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Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The Fourth Crusade and Byzantium 

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None of the principal west European sovereigns answered the call of Innocent III. Philip II Augustus of France had been excommunicated by the Church for his divorce from his wife; John Lackland of England who had just ascended the throne, had first of all to establish himself there and was absorbed in a stubborn strife with the barons; finally, in Germany a struggle for the throne burst out between Otto of Brunswick and Philip of Swabia, so that neither of them could leave the country. Alone among sovereigns the king of Hungary took the cross. But the choicest of the western knights, particularly of northern France, took part in the crusade. Thibault, count of Champagne, Baldwin of Flanders, Louis of Blois, and many others assumed the cross. The crusading army was composed of French, Flemish, English, Germans, and Sicilians.

But the central figure of the crusade was the doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, a typical Venetian in mind and character. Although on his accession to the throne he was already eighty years of age, if not more, he resembled a young man by his powerful energy, devoted patriotism, and clear understanding of the most important purposes of Venice, especially of her economic aims. When the majesty, welfare, and benefit of the Republic of St. Mark were involved, Dandolo had no scruples regarding the means. Possessing the art of dealing with men, as well as extraordinary will power and circumspection, he was a remarkable statesman, an ingenious diplomat, and, at the same time, an expert economist.

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