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European Contact with Others - Documents


2. The Fourth Crusade, 1204.

The Capture of Zara (recorded by Geoffrey of Villehardouin)

The day after the feast of St. Martin [Nov. 12, 1202], some people from Zara came to speak to the doge of Venice, who was in his tent. They said to him that they would surrender the city and all their property to his mercy, if their lives were spared. The doge said that he would not accept these or any other conditions without the advice of the counts and barons, and that he would go and discuss the matter with them. While he went to talk to the counts and barons, that party, of which I have already spoken, who wanted to break up the army, said to the messengers: "Why do you want to surrender your city? The pilgrims will not attack you and you have nothing to fear from them. If you can defend yourselves against the Venetians, you need have no anxiety." And they sent one of them, Robert de Boves, who went to the walls of the city and announced the same thing.

So the messengers returned to the city and the plan of surrender was given up. The doge of Venice, when he came to the counts and barons, said to them: "Sirs, the people yonder want to surrender the city to my mercy, on condition that their lives be spared. But I will not make this agreement or any other without your advice." The barons replied: "'Sire, we advise you to make this agreement and we pray you to do so." He said he would, and they all went back together to the doge's tent to make this agreement. They found that the messengers had gone away, following the advice of those who wanted to break up the army.

Then the abbot of Vaux of the order of Citeaux rose and said to them: "Sirs, I forbid you, in the name of the Pope at Rome, to attack this city; for the inhabitants are Christians and you are pilgrims."

When the doge heard this he was much irritated and troubled. He said to the counts and barons: "Sirs, this city was practically in my power, and your people have taken it from me; you had promised that you would aid me in conquering it; now I require you to do so."

Then the counts and barons and those who belonged to their party held a conference and said: "Those who have prevented this agreement have committed a very great outrage, and it was not right for them to try to break up the army. Now we shall be disgraced, if we do not aid in capturing the city." They went to the doge and said to him: "Sire, we will aid you in capturing the city, in spite of those who wish to prevent it."

Accordingly the city was surrendered to the mercy of the doge of Venice, on condition that the lives of the inhabitants should be spared. Then the doge went to the counts and barons and said to them: "Sirs, we have conquered this city, by the grace of God and through your aid. It is now winter and we can not leave here until Easter. For we should find no provisions elsewhere; and this city is very rich and very well supplied with everything needful. Let us divide it accordingly into two parts; we will take one-half of it and you the other half."

The Summons to Alexis (recorded by Robert de Clari)

In the meantime the crusaders and the Venetians remained at Zara during the winter. They considered how great the expense had been and said to one another that they could not go to Babylon [Cairo] or Alexandria or Syria; for they had neither provisions nor money for the journey. They had already used up everything they had, either during the sojourn that they had made or in the great price that they had paid for the vessels. They said that they could not go and, even if they should go, they would accomplish nothing; they had neither provisions nor money sufficient to support them.

The doge of Venice saw clearly that the pilgrims were ill at ease. He addressed them, saying: "Sirs, Greece is a very rich land and bountifully supplied with everything. If we can find a sufficient excuse for going there and taking food and other things, so as to recuperate ourselves, it would seem to me advisable, and then we could easily go across the sea."

Then the marquis [Boniface of Montferrat] rose and said: "Sir, I was in Germany at the emperor's court last Christmas. There I saw a young man [Alexis] who was the emperor's brother in law. This young man was the son of the emperor Kyrsac [Isaac II] of Constantinople from whom his brother had taken the empire of Constantinople by treason. Whoever could get this young man," said the marquis, "could certainly go to the land of Constantinople and take provisions and other things; for this young man is the rightful heir."

Source: Dana C. Munro, The Fourth Crusade (Philadelphia, 1901) as reprinted and augmented by Edward Peters (ed.), Christian Society and the Crusades, 1198-1229 (Philadelphia, 1971).