Saturday, September 04, 2010

Fourth Crusade - Twilight of Byzantium (Part two: The Beginning of The End)

The first ruler from Angel family, Isaac Angel, became Emperor in the year of 1185 almost by accident, by rescuing his bare life in the city rebellion against the Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus. After coming on the throne he lived in the magnificent castle that was built on one of the islands in the Marmora Sea. He was surrounded with mistresses and buffoons who he received at the same time as the royal princess. Diseases of old Byzantine state, which were hidden in the era of the former Comnenus dynasty, emerged on the surface. Selling of positions, bribery and blackmail from tax collectors have become an everyday occurrence. For Emperor Isaac II was said that he is selling clerical positions like a vegetables in the market. However, Isaac II showed at least some effort to improve the position of Byzantium in foreign affairs, and has led several war campaigns against the Bulgarians and Serbs. Although in 1190, in the fierce battle, he defeated the army of the Great Zupan Stefan Nemanja, in the end he returned to Stefan most of the conquered land that he possessed earlier. As a special proof of his peaceful intentions, the Emperor married his niece Evdokia with Nemanja’s middle son Stefan (the Crowned).

During one of the following campaigns, in 1195 against the Bulgarians, the Emperor was, while he was hunting, victim of a conspiracy behind which was standing his older brother, Alexius (Evdokia’s father). Isaac was captured and blinded, and thrown into prison along with his young son, Alexis.

But during the eight years of ruling of Alexius III, the situation in the Kingdom worsened, and its fall was more visible. Alexius III was a typical product of this declining era. Utter love for power was merged inside of him with cowardly weakness. This ruthless man is remembered, among other things, for blinding two Emperors – his rivals - one of which was his brother and the other his son-in-law. Alexius spent his days amused only with his satisfactions on which he extravagantly spent the money from the state treasury.

The enemies of the Empire weren’t at rest. Alexius III was particularly harassed by his imperial opponent from the west, the German Emperor Henry VI (son of Frederick Barbarossa) who, as the husband of Norman Princess, demanded possessions in the Balkans between Durazzo and Salonica. In May 1197, Henry married his brother Philip of Swabia with daughter of the overthrown Emperor Isaac II, Irene, which acquired him the right to fight for the throne in Constantinople by presenting himself as sponsor and avenger of Isaac’s family against the usurper Alexius III.

Scared Alexius agreed to pay huge tribute to German emperor. A special “Alemanic tax” was imposed, but a huge sum could not be collected. That is why Alexius III, in desperation, ordered that even the jewelry from the imperial tombs in the church of the Holy Apostles is collected in order to appease his superior opponent. The Emperor found unexpected support in the Roman Pope Innocent III, who opposed the attack on the Byzantine Empire, fearing the excessive strengthening of his rival - the German Emperor. But before the attacks occurred, fate has helped Alexius: in September 1197 the Emperor Henry VI suddenly died during his campaign in Sicily and the western empire soon collapsed. Emperor Alexius III was then at peace. But, not for long.

Evident weakness of the Byzantine Empire around 1200 aroused thoughts of its conquering. Not only one leader of the Crusade was tempted with thought of immeasurable riches that were hidden behind the walls of Constantinople. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Serbian Zupan Stefan Nemanja, during the Third Crusade, in Nis, in 1189, have already forged plans for an attack on Byzantium. It took several decades of bad government in Constantinople, several incompetent leaders, a group of brave crusader leaders and a high style insolent plotter (Venetian Doge Dandolo) that inevitably occur. A decisive strike against the Byzantine Empire was in preparation.

To read Part one: Angels of Vanity, click HERE.

To read Part three: Crusader Galleys Under Constantinople, click HERE.
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