The City and the Cross: the image of Constantinople and the Latin empire in thirteenth-century papal crusading rhetoric

Constantinople - Map by Cristoforo Buondelmonti, a Florentine cartographer, from the volume Liber insularum archipelagiThe City and the Cross: the image of Constantinople and the Latin empire in thirteenth-century papal crusading rhetoric

By Nikolaos G. Chrissis

Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 36 No. 1 (2012)

Abstract: This paper examines the way papal rhetoric made use of the image and reputation of the city of Constantinople in order to legitimise and incite support for its crusading calls for the defence of the Latin empire after 1204. A number of relevant themes that refl ect the city’s temporal and religious importance are explored, such as its wealth, its relics, its imperial past and its patriarchal status as New Rome. The differences of emphasis and occasional omissions of such arguments provide insights as to what was expected to motivate the audience, while also revealing the papacy’s priorities.


Constantinople is arrogant in her wealth, treacherous in her practices, corrupt in her faith; just as she fears everyone on account of her wealth, she is dreaded by everyone because of her treachery and faithlessness. – Odo of Deuil, De profectione Ludovici VII in orientem

For that city [Constantinople], not only superior for its monuments of the saints, but also famed for the merit and renown of its founder, and particularly for the divine revelation by which he transformed it from a very old little town into a city glorious in the sight of all the world and a second Rome, was worthy of having the whole world come together to help it, if that were possible. – Guibert of Nogent, Dei Gesta per Francos

These contradictory statements highlight the great ambivalence that western Europeans seem to have felt towards the city of Constantinople throughout the twelfth century. It was admired as a depository of relics and the site of magnificent buildings; yet it was also regarded with contempt as the home of deceitful Greeks who impeded the defence of the Holy Land. From 1204, however, Constantinople was actually in Latin hands. Its conquest was the outcome of a diverted crusade; the preservation of this conquest became, in turn, the aim of a series of other crusading expeditions. After some initial hesitation, the papacy decided to support the Latin states that were set up in Greek lands after 1204 by employing the most potent means at its disposal, the crusade.


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