The Byzantines

Perspectives on Jerusalem and the Crusades

          Jerusalem was important to the Byzantine Empire because it was the birthplace of Christianity, and whether they liked it or not both sides of the church were a part of that religion.  Though the Byzantine side of the empire did care for this city, they did not have the incentive, the motivation to join the Crusades, especially after the decades of fighting they went through before the Crusades even began; "The Byzantine empire reached its greatest size under the emperor Justinian who ruled from 527-565. With his objective to regain the glory of the ancient Roman Empire, he spared no expense. With competent generals he reconquered North Africa, Italy , and Southern Spain. The endless fighting, however, lay Italy in ruin while exhausting Justinian's treasury and weakened his defenses. In the end, these costly victories were temporary and Justinian's successors lost the lands in the west. Other legacies of Justinian's reign were the construction of the Hagia Sophia and Justinian's code of laws, his attempt to codify previous Roman laws.During the Arab conquests in the 7th and 8th centuries, Arab armies overran wealthy Byzantine provinces of Egypt and Syria before advancing on Constantinople. The city held out, eventually turning back the Arabs. Thus, when the European Crusaders set off on their first campaign in the Orient, Byzantine society had already experienced centuries of fighting and confrontation. There had been no sign of a crusading spirit, no union of a" Christian world against an Islamic one." Nor was there a need to unify with the western crusading powers"(Burruel, 1).                                                                                    

          Though there were other reasons for the Crusades, the reason the Byzantines saw was the capture of Anatolia: "The Turks, originally from Central Asia, invaded Persia, rounded the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and smashed a Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Byzantines lost Anatolia"(Dutch). The Byzantines, of course, knew that if the Byzantine side fell, so would the other side of the church. The Pope was saving his own hide with the Crusades.


          The Crusades destroyed the Byzantine Empire; "After conquering Zara, the Crusaders diverted to Constantinople rather than sail on to the Holy Land. They and the Venetians attacked Constantinople, the richest Christian city in the world. They plundered the city and took its wealth, including the treasures of the great church Hagia Sophia. They battled against other Christian men and they raped Christian women"(Unknown). After the sacking of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire was easy pickings for the Turks. The Byzantines could not fight back.


          The Byzantine Empire saw the other groups in the Crusades as inferior; for example, the Franks, "When the Franks had all come together and had taken an oath to the emperor, there was one count who had the boldness to sit down upon the throne. The emperor, well knowing the pride of the Latins, kept silent, but Baldwin approached the Frankish count and taking him by the hand said, "You ought not to sit there; that is an honor which the emperor permits to no one. Now that you are in this country, why do you not observe its customs ?" The insolent count made no reply to Baldwin, but said in his barbarous language, as if talking to himself, ,This must be a rude fellow who would alone remain seated when so many brave warriors are standing up." Alexis noted the movement of the man's lips and called an interpreter in order to learn, what he had said; but when the interpreter had told him he did not complain to the Franks, although he did not forget the matter"(Burruel, 5). Also, as evidence that they thought the Crusaders inferior, "hey were barely out of Constantinople when omens of things to come appeared. The Crusaders retook the ancient city of Nicaea, and the Byzantine emperor moved swiftly to post troops in the town to prevent the Crusaders from looting it. This action aroused intense resentment on the part of the Crusaders"(Dutch). And if the Byzantines did not already dislike the Crusaders, they definitely did after the sacking of Constantinople.

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