The total amount distributed among the crusaders and Venetians shows that the wealth of Constantinople had not been exaggerated.
Continuing Constantinople Taken by the Western Crusaders,
our selection from The Fall of Constantinople Being the Story of the Fourth Crusade by Edwin Pears published in 1903. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Constantinople Taken by the Western Crusaders.
Time: April, 1204
The Italians resident in Constantinople, who had returned to the city with their countrymen, were conspicuous in their hostility to the Greeks. Amid this resentment there were examples, however, that former friendships were not forgotten. The escape of Nicetas himself is an illustration in point. He had held the position of grand logothete, * but he had been deposed by Mourtzouphlos. When the Latins entered the city he had retired to a small house near Hagia Sophia, which was so situated as to be likely to escape observation. His large house, and probably his official residence, which he is careful to tell us was adorned with an abundant store of ornaments, had been burned down in the second fire. Many of his friends found refuge with him, apparently regarding his dwelling as specially adapted for concealment. Nothing, however, could escape the observation of the horde which was now ransacking every corner. When the Italians had been banished from the city Nicetas had sheltered a Venetian merchant, with his wife and family. This man now clothed himself like a soldier and, pretending that he was one of the invaders, prevented his countrymen or any other Latins from entering the house. For some time he was successful, but at length a crowd, principally of French soldiers, pushed past and flocked within. From that time protection became impossible.
[* This office still exists. The principal duty of the person who holds it is to recite the creed in great religious services when the patriarch officiates.]
The Venetian advised Nicetas to leave, in order to prevent himself from being imprisoned and to save the honor of his daughters. Nicetas and his friends accepted the advice. Having clothed themselves in skins or the poorest garments, they were conducted through the city by their faithful friend as if they were his prisoners. The girls and young ladies of the party were placed in their midst, their faces having been intentionally smeared in order to give them the appearance of being of the poorest class. As they reached the Golden Gate the daughter of a magistrate, who was one of the party, was suddenly seized and carried off by a crusader. Her father, who was weak and old, and wearied with the long walk, fell, and was unable to do anything but cry for assistance. Nicetas followed and called the attention of certain soldiers who were passing, and after a long and piteous appeal, after reminding them of the proclamation which had been made against the violation of women, he ultimately succeeded in saving the maiden. The entreaties would have been in vain if the leader of the party had not at length threatened to hang the offender. A few minutes later the fugitives had passed out of the city, and fell on their knees to thank God for his protection in having permitted them to escape with their lives. Then they set out on their weary way to Silivria. The road was covered with fellow-sufferers. Before them was the Patriarch himself, “without bag or money, or stick or shoes, with but one coat,” says Nicetas, “like a true apostle, or rather like a true follower of Jesus Christ, in that he was seated on an ass, with the difference that instead of entering the new Zion in triumph he was leaving it.”
A large part of the booty had been collected in the three churches designated for that purpose. The marshal himself tells us that much was stolen which never came into the general mass. The stores which had been collected were, however, divided in accordance with the compact which had been made before the capture. The Venetians and the crusaders each took half. Out of the moiety belonging to the army there were paid the fifty thousand silver marks due to the Venetians. Two foot sergeants received as much as one horse sergeant, and two of the latter sergeants received as much as a knight. Exclusive of what was stolen and of what was paid to the Venetians, there were distributed among the army four hundred thousand marks, or eight hundred thousand pounds, and ten thousand suits of armor.
The total amount distributed among the crusaders and Venetians shows that the wealth of Constantinople had not been exaggerated. Eight hundred thousand pounds were given to the crusaders, a like sum to the Venetians, with the one hundred thousand pounds due to them. These sums had been collected in hard cash from a city where the inhabitants were hostile, and where they had in their wells and cisterns an easy means of hiding their treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones — a means traditionally well known in the East. Abundance of booty was taken possession of by the troops which never went into the general mass. Sismondi estimates that the wealth in specie and movable property before the capture was not less than twenty-four million pounds sterling.
The distribution was made during the latter end of April. Many works of art in bronze were sent to the melting-pot to be coined. Many statues were broken up in order to obtain the metals with which they were adorned. The conquerors knew nothing and cared nothing for the art which had added value to the metal. The weight of the bronze was to them the only question of interest. The works of art which they destroyed were sacrificed not to any sentiment like that of the Moslem against images which they believed to be idols or talismans. No such excuse can be made for the Christians of the West Their motive for destroying so much that was valuable was neither fanaticism nor religion. It was the simple greed for gain. No sentiment restrained their cupidity. The great statue of the Virgin which ornamented the Taurus was sent as unhesitatingly to the furnace as the figure of Hercules. No object was sufficiently sacred, none sufficiently beautiful, to be worth saving if it could be converted into cash. Amid so much that was destroyed it is impossible that there were not a considerable number of works of art of the best periods. The one list which has been left us by the Greek logothete professes to give account of only the larger statues which were sent to the melting-pot. But it is worth while to note what were these principal objects so destroyed.
Constantinople had long been the great storehouse of works of art and of Christian relics, the latter of which were usually encased with all the skill that wealth could buy or art furnish. It had the great advantage over the elder Rome that it had never been plundered by hordes of barbarians. Its streets and public places had been adorned for centuries with statues in bronze or marble. In reading the works of the historians of the Lower Empire the reader cannot fail to be struck alike with the abundance of works of art and with the appreciation in which they were held by the writers.
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