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Medieval Sourcebook:
Robert de Clari:
The Capture of Constantinople

The two major western sources for the Fourth Crusade are Villehardouin's account and that of Robert de Clari. Villehardouin was part of the leadership of the Crusade, while de Clari was a much lower level knight. The texts here are taken from D.C. Munro's collection of sources on the Fourth Crusade.

1. The crusaders unable to pay the Venetians.

Robert de Clari: La Prise de Constantinople, xi and xii, in Hopf: Chroniques Gréco-Romanes, pp. 7-9. Old French.

XI. … While the pilgrims were staying on the island of St. Nicholas the doge of Venice and the Venetians went to speak to them and demanded the pay for the navy which had been prepared. And the doge said to them that they had acted wrongly in commanding through their messengers that vessels should be prepared for 4,000 knights and their equipment, and for 1000,000 foot- soldiers. Of these 4,000 knights, there were not more than 1,000 present, for the others had gone to other ports. And of these 100,000 foot-soldiers there were not more than 50,000 or 60,000. "Nevertheless," said the doge, " we want you to pay us the sum which you promised." When the crusaders heard this, they debated and arranged that each knight should pay four marks and four marks for each horse, and each esquire two marks; and those who paid less, should pay one mark. When they collected this money, they paid it to the Venetians. But 50,000 marks still remained due.

When the doge and the Venetians saw that the pilgrims had not paid more, they were all so incensed that the doge said to the pilgrims: "My lords, you have imposed upon us shamefully. For, as soon as your messengers had made the agreement with me and my people, I issued orders throughout my whole land that no merchant should undertake a voyage, but all were to aid in preparing this fleet. They have been waiting ever since and have gained nothing for the last year and a half; and, accordingly, they have lost much. Therefore my men and I want you to pay us the money which you owe us. if you do not pay us, you shall not leave this island before we get our money; and no one shall bring you anything to eat or drink." The doge, however, was a very excellent man and did not prevent the people from bringing enough food and drink.

XII. When the count and the crusaders heard what the doge said they were much troubled and grieved. They made another collection and borrowed all the money they could from those who were thought to have any. They paid it all to the Venetians, but after this payment 36,000 marks still remained due. They said to the Venetians that they had been imposed upon; that the army was greatly impoverished by this last collection; that they could not pay any more money at all, for they had hardly enough to support the army.

When the doge perceived that they could not pay all the money and that they were in sore straits, he said to his people: " Sirs, if we let these people go back to their own country, we shall always be considered base and tricky. Let us go to them and say that, if they are willing to pay us the 36,000 marks which they owe us out of their part of the first conquests which we make, we will carry them across the sea." The Venetians were well pleased with the doge's proposition. Accordingly, they went to the camp of the pilgrims. When they came thither, the doge said to the crusaders: " Sires, we have agreeed, I and my people, that if you are willing to guarantee faithfully to pay us the 36,000 marks, which you owe us, out of your share of the first conquests, we will carry you across the sea."

When the crusaders heard what the doge proposed they were very glad and fell at his feet for joy. They bound themselves very willingly to do faithfully what the doge had proposed. They were so joyous that night that there was no one so poor that he did not make a great illumination, and each one carried great torches made of candles on the end of his lance, both outside of the camp and inside, so that the whole army seemed intoxicated.

2 . The new agreement with the Venetians

Robert de Clari, xiii, in Hopf: Chroniques, p. 9. Old French.

Afterwards the doge came to the army and said: " Sirs, it is now winter, we cannot cross the sea, nor does this depend upon me. For I would have had you cross already, if it had not depended upon you. But let us do the best we can. There is a city near here, named Zara. The people of this city have done us much evil, and I and my men want to punish them, if we can. If you will take my advice, we will go there this winter and stay until Easter. Then we will make ready our navy and go to Outremer at Lady-day. The city of Zara is very rich and well supplied with all kinds of provisions." The barons and the nobles among the crusaders agreed to what the doge proposed. But no one in the army knew this plan, except the leaders.

3. The summons to Alexis.

Robert de Clari, xvi-xvii, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 11-12. Old French.

XVI. In the meantime the crusaders and the Venetians remained at Zara during the winter. They considered how great the expense had been and said to one another that they could not go to Babylon or Alexandria or Syria; for they had neither provisions nor money for the journey. They had already used up everything they had, either during the sojourn that they had made or in the great price that they had paid for the vessels. They said that they could not go and, even if they should go, they would accomplish nothing; they had neither provisions nor money sufficient to support them.

XVII. The doge of Venice saw clearly that the pilgrims were ill at 't ease. He addressed them, saying: " Sirs, Greece is a very rich land , and bountifully supplied with everything. If we can find a sufficient excuse for going there and taking food and other things, so as to recuperate ourselves, it would seem to me advisable, and then we could easily go across the sea." Then the marquis [Boniface of Montserat, the leader of the crusades] h rose and said: " Sir, I was in Germany at the emperor's [Philip of Swabia] court last Christmas. There I saw a young man who was the emperor's brother in law. [Alexis IV, brother of Queen Irene] This young man was the son of the emperor Kyrsac [i.e. Kyr (Lord) Isaac II Angelos] of Constantinople from whom his brother had taken the empire of Constantinople by treason. Whoever could get this young man," said the marquis, " could certainly go to the land of Constantinople and take provisions and other things; for this young man is the rightful heir."

4. The discussion after the arrival of A1exis

Robert de Clari, xxxiii, in Hopf: Chroniques, p. 24. Old French.

Then all the barons of the army and the Venetians were summoned. When they had all assembled, the doge of Venice rose and said t them: " My lords, we have now a sufficient excuse for going t Constantinople, if you think it wise, for we have the lawful heir." Now some who did not want to go to Constantinople, spoke thus: " Bah! what are we going to do at Constantinople? We have our pilgrimage to make and intend to go to Babylon or Alexandria. Our ships are rented for only one year and the year is already half over."

The others said in reply: " What are we going to do at Babylon or Alexandria, since we have neither provisions nor money enough to go? It is better to go where we have a sufficient excuse for obtaining money and provisions by conquest, than to go where we shall die of hunger. Then we can do it, and he offers to go with us and to pay for our ships and our navy another year at his own expense." An the marquis of Montferrat did all in his power to urge our going to Constantinople, because he wished to take vengeance for a wrong which the emperor of Constantinople had done him.

5. Difficulties with Alexis: The first payment.

Robert de Clari, Ivi, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 46-47- Old French.

Afterwards all the barons assembled one day at the palace of the emperor [Alexis - the crusaders rarely speak of Isaac as emperor] and demanded of him their pay. He replied that he would pay them, but he wished first to be crowned. Accordingly they made preparations and set a day for the coronation. On that day he was crowned emperor with due ceremony, with the consent of his father, who willingly granted it. After he had been crowned the barons demanded their pay. He said he would very willingly pay what he could and at that time he paid 100,000 marks. Of this sum the Venetians -received one-half; for they were to receive one-half of the conquests. Of the 50,000 which remained, 36,000, which the Franks still owed for the vessels, were paid to the Venetians. And all those who had advanced money to pay for the passage were paid out of the 14,000 marks which the pilgrims had left.

6. The Doge's threat

Robert de Clari, lix, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 48-49. Old French.

At these words the barons left the palace and returned to their camp. After returning they deliberated upon the course to follow. Meanwhile they sent two knights to the emperor and demanded again that he should pay them. He replied to the messengers that he would pay nothing, he had already paid too much, and that he was not afraid of any one. He also commanded them to go away and leave his land; they were to understand that if they did not depart, he would injure them. Then the messengers went back and told the barons the emperor's reply. When the barons heard this, they deliberated as to what they should do. The doge said that he wanted to speak to the emperor.

He sent a messenger to demand that the emperor should come to the harbor to speak to him. The emperor went on horseback. The doge prepared four armed galleys; he went in one and took the other three for protection. When he was near the shore he saw the emperor who had come on horseback. He addressed the latter as follows:

"Alexis, what do you think you are going to do? Remember we have raised you from a very humble estate. We have made you lord and you not keep your agreement with us and crowned you emperor. Wiill you not keep you agreement with us and will you not do more?" " No," replied the emperor, " I will not do anything more." " No?" said the doge, " wretched boy, we have raised you from the mire,' and we will throw you into the mire again and be sure that I will do you all the injury that I can, from this time on."

7. The sermons before the final attack on Constantinople.

Robert de Clari, ch. lxxiii-xxiii, in Hopf: Chroniques, pp. 57-58. Old French.

LXXII. When the pilgrims saw this,[TR has"a course expression in the original"] they were very angry and grieved much; they went back from the other side of the harbor to their lodgings. When the barons had returned and had gotten ashore, they assembled and were much amazed, and said that it was on account of their sins that they did not succeed in anything and could not capture the city. Meanwhile the bishops and the clergy in the army debated and decided that the war was a righteous one, and t they certainly ought to attack the Greeks. For formerly the inhabitants of the city had been obedient to the law of Rome and now the were disobedient, since they said that the law of Rome was of n account, and called all who believed in it " dogs." And the bishop said that for this reason one ought certainly to attack them, an that it was not a sin, but an act of great charity.

LXXIII. Then it was announced to all the host that all the Venetian and every one else should go and hear the sermons on Sunday morning; [Apr 11, 1204] and they did so. Then the bishops preached to the army, the bishop of Soissons, the bishop of Troyes, the bishop of Havestaist [Halberstadt] master Jean Faicette [De Noyon, chancellor of Baldwin of Flanders], and the abbot of Loos, and they showed to the pilgrims that the war was a righteous one; for the Greeks were traitors and murderers, and also disloyal, since they had murdered their rightful lord, and were worse than Jews. Moreover, the bishops said that, by the authority of God and in the name of the pope, they would absolve all who attacked the Greeks. Then the bishops commanded the pilgrims to confess their sins and receive the communion devoutly; and said that they ought not to hesitate to attack the Greeks, for the latter were enemies of God. They also commanded that all the evil women should be sought out and sent away from the army to a distant place. This was done; the evil women were all put on a vessel and were sent very far away from the army.


Dana C. Munro, "The Fourth Crusade ", Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol 3:1, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, [n.d.] 189?), 1-18.

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