Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume II: The later Crusades, 1189-1311
IV: Byzantium and the Crusades, 1081-1204, pp. [unnumbered]-151 PDF (14.1 MB)
150 A HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES II It needed only Venetian ambition to give direction to the hostile forces waiting to take advantage of Byzantine difficulties. The dismemberment of the empire would ensure the maritime supremacy of Venice, which in the course of the twelfth century had from time to time been threatened by Byzantine imperial policy and by the antagonism of the Greek people. The Fourth Crusade could have presented no surprise in western diplomatic circles. In fact, the internal condition of the empire did in several respects favor such an attack. In the past scholars have stressed the weakness of the dynasty of the Angeli and the hostility and greed of Byzantium's Latin enemies. But in reality a prime cause in determining the course of events was the fundamental change in the character of the empire from the eleventh century onwards. This was largely due to separatist and centrifugal forces, which were continually undermining the central authority; such forces were enormously accelerated by the method of land holding based on grants in pronoia which bore a marked similarity to the western feudal system. Thus weakened, the empire was no match for its western enemies. When Alexius III considered the strength of the crusading host, actually bent on restoring his imprisoned and blinded brother to his throne, he fled with what portable funds he could lay hands on. Nicetas Choniates, who disliked him, said that he was too cowardly to attempt any defense of the city as his son-in-law Theodore Lascaris wished. <36> And so Isaac II was again placed on the throne with his son Alexius IV as co-emperor. But it was an impossible position for the unfortunate Angeli: the hovering Latins continually pressed them for funds, which they could not easily raise, while the populace resented and feared the influence of the westerners. Both Greek and Latin sources tell of continual tension and of constant clashes and skirmishes which came to a climax on January 1, 1204, with the Greek attempt to send fire-ships against the Venetian fleet. "This, then, was the way in which Alexius repaid us for all that we had done for him," wrote Villehardouin. <37> The Greeks, for their part, reproached Alexius IV for his failure to control the crusaders; terrified of his own people, the young emperor even thought of admitting the French and Italians into the palace of the Blachernae for his own defense. At this, Alexius Ducas "Mourt zouphlus", another son-in-law of Alexius III, promptly seized the throne in late January 1204. He had Isaac and Alexius IV im- 36 Nicetas Choniates, Historia (CSHB), p. 720. 37 Geoffrey of Villehardouin, La Conqu8te de Constantinople, chap. 220.
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