Reason, Rationalization & Red Herring
Tue Feb 26 23:27:14 2008
The Fourth Crusade set out to liberate the holy land but instead ended with the sacking Constantinople, the Imperial city of their supposed Byzantine allies. Can this legitimately be called a Crusade? I am reminded of the three C’s used to justify the colonialist Scramble for Africa: Commerce, Civilization and Christianity. Although in this case they may have been the three R’s: the Reason, the Rationalization and the Red Herring. It’s not much different here.
Geoffroy de Villehardouin, one of the envoys from the Frankish crusaders to the Doge of Venice, provides some insight into the finances of this crusade. The Treaty between the French barons and the Republic of Venice provides details of who supplies and pays for transportation, supplies, fodder, and their costs. It ends with the condition “that so long as our association lasts we shall have one half, and you the other half, of everything we win, either by land or sea.” So there was pretty clearly a commercial side to this crusade from the very beginning.
When the French barons proved to be unable or unwilling to pay the entire amount, Venice could have kept all the payments made so far without further obligation. But they knew this would be a bad political move for a nation dependent on its trade relations so they worked out a deal. The French crusaders attack and capture the city of Zara, turn it over to Venice and the rest of the debt is forgiven. So it’s okay for a crusading army to attack other Christians, as long as it is profitable.