Saturday, September 04, 2010

Fourth Crusade - Twilight of Byzantium (Part four: A Tragedy Had Several Acts.)

The first act began on 17 July 1203 when the Crusader and Venetian army, led by the blind Doge, managed to penetrate through walls, burn one part of the city and instead of Alexius III give the throne to the blind Isaac II and his airy son who will be crowned as Emperor Alexius IV. The Crusaders and the Venetians weren’t satisfied with mere change on the throne, and they remained outside the city in anticipation of a rich reward from the new Emperor - and that reward was supposed to be so big that even the entire Byzantine Empire was not able to satisfy them.

Interact of the tragedy occurred on 25 January, 1204, when the administrator of the castle, Alexios Murzuflos, with the support of the people, who were bitter with crusaders presence, took the throne under the name of Alexius V. Previous rulers, father and son, were strangled, and the new Emperor tried, helter-skelter, to strengthen the walls in order to defend against Crusaders expected attack.

The last act of the drama occurred on April 9, 1204, or 6712, when Venetian-Crusader army, for the second time in a year, won the walls, and finally occupied Constantinople. For the first time in eight centuries since its founding, the city that has withstood countless sieges and attacks – from the Goths, Slavs, Arabs, Russians, Normans – has fallen. Capturing of Constantinople was the introduction of perhaps the greatest robbery that was remembered throughout the history of Europe. For three days lasted robberies, murders, assaults, burning of the city...The destruction was such that it petrified the very Pope Innocent III who threw anathema on the Venetians.

Coeval of events, Nikita Choniates, writes how conquerors were "breaking the sacred images and throwing holy relics of the martyrs to places that I am ashamed to mention, scattering everywhere the flesh and blood of the Savior. These messengers of Antichrist drew the church vessels and plucked jewelry and ornaments in order to use them as containers for drinking... In the Great Church they destroyed the holy altar, a work of art the whole world admired, and split between them its own parts... and they brought horses and mules into the Church to help them take the screed parts of wealth... Prostitute was placed on the throne of the Patriarch, screaming slanders, awkwardly singing and dancing... On the streets, in homes and churches you could only hear screams and cries."

The Fourth Crusade was one of the darkest moments of Christianity. Never, since the days of the barbarian invasions centuries ago, Europe has seen such an orgy of brutality and vandalism, never in the whole history so many beautiful, so many magnificent works of art were destroyed in such a short time. It is believed that with the burning of Constantinople in 1204 it was forever lost more written works of classical Greek and Roman culture than what happened during the robbery of Rome in the fifth century, or when fire engulfed the Library of Alexandria in the seventh century. What we have now left is only a small part of the vast collection of classical Greek philosophy and literature that is irretrievably lost in the fires of Constantinople.

What wasn’t destroyed was stretched throughout Western Europe - from artistic works, such as horses on St. Mark's Cathedral and many other valuables that can be seen today in Venice and elsewhere - to the countless holy relics, such as those which are located in the Holy Chapel (Ste Chapelle) in Paris, built only for this occasion. Just one collector of holy relics, Robert de Claria, brought home forty relics including: pieces of the Holy Cross, several thorns from Christ’s crown, a part of the Virgin clothes, pot and sponge used during the crucifixion, the hand of St. Mark, St. Helena finger, a piece of clothing Christ wore on the crucifixion… On the other hand, a large number of ancient works made of bronze and copper were easily melted down for the treasury of the Latin masters of Constantinople. The Byzantine chronicler Nikita Choniates from memory has made a list of destroyed ancient works on which is listed Lysippos’es Heracles statue, a magnificent statue of Juno taken from the temple of Samos, incomparable statue of beautiful Helen and many others.

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

To read Part five: The Consequences of The Fall of Constantinople, click HERE.
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