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.

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~ by severalfourmany on February 26, 2008.

2 Responses to “Reason, Rationalization & Red Herring”

  1. Wed Feb 27 11:45:49 2008
    Not just other Christians at Zara, were they? Weren’t they Catholic rather than Orthodox? Innocent was certainly mad enough about it to excommunicate all the crusaders.

  2. Wed Feb 27 22:16:55 2008
    Not only Catholic but even “despite the fact the population had fixed crucifixes on to the walls.” (Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, p. 415) Ostrogorsky does not mention Innocent III excommunicating the crusaders and Villehardouin tells a very different story. He claims that the Pope “had them in great pity. And then he notified to the barons and pilgrims that he sent them his blessing, and absolved them as his sons, and commanded and besought them to hold the host together, inasmuch as he well knew that without that host God’s service could not be done.” (Villehardouin, The Conquest of Constantinople, p. 53) Some excommunication! Besides, he had already promised them an indulgence for the complete remission of sins for going on the Crusade. Maybe he thought that should cover it.

    The best part follows. Envoys from Philip and Alexius arrive and propose to hire the crusaders to help restore his family to the throne in Constantinople. There is an assembly and the barons debate the proposition. One group “declared that they would never give their consent, since it would mean marching against Christians. They had not left their homes to do any such thing.” (Villehardouin, p. 51) Of course they debate this while they are all comfortably settled into their newly captured city of Zara for the winter.

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