The Fourth Crusade thus gained its infamous reputation as the most cynical and profit-seeking of all the crusades.
The Byzantines saw themselves as the defenders of Christendom, the beacon which shone out across the Mediterranean and central Asia, hosts to the holiest city outside Jerusalem, and the rock which stood against the tide of Islam sweeping in from the east.
The Venetians, being the rapacious traders they were, insisted that their 240 ships be paid for, but the Crusaders could not meet the astonishing asking price of 85,000 silver marks (double the annual income of France at the time).
Consequently, a deal was made that in return for passage the Crusaders would stop off at Zara on the Dalmatian coast and reconquer it for the Italians, the city having recently defected to the Hungarians.
Still, a good number of second-tier nobles were inspired to join up or ‘take the cross’, as it was known, especially from northern France.
There were the counts of Champagne and Blois (although the former would die before the expedition got underway), Geoffrey of Villehardouin (who would later write his an important record of the Crusade), Count Baldwin of Flanders, and Simon de Montfort.
It may not, as some conspiracy-theory historians have claimed, have all been so cynically planned beforehand by all parties, but in the end, it is exactly what happened with the exception that the Fourth Crusade ended with the fall of the Byzantine capital and Jerusalem was left for a later date.
The Crusader army arrived outside Constantinople on 24 June 1203 CE.
The Third Crusade (1187-1192 CE), although achieving some notable military successes, had failed completely in its original objective of recapturing Jerusalem from the Muslim Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin (r. The celebrated Sultan was now dead, but the Holy City remained in Muslim hands. The Fourth Crusade was thus called for by Pope Innocent III (r. As previously, those who went to the Holy Land and fought the infidels would receive a remission of their sins, but as an added incentive, Innocent III now extended this ‘benefit’ to those who gave the necessary money to fund a warrior to go in their stead.
The Pope’s timing was not the best, especially considering the Holy City had anyway been in Muslim hands since 1187 CE.