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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Thomas Madden (ed.)

The Fourth Crusade: Event, Aftermath, and Perceptions

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.  184pp.  $99.95.  ISBN 9780754663195

Professor Thomas Madden oversees another admirable contribution to the study of the crusades, and specifically the 4th crusade, in this compilation of papers from the sixth conference of the society for the study of the crusades and the Latin east held in Istanbul in August of 2004.  With numerous papers to choose from, Professor Madden assembled a thematic cross-section of the most recent research into this perennially fascinating topic.  He arranges the book into three broad sections entitled "Event", "Aftermath", and "Perceptions" in order to reflect current trends in the historiography of this seminal event

The first section of the book is devoted to three articles discussing various aspects of the event itself.  Vincent Ryan's article, “Richard I and the Early Evolution of the Fourth Crusade”, discusses the role of Richard I and Innocent III in the shaping of what would become the 4th Crusade.  Ryan reveals some significant intersections among the various political figures, including Innocent's roundabout attempt at shaming of Richard I and Philip Augustus into ending their battlefield confrontations with each other in France and taking the cross anew to finish the job in Outremer. Other parts of this study, however, concentrate solely on Innocent's political efforts.  This shift belies the title and diffuses the focus of the article somewhat.  Also, the scholarly reader might appreciate a few more references to supporting documentation underlying the argument.  Still, this study has several insightful observations on the short period between crusades, e.g., the description of how Richard's absence continued to direct events related to the Fourth Crusade after his death is interesting and thought-provoking.

Pierre Racine's article provides a useful economic description of the Venetian Republic and its hinterlands around the time of the Fourth Crusade.  He describes the efforts of the Italian city states to increase their territories, focusing on the Venetian expansion that began in the tenth century.  Also mentioned are the commercial materials that made Venice wealthy: lumber, textiles, precious metals along with highly-prized spices and dyes.  Many of these commodities came from the Levant where trading privileges with the Byzantine Empire and Muslim lands were crucial for Venetian success.  The back country of Venice was vital as well, though, to absorb and/or hold the goods, according to Racine, and one gets a sense of the republic’s delicate balance, especially given competition from Pisa and Genoa (and others).  Supposedly, trading ties with Byzantine markets and the resulting stream of goods to Venice added up to a compelling interest against diverting the crusade to Constantinople, thus challenging any suspicions of a Venetian hidden agenda.  The connecting argument for causation—or lack of causation— is neither as clear nor as persuasive as one might want, especially given the difficult relations Racine admits existed between Constantinople and Venice. The strengths of this study lie rather in the detailed portrayal of the Venetian Republic’s commercial equilibrium in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century.

The last article in this first section is Marco Meschini's examination of the "Four Crusades" of 1204.  Meschini considers four separate military expeditions that he thematically unifies through their shared use of the crusading vow.  His unique and novel approach to reconstructing the crusade from disparate viewpoints creates a very interesting synergy among the various motivations of crusaders.  His article also bolsters the case for the importance of the vow itself to the definition and prosecution of a crusade.  Eventually, Meschini portrays the pope as a mediating figure among the crusaders and their myriad competing interests.  Innocent is portrayed as an earnest leader who was overcome by the events of the crusade, and who thus unwittingly contributed to its disastrous outcome. 

The second section of the book offers three articles examining the aftermath of the crusade from the perspective of the crusaders, the Greeks, and in light of changes to European coinage.  Thomas Madden's article on "The Latin Empire of Constantinople's Fractured Foundation" examines the complex political relationships among the conquerors of Constantinople, and focuses his attention on the competition between Boniface of Montferrat and Baldwin of Flanders for the position of emperor.  Professor Madden does a very good job contextualizing the political positions of the two men and in giving the conflict between them an important grounding in contemporary politics, but his greatest contribution in the article is his calling into question to oft-assumed honesty and clarity of Geoffrey de Villehardouin, the primary chronicler of the 4th Crusade.  By challenging Geoffrey's perceived lack of bias, Professor Madden succeeds in presenting a more nuanced account of the political divisions among the victorious crusaders.

David Jacoby offers a useful overview of the lives of Greeks living under the Latin emperors.  His demographic approach, though limited by a lack of trustworthy quantitative data, helps to reconstruct the population of Constantinople in the wake of the 4th Crusade.  Professor Jacoby lays out very interesting evidence for which social groups stayed in the city, and which left, but he could have done more with the materials by developing a workable model on notions of loyalty and identity.  Some treatment of whether Greeks who served Latin emperors were seen as betrayers of their ethno-linguistic group would have been interesting, especially in relation to the rule of Henry of Hainault.  Overall, however, Professor Jacoby succeeds in shedding necessary light on an important aspect of the conquest. 

Robert Leonard Jr. demonstrates with admirable clarity the destructive consequences of the 4th Crusade on the integrity of the Byzantine coinage.  As he lays out in the first sentence, "The Fourth Crusade triggered a permanent change in the gold coinage of Europe." (Leonard, 75) Mr. Leonard points out that Byzantium had been continuously minting gold coins, but after 1204 this came to an end, and within a century gold coinage was minted in Italian city-states.  In general the article provides a wonderful narrative of the decline in purity in the Byzantine coinage after 1204, but a greater emphasis on wider implications would have helped to contextualize the study.  

The final section contains articles examining the perceptions of contemporaries of the 4th Crusade.  David Perry’s article on the Translatio Symonensis delves into an interesting discussion on the nature of Venetian piety and pragmatism when faced with the opportunity to win spoils from Constantinople.  In recounting the theft (or divinely-inspired reacquisition) of the relics of St. Simon the Prophet by seven Venetian crusaders, Perry introduces important evidence, sparse though it is, about the thieves themselves and he places most of them in the strata of the mercantile elite of Venice.  He then contextualizes their theft of the relics as “an audacious act of devotion.” (Perry, 96) His reconstruction and analysis of this event, while fascinating, could have been made more compelling by a discussion of the interplay between their social backgrounds and potential motivations, perhaps by drawing connections to their perceived need to demonstrate their faith through dangerous and risky displays.  The article ends with a extremely helpful translation of the Translatio Symonensis

Serban Marin’s brief article on Venetian chronicles and their views of the 4th crusade is an admirable effort to re-engender support for their value.  He addresses the two main concerns that historians have with these chronicles, namely that they are derivative and propagandistic, by arguing that propaganda can valuable in and of itself, and that they were not always simply propaganda.  While he sometimes advances these arguments at cross-purposes, the article is still a call to mine every source as fully as possible.

Giulio Cipollone offers a fascinating study that sheds fresh light on some of the “positive” implications of the failure of the crusade, as opposed to emphasizing the detrimental consequences of the sack of Constantinople.  Through the analysis of nearly 40,000 papal registers covering Gregory VII-Bonafice VIII, Cipollone posits that the evil deeds committed by the crusaders during the unwarranted sacks of Zara and Constantinople inadvertently created a nuova cultura (new culture) of tolerance between the leadership of the Roman Church and those who had previously been treated as dangerous threats to Christendom: Greeks, Saracens, Jews, and other non-Christians. One symptom of this cambio culturale (cultural change) in the papal curia was an emerging ethos of self –criticism aimed particularly at the shortcomings of and evil deeds committed by fellow Latin Christians. Indeed, the Roman Church became increasingly self-critical during the course of the thirteenth century. For Cipollone, the language of diplomatic letters and papal decrees calls attention to an emerging pattern in which the papal curia began to define/describe their fellow co-religionists in decidedly more negative terms, finally concluding that some Latin Christians, the Venetians and Sicilians in particular, were “peggiori degli altri” (worse than the others). Pope Innocent III even condoned the Greek description of the crusaders as “da aborrire piu dei cani (to be abhorred more than dogs; Cipollone, 138). This realization on the part of the papal curia resulted in a cultural change which manifested itself in the observation that those “outsiders” were in many ways more trustworthy and friendly to the interests of the Roman Church than those who claimed to be loyal servants of the papacy. Therefore an unexpected consequence of the Fourth Crusade was the diminishing reputation of certain groups within Latin Christendom as a result of the evil deeds committed while on crusade, and the improved standing in the eyes of the papal curia of those who had previously been considered dangerous outsiders.

Cyril Aslanov’s exploration into the making of the first prose chronicles in French will delight historians, linguists, and textual specialists.  Writing about their firsthand experiences as knights participating in the Fourth Crusade, Geoffrey de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari produced chronicles that have become important sources of contemporary information, as most historians of this period are aware.  Aslanov, however, is not so much interested in what these chivalric authors say as in the import of how they say it.  Style, point-of-view, wording, and, above all, choice of language by these writers mark a significant departure from chronicles of the past in which Latin prose or rhyming French were the standards.  This novelty of approach—Aslanov argues—arises predominantly from Byzantine influence on the two French chroniclers during their time abroad.  Using in-depth textual analysis, Aslanov presents several examples of this effect such as the frequent use of certain words in clauses (e.g., “sachiez que” and “quant”) or the adoption of particular titles for figures in the chronicles.  Taken together, these stylistic tags do seem to illustrate a Byzantine manner in the works by de Clari and de Villehardouin.  Moreover, Aslanov suggests an underlying cultural link between East and West via language (Greek, Latin and French) that reveals itself, he says, in multi-language knowledge among the people of Constantinople and identifiable word play in literary works from the time, including chronicles, poetry, and early translations of the Bible into French.  His argument and use of linguistic evidence may prompt scholars to look again at the depth of connections between Eastern and Western Christendom in the Middle Ages.

William Hamblin rounds out the collection of essays with a necessary corrective look at the crusade from the perspective of the Arab chroniclers.  Hamblin offers a fascinating look at the role Constantinople played in Muslim thought, and he tries to contextualize the fall of Constantinople in 1204 into the wider current of Muslim concepts of the Apocalypse.  He devotes a large section to considering the famous Muslim historian Ibn Al-Athīr, and his treatment of the 4th crusade, but Hamblin could have done more to discuss Al-Athīr himself as a way to humanize him as an author.  The article contextualizes the conquest of Constantinople from the perspective of those who would eventually come to conquer it.

Overall this collection of essays adds measurably to our understanding of the 4th crusade, and it does so in a variety of fields and from a variety of perspectives.  Professor Madden is to be commended for assembling a diverse group of scholars who present a cross-section of interests.  Even readers whose interests do not lay directly in crusader studies will find this book valuable and enlightening.

Paul Dingman

University of Rochester


Craig Nakashian

Southeast Missouri State University


Peter Sposato

University of Rochester


Page Added: April 2010