Well Doge my cats


I played board games tonight with the Columbia Strategic Simulations Society. One of the games I didn't participate in, but did watch, was San Marco, a territory control game set in Medieval Venice. One of the important pieces in the game is the Doge, who in those times was the elected leader of Venice. Thinking about this started me thinking (naturally!) about the calamitous Fourth Crusade (so much did it set me to thinking this, by the way, that I began quietly narrating the history of said crusade while watching the game, causing one of the girls playing to give me occasional quizzical looks).

Sadly, my copy of Joinville's Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade seems to have been left at home, so I'll have to work from memory here. Essentially, this is one of the great crusades where nothing went right. Really, the high water mark for crusades was the first one. After that they were progressively less successful. Of course, that measures success by the metric of the official, textbook reasons given for the crusades, that they were a mission from God to re-take the Holy Lands from the Saracens. While this may perhaps have been more true than not of the First Crusade, subsequent crusades were motivated less and less by religion and more and more by greed.

It's interesting to note that, if you read contemporary Muslim accounts of the crusades, their relationship to the crusaders was not unlike the relationship of the English to Viking raiders. There was a sort of sense of "Aw, nuts, the pillagers are back" when the great cross-shaped sails appeared. The Christians came, beat people up, took all the treasure they could lay their hands on, then quickly retreated when the Saracen army showed up.

Incidentally, probably the most successful Crusade by the profit metric was the eighth and final one, the so-called Children's Crusade. The high-concept behind it was that the Saracens wouldn't kill children, so if they created an army of children and sailed them to the Holy Lands, they'd be invincible. So they collected kids from all over Europe and gathered them at a port in the south of France (the name escapes me at the moment). Then the organizers had a brilliant idea. They said "You know, the Holy Lands are a long way away, and if this whole 'won't kill children' thing doesn't wash, we're going to get our asses handed to us. So, we could go all that way on a gamble, or we could take the sure thing and just sell these little fuckers into slavery." And so they did. So they made a tidy profit without actually killing anyone or putting themselves out too much. On the other had, they sort of poisoned the Crusade well. It's tough to get people to throw their lives away for a crusade after you just got done selling the last gang of suckers that did it into slavery.

The Fourth Crusade, though, is one gigantic comedy of errors. They get to southern Europe and find out that the local king (possibly of Hungary?) won't let them through (for reasons which will become more obvious as the story progresses). So they change course to Venice. There they make a deal with the Doge of Venice (you see! It does tie to my hook at the beginning!) to pay him a huge amount up front for some ships, plus a share of the loot. The Doge comes along, and actually, if Joinville's account of him is accurate, is a pretty handy fighter. That is, he's right in there with everyone else in the battles. So they take the Venetian boats to the Dalmatian Coast, but they lose some along the way, and another big chunk of folks decide to go back. They get there and the local displaced lord wants them to help him get his throne back. They do, but also incidentally pillage his land while they're there. He grudgingly gives them some men to help them out and grants them passage through his lands.

They keep moving. Next stop, Byzantium! Only they get to Constantinople (Which, it should be pointed out, in those days was the closest the Medieval European world had to a Big Cosmopolitan City) and notice that the city's really wealthy, full of all sorts of glittering treasures. So they decide to drop the whole "Holy Land" business, and decide "Hey! Let's just conquer the Byzantine Empire!" After all, the Holy Land's way the Hell over there, and has all those Saracens. The Byzantines are RIGHT HERE, and on top of that, they're loaded! So they invented a vague sort of religious reason why they need to beat up the Byzantines (which about half their force didn't buy and went home) and they took Byzantium. So then they had a bogus election and crowned one of them the new Emperor, and divided the land up into fiefdoms, and after they'd gotten done with that they remembered that there was an angry Byzantine army out there, plus Saracens, plus invading Turks. So they sat on Constantinople for a while, eventually got expelled by the Byzantines, and then in very short order the severely weakened Byzantines were overwhelmed by the Turks, who now controlled the Muslim world.

So they had set out to free the Holy Lands, and managed in the end to beat the crap out of the holders of the last Christian foothold in the East. On the plus side, and this is important, they got some great loot out of those high-falutin Byzantines. And the Doge kicked some mighty ass.

UPDATE: Also, you might not be aware of this, but the Dogi of Venice were the bearer's of one of the world's great silly hats. Behold! Doge Hat!


Ironically, wasn't the idea for the fourth crusade thought up by a Pope Innocence?

Well, Popes all tend to be named after either apostles or fun catholic thingees, like Innocence or Piety or Eggs Benedict.

And yea, the Fourth Crusade was speerheaded by the Pope, as were the three prior ones. After this they kinda stopped bothering with it, because they realized it was more about looting than getting the Holy Land back. Interestingly, the Fourth Crusade basically was run by the Doge of Venice after they ended up in hoc to him, which is why the enthusiasm for looting rich Constantinople (since he got a big share of the loot).

Another fun fact: After they conquered Constantinople, Pope Innocent got so mad he excommunicated all of the crusaders. So the Fourth Crusade is famous for being the only crusade that managed to get all its participants kicked out of the Catholic Church.

May I just say right now how great it is that the current pope is Benedict XVI? That is an awesome pope name. The only time I ever thought Pope Jean-Paul was a neat name was when I was watching a latino news program, wherein he was called " Papa Juan-Pablo".

Did you know that from 461-68 there was a Pope Hilarius? And from 913-914 there was a Pope Lando.

If I ever become pope, I will be Pope Lando II.

The Doge Hat reminds me a bit of the Deshret. Or maybe what you'd get if you took the average of the two crowns instead of adding them together.

Were you thinking as you were writing this that the Fourth Crusade sounds a bit like the US war on Afghanistan-well-screw-that-how-about-Iraq?

The thought occured to me a couple of times, yes. I think there are distinct differences, though. Whereas I believe the war in Iraq was planned since before the Afghan War, with Afghanistan serving as the grudging prelude, I think the crusader decision to take Constantinople was genuinely spontaneous.

For one, you have to understand that Constantinople was extraordinarily rich by Medieval European standards. Pretty much everyone involved in the crusades, including the kings who led it, are coming from a context where the streets are paved with mud and buildings are made of thatch, and the most impressive building they're likely ever to have seen is a big stone cathedral. There's a general lack of sanitation even for the nobility, and probably the most expensive article any of them owns is a particularly nice fur or a tapestry. From that, they come to Constantinople and find that everyone's wearing purple silks (purple dye being, at the time, an extraordinarily expensive commodity), the nobles are clean, perfumed, and well-groomed, and the city is chock full of ornate gold icons.

Further, by the time they got to Constantinople they were tired and way under-strength. Previous Crusades had generally made it through Europe with little trouble. This time, barely half the promised soldiers had shown up at Venice, a further big chunk went home before they left port, another left when it came time to fight the Dalmatians, and even more left when the decision to take Constantinople was made. So by the time they got to Constantinople, they were tired and at maybe 20-30% of their planned strength. Actually taking the Holy Land was basically impossible, so there was likely a heavy sense of "This crusade's already failed; how can we cut our losses on this?" Add to that the fact that the Doge of Venice was basically running the show by that point, and he cared very little about the Holy Lands and very much about profiting on his investment.

Looking back on this comment, you probably could actually draw some interesting parallels between the Fourth Crusade and Iraq War II. Perhaps something about manpower shortages and occupations (which bodes ill for our current forces there; Perhaps the Turks will arrive soon to expel the United States from Iraq) and decision-makers being in hoc to their financiers (not that anyone could accuse this administration of dancing to the tune played by Halliburton and the big oil companies, ahem).

I think one of the great lessons of the Middle Ages, which we are re-learning now, is that one of the classic blunders (slightly less well-known than "Never get involved in a land war in Asia," "Never go in with a Sicilian when death is on the line," and "Never play poker with a man named Doc") is "Never try to conquer the Middle East for ideological reasons on the assumption that the conquest will pay for itself." Or, alternatively, "Just stay the fuck away from the Middle East in general."

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 15, 2005 2:16 AM.

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