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Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / The later Crusades, 1189-1311
(1969)

V: The Fourth Crusade,   pp. 152-185 PDF (13.5 MB)


Page 161

Ch. V THE FOURTH CRUSADE 161 
were following a well established practice, for the sea route had by now
almost entirely superseded the long and difficult land route of the first
crusading expeditions. The Italian maritime cities had developed a lucrative
passenger traffic in pilgrims and crusaders, along with their carrying trade
in the Mediterranean. Individual pilgrims now usually sought passage in the
great freighters, which set out each year from Pisa, Genoa, and Venice, while
bands of crusaders often contracted to hire individual ships at one or another
of these ports. In this case, however, the six envoys from the three counts
were asking Venice to furnish a fleet large enough to transport a whole army,
and the Venetians would certainly consider so serious an undertaking as a
matter of state policy, to be determined in the light of their other interests
and commitments. 
 By the end of the twelfth century Venice had already entered upon her greatest
age as a commercial, colonial, and maritime power.<22> Her widespread
interests in the eastern Mediterranean required the maintenance of a powerful
naval establishment and the pursuit of a vigilant and aggressive diplomacy.
Like the other Italian maritime cities, Venice had long since acquired valuable
trading privileges and exemptions in the ports of 'Outremer', such as Acre
and Tyre, in return for naval help given to the kingdom of Jerusalem. This
had given the Venetians a practical interest in the affairs of the crusader
states and had deepened their rivalry with Pisa and Genoa. More recently
Venice and her rivals had also developed a profitable trade in Egypt through
the port of Alexandria. From the point of view of the crusader states and
the papacy, this was traffic with the enemy, especially as Egypt demanded
much-needed timber and other naval stores in exchange for the spices of the
Far East. Popes and councils had fulminated in vain against this trade in
war contraband on the part of Italian cities. 
 Venice especially had a bad reputation among the Christians of the east
as being more concerned with the profits from this trade than with the triumph
of the cross.<23> In her trade with Constantinople and other cities
of the Byzantine empire, Venice still enjoyed the special advantages granted
by emperor Alexius I in 1082 in 
 22 On the position of Venice at this time, see H. Kretschmayr, Geschichte
von Venedig, I (Gotha, 1905), chaps. VII, VIII; W. Heyd, Histoire du commerce
du Levant au moyen-age, tr. Furcy Rainaud, I (Leipzig, 1885); and A. Schaube,
Handelsgeschichte der romanischen Volker (Munich and Berlin, 1906), chaps.
X-XIX. A chapter on the Venetians is planned for volume IV of the present
work. 
 23 It was this feeling presumably that gave rise to the popular story repeated
by Ernoul (Chronique, p. 345), that the sultan succeeded in bribing the Venetians
to turn the projected crusade away from his land. 


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