Culpability and Concealed Motives: An Analysis of the Parties Involved in the Diversion of the Fourth Crusade
Senior Seminar, Western Oregon University, (2007)
In the years 1203 and 1204, the Fourth Crusade was diverted from its intended destination of Egypt, first to the Christian city of Zara and then to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. At both stops, the Crusaders killed fellow Christians and looted the cities. For centuries, this episode has been considered one of history’s greatest blunders, the sacking and takeover of one of the largest Christian cities on Earth by an army supposedly dedicated to stamping out the enemies of Christianity. The tendency of recent scholarship regarding the Fourth Crusade has been either to blame or defend an individual, e.g. Boniface of Montferrat, or a faction of the Crusader forces, e.g. the Venetians, for the diversion that resulted in the sack of Constantinople. For example, Alfred Andrea and Ilona Motsiff have written an entire scholarly essay discussing the culpability of Pope Innocent III himself.
This article is in direct contrast to an earlier one by Joseph Gill, in which he utilizes primary sources in an attempt to establish Pope Innocent III’s lack of responsibility in the outcome of the Crusade. Instead, Gill places the blame on the Venetians and their Doge, Enrico Dandolo. There has since been a dearth of scholarship in defense of those same Venetians by historians such as Donald E. Queller and Gerald W. Day, and Dandolo specifically has been defended in an entire book by historian Thomas Madden. Queller and Day offer up the secular leader of the Crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, as an alternative to the Venetians in their article. Little or no scholarly work has attempted to clear Boniface of responsibility for the diversion. Indeed, relatively recent and compelling works completed by Michael Angold and Jonathan Harris explore the many negative political dealings that the Byzantine Empire had with previous Crusaders, including the brothers of Boniface, Renier and Conrad of Montferrat. Though not the purpose of their works, Angold and Harris provide evidence that Boniface had ulterior motives for wanting to go to Constantinople even before the opportunity arose, and that blame for the diversion should be placed with him.