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8-08-2015, 00:17

Aftermath of the sack of constantinople

Members of the old elite gravitated to the newcapital. The historianNiketas Choniates was one of them.He picked up the threads of old acquaintances. He commiserated with Archbishop Constantine Mesopotamites of Thessaloniki, who had fallen into pirate hands but was now safe in Epiros.4 He hoped to persuade his brother Michael, the archbishop of Athens, to come to Nicaea. Theodore Laskaris had a ship ready to whisk him away from ‘windy Keos’ where he had found refuge. The archbishop refused the invitation, preferring to remain within easy reach of his Athenian flock.5 At Nicaea Niketas Choniates found time to complete his great history, in which he tried to explain why the disaster of 1204 should have overtaken Constantinople. He also looked to the future. He compiled his Treasury of orthodoxy, which was designed to counter heresy. The defence of orthodoxy became central to the ideology of exile which he elaborated as court orator for Theodore Laskaris. Exile was punishment for the sins of the past. The parallel with the Israelites was much in Niketas’ mind. He compared the waters of Nicaea’s Lake Askania to the waters of Babylon. In exile the Byzantines, like the Israelites, would atone for their sins and would recover divine favour. The New Jerusalem would be theirs again. Their immediate task was to preserve the purity of orthodoxy in the face of the Latin threat.6 The ideology of exile would at first be virulently anti-Latin in contrast to the more restrained attitudes that prevailed before 1204. The impressions created by the sack of Constantinople were reinforced by the intransigence displayed by the Latin church in subsequent discussions between representatives of the two churches. These discussions only underlined the contempt felt by the Latins for the Greeks. The papal legate Pelagius provided further confirmation of Latin arrogance towards the orthodox church. In 1214 he closed the orthodox churches in Constantinople and persecuted Greek monks who refused to recognise papal primacy. As a counter-blast to his activities, Constantine Stilbes, the metropolitan of Kyzikos, produced his Against the Latins. This is one of the key documents of anti-Latin polemic. It marked a decisive shift from reasoned debate to justified prejudice. Stilbes had little to say about theological differences. Instead, he concentrated on two issues: papal primacy and holy war. These were interlinked. They had perverted Latin Christianity and had produced the tragedy of 1204. To take papal primacy first, Stilbes charged that the Latins did not simply regard the pope as the successor of St Peter. It was not even that they identified the two. It was worse than this: they deified the pope and insisted that all Christians submit to his authority. The perversion of papal authority was apparent in the issuing of indulgences. Stilbes was the first Byzantine theologian to draw attention to this Latin practice. What horrified him was not so much that past sins were pardoned, but those that were still to be committed. It was the same with oaths: the pope was capable of releasing Latins not only from those that had already been sworn, but also from those yet to be taken. Papal authority thus undermined the moral order that Christianity was supposed to uphold. It was also used to promote warfare.7 The Byzantines had considered, but always rejected, the notion of holy war. They followed Basil of Caesarea’s teaching that in all circumstances the taking of human life was wrong. The notion of the crusade disturbed the Byzantines. It was mostly clearly expressed in Anna Komnena’s story about the fighting priest. She concluded, ‘thus the race is no less devoted to religion than to war’.8 It was Stilbes who fused this disquiet into an outright condemnation of the Latin church’s devotion to war. He accused the Latin church of teaching that men dying in battle went to paradise. This might not have been official doctrine, but beliefs of this kind circulated among crusaders. Latin bishops were supposed to sprinkle naked youths with holy water and in this way to turn them into invincible warriors. Stilbes seems to be garbling the Latin church’s role in the making of a knight. Again he was not so far off the mark. The sack of Constantinople confirmed Stilbes’ portrayal of the Latin faith as one perverted by papal primacy and its espousal of war as an instrument of expansion. The crusaders had desecrated the churches of Constantinople and had profaned St Sophia itself. Latin priests and bishops had played an active role in the assault on the City. A bishop had been in the vanguard holding aloft a cross. The Latin clergy had done nothing to prevent the excesses of the crusaders; if anything, they encouraged them. They had desecrated the holy images. Stilbes closed his tract with a demonstration that because of its addiction to war, the Latin church had lapsed into heresy. Stilbes fixed in the Byzantine mind an image of the Latins that would never be erased. Some years later in 1231 when there was talk of a compromise with the Latin authorities on the island of Cyprus, the orthodox clergy and people of Constantinople sent a delegation to Nicaea. They protested that this was to ignore their sufferings at the hands of the Latins: they had been imprisoned; they had had their beards pulled out. Any deal with the Latins would mean ‘a betrayal of the faith handed down from their fathers’. The members of the delegation insisted that an obsession with war had driven the Latins ‘raving mad’, priests and laity alike. They would take any concession on the part of the Greeks as a sign of weakness and surrender.9 The events of 1204 brought the Latins into sharper focus. It was part of the way that the Byzantine identity was reconstructed in an anti-Latin sense during the period of exile. The new patriarch Michael Autoreianos even offered spiritual rewards to those Byzantines laying down their lives in the fight against the Latins.10 Having laid the foundations of a Byzantine empire in exile Theodore I Laskaris found himself under threat from an unexpected quarter. In 1211 his imperial claims were challenged by his father-in-law Alexios III Angelos, who had the backing of the Seljuq Turks. Laskaris engaged the Seljuq armies at the Pisidian border town of Antioch-on-the-Maeander. The battle started to go against him, so he sought out the Seljuq sultan and killed him in single combat. The Seljuq forces melted away and Alexios III was led off to end his days in a Nicaean monastery. The manner of Laskaris’ triumph did wonders for his prestige, but it was a pyrrhic victory. He had lost his best troops – paradoxically, Latin mercenaries. The Latin emperorHenry of Hainault invaded from the north and swept all before him. Laskaris had to cede to the Latins the north-western corner of Asia Minor (see also below, p. 763), placing a wedge between his territories in the north around Nicaea and those in the south around Smyrna, and making communications difficult. The death of David Komnenos in 1212 provided some compensation. It allowed Theodore I Laskaris to annex Paphlagonia, effectively cutting off the empire of Trebizond from the mainstream of Byzantine history. It became instead a ‘Greek emirate’, and its history involves that of Anatolia and the Black Sea rather than the late Byzantine empire’s.