Eugène Delacroix: The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840)

(Louvre Museum, Paris, France)

A painting by the French artist Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). This painting shows the dramatic conclusion of the 4th crusade (1202–04). The crusade was initiated by pope Innocent III (pope from 1198 to 1216) with the mission to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. The crusaders decided that the best strategy to reach Egypt was by sea and envoys were send to Venice, then the leading seafaring city of Western Europe, to arrange for passage. An agreement was struck in which Venice would provide transport ships, crews and a year’s provisions for about 34,000 men and 500 horses for a total price of 84,000 marks of silver. When the crusader army finally reached Venice, there were fewer crusaders then expected (12,000 instead of 34,000) but the Venetians awaited them with the agreed amount of ships: 50 war galleys and 450 transports. The Venetians would not let the crusaders leave and demanded that they would pay the full amount agreed (84,000 marks of silver). The crusaders however were sort of cash and couldn't pay. The Venetians offered a new agreement in which Venice would suspend the unpaid balance if the crusaders would take the (Christian) Hungarian city of Zara along the Adriatic coast and hand these over to Venice. In order for the crusade to go on, the crusaders took the agreement and sacked Zara on 10 – 24 November 1202. In Zara the crusaders were contacted by the Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos who convinced the crusaders to divert to Constantinople and restore his deposed father Isaac II Angelos as emperor. In return the Alexios would pay off the crusader's debt to the Venetians and Alexios would lead a Byzantine army in the proposed assault on Egypt. When the crusader army reached Constantinople there were several clashes and prince Alexios Angelos succeeded to the Byzantine throne as emperor Alexios IV Angelos (the mind and body of his father Isaac II Angelos had been enfeebled by confinement). The new emperor Alexios IV also had financial problems of his own and he couldn't deliver the money and soldiers he had promised to the crusaders. When Alexios IV Angelos and his father Isaac II Angelos were murdered on 8 February 1204 and there successor Alexios V Doukas Mourtzouphlos refused to honor the deal struck by Alexios IV Angelos, the crusaders and Venetians decided to attack Constantinople and take the entire Byzantine Empire for themselves. Constantinople fell after a siege of several says and the city was looted for three days (the famous 4 bronze Horses of Saint Mark displayed on the facade of St Mark's Basilica in Venice were among the Venetian booty). The Byzantine empire was divided among Venice and the crusade's leaders who established the Latin Empire of Constantinople (this Latin Empire of Constantinople lasted until 1261 after which it was defeated when Byzantines recaptured Constantinople under the exiled Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. This siege of Constantinople weakened the Byzantine empire, strengthened its enemies and damaged the relations between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The painting shows Baldwin I of Constantinople, a prominent leader of the Fourth Crusade and the first emperor of the Latin empire, at the head of a procession through the streets of the city following the assault with the city's inhabitants who are begging for mercy. Painting from 1840.

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