It is easy to conceive of the crusades as a conflict between Latin Christian West and the Muslim Middle East, forgetting that between these two geographic/religious groupings was an Orthodox Christian Empire -- what we have come to call the Byzantine Empire. Yet it was the latter which both triggered the crusades and became a victim of them. Today I continue my four-part series on the complex role played by Byzantium in the era of the crusades by looking at the reign of Manuel I Comnenus and the Third Crusade.
At his ascension, Manuel inherited the traditional suspicion of the crusaders and their motives from his predecessors. His attitude was reinforced by the indiscipline and reprehensible behavior of some German elements during the Second Crusade. The Byzantines responded with open hostility that escalated into armed clashes -- right up to the gates of Constantinople itself. Yet eventually Conrad III and, after his arrival, Louis VII of France were able to reason with Manual. Their differences were settled, and Manuel concluded an alliance with Conrad III aimed at the Normans of Sicily.
|King Amalric of Jerusalem and his Byzantine Queen, Maria Comnena|
|Mosaic Tiles at the Church of the Nativity|
The move reflected Byzantine hubris: the confidence that the Venetians would never be able to take revenge for this arbitrary act. Certainly, the initial attempt by the Venetians to send a fleet to free their captives met with defeat. It would take 33 years before the Venetians would have their revenge, but when it came it would surpass the worst nightmares of the Byzantines.
The populace turned on the merchants, their families, and the Catholic monks and clerics who lived in the crowded quarters along the Golden Horn…When the mobs attacked, no attempt at defense was made. The crowds raced through the streets seeking Latins. The choicest victims were the helpless: women and children, the aged and the sick, priests and monks. They were killed in streets and houses, dragged from hiding places and slaughtered. Dwellings and churches full of refugees were burned, and at the Hospital of the Knights of St. John, the sick were murdered in their beds. The clergy were the particular objects of the crowd’s hatred. The head of the pope’s emissary, Cardinal John, was cut off and dragged through the streets on the tail of a dog….The Orthodox clergy took the lead in searching out concealed Latins to deliver to the killers.
This represented a clear break with Comnenian policies. There were many in the Byzantine administration…who were critical…. [However,] once it became clear that reviving Manuel Comnenus’s policy of entente with the crusader states was impractical — largely because of the loss of Cyprus — an understanding with Saladin was the most effective way of protecting Byzantine interests in Anatolia, where Saladin could bring his influence to bear on the Seljuqs of Rum. [Angold, 297.]
Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/crusades.html