Friday, April 1, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Did my jury duty from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The waiting room was surprisingly spacious and comfortable, and it's where I spent the entirety of my time; I didn't even get called for voir dire. Fortunately, due to New York's recent efforts to increase the size of the jury pool, I won't have to do jury duty again for at least another eight years.
  • Took an unintentional, but not unwelcome, nap from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
3 Recommended Links
Thoughts -- Excerpts From The Middle Ages, Part 3: The Horrible Fourth Crusade
In 1198 the great Innocent III acceded to the papacy and promoted another expedition, the lamentable fourth crusade. Its agent made a contract with the Venetians for the transport to the Holy Land of about 30,000 men and 4,500 horses. However, by embarkation day the expeditionaries had raised only about half the passage money. The Venetians, always businessmen, offered the crusaders an arrangement: if they would capture for Venice the rival commercial city of Zara in Dalmatia, which the Venetians described as a nest of pirates, they would be transported at a cheaper rate. Zara was efficiently taken, to the horror of Pope Innocent, for Zara was a Catholic city, and its Hungarian overlord was a vassal of the Apostolic See. Now that the precedent of a crusade against Christians was set, the leaders, at Venetian urging, espoused the cause of a deposed, imprisoned, blinded Byzantine emperor, Isaac Angelus. By restoring him to the throne they would right a great wrong, return the East to communion with the Roman church, and receive from their Byzantine protégé men and money for a later conquest of Egypt. The pope was persuaded to look on the project with favor, and the ships of the fourth crusade set sail for Constantinople.

The noble city was taken by storm on April 12, 1204. The three-day spree that followed is memorable in the history of looting. The French and Flemish crusaders, drunk with powerful Greek wines, destroyed more than they carried off. They did no spare monasteries, churches, libraries. In Santa Sophia they drank from the altar vessels while a prostitute sat on the patriarch's throne and sang ribald French soldiers' songs. The emperor, widely regarded as a wicked usurper, was taken to the top of a high marble column and pushed off, "because it was fitting that such a signal act of justice should be seen by everyone."

Then the real booty, the Eastern Empire, was divided. Venice somehow received all the best morsels: certain islands of the Aegean and seaports on the Greek and Asian mainlands. The Franks became dukes and princes of wide lands in Greece and in Macedonia, where one still sees the massive stumps of their castles. The papal legate accompanying the troops absolved all who had taken the cross from continuing on to the Holy Land to fulfill their vows. The fourth crusade brought no succor to Christian Palestine. On the contrary, a good many knights left the Holy Land for Constantinople, to share in the distribution of land and honors.

"There was never a greater crime against humanity than the fourth crusade," says Stephen Runciman. It destroyed the treasures of the past and broke down the most advanced culture of Europe. Far from uniting Eastern and Western Christendom, it implanted in the Greeks a hostility toward the West that has never entirely disappeared, and it weakened the Byzantine defenses against the rising power of the Ottoman Turks, to whom they eventually succumbed.

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