’ profession of contrition and plea that they had acted out of necessity. In February 1203 he provisionally lifted the ban, provided that the crusade leaders bound themselves and their heirs to make full restitution to the king of Hungary. He also ordered them to swear formally never again to attack Christians, save in the most exceptional circumstances, and then only with the approval of the pope or his legate. The Venetians, who admitted no wrongdoing, did not at first seek papal absolution and remained excommunicated. Although Christians normally had to shun excommunicated persons, this extraordinary situation called for extraordinary measures, and Innocent allowed the army to continue to sail with the Venetians.

The Treaty of Zara (1203) and the Diversion to Constantinople

In Zara the crusaders’ provisions were dwindling, and their funds were exhausted. While their legates were on their way to Rome, they received emissaries from Philip of Swabia, claimant to the throne of Germany, begging the army to help his brother-in-law, Alexios Angelos. Alexios’s father, the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, had been deposed, blinded, and incarcerated by his brother, also named Alexios, who now reigned as Alexios III. Prince Alexios had fled to the West in 1201. Although rebuffed by the pope, Alexios the Younger continued to court Western help, including meeting Boniface of Montferrat at Philip of Swabia’s court at Christmas 1201 and sending representatives from his base in Verona to the crusade leaders assembled in Venice, probably in September 1202. Young Alexios’s plight and ambitions were already well known to the Frankish leaders, and Boniface clearly supported his cause. In return for the crusaders’ help in ousting his uncle, Prince Alexios promised through Philip’s emissaries to submit the Greek Orthodox Church to obedience to Rome, to subvent the crusade with 200,000 marks and provisions for a full year, to supply 10,000 mounted soldiers for the crusade, and to maintain 500 soldiers in the Holy Land for the rest of his life.

The army’s leaders were deeply divided on this proposal. After spirited debate, Boniface of Montferrat, Baldwin of Flanders, Louis of Blois, Hugh of Saint-Pol, and Dandolo decided they could not refuse this offer, even though they were in the minority. Several influential clerics, such as Conrad of Halberstadt and Abbot Peter of Lucedio, also supported the baronial leaders. One factor in their decision was the belief that Alexios III was unpopular and would be deposed when the rightful heir appeared before the city. Thus, a small but decisively powerful faction of the army’s baronage entered into a treaty with the Byzantine prince whereby he would join the army at Zara before 20 April 1203. When the legation to the pope returned, the army’s leaders conspired to suppress news of Innocent’s prohibition of the Constantinopolitan adventure (rumors of which had reached him in Rome) and the Venetians’ continued excommunication. As a result, all of the rank-and-file crusaders believed that they had received full absolution for the attack on Zara.

On 7 April the crusaders evacuated Zara. Unable to hold the city with their fleet on crusade, the Venetians reduced it to rubble. On 20 April the army set sail, with Boniface and Dandolo remaining to wait for Prince Alexios, who arrived on 25 April. A month later they joined the army at Corfu, where the plan to sail to Constantinople met its severest test. Most members of the Frankish army still did not favor the diversion and were only persuaded when the leaders gave a solemn promise that the army would remain in Constantinople no more than a month, unless it freely consented to an extension of that limit.

The First Capture of Constantinople (1203)

The fleet reached the Bosporus on 24 June. On 26 June the army encamped about a mile upstream from Constantinople and awaited the palace coup they believed was imminent. On 2 July a legation from Alexios III arrived offering the crusaders provisions and money if they promised to leave, and threatening resistance if they remained. The crusade barons countered by calling for Alexios III’s immediate abdication. Believing that the people of Constantinople were still ignorant of Prince Alexios’s presence, the crusaders sailed up to the city’s walls and displayed the young man, while calling on the Byzantines to take action. They were met with missiles and insults.

On 4 July the leaders held a war council and decided their first objective had to be control of the Golden Horn (Turk. Haliç), the natural harbor to the north of the city. The following day, the army, which now numbered about 10,000 (not counting the fleet’s sailors and marines), landed at the suburb of Pera (Galata) across the harbor from the city. Byzantine resistance was weak and ineffective. On 6 July the crusaders captured the Tower of Galata, which was located at the harbor’s entrance, enabling them to break the chain that ran across the harbor from the tower to the city. The Venetian fleet was now able to sail into the Golden Horn, the only enemy fleet ever to do so.

On 17 July the army attacked the land walls at the Blachernae Palace and was repulsed. The Venetians attacked a nearby portion of the inner harbor wall and took twenty-five or thirty towers, about one-quarter of the harbor fortifications. Fierce resistance by the Byzantines prevented any meaningful advance into the city. To protect their perimeter, the Venetians set fire to nearby houses. The wind whipped the fires into a conflagration that consumed about 125 acres of the city. Emperor Alexios sallied out with a massive force in a feigned attack against the Frankish crusaders, inducing the Venetians to abandon their hard-won towers in order to assist their comrades.

By day’s end, the crusaders had suffered numerous casualties and apparently gained nothing, but the fire and the emperor’s retreat in the face of the smaller crusade army so enraged the citizens of Constantinople that Alexios III fled the city that night. The nobles in the city now reinstalled Isaac II Angelos, who summoned his son to join him in the city. The crusaders, however, refused to allow Prince Alexios to leave camp until Isaac agreed to confirm the Treaty of Zara and to accept Alexios as co-emperor. Isaac acceded, possibly in return for the crusaders’ camping across the Golden Horn in Pera and not in the city. The coronation of Alexios IV took place on 1 August.

Alexios IV and Isaac II made an initial payment sufficient to allow the army to pay off its debt to the Venetians; after imperial funds dried up, they had to resort to confiscating church treasures, but even that was insufficient. A more difficult task was delivering on the promise to submit the Byzantine church to papal authority, and there is no evidence that the co-emperors even tried. Isaac and his son had a precarious hold on the throne and faced the grim prospect of not being able to fulfill all of Alexios’s promises to the crusaders. On their part, the army’s leaders were burdened with their vow to the soldiers to quit Byzantium within a month of their arrival. The most generous computation of the due date was one month from 18 July, when they entered the city. Alexios IV therefore proposed that the army remain in his service until March 1204 and campaign with him so that he could capture his uncle, secure control over the provinces, and gain the riches of empire. The plan made sense to the crusade leaders, who won over the soldiery to their point of view. With most of the crusaders remaining behind as a security force, Alexios and some of the crusaders marched into Thrace, where they won over some cities but failed to capture Alexios III.

Meanwhile two disasters struck in Constantinople. On or around 18 August, a riot broke out in which Greeks slaughtered a number of Latin resident aliens and looted their quarters. Many survivors fled to the crusader camp across the harbor. On 19 August a group of armed westerners (probably largely refugees from the riot) crossed the Golden Horn and attacked a mosque built by Isaac II as a token of friendship with Saladin. The Latins set the mosque on fire and set additional fires in the abandoned Latin quarters. These grew into one of history’s greatest urban conflagrations. By the time the flames were under control two days later, about 450 acres of the city had been consumed and approximately 100,000 inhabitants were homeless, although few, if any, had died in the flames. The city’s remaining Latins fled across the harbor to the crusader encampment.

The Constantinopolitans blamed Alexios IV for having brought the destructive Westerners to their city. He now tried to distance himself from the crusaders following his return from the Thracian expedition in November, although he continued to use them to support his hold on the crown. Alexios IV suspended payments to the crusaders, and on 1 December armed conflict on both land and water broke out, with deaths on both sides. After a formal warning to Alexios IV was rebuffed, hostilities now began in earnest, although there is no reason to conclude that the crusaders intended at this time to conquer the city. They wanted to either force Alexios to honor his contract or plunder wealth equal to what the emperor owed them. Alexios’s antipathy toward the crusaders appears to have been largely feigned, for he seems to have harbored hopes of reestablishing friendly relations with them.

The Second Capture of Constantinople (1204)

Following two unsuccessful Byzantine attempts to destroy the Venetian fleet with fire ships and the inglorious defeat of an imperial land force, Alexios IV’s tenuous popularity plummeted. On 25 January 1204, an urban mob declared him deposed, and two days later they forced the imperial purple on a young nobleman, Nicholas Kanabos. In desperation, Alexios IV turned to the crusaders for assistance, but he was seized and imprisoned by the imperial chamberlain, Alexios Doukas (nicknamed Mourzouphlos), the leader of the faction opposed to the westerners, who declared himself emperor. With the execution of Kanabos and the death of Isaac II, who died from natural causes shortly before or after Alexios IV’s deposition, Doukas had an uncontested hold on the throne.

Alexios V Doukas was crowned emperor on 5 February, and on 7 February he tried to negotiate a peaceful crusader withdrawal from Constantinople. The crusaders refused, neither trusting him nor wishing to abrogate their treaty with Alexios IV. The next night, Alexios V had the young emperor strangled. With no reason to hope for any accommodation with the Byzantines, the crusaders decided on a full-scale war against Alexios V and the imperial city. The clergy traveling with the army provided justification by assuring the crusaders that their cause was righteous, and even the moral equivalent of an assault on Muslim-held Jerusalem.

In March the crusade barons and the Venetians entered into a new treaty that arranged a division of the empire to follow the capture of the city. On 9 April all their forces concentrated an assault on the same area of harbor walls that the Venetians had held for a while in July 1203. They were repulsed with substantial losses but made another amphibious assault on 12 April. Thanks to gallantry, foolhardiness, and luck (largely by forcing an entry through a poorly defended postern gate along the harbor strand), the crusaders established a precarious forward position within the city. With the situation still in doubt, the crusaders set a defensive fire during the night. This-the third conflagration in nine months-brought the overall destruction by fire to about one-sixth of the total area of the city. During the night, Alexios V fled the city, and on the morning of 13 April the crusaders unexpectedly found themselves in uncontested possession of Constantinople. They then subjected the city to three days of pillage.

During the second week of May, the crusaders elected Count Baldwin IX of Flanders as the new emperor. His coronation on 16 May inaugurated the Latin Empire of Constantinople, which lasted to 1261. The crusading clergy had convinced the rank and file that their attack on Christian Constantinople, a city supposedly bathed in sin, schism, and heresy, was consonant with their crusade vow. Cardinal Peter Capuano even confirmed that their capture and defense of the city fulfilled that vow. He and Cardinal Soffredo released the Venetians from their ban of excommunication incurred at Zara, even though they still admitted no wrongdoing, and Peter dispensed from their crusade obligation all crusaders who stayed on in the Latin Empire for an additional year. Despite the consternation of Pope Innocent III, there was great hope in the West that the conquest of Constantinople would unify Christendom under Roman obedience and lay the foundation for the reconquest of Jerusalem. The reality was the opposite. The Latin Empire, teetering continually on the brink of disaster, soaked up crusade energy that could otherwise have been directed to the Holy Land. As for Christian unity, arguably the events of 1204 closed an iron door between the Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West that has not been reopened.


Andrea, Alfred J., “Adam of Perseigne and the Fourth Crusade,” Citeaux 36 (1985), 21-37.

—, “Cistercian Accounts of the Fourth Crusade: Were They Anti-Venetian?” Analecta Cisterciensia 41 (1985), 3-41. Andrea, Alfred J., and John C. Moore, “A Question of Character: Two Views on Innocent III and the Fourth Crusade,” in Innocenzo III: Urbs et Orbis: Atti del Congresso Internazionale Roma, 9-15 settembre 1998, ed. Andrea Sommerlechner, 2 vols. (Roma: Presso La Societa alla Biblioteca Vallicelliana, 2003), 1: 525-585. Angold, Michael, “The Road to 1204: The Byzantine Background to the Fourth Crusade,” Journal of Medieval History 25 (1999), 257-278.

—, The Fourth Crusade: Event and Context (London: Longman, 2003). Brand, Charles M., Byzantium Confronts the West, 1180-1204(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968). Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade, ed. and trans. Alfred J. Andrea (Leiden: Brill, 2000). Longnon, Jean, Les Compagnons de Villehardouin: Recherches sur les croisés de la quatrieme croisade (Geneve: Droz, 1978). Madden, Thomas F., “Vows and Contracts in the Fourth Crusade: The Treaty of Zara and the Attack on Constantinople in 1204,” International History Review 15(1993), 441-468.

—, “Outside and Inside the Fourth Crusade,” International History Review 17 (1995), 726-743.

—, Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). Meschini, Marco, 1204: L’incompiuta. La Quarta crociate e le conquiste de Costantinopoli (Milano: Ancora, 2004). Phillips, Jonathan, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (New York: Viking, 2004).

Pryor, John H., “The Venetian Fleet for the Fourth Crusade and the Diversion of the Crusade to Constantinople,” The Experience of Crusading, vol. 1: Western Approaches, ed. Marcus Bull and Norman Housley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 103-123.

Queller, Donald E., Thomas K. Compton, and Donald A. Campbell, “The Fourth Crusade: The Neglected Majority,” Speculum 49 (1974), 441-465.

Queller, Donald E., and Gerald W. Day, “Some Arguments in Defense of the Venetians on the Fourth Crusade,” American Historical Review 81 (1976), 717-737.

Queller, Donald E., and Thomas F. Madden, “Some Further Arguments in Defense of the Venetians on the Fourth Crusade,” Byzantion 62 (1992), 433-473.

—, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).



Godfrey of Bouillon leads the siege of a city from a 14th-century French manuscript. The crusaders are deploying a wheeled tower that could be rolled right up to the defensive walls-a similar structure was used during the siege of Nicaea.


The crusader knights clash with Muslim troops during the First Crusade’s second siege of Antioch from a French manuscript of ca. 1200. The regional struggle for religious dominance had affected the fortunes of Antioch for centuries. As far back as 638 the Syrian city which was where the new faith of Christianity was given its name was captured from the Byzantines by the Arabs. In 969 the Byzantines recaptured the city by treachery after a long blockade. In 1097 the Byzantine general on the crusade urged a similar blockade but the crusaders preferred to invest the city. However; they were unable to assault its strong fortifications and in the end it was betrayed to them by a discontented officer commanding three of its towers.


A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying one of the instances of the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade.

The crusaders arrived at Antioch to find that an English fleet had already seized its port, St. Symeon. The Roman walls of Antioch were strong, and half their circuit of 10 miles (I6km) lay inaccessible in the mountains. The crusaders dared not attack because of the city’s size; similarly, they could not surround it and so chose to strangle it by blockade. This strategy took time and involved constant fighting with the garrison and its supporters in outlying forts such as Harim.

By Christmas 1097 hunger within crusader ranks had forced them to send a foraging expedition led by Bohemond of Otranto into Syria. On 31st January he fought a force under Duqaq of Damascus near al-Bara: a drawn affair, Duqaq retreated but the crusaders returned without food. With the army starving and its horses dying, the Byzantine General Tatikios returned to Constantinople to seek more aid. Ridwan of Aleppo, freed from the threat of Duqaq, his brother and rival, now chose to strike. But Bohemond managed to gather a small mounted force with which he ambushed Ridwan’s army, scattering it and seizing Harim. Relieved of Turkish pressure, the army could forage again.

On 4th March 1098 more English ships put into St. Symeon, and the crusaders used the equipment and skills of the new arrivals to build a fort outside Antioch’s vital Bridge Gate. Despite savage resistance they succeeded and soon had closed off all the main gates. Spring meant more food became available and the crusaders were further encouraged by news of Baldwin of Boulogne’s seizure of Edessa.

At this time the crusaders made an alliance, against the Seljuks, with the Fatimid rulers of Egypt. Antioch’s ruler, Yaghi-Siyan, appealed for help to Kerbogah of Mosul, who was subject to the Seljuk sultan at Baghdad. Kerbogah raised a huge army and from 4th to 25th May besieged Edessa, giving ample warning to the crusaders at Antioch. There, a tower-commander offered to betray the city to Bohemond, who demanded to be made ruler of the city. The other crusade leaders refused this as a breach of the oath to the emperor Alexius, but the threat from Kerbogah was a very pressing one and in the end they agreed, but only on the condition that control of the city be ceded to Alexius if he came to claim it.

On the night of 2nd June an elite crusader force entered Antioch and the next day the city fell amid scenes of massacre. But the citadel on the walls held out. On 4th June Kerbogah laid siege to the heavily outnumbered crusaders in a city that was short of food. To make matters worse, his men could enter Antioch through the citadel and were only halted by desperate fighting. Stephen of Blois, who was absent when Antioch had fallen, fled when he saw the situation. He met Alexius at Philomelium on 20th June and told him that all was lost, whereupon the emperor returned to Constantinople.

In Antioch itself, sheer despair and pious zeal had rallied the crusaders. Fired with enthusiasm, they appointed Bohemond as commander and on 28th June marched out of the city to defeat Kerbogah, who had unwisely let his army become dispersed.

The way south to Jerusalem now lay open, but the crusaders needed to rest and may even have hoped that the Egyptian alliance would deliver Jerusalem without a fight. Taking seriously the condition of their promise to Bohemond, the leaders sent a delegation to Alexius and postponed their advance to Jerusalem until 1st November- ample time for Alexius to claim Antioch. In the meantime, Bohemond behaved as a ruler and there was tension between him and Raymond of Toulouse, the champion of the imperial alliance.

By September, news of Alexius’s “desertion” at Philomelium had hardened opinion against the Byzantines and at a council in early November the quarrel between Raymond and Bohemond paralyzed the army. Ultimately, Bohemond refused to go on to Jerusalem and when the other leaders had departed he ejected Raymond’s men from Antioch, thus breaking up the unity of the crusade.


In their desperation, besieged in Antioch by the enormous forces of Kerbogah, the basic religious motivation of the crusaders emerged to inspire them. On 10th June a poor pilgrim announced that St. Andrew had revealed to him that the Holy Lance, which had pierced the side of Christ, was buried in the ancient church of St. Peter at Antioch. The papal legate was skeptical, but the next day a respectable priest declared that Christ had confirmed to him in a vision that a token of victory would be revealed to the army.

Amid great religious fervor digging began in St Peter’s church and on 14th June a lancehead was indeed discovered. This coincided with a startling event-a meteorite fell into Kerbogah’s camp and he withdrew his forces from within the city. The clergy then fanned the fires of pious fervor with a series of celebrations. Thus incited, on 28th June the army marched out with the Holy Lance borne before them. Their victory owed much to Kerbogah’s unwise dispersal of his army, and to Bohemond’s tactical acumen. But without the inspiration of the lance and its “miracles” it seems unlikely that the starving army would have challenged Kerbogah. Little wonder that after the battle the relic enjoyed enormous prestige.

The Naval Leagues of the Smyrna Campaign (1343-1352)

No naval league materialized during the pontificate of Benedict XII, but his successor, Clement VI, oversaw the formation of two naval leagues, the first in 1343, which formed the preliminary wave of the Crusade of Smyrna, and the second in 1350. The first operation was officially proclaimed as a crusade by Clement VI in the summer of 1343, although negotiations between the Hospitallers, Cypriots and Venetians had been ongoing since 1341. In total it was decided that twenty galleys were to be fitted out for this league: six from Venice, six from the Hospitallers, four from the papacy, and four from Cyprus, a number slightly lower than the league of 1333-4 and with the absence of the French. The fleet was to gather at Negroponte on the Feast of All Saints (1 November) 1343.

Once the captains of the galleys were appointed and other logistical considerations taken care of, the fleet assembled in the Aegean in the winter of 1343-4. In the following spring naval operations were undertaken against the Turks, which initially achieved a similar level of success to those in 1333-4. In one encounter in May, the crusader galleys won a notable victory against the Turks at Longos, a harbour on Pallena (the western promontory of the Chalkidike peninsula), where they ambushed and burned a fleet of some sixty vessels and captured a close relative of a Turkish emir. In October this was followed by an even more impressive feat when the crusaders launched a surprise attack on Smyrna, where they managed to capture the harbour and harbour fortress of the city from Umur Pasha, but not the acropolis overlooking the city which remained in his hands. Thereafter, it is likely that some of the combatants on the galleys remained to garrison the fortress at Smyrna, but the league, presumably now somewhat depleted in strength, still managed to repel an assault from the Turks led by a high-ranking naval officer, Mustafa, who was captured.

These initial successes, however, proved to be short-lived, as on 17 January 1345 the crusade leaders, including the papal legate Henry of Asti, and the captains of the papal and Venetian galleys, Martino Zaccaria and Petro Zeno, were killed outside the walls of the city. The Venetians and the Hospitallers diverted reinforcements to Smyrna in the spring, but soon after the Aydin-oglus began launching new raids in the Aegean from their other ports, especially Ephesos. In the wake of this setback and the ensuing stalemate, Clement VI looked to the West for a suitable commander to lead a relief army to Smyrna and revive the fortunes of the failing crusade. The most enthusiastic and possibly only response to Clement’s call came from Humbert II, the young and wealthy Dauphin of Viennois. He took the cross and was officially named as captain-general of the Christian army in May 1345. After marching through northern Italy, where chronicles report many people taking the cross, Humbert, accompanied by an army of around one hundred knights and eight hundred footsoldiers, sailed from Venice for the Aegean, reaching Negroponte in December 1345, where he joined up with six galleys from the league; the four papal galleys and one each from the Hospitaller and Venetian contingents. When in the Aegean, Humbert made several unsuccessful attempts to recruit allies to bolster his force before he was attacked by a Genoese fleet commanded by Simone Vignoso who went on to capture the island of Chios, which Humbert had been considering as a potential base for the crusaders. After this setback, the dauphin sailed to Smyrna, arriving in July 1346. Despite Humbert’s arrival, however, after this point the unity of the league began to crumble as the Venetians sought peace with the Turks and the Hospitallers sided with the Genoese, even preventing Venetian ships from entering the port at Smyrna. This infighting, plus the outbreak of disease amongst the crusader camp, forced Humbert to withdraw to Rhodes, whence he soon after departed for western Europe. Fortunately for the crusaders, by 1347 the Hospitallers and the Venetians had managed to settle their differences and in the following spring the galleys of the league, combined with Hospitaller reinforcements, won a notable victory against the Turks of Aydin and Sarukhan off the island of Imbros. In the spring of 1348 the Latins were given another boost when Umur was killed at Smyrna, apparently shot by an arrow when assaulting the walls of the harbour fortress.

However, the progress of the crusaders was quickly put on hold by the arrival of the Black Death. The great pandemic had been contracted by the Genoese during the siege of Caffa by the Mongols of the Golden Horde in 1346, after which it was carried to Constantinople the following May and then to the western coast of Asia Minor and the European side of the Straits in autumn. By 1348 it had spread to most parts of Anatolia and the Aegean, where it reportedly killed more than in any other area. The disease also reached Italy and southern France, where it is estimated that up to half the population of Avignon died during a seven-month period. The Florentine chronicler Giovanni Villani, who is one of the most reliable informants on both western European and Aegean affairs, leaves a vivid testimony of the progress of the plague from the eastern Mediterranean:

Having grown in strength and vigour in Turkey and Greece and having spread thence over the whole Levant and Mesopotamia and Syria and Chaldea and Cyprus and Rhodes and all the islands of the Greek archipelago, the said pestilence leaped to Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica and Elba, and from there soon reached all the shores of the mainland [.] And many lands and cities were made desolate. And the plague lasted till -.

Here Villani deliberately left a blank space after the word `till’ to be filled in once the disease had been lifted from Florence – a task that was never fulfilled: Villani too fell victim to the Black Death before completing his work. Considering the virulence of this pandemic, it comes as no surprise to learn that crusading operations were severely hampered by this outbreak. To add to this, Romania was suffering a severe shortage of grain caused by the closure of the Black Sea markets. The crusaders were thus forced to seek a truce with Aydin, the negotiations for which dragged on for some years. By the time the leaders of the league met at Avignon in 1350 to discuss its future, the Turks had begun launching new raids into the Aegean, which led to the renewal of the league and not the agreement of a truce. This new league was officially confirmed in August 1350, when it was decided that a small flotilla of eight galleys was to be assembled in the Aegean; three each provided by Venice and the Hospitallers, and two more from Cyprus. However, only a few weeks later war broke out between Venice and Genoa, thus ending any hopes of a Venetian contribution to this league. Due to the Venetian-Genoese war, the lack of funds and the ravages of the Black Death, less than a year after it was re-formed, this second naval league was officially dissolved by Clement VI in the summer of 1351. A year later the pope, who had done so much to facilitate the formation of two naval leagues, died.