None of the Crusades, after the Third, effected much in the Holy Land; either their force was spent before reaching it, or they were diverted from their purpose by different objects and ambitions. The crusaders of the Fourth expedition captured Constantinople instead of Jerusalem.
The Fourth Crusade - The Crusaders and the Venetians
The leaders of the crusade decided to make Egypt their objective point, since this country was then the center of the Moslem power. Accordingly, the crusaders proceeded to Venice, for the purpose of securing transportation across the Mediterranean. The Venetians agreed to furnish the necessary ships only on condition that the crusaders first seized Zara on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Zara was a Christian city, but it was also a naval and commercial rival of Venice. In spite of the pope's protests the crusaders besieged and captured the city. Even then they did not proceed against the Moslems. The Venetians persuaded them to turn their arms against Constantinople. The possession of that great capital would greatly increase Venetian trade and influence in the East; for the crusading nobles it held out endless opportunities of acquiring wealth and power. Thus it happened that these soldiers of the Cross, pledged to war with the Moslems, attacked a Christian city, which for centuries had formed the chief bulwark of Europe against the Arab and the Turk.
The Fourth Crusade - The Sack of Constantinople in 1204
The crusaders, now better styled the invaders, took Constantinople by storm. No "infidels" could have treated in worse fashion this home of ancient civilization. They burned down a great part of it; they slaughtered the inhabitants; they wantonly destroyed monuments, statues, paintings, and manuscripts - the accumulation of a thousand years. Much of the movable wealth they carried away. Never, declared an eye-witness of the scene, had there been such plunder since the world began.
The Fourth Crusade - The Wealth of Constantinople
The victors hastened to divide between them the lands of the Roman Empire in the East. Venice gained some districts in Greece, together with nearly all the Aegean islands. The chief crusaders formed part of the remaining territory into the Latin Empire of Constantinople. It was organized in fiefs, after the feudal manner. There was a prince of Achaia, a duke of Athens, a marquis of Corinth, and a count of Thebes. Baldwin, Count of Flanders, was crowned Emperor of the East. Large districts, both in Europe and Asia, did not acknowledge, however, these "Latin" rulers. The new empire lived less than sixty years. At the end of this time the Greeks returned to power.
Consequences of the Fourth Crusade
Constantinople, after the Fourth Crusade, declined in strength and could no longer cope with the barbarians menacing it. Two centuries later the city fell an easy victim to the Turks. The responsibility for the disaster which gave the Turks a foothold in Europe rests on the heads of the Venetians and the French nobles. Their greed and lust for power turned the Fourth Crusade into a political adventure.