Byzantium under the Angeloi

The Byzantine Empire or Byzantium is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, centered around its capital of Constantinople. As the direct continuation of the Roman Empire, Byzantium survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire during Late Antiquity, and continued to function until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. During this time, many different imperial dynasties ruled over the empire; in the context of Byzantine history, the period c.1185 - c.1204 AD was under the Angeloi dynasty.

The Angeloi rose to the throne following the deposition of Andronikos I Komnenos, last male-line Komnenos to rise to the throne. The Angeloi were female-line descendants of the previous dynasty. Whilst in power, the Angeloi failed to stop the invasions of the Turks by the Sultanate of Rum, the successful uprising and resurrection of the Bulgarian Empire and lost the Dalmatian coast and much of the Balkans won by Manuel to the Kingdom of Hungary. Ruling with total incompetence, Byzantium permanently lost her financial capability and military power; her previous policies of openness with Western Europe guaranteed Western invasions, which ended the Byzantine Empire centered at Constantinople in 1204 when soldiers of the Fourth Crusade overthrew the last Angeloi Emperor, Alexios V Doukas. The Fourth Crusade is seen by historians today as the death knell of the Byzantine Empire. It is therefore no exaggeration to suggest that the Angeloi led Byzantium to her ultimate demise. Every emperor of the Angeloi dynasty was either deposed or killed, with the exception of Isaac Angelus who was restored for a brief time after his desposement.


The end of the Komnenian Restoration

Alexios II Komnenos

Alexios III Angelos

Meanwhile in Constantinople, the deposed Isaac II Angelus and his son Alexios IV Angelos were both in prison following the coup of Alexius III Angelus.cite book|last=Norwich|first=John Julius|title=A Short History of Byzantium|location=New York|publisher= Vintage Books|year=1997|pages=p. 301] However, Isaac was not destined to spend the rest of his days in jail; his young son Alexios IV escaped prison in the summer of 1203 and fled to the court of Philip of Swabia, the younger son of Frederick I Barbarossa. Philip and Alexius IV were brothers-in-law due to the former's marriage to the later's sister, Irene Angelina.

Alexios appealed to Philip to help him and his father regain the Byzantine throne. Fortunately for Alexios IV, Phillip had good connections with the new leader of the Fourth Crusade, Boniface I of Montferrat (Theobald III, Count of Champagne had died in 1201). Therefore, when Alexios offered 500 Knights, 10,000 soldiers along with food and money to help the Crusaders with their drive to Egypt, Doge Dandolo and the other leaders of the Fourth Crusade happily accepted this new challenge. Both the money and the troops were desperately needed by the Crusaders as they had neither in the quantities they required- especially to pay of the Venetian debt of 34,000 silver marks. As an added bonus, Alexios IV promised to submit the Byzantine Church to the Church of Rome.

Innocent reprimanded the leaders of the crusaders, and ordered them to proceed forthwith to the Holy Land.J. Harris, "Byzantium and the Crusades"
* cite encyclopedia|title=The Fourth Crusade and the Latin Empire of Constantinople|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica]

Alexios III Angelus, the Byzantine Emperor at the time made no preparations for the defense of the city - there were few troops and very few military vessels. Military expenditure was seen as a waste by the corrupt emperors of the time and the money used for personal interests or on favorites. Thus, when the Venetian fleet entered the waters of Constantinople on 24 June, 1203, they encountered little resistance. On 5 July, 1203, the Crusader army crossed the Bosporus into the poorly defended commercial sector of the capital, Galata. A single tower was the only challenge to be found. Typically under-manned and under-supplied, the tower offered resistance for no more than 24 hours. Following this, the Crusaders launched an unsuccessful assault on the walls of Constantinople, repelled by the Varangian Guard.cite book|last=Norwich|first=John Julius|title=A Short History of Byzantium|location=New York|publisher= Vintage Books|year=1997|pages=p. 302] However, the decisive actions of the Venetian Doge allowed him and his fellow country men to land on the beaches and before long the walls were in the hands of the Crusaders. Alexios III fled; Isaac and later his son were crowned co-emperors on August 1, 1203.

Alexios IV Angelos

Alexios IV soon began to realize that the generous offer promised to the Crusaders would not be met.cite book|last=Madden|first=Thomas|title=Crusades The Illustrated History|location=Ann Arbor|publisher= University of Michiga P|year=2005|pages=p. 110] He had managed to pay roughly half of the promised amount of 200,000 silver marks - whilst this had paid of the original 34,000 marks that the Crusaders were endebted, the Venetians had since demanded more money from the Crusade since their fleet was leased out for far longer than expected (due to the numerous diversions). Making matters worse was Alexius IV's promise that he would cover the Venetians' rent of the fleet for the crusaders.

Meanwhile the money (including the 100,000 silver marks owed by the Byzantine Emperor) was to be raised with heavy and unpopular taxes. It was not long before the people of Constantinople tired of the Crusaders presence - their demands led to the heavy taxes that were being spent on their upkeep. Furthermore, they began destroying the city, pillaging to "pay ourselves" as chronicler Robert de Clari had it.cite book|last=Madden|first=Thomas|title=Crusades The Illustrated History|location=Ann Arbor|publisher= University of Michiga P|year=2005|pages=p. 111]

On 19 August, 1203, in an act of short-sighted zeal some Crusaders went into the city and set the city's mosque on fire. The fire spread, destroying not only the mosque, but countless homes and churches. The fire was the worst to hit Constantinople since the Nika riots of 532, under the reign of Justinian I. A few days later, the Crusaders demanded their payment once again. When Alexios IV told them of the situation, war became unavoidable.

Alexios V Doukas

Both the Crusaders and the citizens of Constantinople agreed that Alexios IV had to go.cite book|last=Norwich|first=John Julius|title=A Short History of Byzantium|location=New York|publisher= Vintage Books|year=1997|pages=p. 303] On 25 January, 1204, Alexios Doukas overthrew Alexios IV Angelus - his blind Father was killed shortly after Alexios IV was strangled with a bow string.

Doukas was loosely related to the imperial family by having as his mistress Eudokia Angelina, daughter of Alexios III and Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera. He took the throne for himself as Alexios V. The crusaders and Venetians, incensed at the murder of their supposed patron, prepared to assault the Byzantine capital. They decided that 12 electors (six Venetians and six crusaders) should choose a Latin emperor.

Final assault

Alexius V Doukas then gave Byzantium the leadership that she had lacked for over 30 years. He ordered the walls to be strengthened and to be fully manned. The height of the walls was also increased such that even the Venetian ships could not emulate their previous success.cite book|last=Norwich|first=John Julius|title=A Short History of Byzantium|location=New York|publisher= Vintage Books|year=1997|pages=p. 298]

Several initial assaults failed until the Doge had the ships tied into pairs, thus doubling their momentum as the sailed against the fortifications. As the Venetians seized two towers, the Frankish Crusaders took a gate and opened it to their comrades. Alexios V tried to rally a counter-attack but when this failed, he fled to Thrace with his mistress Eudokia Angelina and her mother Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera. There Alexios V and Eudokia were married, solidifying hie relation to the Angeloi. He was later captured by the Crusaders in 1205 and flung to death.

Meanwhile the city was sacked for three days. The Franks wrecked the city, destroying more than what was necessary. The Venetians began pillaging and taking what treasures they could find - least of which were the famous Horses of Saint Mark. Enrico Dandolo sent them to Venice as part of his loot. They would be placed on the terrace of the façade of St Mark's Basilica in 1254. They would remain there until the sack of Venice by general Napoléon Bonaparte of the French First Republic in 1797. Bonaparte sent them to Paris where they remained until the Bourbon Restoration of 1815. They were then returned to Venice where they still remain.

A contemporary account describes the wanton destruction spread by the Crusaders in the fallen city:

When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his crusaders, he castigated them in no uncertain terms. But the situation was beyond his control, especially after his legate, on his own initiative, had absolved the crusaders from their vow to proceed to the Holy Land.J. Norwich, "A short history of Byzantium"
* cite encyclopedia|title=The Fourth Crusade and the Latin Empire of Constantinople|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica]

When order had been restored, the crusaders and the Venetians proceeded to implement their agreement; Baldwin of Flanders was elected emperor and the Venetian Thomas Morosini chosen patriarch. The lands parcelled out among the leaders did not include all the former Byzantine possessions. The Byzantine rule continued in Nicaea, Trebizond, and Epirus.

See also

* Byzantium under the Komnenoi
* Decline of the Byzantine Empire


* Philip Sherrard, Great Ages of Man Byzantium, Time-Life Books, 1975
* Madden, Thomas F. "Crusades the Illustrated History". 1st ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan P, 2005
* Parker, Geoffrey. Compact History of the World. 4th ed. London: Times Books, 2005
* Mango, Cyril. The Oxford History of Byzantium. 1st ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2002
* Grant, R G. Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005
* Haldon, John. Byzantium at War 600 - 1453. New York: Osprey, 2000.
* Norwich, John Julius (1997). A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books


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