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Introduction
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  Home >> The Crusades >> The Fourth Crusade >> Introduction

The Fourth Crusade is one of the most important of all the major crusades. It is also one of the most complex and certainly one that is easily misunderstood, or at least is often understood in much too simplistic a manner.

The general outline is this: the Third Crusade having failed in its essential objective of recovering Jerusalem, the popes almost immediately began preaching a new crusade. This turned out to take longer than anyone wanted, for a variety of reasons. By the time a new crusade was really under way, soon after the turn of the century, events were afoot in Constantinople that would cause the Fourth Crusade to take a dramatic turn away from Palestine. The Fourth Crusade did not recover Jerusalem--in fact, it never even made it to Outremer; rather, the Crusaders ended by attacking Constantinople, driving out the Byzantine Emperor, and installing one of their own in the ancient capital of Constantine.

Conquering Constantinople was hardly on the agenda when the Fourth Crusade began. How could things have gone so wrong? Was it a case of severe muddle-headedness? Or was it cynical opportunism from start to finish? Or (hush) was it a conspiracy?

The options are many, the players in the drama myriad. There is really nothing for it except to dive into the politics of Byzantium in the 1190s, as well as looking at the pontificate of Innocent III, the mess the Holy Roman Empire was in after the death of Henry VI, and the role of Venice as the actor on the center stage. If you come out the other end shaking your head and still a bit befuddled, rest assured you won't be the only one feeling that way!
 

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Rampart of black and yellow shields