Crusades, Venetians Take Constantinople

Venetians And Crusaders Take Constantinople

Author: Pears, Edwin

Venetians And Crusaders Take Constantinople

Plunder Of The Sacred Relics, A.D. 1204

In the treaty arranged at the end of the Third Crusade (1192) it was

stipulated that all hostilities between the Christians and the Moslems should

cease. The Fourth Crusade (1196-1197), which is sometimes considered merely

as a movement supplementary to the Third, forced renewed hostilities, against

the wishes of the Palestine Christians, who preferred that the three-years'

peace should continue. The Fourth Crusade ended disastrously, those who

remained longest to prosecute it being finally cut to pieces at Jaffa in 1197.

The travellers returning to the West from Syria besought immediate help for

the Christian survivors there. The Byzantine empire had fallen into

decrepitude, and the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to a mere strip of

coast. Only by prompt action could it be hoped to save any portion of it from

complete wreck.

Innocent III, who became pope in 1198, well understood the meaning of the

Moslem triumphs. The four crusades had already greatly extended the papal

jurisdiction, and Innocent himself was the moving spirit of the Fifth,

although an ignorant priest named Fulk also preached it with a success almost

equal to that of Peter the Hermit in the first expedition. Vast numbers of

warriors took the cross, though no king and only a few minor princes joined

them. Most famous among the leaders were Boniface II, Marquis of Montferrat,

and Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders.

Venice joined the crusaders under the lead of her doge, Henry Dandolo,

then more than ninety years old. When ambassador at the Byzantine court

(1173) he was blinded by order of the emperor Manuel I, and revenge was

probably one of the motives which took him again to the East. The Venetians,

being asked to transport the crusaders, demanded an extortionate price; but as

Venice was the only power possessing the necessary ships, a contract was made

with her for the service in 1201. Immediately the Venetians, by a secret

treaty with Egypt, for the sake of commercial privileges, betrayed the

crusaders to the Moslems. Embarkation from Venice in the summer of 1202 was

made very difficult, and many intending crusaders went home in disgust. Still

Venice insisted upon the full price; but money to pay it was wanting; and in

spite of the Pope and many of the bitter spirits, a bargain was struck-the

crusaders agreed to help the Venetians in taking and plundering Zara, a rival

Christian city on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Zara was accordingly

captured-ultimately to be destroyed by the Venetians, who next drew some of

the crusaders into a plot to overthrow the Byzantine emperor Alexius IV, and

place his son on the throne. By this means the Venetians thought to make good

their promise to frustrate the crusade, and at the same time to obtain great

commercial advantages at Constantinople. Thus was the pilgrim host "changed

from a crusading army into a filibustering expedition."

Having wintered at Zara, the crusaders were landed, in June, 1203, under

the walls of Constantinople. The emperor was deposed by his own people, and

his son, Alexius V, crowned during a revolution in the city, which followed an

unsuccessful attack by the crusaders in July. The second and successful

assault, in April, 1204, with its sequel of pillage and debauchery, forms the

subject of Pears' brilliant narrative. The city, during these troubles,

suffered from two fires, of which the second, in July, 1203, deserves to be

reckoned among the great historic conflagrations of the world.

The preparations which the leaders had been pushing on during several

weeks were completed in April, 1204, and that day was chosen for an assault

upon Constantinople. Instead of attacking simultaneously a portion of the

harbor walls and a portion of the landward walls, Venetians and crusaders

alike directed their efforts against the defences on the side of the harbor.

The horses were embarked once more in the huissiers. ^1 The line of battle was

drawn up; the huissiers and galleys in front, the transports a little behind

and alternating between the huissiers and the galleys. The whole length of

the line of battle was upward of half a league, and stretched from the

Blachern to beyond the Petrion. ^2 The Emperor's vermilion tent had been

pitched on the hill just beyond the district of the Petrion, where he could

see the ships when they came immediately under the walls. Before him was the

district which had been devastated by the fire.

[Footnote 1: Transports.]

[Footnote 2: The Petrion, which is repeatedly mentioned by contemporary

writers, was a district built on the slope of a hill running parallel to the

Golden Horn for about one-third of the length of the harbor walls eastward

from Blachern. It had apparently been a neglected spot during the early

centuries of the history of Constantinople, but had lately come to be the

residence of numerous hermits, and the site of several monasteries and

convents. A great part is now occupied by the Jewish colony of Galata.]

On the morning of the 9th the ships, drawn up in the order described,

passed over from the north to the south side of the harbor. The crusaders

landed in many places, and attacked from a narrow strip of the land between

the walls and the water. Then the assault began in terrible earnest along the

whole line. Amid the din of the imperial trumpets and drums the attackers

endeavored to undermine the walls, while others kept up a continual rain of

arrows, bolts, and stones. The ships had been covered with blanks and skins

so as to defend them from the stones and from the famous Greek fire, and, thus

protected, pushed boldly up to the walls. The transports soon advanced to the

front, and were able to get so near the walls that the attacking parties on

the gangways or platforms, flung out once more from the ships' tops, were able

to cross lances with the defenders of the walls and towers.

The attack took place at upward of a hundred points until noon, or,

according to Nicetas, ^1 until evening. Both parties fought well. The

invaders were repulsed. Those who had landed were driven back, and amid the

shower of stones were unable to remain on shore. The invaders lost more than

the defenders. Before night a portion of the vessels had retired out of range

of the mangonels, ^2 while another portion remained at anchor and continued to

keep up a continual fire against those on the walls. The first day's attack

had failed.

[Footnote 1: Nicetas' Chronicate, Greek authority on the Latin conquest.]

[Footnote 2: Engines for throwing stones and other missiles.]

The leaders of both crusaders and Venetians withdrew their forces to the

Galata side. The assault had failed, and it became necessary at once to

determine upon their next step. The same evening a parliament was hastily

called together. Some advised that the next attack should be made on the

walls on the Marmora side, which were not so strong as those facing the Golden

Horn. The Venetians, however, immediately took an exception, which everyone

who knew Constantinople would at once recognize as unanswerable. On that side

the current is always much too strong to allow vessels to be anchored with any

amount of steadiness or even safety. There were some present who would have

been very well content that the current or a wind - no matter what - should

have dispersed the vessels, provided that they themselves could have left the

country and have gone on their way.

It was at length decided that the two following days, the 10th and 11th,

should be devoted to repairing their damages, and that a second assault should

be delivered on the 12th. The previous day was a Sunday, and Boniface and

Dandolo made use of it to appease the discontent in the rank and file of the

army. The bishops and abbots were set to work to preach against the Greeks.

They urged that the war was just; that the Greeks had been disobedient to

Rome, and had perversely been guilty of schism in refusing to recognize the

supremacy of the Pope, and that Innocent himself desired the union of the two

churches. They saw in the defeat the vengeance of God on account of the sins

of the crusaders. The loose women were ordered out of the camp, and, for

better security, were shipped and sent far away. Confession and communion were

enjoined, and, in short, all that the clergy could do was done to prove that

the cause was just, to quiet the discontented, and to occupy them until the

attack next day.

The warriors had in the mean time been industriously repairing their

ships and their machines of war. A slight, but not unimportant, change of

tactics had been suggested by the assault on the 9th. Each transport had been

assigned to a separate tower. The number of men who could fight from the

gangways or platforms thrown out from the tops had been found insufficient to

hold their own against the defenders. The modified plan was, therefore, to

lash together, opposite each tower to be attacked, two ships, containing

gangways to be thrown out from their tops, and thus concentrate a greater

force against each tower. Probably, also, the line of attack was considerably

shorter than at the first assault.

On Monday morning, the 12th, the assault was renewed. The tent of the

Emperor ^1 had been pitched near the monastery of Pantepoptis, ^2 one of many

which were in the district of the Petrion, extending along the Golden Horn

from the palace of Blachern, about one-fourth of its length. From this

position he could see all the movements of the fleet. The walls were covered

with men who were ready again to fight under the eye of their Emperor. The

assault commenced at dawn, and continued with the utmost fierceness. Every

available crusader and Venetian took part in it. Each little group of ships

had its own special portion of the walls, with its towers, to attack. The

besiegers during the first portion of the day made little progress, but a

strong north wind sprang up, which enabled the vessels to get nearer the land

than they had previously been. Two of the transports, the Pilgrim and the

Parvis, lashed together, succeeded in throwing one of their gangways across to

a tower in the Petrion, and opposite the position occupied by the Emperor.

[Footnote 1: Alexius V, Byzantine Emperor.]

[Footnote 2: The remarkable church of this monastery still exists as a mosque,

and is known as Eski imaret Mahallasse. It still bears witness to its having

been arranged for both monks and nuns. It is on the Fourth Hill, just above

the Phanar.]

A Venetian, and a French knight, Andre d'Urboise, immediately rushed

across and obtained a foothold. They were at once followed by others, who

fought so well that the defenders of the tower were either killed or fled. The

example gave new courage to the invaders. The knights who were in the

huissiers, as soon as they saw what had been done, leaped on shore, placed

their ladders against the wall, and shortly captured four towers. Those on

board the fleet concentrated their efforts on the gates, broke in three of

them, and entered the city, while others landed their horses from the

huissiers. As soon as a company of knights was formed, they entered the city

through one of these gates, and charged for the Emperor's camp. Mourtzouphlos

^1 had drawn up his troops before his tents, but they were unused to contend

with men in heavy armor, and after a fairly obstinate resistance the imperial

troops fled. The Emperor, says Nicetas - who is certainly not inclined to

unduly praise the Emperor, who had deprived him of his post of grand logothete

- did his best to rally his troops, but all in vain, and he had to retreat

toward the palace of the Lion's Mouth. The number of the wounded and dead was

sans fin et sans mesure.

[Footnote 1: Alexius V, his Greek name.]

An indiscriminate slaughter commenced. The invaders spared neither age

nor sex. In order to render themselves safe they set fire to the city lying

to the east of them, and burned everything between the monastery of Everyetis

and the quarter known as Droungarios. ^1 So extensive was the fire, which

burned all night and until the next evening, that, according to the marshal,

more houses were destroyed than there were in the three largest cities in

France. The tents of the Emperor and the imperial palace of Blachern were

pillaged, the conquerors making their head-quarters on the same site at

Pantepoptis. It was evening, and already late, when the crusaders had entered

the city, and it was impossible for them to continue their work of destruction

through the night. They therefore encamped near the walls and towers which

they had captured. Baldwin of Flanders spent the night in the vermilion tent

of the Emperor, his brother Henry in front of the palace of Blachern,

Boniface, the Marquis of Montferrat, on the other side of the imperial tents

in the heart of the city.

[Footnote 1: It was the quarter about the gate in the harbor walls, now known

as Zindan Capou, near the dried-fruit market.]

The city was already taken. The inhabitants were at length awakened out

of the dream of security into which seventeen unsuccessful attempts to capture

the New Rome ^1 had lulled them. Every charm, pagan and Christian, had been

without avail. The easy sloth into which the possession of innumerable

relics, and the consciousness of being under the protection of an army of

saints and martyrs, had plunged a large part of the inhabitants, had been

rudely dispelled. The Panhagia of the Blachern, with its relic of the

Virgin's robe, the host of heads, arms, bodies, and vestments of saints and of

portions of the holy Cross, had been of no more use than the palladium which

lay buried then, as now, under the great column which Constantine had built.

The rough energy of the Westerns had disregarded the talismans of the Greek

Church as completely as those of paganism. In vain had the believers in these

charms destroyed during the siege the statues which were believed to be of ill

omen or unlucky. The invaders had a superstition as deep as their own, but

with the difference that they could not believe that a people in schism could

have the protection of the hierarchy of heaven, or be regarded as the rightful

possessors of so many relics.

[Footnote 1: Another name of Constantinople.]

During the night following its capture the Golden Gate, which was at the

Marmora side of the landward walls, had been opened, and already an affrighted

crowd was pressing forward to make its escape from the captured city. Others

were doing their best to bury their treasures. The Emperor himself, either

seized with panic or finding that all was lost - as, indeed, everything was

lost so soon as the army had succeeded in obtaining a foothold within the

walls - fled from the city. He, too, escaped by the Golden Gate, taking with

him Euphrosyne, the widow of Alexis. The brave Theodore Lascaris determined,

however, to make one more attempt. His appeal to the people was useless.

Those who were not panic-stricken appear to have been indifferent. Some, at

least, were apparently still dreaming of a mere change of rulers, like those

of which the majority of them had seen several. But before any attempt at

reorganization could be made the enemy was in sight, and Theodore himself had

to fly.

The crusaders had expected another day's fighting, and knew nothing of

the flight of Mourtzouphlos. To their surprise they encountered no

resistance. The day was occupied in taking possession of their conquest. The

Byzantine troops laid down their arms on receiving assurances of personal

safety. The Italians who had been expelled took advantage of the entry of

their friends and appear to have retaliated upon the population for their

expulsion. Two thousand of the inhabitants, says Gunther, were killed, and

mostly by these returned Italians. As the victorious crusaders passed through

the streets, women, old men, and children, who had been unable to flee, met

them, and, placing one finger over another so as to make the sign of the

cross, hailed the Marquis of Montferrat as king, while a hastily gathered

procession, with the cross and the sacred emblems of Christ, greeted him in


Then began the plunder of the city. The imperial treasury and the

arsenal were placed under guard; but with these exceptions the right to

plunder was given indiscriminately to the troops and sailors. Never in Europe

was a work of pillage more systematically and shamelessly carried out. Never

by the army of a Christian state was there a more barbarous sack of a city

than that perpetrated by these soldiers of Christ, sworn to chastity, pledged

before God not to shed Christian blood, and bearing upon them the emblem of

the Prince of Peace. Reciting the crimes committed by the crusaders, Nicetas

says, with indignation: "You have taken up the cross, and have sworn on it and

on the holy Gospels to us that you would pass over the territory of Christians

without shedding blood-and without turning to the right hand or to the left.

You told us that you had taken up arms against the Saracens only, and that you

would steep them in their blood alone. You promised to keep yourselves chaste

while you bore the cross, as became soldiers enrolled under the banner of

Christ. Instead of defending his tomb, you have outraged the faithful who are

members of him. You have used Christians worse than the Arabs used the

Latins, for they at least respected women."

An immense mass of treasure was found in each of the imperial palaces and

in those of the nobles. Each baron took possession of the castle or palace

which was allotted to him, and put a guard upon the treasure which he found

there. "Never since the world was created," says the marshal, "was there so

much booty gained in one city. Each man took the house which pleased him, and

there were enough for all. Those who were poor found themselves suddenly

rich. There was captured an immense supply of gold and silver, of plate and

of precious stones, of satins and of silk, of furs, and of every kind of

wealth ever found upon earth."

The sack of the richest city in Christendom, which had been the bribe

offered to the crusaders to violate their oaths, was made in the spirit of men

who, having once broken through the trammels of their vows, are reckless to

what lengths they go. Their abstinence and their chastity once abandoned,

they plunged at once into orgies of every kind.

The lust of the army spared neither maiden nor the virgin dedicated to

God. Violence and debauchery were everywhere present; cries and lamentations

and the groans of the victims were heard throughout the city; for everywhere

pillage was unrestrained and lust unbridled. The city was in wild confusion.

Nobles, old men, women, and children ran to and fro trying to save their

wealth, their honor, and their lives. Knights, foot soldiers, and Venetian

sailors jostled each other in a mad scramble for plunder. Threats of

ill-treatment, promises of safety if wealth were disgorged, mingled with the

cries of many sufferers. These "pious brigands," as Gunther aptly calls them,

acted as if they had received a license to commit every crime. Sword in hand,

houses and churches were pillaged. Every insult was offered to the religion

of the conquered citizens. Churches and monasteries were the richest

storehouses, and were therefore the first buildings to be rifled.

Monks and priests were selected for insult. The priests' robes were

placed by the crusaders on their horses. The icons were ruthlessly torn down

from the screens or were broken. The sacred buildings were ransacked for

relics or their beautiful caskets. The chalices were stripped of their

precious stones and converted into drinking-cups. The sacred plate was heaped

with ordinary plunder. The altar cloths and the screens of cloth of gold,

richly embroidered and bejewelled, were torn down, and either divided among

the troops or destroyed for the sake of the gold and silver which were woven

into them. The altars of Hagia Sophia, ^1 which had been the admiration of

all men, were broken for the sake of the material of which they were made.

Horses and mules were taken into the church in order to carry off the loads of

sacred vessels and the gold and silver plates of the throne, the pulpits, and

the doors, and the beautiful ornaments of the church. The soldiers made the

chief church of Christendom the scene of their profanity. A prostitute was

seated in the patriarchal chair, who danced, and sang a ribald song for the

amusement of the soldiers.

[Footnote 1: The Great Church, dedicated to the "Divine Wisdom"; the Santa

Sophia, built by Justinian.]

Nicetas, in speaking of the desecration of the Great Church, writes with

the utmost indignation of the barbarians who were incapable of appreciating

and therefore respecting its beauty. To him it was an "earthly heaven, a

throne of divine magnificence, an image of the firmament created by the

Almighty." The plunder of the same church in 1453 by Mahomet II compares

favorably with that made by the crusaders of 1204.

The sack of the city went on during the three days after the capture. An

order was issued, probably on the third day, by the leaders of the army, for

the protection of women. Three bishops had pronounced excommunication against

all who should pillage church or convent. It was many days, however, before

the army could be reduced to its ordinary condition of discipline. A

proclamation was made throughout the army that all the booty should be

collected, in order to be divided fairly among the captors. Three churches

were selected as depots, and trusty guards of crusaders and Venetians were

stationed to watch what was thus brought in. Much, however, was kept back,

and much stolen. Stern measures had to be resorted to before order was

restored. Many crusaders were hanged. The Count of St. Paul hanged one of

his own knights with his shield round his neck because he had not given up the

booty he had captured. A contemporary writer, the continuator of the history

of William of Tyre, forcibly contrasts the conduct of the crusaders before and

after the capture. When the Latins would take Constantinople they held the

shield of God before them. It was only when they had entered that they threw

it away, and covered themselves with the shield of the devil.

The Italians resident in Constantinople, who had returned to the city

with their countrymen, were conspicuous in their hostility to the Greeks. Amid

this resentment there were examples, however, that former friendships were not

forgotten. The escape of Nicetas himself is an illustration in point. He had

held the position of grand logothete, ^1 but he had been deposed by

Mourtzouphlos. When the Latins entered the city he had retired to a small

house near Hagia Sophia, which was so situated as to be likely to escape

observation. His large house, and probably his official residence, which he

is careful to tell us was adorned with an abundant store of ornaments, had

been burned down in the second fire. Many of his friends found refuge with

him, apparently regarding his dwelling as specially adapted for concealment.

Nothing, however, could escape the observation of the horde which was now

ransacking every corner. When the Italians had been banished from the city

Nicetas had sheltered a Venetian merchant, with his wife and family. This man

now clothed himself like a soldier and, pretending that he was one of the

invaders, prevented his countrymen or any other Latins from entering the

house. For some time he was successful, but at length a crowd, principally of

French soldiers, pushed past and flocked within. From that time protection

became impossible.

[Footnote 1: This office still exists. The principal duty of the person who

holds it is to recite the creed in great religious services when the patriarch


The Venetian advised Nicetas to leave, in order to prevent himself from

being imprisoned and to save the honor of his daughters. Nicetas and his

friends accepted the advice. Having clothed themselves in skins or the

poorest garments, they were conducted through the city by their faithful

friend as if they were his prisoners. The girls and young ladies of the party

were placed in their midst, their faces having been intentionally smeared in

order to give them the appearance of being of the poorest class. As they

reached the Golden Gate the daughter of a magistrate, who was one of the

party, was suddenly seized and carried off by a crusader. Her father, who was

weak and old, and wearied with the long walk, fell, and was unable to do

anything but cry for assistance. Nicetas followed and called the attention of

certain soldiers who were passing, and after a long and piteous appeal, after

reminding them of the proclamation which had been made against the violation

of women, he ultimately succeeded in saving the maiden. The entreaties would

have been in vain if the leader of the party had not at length threatened to

hang the offender. A few minutes later the fugitives had passed out of the

city, and fell on their knees to thank God for his protection in having

permitted them to escape with their lives. Then they set out on their weary

way to Silivria. The road was covered with fellow-sufferers. Before them was

the Patriarch himself, "without bag or money, or stick or shoes, with but one

coat," says Nicetas, "like a true apostle, or rather like a true follower of

Jesus Christ, in that he was seated on an ass, with the difference that

instead of entering the new Zion in triumph he was leaving it."

A large part of the booty had been collected in the three churches

designated for that purpose. The marshal himself tells us that much was

stolen which never came into the general mass. The stores which had been

collected were, however, divided in accordance with the compact which had been

made before the capture. The Venetians and the crusaders each took half. Out

of the moiety belonging to the army there were paid the fifty thousand silver

marks due to the Venetians. Two foot sergeants received as much as one horse

sergeant, and two of the latter sergeants received as much as a knight.

Exclusive of what was stolen and of what was paid to the Venetians, there were

distributed among the army four hundred thousand marks, or eight hundred

thousand pounds, and ten thousand suits of armor.

The total amount distributed among the crusaders and Venetians shows that

the wealth of Constantinople had not been exaggerated. Eight hundred thousand

pounds were given to the crusaders, a like sum to the Venetians, with the one

hundred thousand pounds due to them. These sums had been collected in hard

cash from a city where the inhabitants were hostile, and where they had in

their wells and cisterns an easy means of hiding their treasures of gold,

silver, and precious stones - a means traditionally well known in the East.

Abundance of booty was taken possession of by the troops which never went into

the general mass. Sismondi estimates that the wealth in specie and movable

property before the capture was not less than twenty-four million pounds


The distribution was made during the latter end of April. Many works of

art in bronze were sent to the melting-pot to be coined. Many statues were

broken up in order to obtain the metals with which they were adorned. The

conquerors knew nothing and cared nothing for the art which had added value to

the metal. The weight of the bronze was to them the only question of

interest. The works of art which they destroyed were sacrificed not to any

sentiment like that of the Moslem against images which they believed to be

idols or talismans. No such excuse can be made for the Christians of the

West. Their motive for destroying so much that was valuable was neither

fanaticism nor religion. It was the simple greed for gain. No sentiment

restrained their cupidity. The great statue of the Virgin which ornamented

the Taurus was sent as unhesitatingly to the furnace as the figure of

Hercules. No object was sufficiently sacred, none sufficiently beautiful, to

be worth saving if it could be converted into cash. Amid so much that was

destroyed it is impossible that there were not a considerable number of works

of art of the best periods. The one list which has been left us by the Greek

logothete professes to give account of only the larger statues which were sent

to the melting-pot. But it is worth while to note what were these principal

objects so destroyed.

Constantinople had long been the great storehouse of works of art and of

Christian relics, the latter of which were usually encased with all the skill

that wealth could buy or art furnish. It had the great advantage over the

elder Rome that it had never been plundered by hordes of barbarians. Its

streets and public places had been adorned for centuries with statues in

bronze or marble. In reading the works of the historians of the Lower Empire

the reader cannot fail to be struck alike with the abundance of works of art

and with the appreciation in which they were held by the writers.

First among the buildings as among the works of art, in the estimation of

every citizen, was Hagia Sophia. It was emphatically the Great Church. Tried

by any test, it is one of the most beautiful of human creations. Nothing in

Western Europe even now gives a spectator who is able with an educated eye to

restore it to something like its former condition, so deep an impression of

unity, harmony, richness, and beauty in decoration as does the interior of the

masterpiece of Justinian. All that wealth could supply and art produce had

been lavished upon its interior - at that time, and for long afterward, the

only portion of a church which the Christian architect thought deserving of

study. "Internally, at least," says a great authority on architecture, "the

verdict seems inevitable that Santa Sophia is the most perfect and most

beautiful church which has yet been erected by any Christian people. When its

furniture was complete the verdict would have been still more strongly in its


We have seen that to Nicetas, who knew and loved it in its best days, it

was a model of celestial beauty, a glimpse of heaven itself. To the more

sober English observer, "its mosaic of marble slabs of various patterns and

beautiful colors, the domes, roofs, and curved surfaces, with gold-grounded

mosaic relieved by figures or architectural devices," are "wonderfully grand

and pleasing." All that St. Mark's is to Venice, Hagia Sophia was to

Constantinople. But St. Mark's, though enriched with some of the spoils of

its great original, is, as to its interior at least, a feeble copy. Hagia

Sophia justified its founder in declaring, "I have surpassed thee, O Solomon!"

and during seven centuries after Justinian his successors had each attempted

to add to its wealth and its decoration. Yet this, incomparably the most

beautiful church in Christendom, at the opening of the thirteenth century was

stripped and plundered of every ornament which could be carried away. It

appeared to the indignant Greeks that the very stones would be torn from the

walls by these intruders, to whom nothing was sacred.

Around the Great Church were other objects which could be readily

converted into bronze, and the destruction of which was irreparable. The

immense hippodrome was crowded with statues. Egypt had furnished an obelisk

for the centre. Delphi had given its commemoratory bronze of the victory of

Plataea. Later works of pagan sculptors were there in abundance, while

Christian artists had continued the traditions of their ancestors. The

cultured inhabitants of Constantinople appreciated these works of art and took

care of them. In giving a list of the more important of the objects which

went to the melting-pot, Nicetas again and again urges that these works were

destroyed by barbarians who were ignorant of their value. Incapable of

appreciating either their historical interest or the value with which the

labor of the artist had endowed them, the crusaders knew only the value of the

metals of which they were composed.

The emperors had been buried within the precincts of the Church of the

Holy Apostles, the site of which was afterward chosen by Mahomet II for the

erection of the mosque now called by his name. Their tombs, beginning with

that of Justinian, were ransacked in the search for treasure. It was not

until the palaces of the nobles, the churches, and the tombs had been

plundered that the pious brigands turned their attention to the statues. A

colossal figure of Juno, which had been brought from Samos, and which stood in

the forum of Constantine, was sent to the melting-pot. We may judge of its

size from the fact that four oxen were required to transport its head to the

palace. The statue of Paris presenting to Venus the apple of discord

followed. The Anemodulion, or "Servant of the Winds," was a lofty obelisk,

whose sides were covered with bas-reliefs of great beauty, representing scenes

of rural life, and allegories depicting the seasons, while the obelisk was

surmounted by a female figure which turned with the wind, and so gave to the

whole its name. The bas-reliefs were stripped off and sent to the palace to

be melted.

A beautiful equestrian statue of great size, representing either

Bellerophon and Pegasus or, as the populace believe, Joshua on horseback

commanding the sun to stand still, was likewise sent to the furnace. The

horse appeared to be neighing at the sound of the trumpet, while every muscle

was strained with the ardor of battle. The colossal Hercules of Lysippus,

which, having adorned Tarentum, had thence been transported to the Elder and

subsequently to the hippodrome of the New Rome, met with a like fate. The

artist had expressed, in a manner which had won the admiration of beholders,

the deep wrath of the hero at the unworthy tasks set before him. He was

represented as seated, but without quiver or bow or club. His lion's skin was

thrown loosely about his shoulders, his right foot and right hand stretched

out to the utmost, while he rested his head on his left hand with his elbow on

his bent knee. The whole figure was full of dignity; the chest deep, the

shoulders broad, the hair curly, the arms and limbs full of muscle.

The figure of an ass and its driver, which Augustus had had cast in

bronze to commemorate the news brought to him of the victory of Actium, met

with the same fate.

For the sake of melting them down into money the barbarians seized also

the ancient statue of the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; the statues of a

sphinx, a hippopotamus, a crocodile, an elephant, and others, which had

represented a triumph over Egypt; the monster of Scylla and others; most of

which were probably executed before the time of Christ.

The celebrated statue of Helen was destroyed by men who knew nothing of

its original. There must be added to these the graceful figure of a woman who

held in her right hand the figure of an armed man on horseback. Then near the

eastern goals, known as the "reds," stood the statues of the winners in the

chariot races. They stood erect in their bronze chariots, as the originals

also had been seen when they gained their victories, as if they were still

directing their steeds to the goals. A figure of the Nile bull in deadly

conflict with a crocodile stood near. These and other statues were hastily

sent to the furnace to be converted into money. We may judge of the value and

artistic merit of the bronze statues which were destroyed, by the specimens

which remain. The four horses which the emperor Theodosius had brought from

Chios and placed in the hippodrome escaped, by some lucky chance, the general

plunder, and were taken to Venice, where they still adorn the front of St.


The pillage of the relics of Constantinople lasted for forty years. More

than half of the total amount of objects carried off were, however, taken away

between the years 1204 and 1208. During the few days which followed the

capture of the city the bishops and priests who were with the crusaders were

active in laying hands on this species of sacred spoil; and the statement of a

contemporary writer is not improbable, that the priests of the orthodox Church

preferred to surrender such spoil to those of their own cloth rather than to

the rough soldier or the rougher Venetian sailor. On the other hand, the

highest priestly dignitaries in the army - men, even, who refused to take of

the earthly spoil - were eager to obtain possession of this sacred booty, and

unscrupulous as to the means by which they obtained it. The holy Cross was

carefully divided by the bishops for distribution among the barons.

Gunther gives us a specimen of the means to which Abbot Martin, who had

had the German crusaders placed under his charge, had recourse. The abbot had

learned that many relics had been hidden by the Greeks in a particular church.

This building was attacked in the general pillage. He, as a priest, searched

carefully for the relics, while the soldiers were looking for more commonplace

booty. The abbot found an old priest, with the long hair and beard common

then, as now, to orthodox ecclesiastics, and roughly addressed him, "Show me

your relics, or you are a dead man."

The old priest, seeing that he was addressed by one of his own

profession, and frightened probably by the threat, thought, says Gunther, that

it was better to give up the relics to him than to the profane and

blood-stained hands of the soldiers. He opened an iron safe, and the abbot,

in his delight at the sight, buried his hands in the precious store. He and

his chaplain filled their surplices, and ran with all haste to the harbor to

conceal their prize. That they were successful in keeping it during the

stormy days which followed could only be attributed to the virtue of the

relics themselves.

The way in which Dalmatius de Sergy obtained the head of St. Clement is

an illustration of the crusader's belief that the acquisition of a relic and

its transport to the West would be allowed as a compensation for the

fulfilment of the crusader's vow. That knight was grievously afflicted that

he could not go to the Holy Land, and earnestly prayed God to show him how he

could execute some other task equivalent to that which he had sworn, but

failed, to accomplish. His first thought was to take relics to his own

country. He consulted the two cardinals who were then in Constantinople, who

approved his idea, but charged him not to buy these relics, because their

purchase and sale were forbidden. He accordingly determined to steal them, if

such a word may be applied to an act which was clearly regarded as

praiseworthy. The knight, in order to discover something of especial value,

remained in Constantinople until Palm Sunday in the following year. A French

priest pointed out to him a church in which the head of St. Clement was

preserved. He went there in the company of a Cistercian monk and asked to see

the relics. While one kept the persons in charge speaking with him, the other

stole a portion of the relic.

On leaving, the knight was disgusted to find that the whole head had not

been taken, and, on the pretext that he had left his gauntlet behind, a

companion regained admittance to the church, while the knight again kept the

monk in charge in conversation at the door. Dalmatius went to the chest

behind the altar where the relic had been kept, stole the remainder, went out,

mounted his horse and rode away. The head was placed with pious joy in the

chapel of his house. He returned, disguised, some days after to the church,

in order, as he pretended, to do reverence to the relic - in order really to

ascertain that he had taken the right head, for there had been two in the

chest. He was informed that the head of St. Clement had been stolen. Then,

being satisfied as to its authenticity, he took a vow that he would give the

relic to the Church of Cluny in case he should arrive safely. He embarked.

The devil, from jealousy, sent a hurricane, but the tears and prayers before

the relic defeated him, and the knight arrived safely home. The monks of Cluny

received the precious treasure with every demonstration of reverent joy, and

in the fullest confidence that they had secured the perpetual intercession of

St. Clement on behalf of themselves and those who did honor to his head. The

relics most sought after were those which related to the events mentioned in

the New Testament, especially to the infancy, life, and passion of Christ, and

to the saints popular in the West.

In the years which followed the conquest Latin priests were sent to

Constantinople from France, Flanders, and Italy, to take charge of the

churches in the city. These priests appear to have been great hunters after

relics. Thus it came to pass that there was scarcely an important church or

monastery in most Western countries which did not possess some share of the

spoil which came from Constantinople.

For some years the demand for relics seemed to be insatiable, and caused

fresh supplies to be forthcoming to an almost unlimited extent. The new

relics, equally with the old, were certified in due form to be what they

professed to be. Documents, duly attested and full of detailed evidence -

sometimes, doubtless, manufactured for the occasion - easily satisfied those

to whom it was of importance to possess certified relics, and throughout the

West the demand for relics which might bring profit to their possessors

continued to increase. At length the Church deemed it necessary to put a stop

to the supply, and especially to that of the apocryphal and legendary acts

which testified to their authenticity, and in 1215 the fourth Lateran council

judged it necessary to make a decree enjoining the bishops to take means to

prevent pilgrims from being deceived.

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