Chapter 4: Under Alien Rule Chapter 3 here
Constantinople suffered more than seventeen sieges from barbarians, Avars, Bulgars, Arabs and Russians between 330 and the end of the twelfth century. However it was the Christian powers of Western Europe that dealt the Empire its final blow beginning in the thirteenth century.
Beyond debated doctrines, the iconoclast controversy was a source of final exacerbation in the West. The Pope sought new allies, eventually aligning with Frankish powers and crowning Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800. Meanwhile, the Byzantine, Macedonian dynasty, which began in 867 under Basil I and culminated with Theodora in 1055, was able to recapture and consolidate power along the Mediterranean. The Venetians eventually gained control of the Dynasty’s Italian possession. Sejuk Turks were uprising on the eastern front, beginning in 1071.
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If this wasn't enough conflict, the schism between Roman and Orthodox churches became “official” in 1054. In brief, the Pope Leo IX legates placed an anathema, renumerating seven Greek heresies, on the altar of Hagia Sophia and the Patriarch of Constantinople would not recant his position. This is as far as the author goes on this subject. Primarily, he is interested in the activities of the ruling powers. The Christian churches were “intertwined” in government and he alludes to their influence.
Enter the Holy Wars or Crusades- sub-chapter.
This is a complicated series of battles or crusades to liberate Jerusalem and its Christian shrines from foreign invaders. It began in earnest with the First Crusade in 1098. There were a total of nine crusades. The first one lasted from 1095-1099. The first four are discussed in this chapter.
In the First Crusade, Emperor Alexias I from the Comnenus (also spelled Komnenos) Byzantine family of Paphlagonia, (1081–1185), reluctantly received the crusaders into Constantinople hoping to regain Asian provinces. But the crusading leaders took over recaptured regions instead. After that, the spiral downward continued.
The author nicely summarizes the crusades, as he sees them, but I'm not going to detail much of that here because crusade history is readily available elsewhere. Instead, I'll cite a few remarks that make Kinross’ storytelling thought-provoking.
Kinross looks at the conflict between East and West as a “political and social feud between two peoples at two differing stages of civilization.”
Anna Comnena (Komnene), daughter of Alexius III, wrote that the western barbarians would “sell for an obol even what they held most dear”. The Western forces insulted and plundered the Byzantine citizenry at will, eventually culminating in the sack of Constantinople (after Alexius V had fled in 1204). Nonetheless, there was a “secret envy of the bold and pious enterprises of the Franks” as the Byzantine dynasties lapsed into “weakness and disunity.” The brutal infighting among the worldly Byzantine rulers and their factions are recorded by Kinross.
In reality, the ruling class appeared, in many ways, no more civil than their Western counterparts. At one point, during the fourth crusade period, for example, the Emperor ordered the massacre of Frankish merchants and other Latin Christians. This was a desperate and cruel attempt to eliminate Western influence once and for all. The back and forth of wickedness continued throughout the crusader period with noble exceptions.
Constantinople fell to the crusaders in 1204. According to historian, Sir Steven Runciman, Constantinople contained “masterpieces of exquisite craftsmanship. The Venetians indeed knew the value of such things. Wherever they could they seized treasures and carried them off...But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder and rape, or to break open the wine cellars for their refreshment”. Villehardouin, a noted French chronicler, wrote about the massive wealth of the once great city in his book “Chronicles of the Crusades”.
Constantinople's churches were “denuded” and their precious relics made their way to all parts of the West. Under the terms of a covenant, the major portions were installed in Venetian churches and other artifacts decorated their public spaces and private estates. Venice became the real power behind the Latin “Empire of Romania” for the next half century.
Hagia Sophia underwent a major restoration under the Latin rulers. Twenty-three earthquakes or shocks had damaged it structurally and it had suffered neglect during previous centuries. Gothic buttresses were added to stabilize the Basilica and a bell tower was erected. This “occupation” was a short-lived period of two generations. By the time the city of Constantinople was restored to the Byzantine Empire in an almost bloodless coup de main in 1261, it was in a state of “solitude and ruin”. Chapter V discusses its fall.
Image 1 In an era of unity, Justinian II had commissioned this silver guilt cross as a gift for the Pope. The figure of Jesus appears in the upper and lower medallions; in the center is the Agnus Dei, the lamb cross and halo that is symbol of Christ.
Image 2 With the accession of Alexius I Comnenus in 1081, the Arab threat was temporarily quelled but Alexius (portrayed at right with the seated figure of christ) soon faced a greater threat from the Franks.
Image 3 The original manuscript for the Chronicles of the Crusades, an eyewitness account by Geoffroy de Villehardouin, a French nobleman who served in the Fourth Crusade.The illustration beneath depicts the Byzantines attempting to defend their city from the crusaders.
Image 4 In an elaborate ceremony at the HAGIA SOPHIA, that included both Latin and Orthodox rites, Baldwin of Flanders was crowned first emperor of "Romania".
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