Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

Article excerpt

Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. By David M. Perry. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2015. Pp. xiv, 233. $69.95. ISBN 978-0-271-06507-6.)

The conquest of Constantinople by the crusader troops in 1204 is an event that has been much discussed from a number of points of view. David Perry, an ecclesiastical historian, brings forward still another take on the subject. Who besides the Venetians benefited from the takeover of the richly endowed city of Constantinople, and how did they explain themselves?

Often excoriated as "the infamous Fourth Crusade," the crusade was proclaimed by Pope Innocent III in 1198, another attempt to bring lands of the East back into the Christian fold. It has a dramatic history quite unlike that of the others. After a drawn-out series of negotiations that has engendered several books of its own, the original plan to attack Egypt as a step on the way to Jerusalem fell by the wayside. The crusader troops finally set sail from Venice in 1202. Diverted- largely, it has been argued, due to Venetian maneuvering-the galleys went to Zara to secure the Venetian hold on the city, arriving in 1204 at the gates of Constantinople. Here were riches of an almost unimaginable splendor, the most famous relics of Christendom. Perry lays out the stages of acquisition. The first wave of greedy and chaotic pillaging in which churches were ruthlessly stripped of value comes across vividly in eyewitness reports such as the impassioned denunciation by the Greek historian Niketas Choniates. This was followed by a more orderly appropriation and then the slow, steady export of precious relics to the West during the period of the Latin Kingdom of Constantinople, 1204-64. Gifts of relics were made to powerful Western rulers, one major example being the gift of the Crown of Thorns in 1239 by Baldwin II, installed as the Latin emperor of Constantinople, to his cousin, Louis IX, king of France-a relic later to be extravagantly enshrined in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Reactions to the despoiling of the treasures of Constantinople were immediate and harsh, especially on the part of Rome.

The core of the book lies in Perry's discussion of nine narratives that "collectively offer an interpretation . . . that celebrates the ver)' behaviour condemned by the papacy and other critics" (p. …

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