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The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  705 ratings  ·  59 reviews
In 1202, zealous Western Christians gathered in Venice determined to liberate Jerusalem from the grip of Islam. But the crusaders never made it to the Holy Land. Steered forward by the shrewd Venetian doge, they descended instead on Constantinople, wreaking terrible devastation. The crusaders spared no one: They raped and massacred thousands, plundered churches, and ...more
Paperback, 374 pages
Published March 29th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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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? ...more
Jun 10, 2016 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 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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).
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A clear, thoughtful and well-researched history of this catastrophe.

Phillips argues that the lack of manpower and financial resources was the main weakness of the crusaders and that their subsequent course stemmed from this. He also contends that a conquest of Constantinople only became a goal after Alexius IV was toppled by Murtzuphlus.

The narrative is strong, engaging and accessible, and Phillips does a great job setting up context, explaining how the ideas behind crusading developed and how
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this to get more background on this crusade. One of the textbooks I use for my world history class has a series of primary sources from different sides, and I wanted to know more about the crusade itself.

Phillips does a good job of bringing together all of the threads to explain how this whole thing happened. (Actually, his afterword is pretty much all you need--the rest of the book is just more detail and lots of little asides) There's the chivalric culture/honor and the idea of serving
May 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
It's always refreshing to come across a writer who can make history interesting and engaging without dumbing it down.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and extremely readable account of this strange misadventure. Phillips uses sources from all sides of the conflict to deftly examine the motivations of the nobles who led the crusade and found themselves trapped in one impossible situation after another; the pope who kicked it off but later railed impotently at the crusaders' attacks on Christian cities; the lesser men who, aiming to 'liberate' Jerusalem, were instead directed against Zara and Constantinople, ripping them to pieces ...more
Jun 18, 2009 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
Sep 13, 2011 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
Cory Pedigo
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phillips does an excellent job painting a vivid picture of all parties involved in the Fourth Crusade from Knights and Nobles to Clergymen and commoners as well as the adversities and adversaries they faced along the way. This book can be enjoyed by both an avid historical reader or a novice. Touching on the necessary how’s and who’s, the author is able to present a clear understanding as to the why. Which brings a refreshingly unbiased yet uniquely insightful glimpse as to what took place and ...more
Jeff Lanter
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Andrew Lord
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this retelling of the infamous Fourth Crusade - what led up to the decision to go to Constantinople instead of Jerusalem, why the crusaders were so brutal to their fellow Christians as the battle concluded, and the aftermath that caused a power vacuum lasting for the next two centuries. I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in what became one of history's greatest sidetracks.
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
A really excellent book, as review on the back states it does indeed give a fascinating insight into the medieval mind, but also, despite being aimed at a more general audience is thorough, detailed, and scholarly.

This one is definitely a must read for anyone interested in the Crusades, or the Middle Ages in general, it was great.
Ted Smith
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a gripping historical narrative that sort of resembles a Three Stooges bit in that the crusaders keep fucking up more and more until they're forced to sack Constantinople and it's really the only reasonable course of action. Well-sourced and well-written.

Cumanians only figure at the end of the narrative, but are, as usual, punching far above their weight.
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
Good Book... I've always found all the Crusades very fascinating reading....
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A splendid account of the fourth crusade, with all its “glories” and atrocities. Recommended to anyone wanting to know more about this episode of the crusade series.
Juan Cuellar
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
an amazing recount and revival of such an unfortunate but world history altering event. Phillips does an amazing job of identifying and detailing the main characters and events in a very resounding form. A must read for all history lovers.
Sep 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aureo Zanon
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Feb 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 ...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
Chris Hall
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
This was a great book to get an overall history of the Fourth Crusade - although the first few chapters and the last couple of chapters (to a lesser degree) provided a little too much information. The first few chapters focus on the history of the other crusades (good), but then go on to discuss all the different ways people were convinced to sign up. Personally, I didn't really take anything away from that. Nor the 10 or so pages devoted to medieval tournaments. I was forcing myself through.

Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Margaret Haerens
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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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 ...more