The Long and Messy Demise of The Byzantine Empire
Like the fall of Rome, the fall of Constantinople was hundreds of years in the making. By the time the Ottoman Turks tore down the walls of the great city, the Eastern Roman Empire had been sundered into multiple parts and had been reduced to little more than a city-state. The decline of Byzantium was a long slow devolution that started when traitorous mercenaries sacked Constantinople instead of deploying to the Holy Land as planned.
While the final fall of Constantinople occurred in 1453 CE, the process began in 1204. The disaster of the Fourth Crusade began a 250-year period of decline that ended with the dissolution of the final vestiges of Rome. The events in the interim are scarcely remembered and poorly understood. Many people believe that the Ottoman Turks took on a Byzantine Empire at the height of its powers but nothing could be farther from the truth.
The Beginning of The End
The beginning of Byzantium’s woes occurred in 1202. At the time, the Fourth Crusade was assembling for a renewed assault against the Muslim lords who were in possession of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Unlike previous crusader episodes, this one got off to a rocky start. The crusaders did not have much in the way of coin or ships, so they turned to the region’s most powerful banking center, Venice, for help.
Venice agreed to ferry the crusader armies to the Holy Land if they helped the Republic capture the contested city of Zara. The army agreed, and instead of marching against Islamic forces, they besieged Catholic forces along the Adriatic. This caused the entire army to be excommunicated.
Now that the crusade had officially been stomped out by an angry pope, the army in the field was essentially a freelance force. A jealous Byzantine official used this to his advantage. He proposed that the army march with him to Constantinople, where they would reinstate him as the emperor. Once crowned, the new emperor would finish funding the crusade and send them on their way.
That was in 1203.
The plot worked. Sort of. Prince Alexios Angelos did manage to regain control of the city on the backs of…