Nicetas Choniates: The Sack of Constantinople (1204)
The Fourth Crusade was directed at Egypt. There were, however,
a series of financial difficulties which enabled the Venetians,
who had been hired as transportation providers, to divert the
crusade to their own ends. First it attacked the Christian city
of Zara, and then Constantinople itself. The result was the establishment
of a series of Latin states in Greece and the Agean, and the permanent
collapse of communion between Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates here gives an account
of the sack of the city.
. . . How shall I begin to tell of the deeds wrought by these
nefarious men! Alas, the images, which ought to have been adored,
were trodden under foot! Alas, the relics of the holy martyrs
were thrown into unclean places! Then was se en what one shudders
to hear, namely, the divine body and blood of Christ was spilled
upon the ground or thrown about. They snatched the precious reliquaries,
thrust into their bosoms the ornaments which these contained,
and used the broken remnants for pans and drinking cups,-precursors
of Anti-Christ, authors and heralds of his nefarious deeds which
we momentarily expect. Manifestly, indeed, by that race then,
just as formerly, Christ was robbed and insulted and His garments
were divided by lot; only one thing was lacking, that His side,
pierced bv a spear, should pour rivers of divine blood on the
Nor can the violation of the Great Church [note: Hagia Sophia]
be listened to with equanimity. For the sacred altar, formed
of all kinds of precious materials and admired by the whole world,
was broken into bits and distributed among the soldiers, as was
all the other sacred wealth of so great and infinite splendor.
When the sacred vases and utensils of unsurpassable art and grace
and rare material, and the fine silver, wrought with gold, which
encircled the screen of the tribunal and the ambo, of admirable
workmanship, and the door and many other ornaments, were to be
borne away as booty, mules and saddled horses were led to the
very sanctuary of the temple. Some of these which were unable
to keep their footing on the splendid and slippery pavement, were
stabbed when they fell, so that the sacred pavement was polluted
with blood and filth.
Nay more, a certain harlot, a sharer in their guilt, a minister
of the furies, a servant of the demons, a worker of incantations
and poisonings, insulting Christ, sat in the patriarch's seat,
singing an obscene song and dancing frequently. Nor, indeed,
were these crimes committed and others left undone, on the ground
that these were of lesser guilt, the others of greater. But with
one consent all the most heinous sins and crimes were committed
by all with equal zeal. Could those, who showed so great madness
against God Himself, have spared the honorable matrons and maidens
or the virgins consecrated to God?
Nothing was more difficult and laborious than to soften by prayers,
to render benevolent, these wrathful barbarians, vomiting forth
bile at every unpleasing word, so that nothing failed to inflame
their fury. Whoever attempted it was derided as insane and a
man of intemperate language. Often they drew their daggers against
any one ivho opposed them at all or hindered their demands.
No one was without a share in the grief. In the alleys, in the
streets, in the temples, complaints, weeping, lamentations, grief,
the groaning of men, the shrieks of women, wounds, rape, captivity,
the separation of those most closely united. Nobles wandered
about ignominiously, those of venerable age in tears, the rich
in poverty. Thus it was in the streets, on the corners, in the
temple, in the dens, for no place remained unassailed or defended
the suppliants. All places everywhere were filled full of all
kinds of crime. Oh, immortal God, how great the afflictions of
the men, bow great the distress!
trans. by D. C. Munro, Translations and Reprints from the Original
Sources of European History, Series 1, Vol 3:1 (rev.
ed.) (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1912),
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(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996