Latin Empire of Constantinople

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Latin Empire of Constantinople is the modern name for the state created on the ruins of the Byzantine Empire by members of the Fourth crusade in 1204; it endured until 1261. To contemporaries, it was known as Imperium Constantinopolitanum or as Romania.

After the capture of Constantinople on April 13, 1204, the crusaders, roughly half Venetian and half French, Flemings, and north-Italians, established a commission of 12 to elect a new "emperor" who would replace the former Byzantine Emperor. Baldwin of Flanders was chosen; when in 1206 he perished in Bulgarian captivity, he was succeeded by his brother Henry of Hainault (emperor 12061216), the ablest of the Latin Emperors. After his death, a succession of ineffectual rulers ended in the weak reign of Baldwin II (12401261, died 1273).

The Latin Empire borrowed some trappings of the Byzantine Empire: the coronation ceremony, the imperial purple boots, and certain titles. However, it was essentially a feudal monarchy. Its vassal states included the Kingdom of Thessalonike, the Principality of Achaia, and the Duchy of Athens, as well as the fiefs of individual knights in the vicinity of Constantinople. Uniquely among medieval feudal realms, it had a form of written constitution. Each new emperor was required to swear to abide by three documents: the pre-Conquest treaty of March 1204 which provided for the election of a new ruler and a division of the expected spoils, an agreement made in October 1204 which parceled out the territories of the former Byzantine Empire, and a treaty of October 1205 between the then-regent Henry and the Venetians which regulated the latter's responsibilities to the emperor. In fact, a council consisting half of feudal vassals of the emperor and half of Venetians had to consent to any significant civil or military action of the Latin Emperor; it proved a hindrance for most emperors.

Rival states shortly appeared on former Byzantine territory, founded by members of previous Byzantine ruling families. In Trebizond, a branch of the Comneni family established itself under Georgian protection. At Nicaea and in northwest Anatolia, Theodore Laskaris, son-in-law of the former emperor Alexius III Angelus, created a state which eventually superseded the Latin Empire. In Epirus (in northwest Greece), an illegitimate son of John (Angelus) Doukas took the name of Michael Angelus Comnenus Doukas and established a state which for a while threatened the Latin Empire. The so-called "Second Bulgarian Empire" was the greatest immediate danger: in 1205, Baldwin I was captured, imprisoned, and killed (1206) by its ruler Ioannitsa or Kaloyan (d. 1207). His successor, John Asen II (12181241), was alternately ally and enemy of the Latin emperors, and effectively arbiter of the empire's destiny. After John Asen's death, the Lascarids of Nicaea acquired most of the territory in Thrace that John Asen had taken from the Latins. In 1259, Michael VIII Palaeologus overthrew the Lascarids, and on July 25, 1261, his general, Alexius Strategopoulus, seized Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was reinstituted in its old capital, on a restricted basis, but destined to last until the Turkish conquest of 1453.

Because in 1204 the imperial crown had gone to Baldwin I, a Fleming, the Venetians were entitled to choose a patriarch for Constantinople; they picked Thomas Morosini, a subdeacon of noble Venetian descent. Pope Innocent III, although displeased that he had not been consulted, consented to the choice. Innocent and later popes tried to minimize the Venetian control of the Latin Patriarchate, with little success. While the upper clergy were Venetian or French, the parish priests remained Greek. For the most part, they submitted to rule by the Latin bishops, but remained at heart loyal to the Greek church, specifically to the Orthodox Patriarch chosen at Nicaea in 1208, whose successor returned to Constantinople in 1261.

While Dominican and Franciscan friars attempted missionary activity among the Greek population, few were willing to follow them. The violence, greed, and oppression of the victorious crusaders, and of the Latin clergy, alienated the Greeks. Only Emperor Henry of Hainault, by his moderation and outstanding justice, won support among the populace. His successors arrogantly disdained the Greeks. The principal result of Latin rule in Constantinople was to solidify Orthodox hostility to the Western Church.

Bibliography: r. wolff, "The Latin Empire of Constantinople, 12041261," in A History of the Crusades, ed. k. setton, 2nd ed., vol. II (Madison 1969), 187233. r. l. wolff, Studies in the Latin Empire of Constantinople (London 1976). m. angold, Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni, 10811261 (Cambridge 1995). d. e. queller and th. madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia 1997). d. j. geanakoplos, Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West 12581282: A Study in Byzantine-Latin Relations (Cambridge, Mass. 1959).

[c. m. brand]

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