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The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  520 Ratings  ·  49 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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Jun 13, 2016 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The 4th Crusade achieved its infamy by being diverted from its original goal of re-taking Jerusalem, thanks to two "targets of opportunity" that intervened: First, the city of Zara on the Adriatic, and Second, the Byzantine Empire and its capital of Constantinople. For the most part, the participants went no farther south.

Jonathan Phillips's The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople shows us in great detail why the business of crusading was fraught with perils. Pope Innocent III started
Jan 10, 2008 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Stephen Simpson
Aug 28, 2015 Stephen Simpson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read on the Fourth Crusade. Well-sourced throughout, the author strikes a very good balance between rich and dense historical facts and a narrative that makes it engaging (without reading like the work of a frustrated wannabe novelist).
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Mar 08, 2008 Coyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's always refreshing to come across a writer who can make history interesting and engaging without dumbing it down.
Jul 07, 2009 Toonvanelst rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval-history
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
Nov 17, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More of a three point five than a four, but stars being what they are, I suppose I'm stuck with rounding up.

This is a vital story from Christian history, the tale of the peculiar fusion of the faith with the medieval equivalent of the military industrial complex. Here, folks were planning on slaughtering unbelievers, and they instead ended up destroying and pillaging a center of Christian civilization because, well, someone had to pay for that fleet.

The book is a teensy bit dry for the lay reade
Mar 14, 2014 Anny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Aureo Zanon
Sep 06, 2016 Aureo Zanon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I honestly would rate this book a 4.7 out of 5, due to the lack of information on the Papal States. I'm often left wondering how the conditions of the Papal States are whether they are prosperous or losing money. Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this book, due to the many different perspectives it gives on the crusades. The quotes put into the book are adequate and very interesting, whether it be calling the Arabs "savages" or it be a sermon given by Innocent. Although people on good re ...more
Dec 11, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I will fully admit I read this book because I recently finished an Assassin's Creed game set in Constantinople/Istanbul. The book ended up being a very fascinating read. Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 and Saladin recaptured it in 1187, so Pope Innocent III calls a crusade to recapture the city. A crusade is organized and promptly captures...Constantinople. The author does an excellent job using a broad variety of sources to show how an army sets out to capture one holy city and ends up cap ...more
Nov 24, 2015 Zachary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Crusades were a horrific series of religious wars that began with Alexius Comnenus requesting Western aid to push the Turks out of Anatolia in the decades after Manzikert and the botched response to that defeat opened the region to their invasion. They rapidly became a holy war to wrest the Levant from the Muslims who had ruled it for centuries. It was a shocking confrontation marked with hideous bloodshed and barbarity as the soldiers of a relatively backward West invaded a far more civiliz ...more
Feb 09, 2009 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeff Lanter
Mar 21, 2010 Jeff Lanter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Sep 13, 2011 Nigel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 10, 2014 Luca rated it liked it
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
Nov 19, 2012 Chris Hall rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephen Griffith
I thought the author gave a good narration of a historic event which began with good intentions and then went badly off the rails. He explained why things happened the way they did, including over estimating badly how many people were to be transported from Venice which then created a massive debt which somehow had to be paid for. Add to that a semi delusional prince with an overstated story of how restoring him to the throne was strongly desired by everyone in Constantinople and you have the fo ...more
So I only made it 52 percent of the way through this book according to Goodreads. The reason for that is mostly because I found it as exciting as drinking spoiled milk. It seemed very well researched but it was just boring as can be. Usually I will sit on boring books for a while and read something else but this was a library book and I had no real desire to renew it. I gave it a good shot but in the end, it just wasn't interesting enough to hold my attention.
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...
Dec 12, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 06, 2014 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 22, 2009 Margaret Haerens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 30, 2014 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good, thorough, and seemingly fair portrayal of the dastardly but intriguing Fourth Crusade
Nov 13, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and engaging history of a shameful, but little known, episode in history.
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
Jun 06, 2010 SteveR rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Feb 20, 2012 Elaine Grant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Feb 27, 2008 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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
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