Latin Empire Of The East: Its Foundation And Fall
Author: Brodribb, W. J.

Latin Empire Of The East: Its Foundation And Fall

1204 - 1261


As a result of the intrigues connected with the Fifth Crusade, in which
crusaders and Venetians - the latter for their own commercial advantage -
jointly participated, it was decided to capture Constantinople, the seat of
the Byzantine empire, and to partition the empire itself among the captors.
The combined forces of the Latins accordingly made two assaults upon the
capital of their Eastern fellow-Christians, who had from the first made
passive opposition to the crusades, fearing for the integrity of their empire.
The city succumbed to the second attack and was thoroughly plundered. The
division of the empire was especially insisted upon by Dandolo, the aged doge,
who led the Venetians in the expedition.

The Venetians well knew that whoever held the city of Constantinople held
the key of the East. It proved in the end that they had an imperfect
knowledge of the strength and resources, as well as of the peculiar weakness,
of the Byzantine possessions, which at best were but loosely held together,
and required ceaseless vigilance on the part of the central government to
guard them against outward attack and hold in check the spirit of internal
revolt.

It was nevertheless the cautious policy of the Venetians not to hold the
key of the East, Constantinople, since to hold it would entail the necessity
of defending its possessions. They preferred to be on such terms of
friendship, not necessarily alliance, with those who should hold the key, as
would give them all the advantages they desired, without involving them in
irksome obligations if there came a change of masters. "Venice fought for her
own hand," let other nations as they might be led astray by illusory hopes of
allies and friends bound by ties of gratitude. She well knew how to guard
herself against the spirit of perfidy so active in the Middle Ages, as well as
how to exercise that spirit in her own interest.

Once in possession and control of Constantinople, the Latins found it
necessary to proceed directly to the partition of the empire. It had been
agreed between old Dandolo and Baldwin, Boniface and others of the crusaders
that one full quarter of the whole dominion was to be assigned to the Latin
emperor, who was to be elected by Venetians and crusaders together. This left
three-quarters remaining, of which Venice was to take half, the rest to be in
some manner divided among the crusaders. First of all, however, came the
election of an emperor for the new state.

Venice wanted no imperial dignity, nor could any dignity be bestowed upon
the nonagenarian Dandolo greater than that which he actually enjoyed as doge
of his native republic. He accepted, however, the title of Despot of Romania.
^1 The emperor must therefore be chosen from among the French or Flemings.
Two of the chiefs might show strong claims for the choice. Of these two, the
Marquis of Montferrat, who at first seemed the most likely to be chosen, was
already connected by means of his brother's marriage with the late reigning
dynasty of Constantinople. He was, besides, proved to be a valorous soldier
and a prudent general. On the other hand, Baldwin, the count of Flanders, a
younger man, had displayed all the prowess of his rival, and was personally
more popular. Besides, the larger part of the army consisted of his own
people, Flemings.

[Footnote 1: Romania was the usual name for the Byzantine or Eastern empire.]

There was, therefore, no surprise when the council of election announced
that the choice had fallen upon Baldwin, and his rival was among the first to
acknowledge the validity of the election. The Marquis of Montferrat obtained
for his prize Crete and the Asiatic part of the empire. As however, he
discovered that the latter part of the Byzantine realm would require to be
conquered, he exchanged it for the kingdom of Thessalonica. The Greek empire
had at one blow fallen to pieces. What the crusaders had conquered was that
part of the country now called Roumelia. Across the Dardanelles, Theodore
Lascaris established himself as emperor at Nicaea; and Alexius, a son of
Manuel Comnenus, created an empire for himself at Trebizond; another
established himself as despot of Epirus; and the other two wandering emperors,
Alexius III and Alexius V, joined their forces, in the hope of keeping the
Latins out of the northwest provinces.

But these two passed masters in duplicity could not, even in misfortune,
trust one another, and Alexius III, the craftier if not the stronger of the
two vagabond usurpers, seized his ally, put out his eyes, and handed him over
to the Latins. They went through the formality of a trial, and found him
guilty of the murder of Alexius IV. He was sentenced to death, and after a
good deal of discussion it was decided that the manner of his death should be
by being hurled from the top of a lofty column, and this was accordingly done.

As for Alexius III, after a great variety of adventures he finally fell
into the hands of his son-in-law, Theodore Lascaris, who shut him up in a
monastery, where his troubled life came to an end.

Baldwin began his reign by sending a conciliatory letter to the Pope. ^1
He had not, it is true, attempted to carry out the vows which he and his
brother-crusaders had taken upon themselves. Palestine still groaned under
the yoke of the infidel. At the same time the Pope could not but feel
gratified at the extinction of the Greek schism and the restoration of the
unity of Christendom. That event was undoubtedly due to him, and the Pope
acknowledged it in a careful letter, which left him free at any time to
express his disapprobation of the course pursued by the crusaders. To the
King of France Baldwin wrote, inviting the French knights to find their way to
this new scene of conquest and glory. To Palestine he sent promises of
assistance, with, as tokens of his power, the gates of Constantinople and the
chain which barred the port.

[Footnote 1: Innocent III.]

And then, the empire being fairly parcelled out, the Marquis of
Montferrat took his knights and men-at-arms to establish his own kingdom of
Thessalonica. Other chiefs, who had obtained each his own part of the
Byzantine territories, went off to conquer them for themselves; and the Greeks
began to perceive that they were ruled by a mere handful of Latin adventurers,
only to be dreaded when they were together, and now scattered in small
garrisons and feeble bands all about the country. When this knowledge was
thoroughly acquired, troubles began to befall the new empire.

These troubles were originated, however, not by the Greeks, but by the
Bulgarians, and were due to the arrogance and pride of Baldwin. John, King of
this savage people, was of the Latin Church. Being as orthodox as he was
barbarous, he rejoiced mightily at the fall of the Greeks, and sent an embassy
of congratulations to the new Latin Emperor. Weak as he was upon his unstable
throne, Baldwin actually had the folly and impudence to assault these
ambassadors, to treat them as rebels, and to send a message to their master
that, before his servants could be received at the Byzantine court, he must
first deserve pardon by touching with his forehead the footstool of the
imperial throne. It was not likely that a high-spirited and independent
sovereign would brook such a message.

He instantly threw the whole weight of his influence and strength into
the cause of the Greeks, and with their leaders concerted a scheme of general
and simultaneous massacre worthy of his barbarism and their treachery. The
secret was well kept; the conspirators were in no hurry to strike the blow.
They waited patiently till a time when it seemed as if the force of the Latins
was at the lowest; that is, when Prince Henry, brother of the Emperor, had
crossed the Hellespont with the flower of the troops. The empire in Europe
was covered with thin and sparse garrisons; there were no forces in
Constantinople to come to their succor should they try to hold out; they might
be taken in detail and at once. And then those Byzantine Vespers began. It
was a revolt of thousands against tens; there was a great slaughter, a rush of
the little bands who escaped upon Adrianople, where there was a fresh
slaughter; and while the Greeks were up in successful revolt, the Bulgarians,
accompanied by a savage band of fourteen thousand Comans, invaded the country,
mad for pillage and revenge.

The position was one of extreme peril. Baldwin sent messengers to his
brother, ordering him to return in all haste, and then made such hasty
preparations as were possible, and sallied forth to the siege of Adrianople.
Had he waited for Henry's return, all might have gone well with him, but he
would not wait. It was the rule of the crusaders never to refuse battle,
whatever the odds, a rule to which their greatest victories as well as their
greatest disasters were chiefly due. What Godfrey did before Ascalon, Baldwin
was ready to do before Adrianople. He had with him no more than a hundred and
forty knights, with three trains of archers and men-at-arms - say two thousand
men in all. The gallant Villehardouin, Marshal of Romania, who was destined
to survive this day and write its story, led the vanguard.

The main body, with whom was Baldwin, was commanded by the Count of
Blois; the rear was brought up by old Dandolo. The slender ranks of the
little army were continually being recruited by the accession of the fugitive
remains of the garrisons. On the way to Adrianople they met the light cavalry
of the Comans. Orders were given not to pursue these light horsemen, who
fought after the manner of the Parthians. In a solid phalanx the western
knights were able to face any odds, but scattered and dispersed they would
fall beneath the weight of numbers.

The order insisted on by Dandolo, who knew this kind of enemy, was broken
by no others than the Emperor himself and the Count of Blois. The Comans, as
usual, fled at the first charge of the heavily armed knights, who spurred
after them, regardless of the order, and led by the Emperor. When they had
ridden a mile or so, when their horses were breathed, then the Comans closed
in upon the little band of knights, and the unequal contest began of a hundred
and forty against fourteen thousand. Some few struggled out of the melee and
found their way back to the rest of the army. Most fell upon the field.
Among these was the Count of Blois. A few were taken prisoners, among whom
was the Emperor. No one ever knew his fate. The wildest stories were told of
this unfortunate Prince. His hands and feet, it was said, were cut off, and
he was exposed, mutilated, to the wild animals; he was beheaded; he enacted
the part of Joseph - Potiphar's wife being King John's queen. Nothing was too
wild to be believed about him. Twenty years later a hermit of the Netherlands
thought it would be possible to pass himself off as the real Baldwin, who had
escaped from captivity and was thus expiating his early sins.

He obtained the fate from justice and the sympathy from the vulgar which
have commonly been the lot of pretenders. Whatever the real end of this
Emperor, King John wrote a year later to the Pope, calmly informing him that
his intercession for Baldwin was no longer of any use, because he was no
longer living. Then it was, and not till then, that his brother, Henry of
Flanders, consented to assume the title of Emperor. Already the leaders of
the crusade, who only three years before had set sail so proudly from Venice,
were dead or on the point of death: Baldwin murdered in captivity; the Count
of Blois killed on the field of battle; Dandolo dead, at the age, say some
writers, of a hundred, in the year 1205; the Marquis of Montferrat about to be
slain in an obscure skirmish with the barbarous Bulgarians.

Henry stood alone, save for the faithful Geoffrey de Villehardouin,
Marshal of Champagne and Romania, who, though his narrative ceases at this
point, is believed to have remained with the new Emperor. His reign lasted
for ten years only. It was a reign of successful, brave, and prudent
administration in things military, civil, and ecclesiastical. Its success was
greatly assisted by the fact that very early in his reign the Greeks
discovered the mistake they had made in changing the rule of the Latins for
the rule of the Bulgarians.

The first were hard masters, with rough, rude ways, and little sympathy
with the culture of the Byzantines; but the latter proposed, as soon as the
Latins were driven south, to exterminate the population of Thrace, or at least
to transplant the Greeks beyond the Balkans. They called upon the Emperor to
forgive them and to help them. Henry, with a little army of eight hundred
knights, with archers and men-at-arms, perhaps five thousand in all, made no
scruple of going out to attack this disorderly mob of forty thousand
Bulgarians. As no mention is made of the Comans, it is presumable that these
had gone home again with their booty. At the siege of Thessalonica King John
was murdered - slain by no less a person than St. Demetrius himself, said the
Greeks - and a peace was concluded between his successor and Henry.

The last years of this exemplary monarch's life were spent in wise
administration. He checked the zeal of the Pope's legate, and would not
countenance persecution about the double procession and other controverted
dogmas. He checked the pretensions of the clergy, by placing his throne on
the same level with that of the Patriarch, whereas it had formerly been lower;
and he prohibited the alienation of fiefs, which would have handed over the
patrimony of the knights to the Church, and turned, as Gibbon says, a colony
of soldiers into a college of priests. When he died, childless, the next heir
to the empire was his sister Yolande, who had married Peter of Courtenay,
Count of Auxerre, a member of that princely house which still survives in the
line of the English earls of Devon.

It was an unfortunate day for that prince when he accepted the crown
which had already in ten years carried off two of his brothers. Yet the
chance was splendid. What count or duke or knight of these days but would
seize a crown thus offered, however great the peril? He accepted the crown,
then, and, to make a worthy appearance on entering into possession, he either
mortgaged or sold the best part of ten estates, and raised, with the help of
Philip Augustus, an army of one hundred and forty knights and five thousand
five hundred men-at-arms and archers. He persuaded the pope Honorius III to
crown him, it being understood that, as Emperor of the East, he had no claim
to jurisdiction or right over Rome, and, following the example of Baldwin,
engaged the Venetians to convey him and his army to Constantinople. They
would do so on similar terms and for a consideration - let him first recover
for them the port of Durazzo from the Despot of Epirus; this was no longer
Michael, the founder of the kingdom, but his brother Theodore. The Emperor
delivered his assault on Durazzo, and was unsuccessful. Then the Venetians
refused the transport. Peter thereupon made an agreement with the despot
Theodore, by which the latter undertook to convey him and his army safely to
his dominion overland. It is another story of Greek treachery. The Emperor,
with his troops, while in the mountains, was attacked by Greeks of Theodore's
army. Such of his men as did not surrender were cut to pieces. He himself
was taken prisoner, detained for two years, and then put to death in some
mysterious way.

Yolande, the Empress, while yet she was uncertain of the fate of her
lord, gave birth to a son, the most unfortunate Baldwin. The eldest of
Yolande's sons, Philip de Courtenay, had the singular good-sense and
good-fortune to decline the offered crown. He found plenty of fighting in
Europe of an equally adventurous kind, and less treacherous than that among
the Greeks. The second son, Robert, accepted the responsibilities and dangers
of the position. For seven years he held the sceptre with a trembling hand
amid all kinds of disasters. The Despot of Epirus, the treacherous Theodore,
swept across the country as far as Adrianople, where he raised his standard
and called himself emperor. Vatatces, the successor of Theodore Lascaris,
seized upon the last relics of the Asiatic possessions, intercepted western
succor, actually persuaded a large body of French mercenaries to serve under
him, constructed a fleet, and obtained the command of the Dardanelles.

A personal and private outrage of the grossest kind, offered to the
unfortunate Emperor by an obscure knight, drove him in rage and despair from
the city. He sought refuge in Italy, but was recalled by his barons, and was
on his way back to Constantinople when he was seized with some malady which
killed him. It is a miserable record of a weak and miserable life. On his
death, his brother Baldwin being still a boy, the barons looked about them for
a stronger hand to rule the tottering State. They found the man they wanted
in gallant old John de Brienne, the last of those who raised themselves from
simple knightly rank to a royal palace.

Gauthier de Brienne was King of Sicily and Duke of Apulia. John himself,
one of the last specimens of the great crusading heroes, was titular King of
Jerusalem, having married Constance, daughter of Isabelle and granddaughter of
Amaury.

Philip Augustus himself selected John de Brienne as the most worthy
knight to become the husband of Constance and the King of Jerusalem. He was
now an old man of more than seventy years. His daughter, Yolande, was married
to Frederick II, who had assumed the title of King of Jerusalem, but old as he
was he was still of commanding stature and martial bearing. His arm had lost
none of its strength, nor his brain any of its vigor. He accepted the crown
on the understanding that the young Baldwin, then eleven years of age, should
join him as emperor on coming of age. Great things were expected from so
stout a soldier. Yet for two years nothing was done. Then the Emperor was
roused into action.

It was understood at Constantinople that Vatatces, the successor of
Theodore Lascaris, was on the point of concluding an alliance, offensive and
defensive, with Agan, King of the Bulgarians and successor of John. The
alliance could have but one meaning, the destruction of the Latin empire.

It must be remembered that the vast Roman Empire of the East was shrunken
in its dimensions to the city of Constantinople and that narrow strip of
territory commanded by her walls, her scanty armies, and her diminished
fleets. Of territory, indeed, the Latin empire had none in the sense of land
producing revenue. What it held was held with the drawn sword in the hand
ready for use. The kingdom of Thessalonica was gone; and though the dukedoms,
marquisates, and countships of Achaia, Athens, Sparta, and other independent
petty states were still held by the emperors or their sons, they were like the
outlying provinces of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem - Edessa, Tripoli, and
the rest - a source of weakness rather than of strength. Little help, if any,
could be looked for from them.

The alliance, however, was concluded, and the allies, with an immense
army, estimated at a hundred thousand, besides three hundred ships-of-war, sat
down before the city and besieged it by sea and land. The incident that
follows reads like a story from the history of Amadis de Gaul. Gibbon says
that he "trembles" to relate it. While this immense host lay outside his
walls; while thirty ships armed with their engines of war menaced his long
line of seaward defences in the narrow strait, brave old John de Brienne, who
had but one hundred and sixty knights with their following of men-at-arms and
archers - say two thousand in all - led forth his little band, and at one
furious onset routed the besieging army. Probably it was mainly composed of
the Bulgarian hordes, undisciplined, badly armed, and, like all such hosts,
liable to panic. Perhaps, too, the number of the enemy was by no means so
great as is reported, nor were the forces of John de Brienne so small.

Nor was his success limited to the rout of the army, for the citizens,
encouraged by their flight, attacked the ships, and succeeded in dragging
five-and-twenty of them within the port. It would appear that the Bulgarians
renewed their attempt in the following year, and were again defeated by the
old Emperor. It would have been well for the Latins had his age been less. He
died in the year 1237, and young Baldwin, who was married to his daughter
Martha, became sole emperor. John de Brienne made so great a name that he was
compared with Ajax, Odin the Dane, Hector, Roland, and Judas Maccabaeus.
Baldwin, who came after him, might have been compared with any of those
kinglings who succeeded Charlemagne, and sat in their palaces while the empire
fell to pieces.

His incapacity is proved, if by nothing else, by his singular and uniform
ill-luck. If, after the fight of life is over, no single valiant blow can be
remembered, the record is a sorry one indeed. Baldwin's difficulties were, it
must be owned, very great: they were so great that for a considerable portion
of the four-and-twenty years during which he wore the Roman purple his crown
was left him by sufferance, and his manner of reigning was to travel about
Europe begging for money. The Pope proclaimed a crusade for him, but it was
extremely difficult to awaken general enthusiasm for a Courtenay in danger of
being overthrown by a Lascaris; and the other point, the submission of
Constantinople to Rome in things ecclesiastical, could not be said to touch
the popular sentiment at all. The Pope, however, supplemented his exhortation
by bestowing upon the indigent Emperor a treasure of indulgences, which he no
doubt sold at their marketable value, whatever that was. One fears that it
was not much. From England he obtained, after an open insult at Dover, a
small contribution toward the maintenance of his empire. Louis IX of France
would have rendered him substantial assistance, but for the more pressing
claims of the Holy Land and his project for delivering the holy places by a
new method. His brother-in-law, Frederick II, excommunicated by the Church,
was not likely to manifest any enthusiasm for an ecclesiastical cause; and
those allies from whom he might have expected substantial aid, the Venetians,
were at war with the Genoese; the Prince of Achaia was in captivity, and the
feeble son of Boniface, King of Thessalonica - the sons of all these sturdy
crusaders were feeble, like the Syrian pullani, sons of Godfrey's heroes - had
been deposed. Yet money and men must be raised, or the city must be abandoned.
A wise man would have handed over the empire to any who dared defend it.
Baldwin was not a wise man. He proceeded to sell the remaining lands of
Courtenay and the marquisate of Namur, and by this and other expedients
managed to return with an army of thirty thousand men. What would not Baldwin
I, or Henry his uncle, or John de Brienne his father-in-law have been able to
effect with an army of thirty thousand soldiers of the West? But Baldwin the
Incapable did next to nothing.

By this time the strip of country remaining to the Emperor was only that
immediately surrounding the city. All the rest was in the hands of Greek or
of Bulgarian. When these were at war, the city was safe; when these were
united, the city was every moment in danger of falling. Baldwin used his new
recruits in gaining possession of the country for a distance of three days'
journey round his capital - about sixty miles in all - which was something.
But how was the position to be maintained or to be improved? There were no
revenues in that bankrupt city, from whose port the trade had passed away, and
which had lost the command of the narrow seas. What was the condition of the
citizens we know not. That of the imperial household was such that the
Emperor's servants were fain to demolish empty houses for fuel, and to strip
churches of the lead upon their roofs to supply the daily wants of his family.
He sent his son Philip to Venice as security for a debt; he borrowed at
enormous interest of the merchants of Italy; and when all else failed, and the
money which he had raised at such ruinous sacrifices had melted away, and his
soldiers were clamoring for pay, he remembered the holy relics yet remaining
to the city, in spite of the cartloads carried off during the great sack of
1204, and resolved to raise more money upon them.

There was, first of all, the Crown of Thorns. This had been already
pledged in Venice for the sum of thirteen thousand one hundred and thirty-four
pieces of gold to the Venetians. As the money was spent and the relic could
not be redeemed within the time, the Venetians were preparing to seize it.
They would have been within their right. But Baldwin conceived an idea, so
clever that it must have been suggested by a Greek, which, if successfully
carried out, would result in the attainment of much more money by its means.
He would give it to Louis IX of France. A relic of such importance might be
pawned, it might be given, but it could not be sold. Therefore Baldwin gave it
to King Louis. By this plan the Venetians were tricked of their relic, on
which they had counted; the debt was transferred to France, which easily paid
it; the precious object itself, to which Frederick II granted a free passage
through his dominions, was conveyed by Dominican friars to Troyes, whither the
French court advanced to receive it, and a gift of ten thousand marks
reconciled Baldwin and his barons to their loss. After all, as the prospects
of the State were so gloomy, it might be some consolation to them to reflect
that so sacred a relic - which had this great advantage over the wood of the
true Cross, that it had not been and could not be multiplied until it became
equal in bulk to the wood of a three-decker - was consigned to the safe
custody of the most Christian King of France.

This kind of traffic once begun, and proving profitable, there was no
reason why it should not continue. Accordingly, the Crown of Thorns was
followed by a large and very authentic piece of the true Cross. St. Louis
gave Baldwin twenty thousand marks as an honorarium for the gift of this
treasure, which he deposited in the Sainte-Chapelle. Here it remained,
occasionally working miracles, as every bit of the true Cross was bound to do,
until the troubles of the league, when it was mysteriously stolen. Most
likely some Huguenot laid hands upon it, and took the same kind of delight in
burning it that he took in throwing the consecrated wafer to the pigs.

And then more relics were found and disposed of. There was the baby
linen of our Lord; there was the lance which pierced his side; there was the
sponge with which they gave him to drink; there was the chain with which his
hands had been fettered: all these things, priceless, inestimable,
wonder-working, Baldwin sent to Paris in exchange for marks of silver. And
then there were relics of less holiness, but still commanding the respect and
adoration of Christians; these also were hunted up and sent. Among them were
the rod of Moses, and a portion - alas! a portion only - of the skull of John
the Baptist. Thirty or forty thousand marks for all these treasures! And it
seems but a poor result of the conquest of Constantinople by the Latins that
all which came of it was the transferrence of relics from the East to the West
- nothing else. Such order as the later Greek emperors had preserved, changed
into anarchy and misrule; such commerce as naturally flowed from Asia into the
Golden Horn, diverted and lost; a strange religion imposed upon an unwilling
people; the break-up of the old Roman forms; the destruction by fire of a
third of the city; the disappearance of the ancient Byzantine families; the
ruin of the wealthy, the depression of the middle classes; the impoverishment
of the already poor; the decay and loss of learning: these were the things
which the craft and subtlety of Dandolo, working on the Franks' lust of
conquest, had brought about for the proud city of the East.

But the end was drawing daily nearer. Vatatces of Nicaea died. He was
succeeded by his son Theodore, on whose death the crown of Nicaea devolved
upon an infant. The child was speedily, though not immediately, openly
dethroned by the regent, Michael Palaeologus. When at length the imperial
title was assumed by the latter, Baldwin thought it advisable to attempt
negotiations with him. His ambassadors were received with open contumely;
Michael would give the Latins nothing. "Tell your master," he said, "that if
he be desirous of peace, he must pay me, as an annual tribute, the sum which
he receives from the trade and customs of Constantinople. On these terms I
may allow him to reign; if he refuses, it will be war."

That was in the year 1259. Michael, no putter-forth of empty and
boastful words, prepared immediately for the coming war; so in his feeble way
did Baldwin, but his money was spent, his recruits were melting away, the
Venetians alone were his allies, and the Genoese had joined the Greeks. And
yet Michael did not know - so great was the terror of the Frank and Flemish
name which the great Baldwin, Henry of Flanders, and John de Brienne had left
behind them - how weak was the Latin emprire; how unstable were the defences
of the city.

Michael, in 1260, marched into Thrace, strengthened the garrisons, and
expelled the Latins yet remaining in the country. Had he, the same year,
marched upon Constantinople, the city would have been his. But the glory of
taking it was destined for one of his generals.

The Greek Emperor, returning to Nicaea, sent Alexius Strategopoulos, his
most trusted general, on whom he had conferred the title of caesar, to take
the command of his armies in Europe. He laid strict orders upon him to enter
the Latin territory as soon as the existing truce was concluded: to watch,
report - act upon the defensive if necessary - but nothing more.

Now the lands round Constantinople had been sold by their Latin seigneurs
to Greek cultivators, who, to defend their property, formed themselves into an
armed militia, called "Voluntaries." With these voluntaries Alexius opened
communications, and was by their aid enabled to get accurate information of
all that went on among the Latins. As soon as the truce expired, he marched
his troops across the frontier and approached the city. His force - doubtless
the Latins were badly served by their spies - seemed too small to inspire any
serious alarm, and the Latins, who had recently received succor from Venice
which made them confident, resolved on striking the first blow by an attack on
the port of Daphnusia. They accordingly, despatched a force of six thousand
men, with thirty galleys, leaving the city almost bare of defenders. This,
then, was the moment for successful treachery. One Koutrilzakes, a Greek
voluntary, secured the assistance of certain friends within the town. Either
a subterranean passage was to be opened to the Greeks, or they were to be
assured of friends upon the walls. Alexius, at dead of night, brought his
army close to the city. At midnight, against a certain stipulated spot the
scaling-ladders were placed, where there were none but traitors to receive the
men; at the same time, the passage was traversed, and Alexius found himself
within the walls of the city. ^1 They broke open the Gate of the Fountain;
they admitted the Greek men-at-arms and the Coman auxiliaries before the alarm
was given; and by daylight the Greeks had complete command of the land wall,
and were storming the imperial palace. There was one chance left for Baldwin.
He might have betaken himself to the Venetians, and held their quarter until
the unlucky expedition to Daphnusia returned, when they might have expelled
the Greeks, or made at least an honorable capitulation. But Baldwin was not
the man to fight a lost or losing battle. He hastily fled to the port,
embarked on board a vessel, and set sail for Euboea. In the deserted palace
the Greek soldiers found sceptre, crown, and sword, the imperial insignia, and
carried them in mockery through the streets.

[Footnote 1: By a similar manoeuvre did the Spaniards rob King Rene two
hundred years later of the city of Naples.]

While Baldwin was flying from the palace to the port, behind him and
around him was the tramp of the rude Coman barbarians, proclaiming that the
city was taken. The houses, hastily thrown open as the first streaks of the
summer day lit up the sky, resounded with the acclamations of those, yesterday
his own subjects, who welcomed the new-comers with cries of "Long live Michael
the Emperor of the Romans!" The house of Courtenay had played its last card
and lost the game. Pity that it was thrown away by so poor a player.

It matters little about the end of Baldwin. He got safely to Euboea,
thence to Rome, and lived twelve or thirteen years longer in obscurity. When
he died, his only son, Philip, assumed the empty title of emperor of
Constantinople, which, Gibbon says, "too bulky and sonorous for a private
name, modestly expired in silence and oblivion." It took, however, a long time
to expire. Two hundred and fifty years later one of its last holders was the
inheritor of so many shadowy claims that his very name in history is blurred
by them. Rene of Anjou gave himself, among other titles, that of emperor of
Constantinople.

Constantinople was taken, and the Latin Empire destroyed at a blow. There
were, however, still remaining the Venetian merchants, who had the command of
the port, and who might, by holding out until the return of the ships from
Daphnusia, undo all. Alexius set fire to their houses, but was careful to
leave their communications with the vessels unmolested. They had therefore
nothing left but to secure the safety of their wives, families, and movable
property, which they did by embarking them on board the ships. And when the
Daphnusian expedition returned, they found, to their surprise, that the Greeks
held the whole city except a small portion near the port, and had manned the
walls. A hasty truce was arranged; the merchants loaded every ship with their
families and their property; the Latin fleet sailed down the Dardanelles, and
the Latin Empire in the East was at an end.

It began with violence and injustice: it ended as it began. There were
six Latin emperors, of whom the first was a gallant soldier; the second, a
sovereign of admirable qualities, and an able administrator; the third, a
plain French knight, who was murdered on his way to assume the purple buskins;
the fourth, a weak and pusillanimous creature; the fifth, a stout old warrior;
and the last, a monarch of whom nothing good can be said and nothing evil,
except that which was said of Boabdil (called El Chico), that he was unlucky.
As the Latins never had the slightest right or title to these possessions in
the East, so the western powers were never impelled to assist them, and their
downfall was merely a matter of time. In the interests of civilization their
occupation of the city seems to have been unfortunate; they learned nothing
for themselves, they taught nothing; neither East nor West profited. They
destroyed the old institutions, so that the ancient Roman Empire was broken up
by their conquest; they inflicted irreparable losses on learning and art; and
perhaps the only good result of their conquest was that, for the moment, at
least, it deflected the course of trade with the East from the Golden Horn,
and sent it by another route to Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.
 

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