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The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  364 ratings  ·  37 reviews
A remarkable assessment of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which set out to free Jerusalem from the grip of Islam, and ended in the expedition’s savage attack on the Christian city of Constantinople.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 30th 2004 by Jonathan Cape (first published 2004)
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Why is the Fourth Crusade one of the most awesome events in western if not world history? It's because the idiots involved didn't even make it to the Holy Land or any Muslim controlled territory but instead attacked their Christian ally Byzantium and sacked Constantinople, one of the greatest cities in history, to pay off the debt to Venice incurred through the building of the ships for the Crusade. And then they went home. I dare you to name a stupider series of events than that.
Jonathan Phillips’ The Fourth Crusade garners a 4 Star stamp for relating this convoluted and outrageous history at the turn of the 13th Century with clarity and great war storytelling. The Catholic dictionary defines a crusade as “expeditions undertaken, in fulfillment of a solemn vow, to deliver the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny.” Well, this crusade got seriously off track right from the start. It never got to the “Holy Places” and wound up attacking only fellow Christian cities. Why? We ...more
May 29, 2007 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any history geek
Shelves: historybooks
I loved this book! Jonathan Philips describes the events leading up to the Sack of Constantinople with perfect clarity. Supported by a plethora of facts and a clear writing style this book is an excellent account of the Fourth Crusade
It's always refreshing to come across a writer who can make history interesting and engaging without dumbing it down.
History was often stranger than fiction, for who knew whether a flutter of a butterfly's wings somewhere caused a typhoon in the other half of the globe? And like such, who could have foreseen that a small mistake in the beginning of an expedition could lead it down to a spiraling path of madness and destruction?

It seemed like a inconsequential thing at first, the number of expected participants, to put down on a contract. Yet when the number turned out to be wildly off the mark, the French sudd
My generation, being the Cold War cohort, were taught that no real culture or history existed east of the Iron Curtain. Thus most of us had only the dimmest inklings of the Byzantine Empire, an enormous and long lived center of learning and the major repository of classical knowledge for centuries. Constantinople was the queen of all the cities of the earth for a thousand years. Then, after the kingdoms of the Holy Land were overrun by the Muslims a new crusade was promoted by the Papacy to rega ...more
How does a crusade against Islam end up sidetracked into a completely different country? The Fourth Crusade was dominated by a nobility that was trying to build up its credibility by military adventuring, an avaracious collective of merchants, traders and bankers to whom they were indebted, a gullible public--though about 2/3rds of the crusaders quit when they discovered they were going to be fighting Christians instead of the Islamic conquerors of the Holy Land. Thus the Fourth Crusade to free ...more
An honest and concious account of the Fourth Crusade written by a superb historian. Jonathan Phillips explains how an initially Egypt bound expedition goes wrong from the start and ends up taking one of the most splendid cities of Christianity. The seemingly incredible event is broken down and analysed, leaving the reader with the understanding that the Fourth Crusade was an avalanche of unfortunate accidents one after the other, leading to an outcome no one ever could have foreseen.

A crusader
Jeff Lanter
I have to lavish some praise on this book. I found it to be both extremely approachable for someone wanting to learn about the crusades (even if you have no prior knowledge like myself), but also entertaining and quite educational as well. Over the course of the book, a crusade intending to retake Jerusalem from those dogs in the Middle East (sarcasm intended) gets pushed towards Constantinople (the wealthiest Christian city in existence at the time) and the city's Greek rulers through a series ...more
I made the crucial mistake, while reading this, of listening to the Radio 4 comedy, All The World's A Globe, with the result that every now and then I would discover that I was reading it in the voice of Desmond Olivier Dingle, rendering this epic, tragic tale of the strangest left-turn in history, utterly hilarious.
It does boggle the mind, somewhat, that a holy crusade whose primary intention is to go kill Muslims in the Holy Land ends up off killing Orthodox Christians in Constantinople, but P
I was always told that this was one of the most horrible stains in the history of Christian (Latin) West, but the author convinces you that the Greeks were 'cruisin for a bruising' and the sack of the Constantinople - though brutal - was not that unjustified after all. It's a very readable book, though it could have been 50 pages shorter had not the author used so many repetitions to stress the key points.
Chris Hall
Jonathan Phillips has authored a fantastic book in The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. It's been immensely enjoyable to read and extremely informative.

Phillips' book tries to be non-partisan and objective in delving into the political, commercial and theological roots for the Fourth Crusade and the story around why it went astray. He brings comment from both the Western nations and the Roman Catholic church as well as from the Byzantine Empire side, although I would have wanted to
David Alyn
Had to read this for a class. It was like reading the transcript of an incredibly long lecture by a professor. Mostly boring with the occasional burst of excitement. Now all that is left is writing the report on it...
As others have written, this seems to be written like a compelling textbook without the dry digressions. Before reading this my clearest vision of a Crusader's life and this time was vague and cliched (I am not a history buff), and I had no grasp on how personalities were formed and flavored in light of the day-to-day realities and larger cultural dimensions that were at play during this general period of European/Islamic history. No, I feel, I have a good staring point, and a budding fascinatio ...more
OK, this is how a history book should be written. A thorough, well-researched, and detailed account, but also written colloquially enough that it flows and is enjoyable to read. Loads of endnotes, but there's no need to continually flip back to them to fill in the story - the author does all that. It helps that he has a compelling story to talk about -- the Fourth Crusade was full of, shall we say, blunders, and the author does a great job of relating each and how one led to the next and so fort ...more
Margaret Haerens
For anyone interested in medieval history or the Crusades, this is a fascinating account of the Fourth Crusade, which is renowned for failing to retake Jerusaleum (its stated mission) and instead attacked and sacked the city of Constantinople (another Christian city at the time). Particularly relevant in the light of the the past few years--a big theme of the book is how the noblemen justified an attack on an innocent city and tried to sell the war to unsuspecting believers who were in the fight ...more
A good, thorough, and seemingly fair portrayal of the dastardly but intriguing Fourth Crusade
Hannah Taylor
I regret having to scan read this, but considering my history exam was today...
As usual, a splendid amount of detail that attempts to recreate the events of the crusades, but sometimes Phillips digresses from the main focus - as interesting as reading about the love letters of participants of the Fourth Crusade is, it is sometimes preferable to read about the actual crusade - but otherwise very informative, accessible and detailed. It's just a shame I didn't get to answer the Fourth Crusade ques
This book provides great insight on the fourth crusade, as well as the crusades in general, knighthood, the Middle Ages,and the papacy's impact on politics and warfare. What makes the fourth crusade unique is that the Roman Catholic crusader army, directed by the pope to attack the muslins and "retake" the Holy Land, actually end up attacking the Byzantine Catholic city of Constantinople. I was amazed by the ruthlessness of some leaders, the hardship of the crusaders and overall impact on religi ...more
Elaine Grant
I loved the primary sources included in this book. I especially appreciated the documents from both the Greek/Byzantine and Crusader views. It was fascinating to read about the Byzantine Empire and its splendor. I found this book to be very helpful in explaining the whole concept of crusading as well as life in the Middle Ages. What a strange turn of events and a tragic end to a powerful empire. Very informative and enjoyable read!
An explanation for why Christians sacked Christian cities during the 4th crusade rather than going after the Muslim enemy. Much of this book is based on diaries and letters of the time and describes what led up to the crusades, how popes got people to participate in the face of horrific conditions and costs, and the reality of medieval life and death. Picked this up on a whim and after a slow start I really enjoyed it.
I don't read a lot of history these days, but I was persuaded by a review. This book is so well written it's almost novelistic. I didn't know ANY of this history, including 'and' and 'the.' It's pretty astonishing. I'm also amazed at how many original documents still exist from the early 1200's.
Lee Staman
A very interesting history of the various motivations for not only the French crusaders but the Venetians and Byzantines. I thought I knew the general history of this event but I was consistently surprised by how multi-faceted the Fourth Crusade was.
An interesting work in one of the more peculiar instances in history. The Fourth Crusade set out to capture Jerusalem, but ended up sacking Constantinople and establishing a Latin Empire. An interesting book, though occasionally tedious
Joseph Scipione
You don't have to be interested in the crusades to like this book. Well written and well researched. Great description of the fourth crusade from the recruiting and preaching of it up to the sack of Constantinople and the aftermath.
Gives a unique perspective on a bad moment in christiandom. A little further reading of other topics will show how the 4th crusade was christians downfall in the middle east.
A fascinating look at the inhumanities of men fighting war in the name of God. You won't believe the shocking realities of torture and punishment men inflicted on men.
A good bit of history here. A bit dry in places. I think the author tried very hard to not stray from an academic style. Like he was trying to make a readable textbook.
Phil Duckworth
Oh this was so brill! Some great anecdotes alongside some cracking analysis and debate about why the infamous IVth Crusade attacked Constantinople.
Entertaining history of a series of events I knew nothing about. How did a crusade manage to sack the greatest Christian city in the world?
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Dr. Jonathan Phillips is Professor of Crusading History in the Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. His scholarly contributions to the crusades include the books Defenders of the Holy Land: Relations Between the Latin East and West, 1119-1187, The Crusades, 1095-1197, and most recently, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. His articles have appeared in a n ...more
More about Jonathan Phillips...
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