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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The Third Crusade and Byzantium 


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Since the massacre of the Latins in Constantinople in 1182 relations between the Christian East and West had been strained. The friendly understanding of Frederick Barbarossa with the Normans, which had taken the form of the marriage of his son to the heiress of the Kingdom of Sicily, forced Isaac to regard him with still greater suspicion. Despite the treaty made at Nurnberg by an envoy of the Byzantine Emperor with Frederick before his departure for the crusade, Isaac Angelus opened negotiations with Saladin, against whom the crusade was being directed. Saladin's envoys made their appearance at the court of Isaac. They made an alliance against the sultan of Iconium, by virtue of which Isaac, as far as he could, was to hinder Frederick from advancing to the East; at the same time Saladin promised to return the Holy Land to the Greeks. Isaac's attitude toward Frederick was growing very doubtful. Frederick's negotiations with the Serbs and Bulgarians, which had been clearly aimed against Byzantium, could not but alarm Isaac.

Meanwhile the crusading army of Frederick occupied Philippopolis. In his message to the western Emperor, Isaac named him the king of Alemannia and himself the emperor of the Romans; he accused him of intending to conquer the eastern Empire, but promised to help him cross the Hellespont, if Frederick would give him noble German hostages and pledge himself to deliver him half of the land conquered by the Germans in Asia. The German ambassadors who were in Constantinople were imprisoned. Matters came to such a pass that Frederick had already determined to conquer Constantinople and had written to his son Henry to assemble the fleet in Italy and to obtain from the pope the preaching of a crusade against the Greeks. Meanwhile, after the taking of Hadrianople, Fredericks troops occupied Thrace, almost as far as the very walls of Constantinople. A source said, the whole city of Constantinople is shivering with fright thinking that its destruction and the extermination of its population are near.

At that critical moment Isaac yielded. He made peace with Frederick at Hadrianople, and the chief conditions were: Isaac provided the vessels for transferring Frederick's troops across the Hellespont into Asia Minor, delivered him hostages, and promised to supply the crusaders with food. In the spring, 1190, the German army crossed the Hellespont.

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