The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis

The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis

The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis

The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis


The armies of the Fourth Crusade that left Western Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century never reached the Holy Land to fight the Infidel; they stopped instead at Byzantium and sacked that capital of eastern Christendom. Much of what we know today of those events comes from contemporary accounts by secular writers; their perspective is balanced by a document written from a monastic point of view and now available for the first time in English.

The Hystoria Constantinopolitana relates the adventures of Martin of Pairis, an abbot of the Cistercian Order who participated in the plunder of the city, as recorded by his monk Gunther. Written to justify the abbot's pious pilferage of scared relics and his transporting them back to his monastery in Alsace, it is a work of Christian metahistory that shows how the sack of Constantinople fits into God's plan for humanity, and that deeds done under divine guidance are themselves holy and righteous.

The Hystoria Constantinopolitana is one of the most complex and sophisticated historiographical work of its time, deftly interweaving moods and motifs, themes and scenes. In producing the first English translation and analysis of this work, Alfred Andrea has captured the full flavor of the original with its alternating section of prose and poetry. His introduction to the text provides background on Gunther's life and work and explores the monk's purpose in writing the Hystoria Constantinopolitana—not the least of which was extolling the virtues of Abbott Martin, who was sometimes accuse of laxity by his superiors in the Order.

Gunther's work is significant for its effort to deal with problems raised by the participation of monks in the Crusades, making it a valuable contribution to both crusading and monastic history. The Capture of Constantinople adds to our knowledge of the Fourth Crusade and provides unusual insight into the attitudes of the participants and the cultural-intellectual history of the early thirteenth century.

Alfred J. Andrea is Professor of History at the University of Vermont.


The publication of this translation and study marks the end of a project begun well over a decade ago. I undertook this work with the naive assumption that six to twelve months would suffice to prepare a suitable translation and a few appropriate words of commentary upon what then seemed to me to be a minor source for the Fourth Crusade. Happily, I was wrong. the complexity and sophistication of Gunther of Pairis’s Hystoria Constantinopolitana have provided years of fascination and delight.

In the course of these labors I have benefited from the support of many institutions and the wise counsel of many friends. To the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung of Bad Godesburg, Germany I owe the favor of an extended period of residence in Munich which enabled me to examine at leisure two extant manuscripts of the Hystoria Constantinopolitana. the American Philosophical Society awarded a grant-in-aid, enabling me to return to Europe to complete this archival research. the University of Vermont has given several stipends which helped me to continue research. the university also granted a year of sabbatical leave for the completion of the project. a generous grant from the Translations Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities made it possible for me to accept that leave by providing funds to supplement my sabbatical salary and also to assist in various stages of research and typescript preparation. the staffs of the manuscript divisions of the Universitatsbibliothek and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, both of Munich, Germany, and of the Bibliothèque de la Ville, Colmar, France, have helped make my work in their respective archives enjoyable as well as productive.

My colleagues, in both the Department of History and the European Studies Program of the University of Vermont, have been . . .

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