Robert de Clari:
The Capture of Constantinople
The two major western sources for the Fourth Crusade are Villehardouin's
account and that of Robert de Clari. Villehardouin was part of
the leadership of the Crusade, while de Clari was a much lower
level knight. The texts here are taken from D.C. Munro's collection
of sources on the Fourth Crusade.
1. The crusaders unable to pay the Venetians.
Robert de Clari: La Prise de Constantinople, xi and
xii, in Hopf: Chroniques Gréco-Romanes, pp. 7-9.
While the pilgrims were staying on the island
of St. Nicholas the doge of Venice and the Venetians went to speak
to them and demanded the pay for the navy which had been prepared.
And the doge said to them that they had acted wrongly in commanding
through their messengers that vessels should be prepared for 4,000
knights and their equipment, and for 1000,000 foot- soldiers.
Of these 4,000 knights, there were not more than 1,000 present,
for the others had gone to other ports. And of these 100,000 foot-soldiers
there were not more than 50,000 or 60,000. "Nevertheless,"
said the doge, " we want you to pay us the sum which you
promised." When the crusaders heard this, they debated and
arranged that each knight should pay four marks and four marks
for each horse, and each esquire two marks; and those who paid
less, should pay one mark. When they collected this money, they
paid it to the Venetians. But 50,000 marks still remained due.
When the doge and the Venetians saw that the pilgrims had not
paid more, they were all so incensed that the doge said to the
pilgrims: "My lords, you have imposed upon us shamefully.
For, as soon as your messengers had made the agreement with me
and my people, I issued orders throughout my whole land that no
merchant should undertake a voyage, but all were to aid in preparing
this fleet. They have been waiting ever since and have gained
nothing for the last year and a half; and, accordingly, they have
lost much. Therefore my men and I want you to pay us the money
which you owe us. if you do not pay us, you shall not leave this
island before we get our money; and no one shall bring you anything
to eat or drink." The doge, however, was a very excellent
man and did not prevent the people from bringing enough food and
XII. When the count and the crusaders heard what the doge
said they were much troubled and grieved. They made another collection
and borrowed all the money they could from those who were thought
to have any. They paid it all to the Venetians, but after this
payment 36,000 marks still remained due. They said to the Venetians
that they had been imposed upon; that the army was greatly impoverished
by this last collection; that they could not pay any more money
at all, for they had hardly enough to support the army.
When the doge perceived that they could not pay all the money
and that they were in sore straits, he said to his people: "
Sirs, if we let these people go back to their own country, we
shall always be considered base and tricky. Let us go to them
and say that, if they are willing to pay us the 36,000 marks which
they owe us out of their part of the first conquests which we
make, we will carry them across the sea." The Venetians were
well pleased with the doge's proposition. Accordingly, they went
to the camp of the pilgrims. When they came thither, the doge
said to the crusaders: " Sires, we have agreeed, I and my
people, that if you are willing to guarantee faithfully to pay
us the 36,000 marks, which you owe us, out of your share of the
first conquests, we will carry you across the sea."
When the crusaders heard what the doge proposed they were very
glad and fell at his feet for joy. They bound themselves very
willingly to do faithfully what the doge had proposed. They were
so joyous that night that there was no one so poor that he did
not make a great illumination, and each one carried great torches
made of candles on the end of his lance, both outside of the camp
and inside, so that the whole army seemed intoxicated.
2 . The new agreement with the Venetians
Robert de Clari, xiii, in Hopf: Chroniques, p. 9. Old
Afterwards the doge came to the army and said: " Sirs, it
is now winter, we cannot cross the sea, nor does this depend upon
me. For I would have had you cross already, if it had not depended
upon you. But let us do the best we can. There is a city near
here, named Zara. The people of this city have done us much evil,
and I and my men want to punish them, if we can. If you will take
my advice, we will go there this winter and stay until Easter.
Then we will make ready our navy and go to Outremer at Lady-day.
The city of Zara is very rich and well supplied with all kinds
of provisions." The barons and the nobles among the crusaders
agreed to what the doge proposed. But no one in the army knew
this plan, except the leaders.
3. The summons to Alexis.
Robert de Clari, xvi-xvii, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp.
11-12. Old French.
XVI. 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
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.
XVII. The doge of Venice saw clearly that the pilgrims
were ill at 't 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 Montserat, the leader of the crusades]
h rose and said: " Sir, I was in Germany at the emperor's
[Philip of Swabia] court last Christmas. There I saw a young man
who was the emperor's brother in law. [Alexis IV, brother of Queen
Irene] This young man was the son of the emperor Kyrsac [i.e.
Kyr (Lord) Isaac II Angelos] 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."
4. The discussion after the arrival of A1exis
Robert de Clari, xxxiii, in Hopf: Chroniques, p. 24.
Then all the barons of the army and the Venetians were summoned.
When they had all assembled, the doge of Venice rose and said
t them: " My lords, we have now a sufficient excuse for going
t Constantinople, if you think it wise, for we have the lawful
heir." Now some who did not want to go to Constantinople,
spoke thus: " Bah! what are we going to do at Constantinople?
We have our pilgrimage to make and intend to go to Babylon or
Alexandria. Our ships are rented for only one year and the year
is already half over."
The others said in reply: " What are we going to do at Babylon
or Alexandria, since we have neither provisions nor money enough
to go? It is better to go where we have a sufficient excuse for
obtaining money and provisions by conquest, than to go where we
shall die of hunger. Then we can do it, and he offers to go with
us and to pay for our ships and our navy another year at his own
expense." An the marquis of Montferrat did all in his power
to urge our going to Constantinople, because he wished to take
vengeance for a wrong which the emperor of Constantinople had
5. Difficulties with Alexis: The first payment.
Robert de Clari, Ivi, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 46-47-
Afterwards all the barons assembled one day at the palace of the
emperor [Alexis - the crusaders rarely speak of Isaac as emperor]
and demanded of him their pay. He replied that he would pay them,
but he wished first to be crowned. Accordingly they made preparations
and set a day for the coronation. On that day he was crowned emperor
with due ceremony, with the consent of his father, who willingly
granted it. After he had been crowned the barons demanded their
pay. He said he would very willingly pay what he could and at
that time he paid 100,000 marks. Of this sum the Venetians -received
one-half; for they were to receive one-half of the conquests.
Of the 50,000 which remained, 36,000, which the Franks still owed
for the vessels, were paid to the Venetians. And all those who
had advanced money to pay for the passage were paid out of the
14,000 marks which the pilgrims had left.
6. The Doge's threat
Robert de Clari, lix, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 48-49.
At these words the barons left the palace and returned to their
camp. After returning they deliberated upon the course to follow.
Meanwhile they sent two knights to the emperor and demanded again
that he should pay them. He replied to the messengers that he
would pay nothing, he had already paid too much, and that he was
not afraid of any one. He also commanded them to go away and leave
his land; they were to understand that if they did not depart,
he would injure them. Then the messengers went back and told the
barons the emperor's reply. When the barons heard this, they deliberated
as to what they should do. The doge said that he wanted to speak
to the emperor.
He sent a messenger to demand that the emperor should come to
the harbor to speak to him. The emperor went on horseback. The
doge prepared four armed galleys; he went in one and took the
other three for protection. When he was near the shore he saw
the emperor who had come on horseback. He addressed the latter
"Alexis, what do you think you are going to do? Remember
we have raised you from a very humble estate. We have made you
lord and you not keep your agreement with us and crowned you emperor.
Wiill you not keep you agreement with us and will you not do more?"
" No," replied the emperor, " I will not do anything
more." " No?" said the doge, " wretched boy,
we have raised you from the mire,' and we will throw you into
the mire again and be sure that I will do you all the injury that
I can, from this time on."
7. The sermons before the final attack on Constantinople.
Robert de Clari, ch. lxxiii-xxiii, in Hopf: Chroniques,
pp. 57-58. Old French.
LXXII. When the pilgrims saw this,[TR has"a course
expression in the original"] they were very angry and
grieved much; they went back from the other side of the harbor
to their lodgings. When the barons had returned and had gotten
ashore, they assembled and were much amazed, and said that it
was on account of their sins that they did not succeed in anything
and could not capture the city. Meanwhile the bishops and the
clergy in the army debated and decided that the war was a righteous
one, and t they certainly ought to attack the Greeks. For formerly
the inhabitants of the city had been obedient to the law of Rome
and now the were disobedient, since they said that the law of
Rome was of n account, and called all who believed in it "
dogs." And the bishop said that for this reason one ought
certainly to attack them, an that it was not a sin, but an act
of great charity.
LXXIII. Then it was announced to all the host that all
the Venetian and every one else should go and hear the sermons
on Sunday morning; [Apr 11, 1204] and they did so. Then the bishops
preached to the army, the bishop of Soissons, the bishop of Troyes,
the bishop of Havestaist [Halberstadt] master Jean Faicette
[De Noyon, chancellor of Baldwin of Flanders], and the abbot of
Loos, and they showed to the pilgrims that the war was a righteous
one; for the Greeks were traitors and murderers, and also disloyal,
since they had murdered their rightful lord, and were worse than
Jews. Moreover, the bishops said that, by the authority of God
and in the name of the pope, they would absolve all who attacked
the Greeks. Then the bishops commanded the pilgrims to confess
their sins and receive the communion devoutly; and said that they
ought not to hesitate to attack the Greeks, for the latter were
enemies of God. They also commanded that all the evil women should
be sought out and sent away from the army to a distant place.
This was done; the evil women were all put on a vessel and were
sent very far away from the army.
Dana C. Munro, "The Fourth Crusade ", Translations
and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History,
Vol 3:1, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, [n.d.] 189?),
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© Paul Halsall December1997