contributor.author: Dorothy Abrahamse

title.none: Andrea, Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade (Dorothy Abrahamse)

identifier.other: baj9928.0111.001 01.11.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dorothy Abrahamse, California State University, Long Beach, dabraham@csulb.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Andrea, Alfred. Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade. The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1453, Vol. 29. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. iv, 330. 124.00. ISBN: 9-004-11740-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.11.01

Andrea, Alfred. Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade. The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1453, Vol. 29. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. iv, 330. 124.00. ISBN: 9-004-11740-7.

Reviewed by:

Dorothy Abrahamse
California State University, Long Beach
dabraham@csulb.edu

The Fourth Crusade remains a source of contention among historians, and one of the classic problems of causation to which medieval history students are introduced. Few medieval images can be as dramatic as that of Constantinople, greatest of medieval cities, sacked by western knights in a holy war against fellow Christians. Despite generations of careful scholarship devoted to analyzing the reasons the Crusaders ended up attacking Constantinople rather than their original eastern goal, the subject remains one of high emotion. One had only to listen to Orthodox reactions to last spring's papal visit to Greece last year to understand how much the western sack of the city remains a living issue in the modern Orthodox world. A gulf remains between the carefully researched conclusions of western medievalists, which reject theories of planned treason and a single villain, and the works of many popular writers and some Byzantinists, for whom the plan for diversion continues to be laid at the door of Venice. The availability of sources in English translation is thus essential for students and non-specialists to explore the continuing controversy in depth. The best known western sources for the Fourth Crusade - Villehardouin's Conquest of Constantinople (translated by M.R.B. Shaw, Penguin, 1963), Robert of Clari's Conquest of Constantinople (translated by Edgar Mc Neal, repr. Toronto, 1997) have been available for many years. To these may be added the Byzantine history of Nicetas Choniates (translated as O City of Byzantium, Harry Magoulias, Detroit, 1984), and Alfred Andrea's recent translation of Gunther of Paris's "Hystoria Constantinopolitana" (The Capture of Constantinople, Phildelphia, 1997). The collection reviewed here is an important addition to the fourth crusade literature in English translation. Alfred J. Andrea has analyzed and translated sources for the Fourth Crusade for many years, and this book brings together translations previously published in journals with new translations. Translations are clear and readable, and each text is accompanied by an extensive introduction and notes. Andrea clearly indicates where there are textual problems, and where his reading differs from other editors or translators. The most important and longest selection in the collection is Andrea's translation of the letters of Innocent III relating to the crusade. Fortunately, Andrea was able to use the new Austrian edition of Innocent's letters for most of the correspondence. Forty-one letters written between 1198 and 1205 are included in the surviving registers. They allow the reader to trace Innocent's impassioned advocacy of the Crusade, his evolving relationship with the French barons who eventually responded to the call, and his reluctance to play a strong role in intervening in imperial struggles in Byzantium on the eve of the Crusade. The correspondence shows an Innocent always wary of Venice, unable to make his excommunication effective. The register includes important letters sent to Innocent by Crusade participants, such as the Crusader's letter of August, 1203 describing the initial taking of Constantinople, Baldwin's detailed arrative justification of the 1204 siege and sack of the city, and the March Pact that divided the conquered empire. Innocent's letters continue through 1205, eventually demonstrating his disillusionment with the Crusaders' lack of interest in Jerusalem, and the impact that reports of the ferocity of the sack of Constantinople had on Innocent when they belatedly reached him. This correspondence has been a staple of Fourth Crusade studies for scholars, but it has not been systematically available to non-specialists who can now evaluate the complexities of the Crusade in Innocent's concept of the papacy, and his reaction to the perversion of papal principles for it. Andrea's notes are especially helpful, identifying the significance of disputed readings, citing his interpretive disagreements with other scholars, and even noting his own changes in interpretation. The remaining texts are shorter and less well-known sources written by eyewitnesses, contemporaries or later chroniclers. They include a well-known letter by Hugh of Saint Pol, fourth-ranking Frankish baron on the Crusade and a leader deeply involved in the decision to go to Constantinople, which survives in several versions. Andrea's translation is of the recently discovered version of the letter written by Hugh to his vassal, R. de Balues. Andrea believes that Hugh's letter, written after the first conquest of Constantinople in July, 1203, is the first piece of justification written by a Crusade leader to the West. It includes military details that supplement and sometimes correct Villehardouin and Robert of Clari, and makes an immediate case against the view that the Crusaders intended the capture of Constantinople from the beginning; at the time of his writing, Hugh still believed that the army would continue to Jerusalem the following spring. The next three translations are short accounts drawing on eyewitnesses, and demonstrating a wide range of understanding and interests of the participants. The anonymous author of the Devastatio Constantinopolitana was a German unconnected to the leadership whose chronicle reflects the disillusionment of the rank and file with Crusade leaders. Andrea argues that the text is constructed as a series of broken compacts and agreements that stretch from the initial crusade vow to Alexius's failure to fulfill his promises of support to the army in Constantinople and the exploitation of the poor by their leaders. For the anonymous Soissons author of the next text, the Fourth Crusade was a story of relic translation. The text, which was recently re-edited by Andrea, probably drew on information from Nivelon de Cherisy, the bishop of Soissons who was one of the most prominent clerical participants in the Crusade. Nivelon took advantage of the conquest of Constantinople to enrich his cathedral and monasteries at Soissions with a long list of relics detailed in the account. Although the translation was certainly theft or plunder, Andrea notes that the account does not include the traditional justification of sacred theft, and the author omits any description of how the relics were acquired. With the Head of Stephen, the finger of the Apostle Thomas, a thorn from the crown, part of the Virgin's robe and her belt, the cathedral and monasteries of Soissons could certainly count themselves major pilgrimage sites when they became repositories for Nivelon's booty. Conrad, bishop of Halberstadt, also stole relics, and the Gesta of the Bishops of Halberstadt, the fifth text in the collection, has a long list of his donations. Many survive today in the Cathedral museum. Justification of their theft is a major purpose of the anonymous chronicler. But the Gesta is much more than a translatio. It includes interesting background on Conrad's struggles in his bishopric as a supporter of Philip of Swabia, his excommunication, and the description of his subsequent participation n the Crusade "because he judged it wiser to fall into the hands of God than into human hands," in the words of the author. Andrea's collection of texts is rounded out with extracts from two Cistercian chronicles that are valuable as more distant reflections of the events. Ralph of Coggeshall, writing sometime before 1218, saw the events through Cistercian lenses, with Fulk of Neuilly's preaching and the list of Cistercian abbots who participated in the Crusade receiving major emphasis. Ralph's chronicle also includes an ingenious narration of a portion of the True Cross that made its way from Constantinople to the obscure Cluniac monastery of Bronholm in England when the Emperor Baldwin forgot (!) it on his way to battle. A generation later, Alberic of Trois Fontaines further sanitized the events: Innocent "freely" agrees to the diversion to Constantinople when envoys present it to him, and Constantinople is the goal of the Crusade rather than a diversion that needed to be justified. This valuable collection provides readers important sources previously available only to scholars and Latin readers, and rounds out the nuanced view of western fourth crusade literature now available in English. With these materials and existing translations of Villehardouin, Robert of Clari, Gunther of Paris and Choniates, the Fourth Crusade becomes a historical problem very accessible to students. While these materials support the arguments of western medievalists that there was no foreordained plot to direct the Crusade to Constantinople, they underscore equally strongly the gulf that separated western and Byzantine sensibilities. Ironically, of western writers, only Innocent III understood that the bloody conquest and seizure of relics would undo all possibility of winning Greek Christians to accept Latin Christianity, and only Innocent's letter (Reg. 8:127, p. 162-8) describes the savagery of the conquest. Andrea's texts bring out the meanings that western writers constructed for the Fourth Crusade as much as they provide evidence for the events themselves, and they provide striking evidence of the extent to which Crusaders justified the conquest without reference or interest in the complex reality of the alien society they would briefly rule. In today's world, the relevance of the Fourth Crusade as a medieval example of the perils of cultural misunderstanding is especially evident, and I hope that these sources, along with translations of other western and Byzantine sources for the events, will be used widely in medieval history courses.