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The Byzantine Empire


The Byzantine Empire considered itself the only true inheritor both of the Roman Empire and of the Christian religion. This fact made the Empire something somewhere between an ally and an enemy to the West. Whether the two were cooperating or fighting, though, events in Byzantium were of great importance to Outremer (especially to Antioch) and to the Crusading movement.

Constantinople was the capital and the greatest city in Christendom in terms of wealth, population, and political power. The Empire it ruled consisted of Asia Minor, the Balkans, and Greece. Over the 12th and 13th centuries, it lost most of its lands in all these areas, but its fortunes waxed and waned dramatically. By 1291, however, the "Empire" was reduced to the city of Constantinople and its hinterland, plus a few outposts.

The Greek Emperor regarded himself as the true inheritor of the Caesars and the true defender of the faith against the Muslims. The so-called Holy Roman Emperor was nothing but an upstart--at best, he might be considered the western Augustus, recalling the tetrarchy of Diocletian. Similarly, the Patriarch of Constantinople regarded himself as the true head of the Church. The Bishop of Rome (the pope) was the bishop of a great and honorable city, on a par with the Patriarch of Jerusalem or Antioch or Alexandria, but definitely a step below Constantinople and in any case tainted with unorthodoxy.

The Greeks themselves (I shall use the Westerners' term for all those who lived within the Byzantine Empire) generally regarded the Latins with contempt: they were dirty, smelly, violent, treacherous, superstitious, superb warriors but untrustworthy allies. They were greedy and grasping, and were not to be trusted in business matters. For their part, the Westerners had much the same opinion of the Greeks, except they had no respect for the Greek soldier, either.

Byzantine history during our two centuries falls into three periods: the rule of the Comneni, the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and the rule of the Paleologoi. The Comneni rescued the Empire from near-destruction by the Turks and returned it to a position of strength. Around 1200, though, their leadership failed and Byzantium was torn apart by internal strife. The Fourth Crusade took advantage of this, with the result that for about fifty years, Byzantium was ruled by Latins, though there was always one or more Greek emperors in exile. Michael VIII Paleologus was the emperor in exile who finally drove the Latins back out, after the latter had managed to lose most of what the Comneni had gained. The Paleologoi emperors ruled a much-reduced empire for another two hundred years.

Structure of the Empire

The Byzantine emperor (basileus in Greek; imperator in Latin) was a much more effective monarch than any of his counterparts in the West. His theoretical powers were greater, and most of the time he was able to turn theory into practice. He had most of the expectations and responsibilities of a Western king, but he was also more influential in religious matters.

But the emperor could not rule alone. His effective power was limited, and during the crusading centuries he could intervene in a particular area for a certain length of time only, or else risk losses on another front. A hallmark of this period in the Empire was the constant need for alliances and subtle diplomacy; we will see the emperors making temporary friends with enemies on every front.

Within the Empire, government rested on four main pillars: the army, the Greek Orthodox Church, the imperial bureaucracy, and a handful of noble families. From the latter came the emperors themselves. From the great nobles, too, came much of the top level of imperial government--military commanders, provincial governors, and so on. From their estates came men for the army and money for governing, and from them, too, came plots and rivals. Every emperor had to court the great nobles while at the same time being careful not to let any of them grow too powerful.

As with any government, the army was of vital importance, but in the Empire it held a particular political significance. In the Western monarchies, armies existed only for the duration of a war and so did not become a political force. The Empire, however, had a standing army of professional soldiers. An emperor needed victory in the field to enhance his prestige and fend off rivals, so he needed the loyalty of the army and especially of its officer corps. Moreover, the most prestigious posting was at Constantinople itself, or nearby, making it tempting for the army to meddle in imperial politics. If the army's loyalty should go to a rival, an emperor was doomed.

The daily business of government, in matters great and small, was in the hands of a bureaucracy that was far greater than anything the Western monarchs could imagine. The layers of government--imperial, provincial and municipal--had been inherited from the old Roman Empire and never ceased to function. Local authority was at the municipal level; cities in the Empire were commercial and religious focal points as they were in the West, but they were also centers of administration, justice and tax collection. The next layer up was the province (theme, in Greek), ruled by governors, appointed by the emperor from among the great families. Their prime duties were the collection of taxes and the appointing of local officials. They were supplemented by military governors who commanded mostly native troops and who were to keep public order.

The Greek Orthodox Church was the fourth base on which the Byzantine Empire rested. As in the West, it was an enormous landowner and possessed vast wealth which it protected jealously but which emperors did tap when they could. In general, the Greek Orthodox Church was much more under the control of the state than the Roman Catholic Church was. The emperor could speak with authority on religious matters, and he had the privilege of nominating the Patriarch. At the same time, bishops in the major towns could become popular leaders in ways that western bishops rarely did. A bishop could pose as a champion of the poor, or a defender against oppression, and so stir the populace as to effect rebellion. The most dramatic case of this came in the 13th century, when for a time the Byzantine Emperor agreed to submit to the Catholic Church and allowed a Latin Patriarch at Constantinople.

The Byzantine Empire was polyglot, consisting of numerous peoples and cultures. At the imperial level it was Greek, which was the language of learning, commerce, religion, politics and the military. Greek philosophy ruled intellectual life, Greek Orthodox was the only faith officially supported by the state (others were tolerated). Its political structure and its law were Roman, and indeed its emperors called themselves Emperor of the Romans.

At the local level, national cultures prevailed. Local laws and customs were generally respected by the Byzantines, in the Roman tradition--as long as the locals behaved themselves, paid their taxes and contributed men to the army, they were allowed to keep their customs and sometimes even their own laws and governments.

One last point worth making: Constantinople was the keystone to it all. Political power and religious authority converged only here. Whoever controlled the city controlled the empire; similarly, no claimant to the throne could be successful until he had taken the city. Palace intrigues were therefore more important in the Empire, and the actions of a family member might weigh more heavily than the loyalty of entire cities.

Byzantium in the Eleventh Century

The tenth century was a glorious time in the Empire, with strong rulers and general prosperity, but the eleventh century saw chaos and loss. A convenient place to mark the turning point is the death of Emperor Basil II in 1025. After his death, rival families contended for control, with the two leading rivals being the Ducas and the Comneni. Both sides made extravagant grants of privileges and power to anyone whom they thought might be of help, decreasing the ability of the emperor to govern. The army became almost independent, creating further disruptions.

Political disorder invites predators, and the Empire by mid-century found formidable enemies rising against it: the Slavs to the north, the Normans to the west, and the Turks from the east. The emperors were able to fend off the first two, but in 1071 the Turks inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Byzantines at Manzikert. The Emperor Romanus Diogenes was captured, most of Asia Minor was lost, and the Empire fell into ten years of civil war.

Everyone invaded. The Empire lost its frontier along the Danube River to the Slavs, and it lost Italy to the Normans. Syria was gone, and many Greek islands soon followed. By the time Alexius Comnenus emerged as undisputed emperor in 1081, he had little more than Constantinople itself. He spent the rest of his reign trying to regain what had been lost since the days of Basil II.

This was the situation in Byzantium at the time of the First Crusade. Alexius had dealt successfully with the Petchnegs and the Normans, and now wanted to make some progress against the Turks. He had Vikings as his personal bodyguard (the famous Varangian Guard), and he had had more experience than he cared for with the Normans (who had repeatedly invaded his lands). So he knew the value of the Latin knights. But he wanted them firmly in his service, to help him recover Antioch and Nicaea and Iconium and the other lands so recently lost to the Turks.

Alexius Comnenus

Alexius I ruled from 1081 until his death in 1118. More than any other individual, he was responsible for the shape and character of the Byzantine Empire that the Crusaders encountered. Byzantium was not exactly in tatters, but it was badly shaken and tottering when he ascended the throne. At his death, it was by no means as strong as it had once been, even a hundred years previously, but it was again on solid ground and a dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean. In the process of recovery, Alexius either initiated or continued changes in government that became permanent attributes of the Empire.

Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180)

Manuel was concerned early in his reign with Sicily. In 1143 he considered an arrangement whereby King Roger II was to marry his son to Manuel's daughter, but that came to nothing. During the Second Crusade, Roger attacked Corfu, which is one reason why the Greeks were unable to provide substantial help to the Crusaders. In fact, Manuel had to enlist the help of Venice in his fight against Sicily, whereby Venice gained further trading privileges in the Empire.

Manuel was able to drive Roger back in 1148, but only at great cost. Part of the loot the Normans took away with them was a group of silk weavers, bringing that skill to the West for the first time. Manuel spent the next few years trying to assemble a counter-invasion of Italy. He and his long-time ally King Conrad of Germany were planning an expedition for 1152, but Conrad died that February and the plan fell through.

Conrad was succeeded by Frederick Barbarossa, who was much less friendly toward Byzantium. He played along from time to time, however, so Manuel continued to hatch plots against Sicily. In 1155, the Greeks actually invaded Apulia, but they did not get very far, and were defeated at Brindisi. They continued to operate in southern Italy for a few years, but Manuel came to terms with King William of Sicily in 1158 and withdrew the Byzantine troops from Italy.

After this, Manuel did not try open invasion against his old enemies, but he continued to use diplomacy. His main effort was to ally with the papacy, for the popes often regarded either Sicily or the German Emperor, or both, as their principal enemy. One item he offered was the prospect of a union of the Churches, a diplomatic prize that would get offered almost any time the Byzantine emperor sought an alliance with the papacy.

Manuel also sought allies among the Italian city-states, but this ground was even more treacherous than southern Italy. Venice, Pisa and Genoa were all rivals, but all had a significant trading presence in the Empire. To ally with one would be to make enemies of the others. Moreover, alliance with any of these meant trade concessions, and the Greeks hated the Italian merchants who occupied whole sections of their towns, including Constantinople itself. So, every move Manuel made in this direction aroused the anger of his own people.

Manuel was close to Venice in the first part of his reign, but they had a falling out in the 1160s. There had been quarrels and skirmishes in Dalmatia (1166), arguments over the extent of privileges, and even street fighting in Constantinople between Venice and Genoa. In 1169, Manuel made a treaty with Genoa, and in 1170 he made one with Pisa.

Then, on March 12, 1171, Manuel ordered the arrest of all Venetians everywhere within the Empire. All their goods were confiscated. The Doge of Venice sent a fleet to attack cities in Dalmatia and some desultory fighting resulted, but despite the dramatic gesture, relations between Venice and the Empire were gradually restored. By this time, Venice understood that Constantinople was a key to its wealth and to its ability to compete against Genoa and Pisa; she could not afford a pitched war. Conversely, a war with Venice would be more expensive than the Empire could manage. Consequently, both sides gradually backed down over the next decade and the situation in 1180 was much the same it had been in 1170. One legacy persisted, however: bitterness. The Greeks still hated the Venetians, restored to their former arrogance. And Venice was bitter over yet another example of Greek duplicity and betrayal, this one having struck at the very heart of the city's existence. They were never again more than uneasy allies.

Manuel was able to stabilize his northern frontier by a marriage alliance with Hungary. Hungary and Byzantium had long been enemies, clashing over the Serbian border territories. In 1164, Manuel agreed to recognize Stephen III as King of Hungary, renouncing ancient Byzantine claims, in exchange for which Stephen's son Bela would be married to Manuel's daughter Maria. Bela would rule Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Sirmium while Manuel lived, and would succeed as emperor.

The arrangement was thrown over in 1169, though, with the birth of a son to Manuel. Bela and Maria were betrothed but not yet married, so that relationship was dissolved. Bela kept his lands but would no longer succeed to the Empire. The Hungarian was eventually married to Agnes of Châtillon, daughter of the infamous Reynauld and Constance of Antioch, and with Greek help succeeded to the Hungarian throne in 1173.

Manuel was initially successful in the east, but then suffered a dramatic reverse. He moved into Cilicia in 1158, reasserting Byzantine authority there, and the following year inflicted a defeat on Reynald of Antioch. He was so far successful in Syria that we was able to restore a Greek patriarch at Antioch in 1165. He remained on good terms throughout his reign with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem.

But when Manuel tried to move against the Turks in Anatolia, disaster struck. He himself led a large Byzantine army in 1176 against the Seljuks and Kilij Arslan II. His entire army was trapped in the pass of Myriokephalon and was prevented from complete destruction only because the sultan offered terms. He was forced to accept the Turks as allies and to forswear aggression against them, as well as to pay a huge sum of money. Myriokephalon marked the end of Manuel's military activities and struck a severe blow to Byzantine prestige.

Alexius II Comenus (1180-1183)

Manuel was succeeded by Alexius II, who was only eleven years old at the time. The regent was his mother, Maria of Antioch. Within two years, anti-Latin sentiment erupted in full force. In January 1182 there were riots, and by May of that year, Andronicus Comnenus was in the city.

Andronicus I Comnenus (1183-1185)

Andronicus was Manuel's cousin and was a wild character. He had been the governor of Cilicia in 1166 when he visited Antioch. There he was enchanted by Prince Bohemond's daughter, Philippa. His romancing was so spectacular, and Philippa was so entranced, that Bohemond wrote an angry letter to Manuel and the Emperor, embarassed, quickly recalled his cousin. Rather than return to court to be reprimanded, Andronicus instead abandoned his lover and, taking with him much of the revenue of Cilicia, went south to Jerusalem. Poor Philippa, still in love with Andronicus, was married to the elderly Constable Humphrey of Toron.

King Amalric liked Andronicus, who was a charmer, and gave to him the fief of Beirut. From there, Andronicus visited Acre, which was under the control of Queen Theodora. The two fell in love. This was unfortunate, for they were cousins and too closely related to marry. This did not, however, prevent them from carrying on an affair. Again Manuel learned of it, and again he angrily demanded that Andronicus return to Constantinople. King Amalric thought it wise not to annoy the Emperor in this matter, and likewise ordered Andronicus to go.

Andronicus made his preparations. Theodora came to Acre to bid him goodbye. In the night, the two of them fled alone on horseback across the frontier, to Damascus. Nur ed-Din received them with favor, and the two lovers spent the next few years wandering Muslim territories. Andronicus was excommunicated by the Patriarch, but he was beyond the reach of the Church. In time, an emir gave Andonricus a castle and he and Theodora settled down.

There they remained until 1181, when they heard of the troubles in Constantinople. He arrived in the city at the end of 1181 and was likely behind the riots in January. He achieved public rank in May, and was crowned co-emperor with Alexius II in September 1183. He soon moved against the imperial family, executing first the emperor's mother, Maria, and then young Alexius himself in November. Andronicus then married the young imperial widow, the French girl Agnes, called Anna by the Greeks. He was sixty-two, she was twelve.

Andronicus was a natural autocrat. He introduced a number of reforms, not so much in the name of better government as it was to increase his own power. The reforms nevertheless outlived Andronicus, so the impetuous maverick actually left behind some benefits. His actions against entrenched privilege naturally created many centers of opposition. Plots were hatched, which he put down with brutality. He made the always-fatal mistake of alienating the army.

Without the support of the army, Andronicus soon suffered loss of territory. King Stephen of Hungary recovered Dalmatia. The Sicilian Normans re-captured Corfu. Another family member, Isaac Comnenus, declared himself the independent ruler of Cyprus. Against all these enemies, Andronicus desperately sought to find allies, but could find them only by buying them. He made extravagant grants to Venice. He made a treaty of peace with Saladin, giving the sultan a free hand against the Franks. He built a Latin church in Constantinople, hoping to win the favor of the papacy.

Much of this activity was directed against Frederick Barbarossa. With the marriage in 1184 of Henry Hohenstaufen to the Norman princess Constance of Sicily, he knew that the whole weight of the Holy Roman Empire was now joined to the old Norman program of the conquest of Byzantium. And indeed, so it happened. A Sicilian army under William II of Sicily landed in 1185 on Epirus, then moved to the mainland and marched on Thessalonica. Andronicus was in a panic, seeing plots everywhere and ordering wholesale arrests. Thessalonic fell; riots broke out in Constantinople.

Isaac II Angelus (1185-1195)

Another member of the Comneni family, Isaac Angelus, had been languishing in prison. He was an elderly man, but he somehow escaped and went to the Hagia Sophia, where he appealed to the citizens for support. Andronicus fled the city, and Isaac Comnenus was proclaimed the new emperor. Andronicus was captured trying to escape to Asia. He was brought back to the city, paraded around, then executed. Theodora survived.

Isaac was able to drive the Normans out of Thessalonica and tried to move quickly to establish stability. He had the support of the Greeks, so internal plots died away, but he was threatened in the Balkans. In 1185, Isaac married Margaret, a Hungarian princess. He was unable, though, to prevent Bulgaria from breaking away. In 1186, he recognized Asen as Tsar of Bulgaria. In the same year, Stephen of Rascia made himself the ruler of Serbia and openly declared his defiance of Constantinople. It was through this very unsettled territory that the armies of the Third Crusade moved, and they did not hesitate to meddle.

Isaac was in no position to help with the Third Crusade. In fact, he hindered it in that he renewed in 1189 Andronicus' treaty of non-intereference with Saladin. Isaac managed to alienate Frederick Barbarossa completely. The German emperor occupied Philippopolis and Adrianople, and had ordered his son Henry to bring a fleet into the Bosporus. Most of the Greeks were convinced Frederick would march on Constantinople and loot it, even as the Normans had done a few years previously to Thessalonica. But Isaac gave in to Frederick on all counts, giving the Germans a free ride to Asia, and managed to save the city from attack. Nevertheless, the incident revealed clearly to the West how vulnerable Byzantium was. As soon as he became emperor, Henry VI demanded that Byzantium yield to him all the Greek lands that had been conquered by the Normans. Isaac ignored him, but this was the pretext on which Henry VI launched his crusade.

With the Third Crusade passed through, Isaac tried to recover his lands in the Balkans. He defeated the Serbs in the autumn of 1190, giving Stephen an imperial title even though the Serb was effectively still independent. In 1195, Isaac was on the verge of invading Hungary, but he fell victim to a palace plot. In April, his brother Alexius III had Isaac blinded and imprisoned, and ascended the throne himself.

Alexius III Angelus (1195-1203)

Alexius III Angelus had to deal almost immediately with the German threat. Henry VI was demanding that Byzantium yield the territories conquered by the Normans, by virtue of Henry's claims through his Norman wife. Moreover, Henry's brother Philip of Swabia was married to Irene, the daughter of the now-deposed Isaac II, giving Henry a second claim and reason to invade. Henry's grand plan was to invade and conquer the Byzantine Empire, then use that as a launching ground for a crusade to the Holy Land. He was claiming that as the heir to the Roman Empire at Rome, his imperial title was superior to the Greek title. The kings of Cyprus and Cilicia were already recognizing his suzerainty.

Henry was able to set his crusade in motion, but he himself died in 1197. Some German armies did march east, but they went to Palestine, not to Byzantium. Fortune again reprieved the Empire. But the reprieve was only temporary. Serbia was restless. Bulgaria threatened. The Turks would takeadvantage of any unrest. Germany was sunk in civil war, but Venice and the papacy still had powerful reasons to want to take advantage of Constantinople's misfortunes.

When the Fourth Crusade showed up with Alexius IV in tow, ostensibly to restore Isaac II, Alexius III put up a token resistance and then fled the city. The Crusaders installed Isaac and Alexius as co-emperors in 1203, but the Latins and Greeks soon quarreled. One of Alexius III's sons-in law, Alexius Ducas, called Murzuphlus, seized the throne in January 1204, and had Isaac and Alexius imprisoned. Both soon were dead.

Alexius V (1205)

It was this Alexius, Alexius V Ducas Murzuphlus, who ruled the city when the Crusaders took it by assault on April 13, 1204. He fled and joined his father-in-law at Mosynopolis. Alexius III had him blinded, for he was now a rival claimant to the throne. Murzuphlus was later captured by the Latins and was executed by being hurled from the column of Theodosius in Constantinople. Alexius III was captured by Boniface of Montferrat, was ransomed by Michael I of Epirus, and ended his days in a monastery in Nicaea.

The house of Comnenus was gone. The house of Angelus had collapsed in ruins. The hated Latins ruled Constantinople, but there was no shortage of Greek claimaints to the Byzantine throne. The history of Byzantium now bifurcates for about fifty years, with the Latins ruling the city and much of Greece, while the Greeks build an sort of counter-empire in northern Asia Minor. The two are intertwined, but I'll concentrate here on the Greek side of the story.

The Byzantine Empire in Exile

Two grandsons of Emperor Andronicus Comnenus survived, David and Alexius. These two founded the Empire of Trebizond, in northeastern Turkey. The empire was closely allied with Georgia andsurvived for two centuries.

An illegitimate son of the Angeli established himself as the Despot of Epirus. Epirus would prove to be a constant threat to the Latins.

The principal Greek claimant was Theodore Lascaris, a son-in-law to Alexius III. When Alexius fled Constantinople, Theodore retired quietly to Nicaea. The Greek Patriarch took refuge at Nicaea, and a line of successors proceeded to crown Theodore and his heirs as emperors. Most Greeks came to recognize the Emperor of Nicaea as the true Byzantine emperor, with the Latin emperor at Constantinople a usurper.

Ionnitsa "Kaloyan" (1197-1207) ruled Bulgaria. He tried to befriend the new Latin state, but they rebuffed him, so he allied with some of the Greek nobles in Thrace.

Wars Among Emperors

1205: Renier de Trit took Philippopolis and became duke there. Bonfiace of Montferrat took Thebes and Athens and Corinth. Geoffrey of Villehardouin (nephew of the historian) landed at Methone and began the conquest of the Morea. Marco Sanudo, nephew of the doge, captured Naxos and took many more of the Cyclades in 1207. He became Duke of the Aegean Sea, or Duke of the Archipelago. Ionnitsa captured Adrianople, though, and Thrace rebelled. Baldwin laid siege to Adrianople but was captured. Henry arrived and succeeded. The Kumans left, so Ionnitsa was forced to raise the siege. He advanced on Philippopolis. Renier de Trit was in the citadel. Ionnitsa believed the Greeks betrayed him and massacred the population. Henry was crowned emperor on August 20, 1206.

1207: Henry allies with Trebizond to attack Theodore Lascaris. The Latins win Nicomedia and other towns. Lascaris allied with Ionnitsa and forced Henry to fight on two fronts. Henry won peace, but he had to give up all Latin holdings in Asia Minor save Pegae and Cyzicus. February 1207, Henry marries Agnes, daughter of Boniface of Montferrat. Summer, Boniface is killed in a skirmish with Bulgars. Ionnitsa died at this time, of a hemorrhage of the lungs. Bulgaria dissolved in civil war between three claimants.

August 1, 1208: Henry defeated a much larger Bulgarian army at Philippopolis. Henry begins his quarrel with the Lombards over Thessalonica and other issues. The Lombards, led by the regent for Boniface's infant son, Biandrate, still believed Boniface should have been emperor. They had another candidate in mind, and they used Thessalonica as a base for their defiance. Henry was able to win a small victory in the winter, but Biandrate continued to plot against him. In the spring of 1209, Henry was able to win more victories. Thessaly submitted to him, and the Morea as well; Villehardouin became the seneschal of the Empire. Henry captured Thebes and was welcomed into Athens. After landing in Euboea and winning over the local magnates, Henry at last received Biandrate's submission as well. This ended the Lombard revolt.

Because of Henry's great successes in Greece, the Despot of Epirus, Michael, made a treaty. But he violated it in 1210. War between Constantinople and Epirus continued until 1212, ending in victory for Henry, though Michael continued to reign in Epirus.

Emperor Henry

In 1211, both Nicaea and Bulgaria again took the offensive against Byzantium. Henry achieved some victories in the north, then crossed the Bosporus in October. Fighting with a very small force (only 260 knights) against much larger armies, Henry won a series of great victories. By the end of the year he had conquered much of the Ionian coast and had forced Lascaris to sign a treaty recognizing the conquests. Nicaea kept Pergamum and lands further south, but the coast north of there and along the Sea of Marmora was now Latin.

Bulgaria again fell into civil war in 1213, and Henry was adept at meddling, supporting one of the claimants. In 1214, Michael of Epirus was murdered. He was succeeded by his brother Theodore (1214-1230), who was an ally of Theodore Lascaris. Emperor Henry died June 11, 1216, at the age of forty. The barons chose Peter of Courtenay as the new emperor, and Conon of Béthune served as bailie until Peter should arrive from Europe. He went to Rome and was crowned there by the pope. With an army of 6,000 he crossed the Adriatic and briefly besieged Durazzo, which had been captured by Theodore of Epirus. Unable to take the city quickly, he raised the siege and marched overland for Constantinople, but was captured by Theodore along with his army. He was imprisoned in Epirus and died there in 1219, having never reached his own empire.

Peter had sent his wife Yolanda ahead by sea. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth in Constantinople to a son, who would become Baldwin II. With her husband in prison, she ruled as empress until her own death in 1219. While she lived, she married one of her daughters to Geoffrey II Villehardouin, and her other daughter to Theodore Lascaris, who had been at peace with Byzantium since his defeats in 1211. After Yolanda died, Conon of Béthune again served as bailie. The new emperor chosen was Robert of Courtenay.

Robert came east in 1220 and was crowned emperor March 25, 1221. Fighting had already begun, as Theodore Lascaris broke his treaty with Byzantium soon after Yolanda's death. Lascaris died in August 1222 and was succeeded by his daughter's husband, John Ducas Vatatzes (1222-1254).

Vatatzes proved to be a formidable enemy. He renewed the war in 1224 and by 1225 had driven the Byzantined almost completely out of Asia Minor. He also launched an invasion of Gallipoli.

The Emperors Invade

During the same years, Theodore of Epirus began moving into Thrace, taking Adrianople and Vizya, and at one point advancing up to Constantinople itself, only to withdraw. By 1226, the Latin Empire of Constantinople consisted of the city itself and not much more, plus the Greek duchies of Athens, Achaea, and the Archipelago. As these were largely independent, that Constantinople survived at all was largely because its enemies were as suspicious of each other as they were eager to recapture the Byzantine capitol. John Asen, Emperor of Bulgaria; Theodore, Despot of Epirus; and John Ducas, Emperor of Nicaea, each wanted to be the one to win the great prize. Each feared to risk too much too soon and lay himself open to attack from the others, and each worried that an open assault might stir up a Crusade against them.

The new emperor, Robert, gave them the opportunity for which they were waiting. He had taken a low-born woman as a lover. In 1227, his barons broke into the imperial bedchamber and mutilated the poor woman, and captured and drowned her mother. Robert went to Rome to appeal to Pope Gregory IX, but got little sympathy and was sent home. He died on the return trip, in 1228. His younger brother and heir, Baldwin II, was eleven years old. His sister Mary tried to rule with the help of a new bailie, but the empire was clearly vulnerable.

The barons now offered the crown to John of Brienne. John had once been King of Jerusalem but had been forced out by Frederick II. He was a claimant to the throne of Armenia. He was married to Berengaria, sister of King Ferdinand III of Castile, and was the father-in-law of Emperor Frederick II himself. He was at this moment (1228) commanding the papal army in Italy in Gregory IX's crusade against Frederick.

The deal offered was that John should come to Constantinople to be crowned emperor. He would serve for life, but when Baldwin II reached majority he would be crowned co-emperor. John's daughter Mary would marry Baldwin. Their heirs would become emperors; John's own heirs would be given various imperial fiefs. John accepted the offer, but did not arrive in Constantinople until1231.

In the meantime, Theodore of Epirus had gone to war with Bulgaria. In 1230, at Klokotnitsa, John Asen completely defeated the Epirotes and captured Theodore. The Bulgarians swept across western Thrace, conquered Thessaly and much of Albania. In command of most of the Balkans and northern Greece, John Asen now began to call himself Emperor of the Bulgars and the Greeks. He was now openly trying to drive the Latins out, and made a treaty to this effect with the Nicaean emperor Vatatzes in 1235.

The two emperors met in Gallipoli and together invaded Thrace. Their combined armies marched on Constantinople and prepared to lay siege to the city. The situation was desperate, as Constantinople not only had no allies, she had virtually no army. John was unable to pay his mercenaries and most of them were gone, too. When he sallied out to meet the enemy, his army consisted of 160 knights. Even so, John of Brienne won a tremendous victory. At the same time, a Venetian fleet defeated the Nicaeans at sea, capturing 25 ships.

The two imperial allies soon began to suspect one another, and the great offensive fell apart. The situation was still precarious, however, and the young Baldwin II went to Rome to raise financial support. While he was gone, John of Brienne died in Constantinople on March 23, 1237.

Emperor Baldwin

Baldwin spent several years in the West trying to raise money and troops. He encountered nothing but difficulties and disappointments. Pope Gregory IX was a strong ally. He wrote letters. He declared that anyone who had taken the crusader vow could fulfill it by going to fight for Constantinople. He levied a tax on the clergy in Greece. He preached a crusade against John Asen of Bulgaria, granting extensive privileges to King Bela IV of Hungary to get him to make war on the Bulgars, but the Mongols were arriving and the Hungarians had to fight them instead. Baldwin himself went on to Paris, then to his own marquisate of Namur, and then to London. Both the French and the English king thought the young man friendly but not imposing. They gave him fine words and a bitof money, but not much more.

In 1238 Baldwin took what forces he had been able to raise and started back for Constantinople. He was delayed in northern Italy by Frederick II, until the pope demanded Baldwin be given safe passage. The army arrived at Venice, but there the commander died and most of the troops dispersed. Baldwin then mortgaged Namur to King Louis IX and raised 30,000 troops. With these he at last managed to return to Constantinople in 1239.

Pope Gregory IX died in 1241. Two years passed before another pope was elected, so Baldwin was without papal support. Also in 1241 John Asen died, to be succeeded by his young son Coloman I. Sensing an opportunity, Vatatzes made a truce with the Latins so he could have a free hand against the Bulgars. He won some significant victories, but here again the Mongols played a wild card. Their victories against the Seljuks in Asia Minor brought them close to the Nicaean empire, and Vatazes was forced to return to Asia Minor. The Mongols eventually withdrew for reasons of their own, but they had forever destroyed the power of the Seljuks, reducing them to Mongol tributaries.

Baldwin was still suffering from extreme poverty. During these years we find Latin knights by the hundreds fighting either for the Bulgarians or for the Seljuks -- anyone, in fact, who could pay them. Baldwin returned to the West early in 1244 and stayed there until October 1248, trying again to raise men and money, with little success. He sat with Pope Innocent IV at the Council of Lyons in June 1245. Despite being treated with great honors and hearing many moving speeches, Baldwin returned to Constantinople as broke as he had ever been. He even mortgaged his own son!

Byzantium's enemies, meantime, had not been idle. Coloman I died in 1246 and Bulgaria was unable to keep Vatatzes from conquering most of Macedonia. He also took Thessalonica through treachery. A new king had arisen in Epirus, Michael II, but for the time being he was more concerned with Vatatzes than with the Latins. In 1247 Vatatzes captured Vizya, then turned his attention to Rhodes, which was under attack from the Duke of the Archipelago.

Baldwin continued to tour about, looking for money. He visited King Louis at Damietta, and visited him again in Palestine in 1251. Innocent IV, meanwhile, seems to have given up on the Latins and rescinded many of the privileges and arrangements made by Gregory IX. Since he also entered into discussions with Vatatzes, it appears that the pope had already written the Latins off and was anticipating Greek rule of Constantinople. If nothing else, the negotiations won a few years' reprieve, for Vatatzes thought he might win Constantinople through diplomacy. For his part, the Nicaean emperor played the old game of hinting that he might accept some sort of union of the churches in exchange.

The Recovery of Constantinople

Vatazes died in 1254 and was succeeded by Theodore II Lascaris. He ruled for only four years, spending most of the time in the Balkans fighting the Bulgars, and in Macedonia fighting the Epirotes. When he died in 1258, he was succeeded by Michael VIII Paleologus. The new emperor dallied a bit with negotiations, then invaded what was left of Byzantium in 1260. He did so because a traitor had agreed to leave open a gate in the walls, but the traitor did not deliver. After pillaging some of the suburbs, Michael agreed to a one-year truce in exchange for money. Baldwin was so poor that he had to strip lead from the roofs and sell it in order to raise the cash.

Michael was still determined to take the city, but he had to make sure his flanks were secure. In 1261 he sent one army westward to attack Michael II, Despot of Epirus, and another army northeast to fight the Bulgarians. This second army, commanded by Alexius Strategopopulus, was marching right by Constantinople in the spring of 1261. Some of the local farmers told him two interesting facts. One, that most of the city's too-few defenders were away, accompanying a Venetian fleet in an attack on the island of Daphnusia in the Black Sea. The second fact was that these farmers knew of a passage underneath the walls of the city, wide enough to admit only one man at a time.

The Nicaean commander seized the opportunity. During the night, he slipped men through the passageway and they opened the gates. There was some street fighting in the darkness, but by morning the city was his. Baldwin II fled the city. When the Venetians returned, they found the city in Greek hands and the Venetian quarter in flames. Alexius had taken the families of the Venetians and placed them on the docks, so when the fleet sailed up, they were interested only in saving their families. The fleet sailed away, and the Nicaeans secured the city. A Venetian ship rescued Baldwin, who returned to Italy. He spent the rest of his life hatching various schemes to recover Constantinople, to no avail.

Micheal VIII Paleologus made his triumphal entry into the city on August 15, 1261. The Latin Empire of Constantinople existed no longer. It had done nothing to further the cause of the Crusades, nor had it led to a reunion of the Churches. One of the first things Michael did was to restore all the Greek churches, and the Greek Patriarch. The only lasting legacy of the Fourth Crusade was the creation of Latin duchies in Greece, and a vast expansion of Venetian power in the eastern Mediterranean. The recapture of the city by the Greeks, in turn, brought extensive privileges to Genoa, which now began its expansion into the Black Sea region.

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