July 2010
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Billie Silvey
Crusades and
Constantinople
Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople by Eugene
Delacroix
I first heard the phrase “friendly fire� during the Vietnam War
of the 1960s, when bombers flying far overhead would accidentally
drop their loads before they reached their target, or when soldiers
would get so angry with their officers that they’d hurl
fragmentation grenades into their tents in a practice known as â
€œfragging.â€�

It also happened during the American Civil War of the mid-1800s,
when friends, and even members of the same family, found
themselves on opposite sides of the internecine conflict.

But one of the earliest and most striking instances of friendly fire
occurred in the
Fourth Crusade of the Middle Ages, when knights
bound for Jerusalem to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims
were stranded in the Christian city of Constantinople and sacked and
burned it, killing their fellow Christians.  Whatever their motives in
going in the first place, the Crusades, for the most part, were a waste
and failure—as many people consider war in general.

The
First Crusade, called by the Pope in 1088, at least managed to
fulfill its mission, as knights, beggars, prostitutes and thieves,
motivated by religious sentiment, attacked and captured their target,
the city of Jerusalem.

However, when the crusaders recaptured
Jerusalem, they set up a
political and religious system that was more like the feudalism of
England after the Norman Conquest than the Christian government of
nearby Constantinople.  The religion they established was more
Roman Catholic than the Greek Orthodoxy of Constantinople.  And
their lifestyle was more like the Oriental luxury of Eastern potentates
than the more austere lifestyle of Medieval Europe.

The
Second Crusade was called by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in
1147.  Bernard’s appeal, to a strange combination of religious
zeal and blood-lust, failed completely, with most of the knights dying
before they reached Jerusalem.

The
Third Crusade wasn’t even called by a pope, but by the
Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who got off to an inauspicious start
by drowning on the way to meet his fellow leaders, Richard the Lion
Heart of England and Philip Augustus of France.  On the way back,
Richard was captured and held for ransom, and most of their
followers either starved or died fighting Turks on the way.

When
Innocent III became pope in 1198, he tried to revive the idea
of a Holy War to recapture Jerusalem.  Venice had agreed to
transport the 33,500 Crusaders, but when they finally arrived in
Constantinople in 1203, the Crusaders had run out of money to pay
the Venetians and were stranded.  

Even though Constantinople was a Christian city, the Crusaders and
Venetians laid siege to it, setting a series of fires.  It wasn’t until
April 12, 1204 that the combined horde entered the city, breaching
the walls or scaling them from the sea.  They set even more fires and
raped and pillaged for three days, stealing and destroying ancient and
medieval Greek and Roman works of art and destroying the library.

Much of the gold and precious jewels of Constantinople ended up in
St. Mark's in Venice.
Gold from Constantinople
was used in St. Mark's in
Venice, as well this
Roman statue of the
tetrarchs or four emperor
system of later Rome.
The richest treasure from
Constantinople that can be found in
St. Mark's is this jewel-encrusted
gold altarpiece (right) depicting
Christ in Majesty.
Bridges
Istanbul