This series has six easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Assault Begins from Sea.
The Fourth Crusade was a disaster. As our story opens, the impact of Jaffa (1197) had left Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to a mere strip of coast. Only by prompt action could it be hoped to save any portion of it from complete wreck. The Christian survivors reeled back into Asia Minor but the remnant of the Byzantine Empire looked to their own interests.
Reinforcements from the west were recruited to retrieve the Crusade But how? Counter-attack someplace like Egypt in order to take the pressure off? Direct reinforcement of the fleeing Christians? They could not decide.
Losses of shipping decided the result. The reinforcing Crusaders contracted with the only western naval power left – Venice. The Venetians chose to drop them off at outside of Constantinople. At this point, we turn the story over to Mr. Pears.
This selection is from The Fall of Constantinople Being the Story of the Fourth Crusade by Edwin Pears published in 1903. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Edwin Pears was a historian who lived in Constantinople and worked as a British diplomat.
Time: April, 1204
The preparations which the leaders had been pushing on during several weeks were completed in April, 1204, and that day was chosen for an assault upon Constantinople. Instead of attacking simultaneously a portion of the harbor walls and a portion of the landward walls, Venetians and crusaders alike directed their efforts against the defenses on the side of the harbor. The horses were embarked once more in the huissiers. The line of battle was drawn up; the huissiers and galleys in front, the transports a little behind and alternating between the huissiers and the galleys. The whole length of the line of battle was upward of half a league, and stretched from the Blachern to beyond the Petrion. The Emperor’s vermilion tent had been pitched on the hill just beyond the district of the Petrion, where he could see the ships when they came immediately under the walls. Before him was the district which had been devastated by the fire.
[2: The Petrion, which is repeatedly mentioned by contemporary writers, was a district built on the slope of a hill running parallel to the Golden Horn for about one-third of the length of the harbor walls eastward from Blachern. It had apparently been a neglected spot during the early centuries of the history of Constantinople, but had lately come to be the residence of numerous hermits, and the site of several monasteries and convents. A great part is now occupied by the Jewish colony of Galata.]
On the morning of the 9th the ships, drawn up in the order described, passed over from the north to the south side of the harbor. The crusaders landed in many places, and attacked from a narrow strip of the land between the walls and the water. Then the assault began in terrible earnest along the whole line. Amid the din of the imperial trumpets and drums the attackers endeavored to undermine the walls, while others kept up a continual rain of arrows, bolts, and stones. The ships had been covered with blanks and skins so as to defend them from the stones and from the famous Greek fire, and, thus protected, pushed boldly up to the walls. The transports soon advanced to the front, and were able to get so near the walls that the attacking parties on the gangways or platforms, flung out once more from the ships’ tops, were able to cross lances with the defenders of the walls and towers.
The attack took place at upward of a hundred points until noon, or, according to Nicetas, until evening. Both parties fought well. The invaders were repulsed. Those who had landed were driven back, and amid the shower of stones were unable to remain on shore. The invaders lost more than the defenders. Before night a portion of the vessels had retired out of range of the mangonels, while another portion remained at anchor and continued to keep up a continual fire against those on the walls. The first day’s attack had failed.
[3: Nicetas’ Chronicate, Greek authority on the Latin conquest.]
[4: Engines for throwing stones and other missiles.]
The leaders of both crusaders and Venetians withdrew their forces to the Galata side. The assault had failed, and it became necessary at once to determine upon their next step. The same evening a parliament was hastily called together. Some advised that the next attack should be made on the walls on the Marmora side, which were not so strong as those facing the Golden Horn. The Venetians, however, immediately took an exception, which everyone who knew Constantinople would at once recognize as unanswerable. On that side the current is always much too strong to allow vessels to be anchored with any amount of steadiness or even safety. There were some present who would have been very well content that the current or a wind — no matter what — should have dispersed the vessels, provided that they themselves could have left the country and have gone on their way.
It was at length decided that the two following days, the 10th and 11th, should be devoted to repairing their damages, and that a second assault should be delivered on the 12th. The previous day was a Sunday, and Boniface and Dandolo made use of it to appease the discontent in the rank and file of the army. The bishops and abbots were set to work to preach against the Greeks. They urged that the war was just; that the Greeks had been disobedient to Rome, and had perversely been guilty of schism in refusing to recognize the supremacy of the Pope, and that Innocent himself desired the union of the two churches. They saw in the defeat the vengeance of God on account of the sins of the crusaders. The loose women were ordered out of the camp, and, for better security, were shipped and sent far away. Confession and communion were enjoined, and, in short, all that the clergy could do was done to prove that the cause was just, to quiet the discontented, and to occupy them until the attack next day.
The warriors had in the meantime been industriously repairing their ships and their machines of war. A slight, but not unimportant, change of tactics had been suggested by the assault on the 9th. Each transport had been assigned to a separate tower. The number of men who could fight from the gangways or platforms thrown out from the tops had been found insufficient to hold their own against the defenders. The modified plan was, therefore, to lash together, opposite each tower to be attacked, two ships, containing gangways to be thrown out from their tops, and thus concentrate a greater force against each tower. Probably, also, the line of attack was considerably shorter than at the first assault.
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