Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fourth Crusade book view

Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice by Thomas F. Madden (2003)

After a post on the First Crusade, I have to address one of the most infamous ones: the Fourth Crusade. (An aside: the numbering of the Crusades post-dates the events themselves, and there are several crusades between the main numbered ones.) Madden wrote, with D.F. Queller, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, a book that challenged the previous scholarship by Runciman and Norwich, among other less prominent historians, that the Venetians were motivated by greed to take out their maritime rivals, the Byzantines.

This book focuses on the Venetians, beginning in the 9th century with the establishment and changes in the political structure of early medieval Venice and the rise of the Dandolo family to the positions of Patriarch of Grado (also named Enrico) and doge. Related to the Fourth Crusade, Madden makes a strong case for an “accidental” conquest of Constantinople through the following points:

  1. The Venetians believed, above all, in stability. They strictly limited the power of both the doge and of the people (after the assassination of Doge Vitale II Michiel after he failed to follow the popular arregno and attack Constantinople in response to the imprisonment of all Venetians in Byzantine land and seizure of their property by Emperor Manuel Comnenus). They would have been unlikely to destabilize the region.
  2. Enrico Dandolo himself had been involved in diplomatic efforts with Byzantium since 1171, and had secured a chrysobull with Emperor Alexius III in 1198 granting Venetians exemption from taxing and tolls in Byzantine ports and Venetian jurisdiction over most matters involving Venetians in Constantinople.
  3. The original deal between the Venetians and the Frankish leaders (to secure from Venice transport to the Holy Land) failed to account for the fact that the number of crusaders would not be as high as the Franks thought, and it didn’t guarantee that those crusaders would have to leave from the Venetian port. The siege and eventual destruction of Zara was the Frank “repayment” of the debt owed to Venice.
  4. Venice more-or-less shut down their regular trade for a year to build and prepare transport vessels for the crusaders, indicating a high level of popular piety for the crusade mission.
  5. The transport galleys were designed and built for the planned (but secret) invasion of Egypt at Alexandria, not assault on Constantinople.
  6. The Venetian crusaders sent an envoy to Constantinople sometime in March 1203, following the decision of the Frankish leaders to try to seat the young Prince Alexius (son of deposed emperor Isaac II), brother-in-law of the leader of the Crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, as Emperor. The envoys were captured unfortunately by Genoese corsairs.
  7. Enrico Dandolo took the cross, and in doing so, had to relinquish his title as Doge (to his son, in his stead).

Other issues are dealt with more fully in the Queller & Madden and Phillips books I am currently reading, and hope to review later.

1 comment:

Aurelian said...

This is a compelling and good review of an interesting book. Particularly striking are the series of summarized points, which do considerable justice to the content and importance of the book itself. As a historian on affairs of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean in the Medieval period I would not hesitate to read this book on the basis of the description here. Particularly important is the revelation that the book goes long toward debunking the over-easy and unfortunately popular myth of "The Doge and Venice set it all up" regarding the 1204 Crusade's tragic outcome. Along with other Crusade issues, these days it is particularly important to understand what the Crusades were not, as much as what they were. The observation that the Venetians were medieval in outlook and sincere in motives of important is a significant one.

- Aurelian