I.a - Historical Prelude
- Mar 27, 2011
Historical Prelude, Part 1: The Fourth Crusade
Our tale begins, as many a tale of the Middle Ages does, with a crusade.
Saladin during the reconquest of Jerusalem. (Wikimedia Commons)
After eighty-eight years of Crusader rule, the Holy City of Jerusalem was captured in 1187 by the armies of Salah ad-Din, the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt. The fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem sent shockwaves through Christendom, and a new Crusade, the Third, tried and failed to permanently re-secure the city. When Innocent III arose to the pontificate in 1198, he sought to renew the crusading spirit, and to organize a campaign against Egypt itself before moving onto the Holy Land. His efforts soon bore fruit, and a number of nobles at a tournament in Champagne took up the cross, pledging to return the Holy Land to Christian hands once more.
Pope Innocent III. (Wikimedia Commons)
Where previous Crusades had advanced overland through the often treacherous, Turkish-held hinterlands of Anatolia, this new, Fourth Crusade sought the aid of the maritime republics of Italy to travel by sea to the Nile Delta in preparation for the conquest of Egypt. Genoa expressed its disinterest, but Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, jumped at the chance to provide transport for the soldiers with the Republic's mighty fleet. The named price: that the crusaders would assist in the intimidation of some recalcitrant Venetian tributaries in the Adriatic on their way.
Though threatened with excommunication in the event of any attacks on fellow Christians, the city of Zara fell to the crusaders and Venetians in 1202. At about this time, the leaders of the crusade were diverted from their original course as they intrigued with Alexius, the son of exiled former Byzantine Emperor Isaac, pledging to aid him in his bid for the throne against his uncle, also named Alexius.
The Sack of Zara. (Wikimedia Commons)
Whether the massacre of Venetian merchants and citizens in Constantinople over ten years prior had anything to do with the devolution of the situation is uncertain, but soon the plan to impose the younger Alexius onto the throne had fallen apart, and Constantinople, the center of the remnant of the Roman Empire, was besieged. Though many crusaders had branched off of the path of the main force, a potent army was still arrayed against Constantinople. The Latins raided the city on and off for over a year, and it wasn't until April 1204 that weather conditions had improved enough for the invaders to press their advantage.
The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by Eugene Delacroix
The Sack of Constantinople would go down in infamy. The church of Hagia Sophia was stripped of its relics and icons, the horses were pulled down from the Hippodrome and spirited away to St. Mark's in Venice, and the victorious crusaders reveled in the material and carnal pleasures of the spoils of war. Constantinople had preserved the cumulative intellectual and material wealth of centuries of Roman civilization, and it all flowed out of the city and into the waiting hands of the crusaders. The crusader Geoffrey de Villehardouin had this to say in his Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople about the volume of wealth found in the Bucaleon Palace: "Of the treasure that was found in that palace I cannot well speak, for there was so much that it was beyond end or counting."
The treasures of the Queen of Cities weren't the only spoils won by the Latins and Venetians. In the ensuing partitio terrarum imperii Romaniae, or "partition of the lands of the Empire of Romania" (that is to say, the land of the 'Romans', the Byzantine Empire), the Empire was divided between Venetian possessions and a Catholic empire centered around Constantinople, the so-called Latin Empire. The remainder of the lands were either occupied by Greek successor states in Epirus, Nicaea, and Trebizond, or by the tiny Crusader fiefdoms subservient to the Latin Emperor.
Among these, tucked away in the mountainous peninsula of the Morea, was the Principality of Achaea.