The Christian Crusades had always been a big source of pride and unity for the usually fragmented world of western Christendom. They began in 1095, with the man, the myth, the legend, Pope Urban II, ordering the knights of France to take back Jerusalem from the dirty, Islamic Saracens that now held the land, in exchange for the remission of their sins. The knights were down, mainly because they weren’t really honorable dudes, so if they could purge the Saracens, take their stuff, and have their sins be re-missed, it was gonna be a good time. This 1st crusade was quite successful, reaching Jerusalem, and conquering it in the name of Catholicism. Following the 2nd crusade, where the Crusaders basically threw some rocks at the walls of Damascus, wondered why it didn’t work, and then went home, Saladin, glorious leader of pyramid land, decided to merk the shite out of the Crusaders. taking Jerusalem back. This came as a shock to the Catholics, causing the Pope to die instantaneously of a heart attack. After the next Pope failed to reach the holy land in the 3rd crusade, his successor, Pope Innocent II, realized that he must launch a new crusade to reaffirm the glory of Christianity.
However, All the monarchs of Europe in 1198 were too busy fighting over trivial issues, like whether or not little William, Maria, and Louie should be sent to the prison for stealing bread. So instead they decided to use the young nights of the nobility, which came with it a big Issue. These knights lacked the chivalry, with their favorite pastime being tournaments, where knights would smash each other with huge hammers for funsies. Nonetheless, the leaders of the 4th crusade decided that they would head to Venice and use the large Venetian navy to take Egypt, and from there they would launch an attack for Jerusalem.
The Ruler of Venice was Doge Enrico Dandolo, a man with a high charisma, but apparently not high intelligence. In order to secure the Venetian public the spiritual benefits of working with the Crusade, he entered into an enormous contract with the Crusaders, deciding to close all commercial operation in Venice in order to focus on the building of a massive fleet, which, yah know, is quite a problem for a city state that requires merchants to survive. He this did long as the Crusaders would return the following year with a colossal army and 85,000 marks. A year later, the Venetians had held their promise, having created one of largest navies in the world, but, as for the Crusaders, it seems that they had really, really, and I mean really overestimated. About 1/5 of the expected army showed up, absolutely penniless. Doge, being absolutely triggered by the fact he jeopardized the integrity of his entire city by trusting a bunch of knights whose favorite pastime, if you remember, was killing each other for fun, convinced the crusaders to sack the neighboring city of Zara, which had recently escaped from Venetian over-lordship, in exchange for the payment. However there was a teensy weensy problem with this plan, as the city of Zara was christian, giving them the protection of the Papacy. The Pope threatened excommunication if they attacked fellow Christians, however the crusaders didn’t really care as long as they would reach Jerusalem in the end. Below one can likely see the reaction of the pope to this event.
In winter of 1202, following the recapture of Zara, the Crusaders, back on track to purge the Saracens from the holy land, received an enticing offer. Representatives of Prince Alexius Angelos, an heir to the Byzantine throne offered the Crusaders food, troops, 200,000 marks, and, most importantly, that the Eastern Orthodox would stop murmuring to itself in a corner and rejoin the rest of Christendom. The only thing he
needed was for the Crusaders to show up at Constantinople and ensure him the Byzantine throne. While that seemed like a daunting task, He said it was NBD because the people loved him and hated and resented the current Emperor so much that they would just let them in to the city. The Crusaders of course accepted, as they assumed they could just walk in and walk out without fighting anyone, and reap all the benefits with little to no downside. And thus, the Crusaders found themselves on yet another side quest.
Constantinople, a ‘new Rome’ founded by fleeing roman Emperors, was a city of great faith, being the center of the Eastern Orthodox and being filled with churches and palaces with relics on a scale far ahead of what your basic crusader might have seen in his entire lifetime. The emperor at the time, Alexius III, was, unsurprisingly, not nearly as hated as the Crusaders had thought. In the time before the Crusaders arrived, he had spread such great propaganda as, “They are rude dudes,” and, “he probably punched a dog once.” Needless the say, the general population was absolutely furious, responding to the Crusaders parading of the young prince with much hatred, forcing the Crusaders into a fight.After the Venetians peppered the walls of the great city, The Crusaders were forced to fight Emperor Alexius mercenary army, consisting of 17 divisions, dwarfing the Crusaders measly 7. The enemy charged the Crusaders and yet the Crusaders refused to retreat, holding their ground in the face of what felt as if a huge wave was about to come crashing down on them.
As the incoming wave of death approached, something miraculous happened. The entire Byzantine army sounded the call for retreat and ran off, as if this battle had been nothing but the world’s most confusing game of chicken. However, what happened next was even more confusing as the Emperor basically just said, “Lul JK,” and then ran away for no apparent reason, never to be seen again.
The next day the young prince was crowned Emperor Alexius the IV and it seemed that the Crusaders would FINALLY accomplish something of value. But of course, like everything else in this ill fated journey, that didn’t happen now, did it? As it turns out, Alexius didn’t have any money, and thought the people of Constantinople would pay the crusaders, the exact same guys who brought a person they hate into power. “Surprisingly,” the people did not exactly want to pay this tax. However the Crusaders continued to push for settlement, and in turn the Emperor, with little political experience, pushed with them so hard in fact that he pushed himself right onto a sword, or several, for that matter. Only a moth after taking the throne, the young leader was assassinated by an anti-Western noble, Mourtzouphlos. The Crusaders could of course, return home as failures, but as we learned with what happened to Zara, they didn’t really care if fellow Christians were murdered. And besides, the Greeks could now be viewed as heretics as they killed a Christian Emperor, meaning that an attack could be an seen as an extension of the Crusade. Being the Church driven savages we know and love, the Crusaders next action can only be described using the catchphrase of the Crusades, “Deus Vult,” (God Wills It).
The Crusaders proceeded to absolutely demolish Mourtzouphlos and his forces, so much so that they sent a delegation to offer their submission to the Crusade, however their hopes for peaceful takeover were in vain, as the months of waiting, many attacks, broken promises, and a sense of anger towards people they now viewed as heretics, caused the Crusaders as a whole to snap. for the next three days the Crusaders swarmed, raping, looting, and pillaging the once great city, destroying hundreds of sacred relics and paintings in the process. Eventually, the anger calmed, the Venetians were finally repaid what was owed, and the Crusaders elected Count Baldwin as the Emperor of Constantinople.
And then they left.
Having accomplished absolutely nothing but deepening the schism between the two half’s of Christianity, the 4th crusade was undoubtedly one of the biggest screw ups of Christian Europe.
In the end, I like to compare the 4th crusade to a maze. However it’s less of a traditional maze and more like one where it’s a single path straight path directly to the goal, and yet the person filling out the maze has decided to turn off into every single dead end imaginable, and proceeded to quit halfway through and then proceed to brag to their friend about how great of an accomplishment it was.
Welp, that’s all for this week. Let me know in the comments if you guys know any historical moments which were just screwups in general, or any events you would like me to cover in the future.