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The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople Hardcover – October 21, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While the first three Crusades were launched in an effort to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslims, the Fourth Crusade, begun in 1202, pitted Christians against Christians: Roman Catholics against Orthodox. In this authoritative and vivid account, historian and BBC commentator Phillips (Defenders of the Holy Land) uses monastic chronicles, letters and even the songs of court troubadours to reconstruct the brutal sacking of the Byzantine capital and its underlying causes. Although the enmity between East and West went back 150 years before the Crusade, the crusaders might never have sailed to Constantinople if Emperor Alexius III hadn't requested Pope Innocent to send troops to help him secure Eastern Christendom. When the French and Venetian soldiers arrived, however, they found themselves unwelcome and forced to camp outside Constantinople. As religious and political tensions evolved, the crusaders—already prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith—grew restless and attacked the city, killing thousands, destroying churches and Constantinople itself. As Phillips points out, the destruction was so embedded in the collective memory of Christianity that in 2001 Pope John Paul II apologized to Greek Orthodox Christians. Phillips's book provides a first-rate narrative of this significant episode in medieval history. Illus. not seen by PW.
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"Enthralling...Nobody can read it without acquiring a better understanding of the Middle Ages and the medieval mind." -- Allan Massie Literary Review "Persuasively reconstructs the imaginative world of the thirteenth century." -- John Adamson Sunday Telegraph "By far the best book I have read on the Fourth Crusade...learned, comprehensive...well-written...exciting." -- Norman F. Cantor "Stunning" Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (October 21, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033508
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on November 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well-written book that gives some background to the crusading movement in medieval Europe, but its primary focus is on the ill-starred Fourth Crusade. This was a crusade not led by monarchs, but rather like the First Crusade, an undertaking of many nobles of good family. The addition of the Venetian seamen with their needed ships, and an ill-advised agreement about men and money led this holy endeavor to attack, not the occupiers of Jerusalem, but rather the also Christian rulers of the Byzantine Empire. It's a somewhat convoluted tale, but the author tells it extremely well, and at no time does the reader feel that he is lost. This book gives some insight into the schism that exists still today between the Orthodox and Roman churches, and is excellent reading for anyone interested in this fractious history.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a medievalist in any way, shape, or form. But I decided to give this book a chance and learn about a period of time and event I knew so little about. What I found was an epic story of dramatic purportions. The characters and their motivations seem right out of a fictional drama: The elderly and manipulative Doge of Venice, the brash and ambitious Byzantine pretender, the hypocritical holy men, and the permissive Pope. The author not only provides the historical record, but provides real insight into the thinking of a time so different, and yet so similar, to our own. Replete with modern analogies and references, beyond a mere history book, its a real page-turner.
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Format: Hardcover
The Fourth Crusade was a disaster for the unity of Christianity. The rivalry between the Roman Catholic Church (and backed by the various kingdoms) in the West and the Greek Orthodox Church (and backed by the Greek Byzantine Empire) in the East had been simmering for two centuries. A common foe against the Islamist conquest of the Holy Land kept expediency in the forefront for the Latin West and the Greek East until the Fourth Crusade.

Instead of liberating Jerusalem, the knights and seamen of the West became embroiled in financial troubles and internal Byzantine politics. By the time the complex double-dealing was done, the Christian West had sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Christian East. Unity was out of the question forever more.

Mr. Philips has written an impressive and readable account of the Fourth Crusade for the lay reader. A more academic approach is "The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople" (1997) by Donald Queller and Thomas Madden. Of their 357 pages, over half belongs to a detail and lively narrative of medieval politics and the remaining 150 pages are devoted to an extensive bibliography and readable footnotes. A historical sequel is "The Fall of Constantinople" (1965) by Sir Steven Runciman about the conquest of the city of Constantine in 1453 by the Turks.
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Format: Paperback
Some previous reviewers have decried the lack of originality in this book, and pointed to Thomas Madden's book on the same subject as a better option. This is indeed true, if you are a serious crusades scholar. Madden's book is oriented toward a scholarly audience, and he is the real pioneer of the new (and, I think, accurate) interpretation of the Fourth Crusade. However, Phillip's book is in itself a success because it achieves exactly what it sets out to do: make the Fourth Crusade accessable to everyone. This is a book that someone with no knowledge of the Fourth Crusade could pick up and read, and, most importantly, enjoy and understand. Phillips is not trying to revolutionize crusading history, so why are people blaming him for not doing that?

This book is one of the best popularizations of any period of crusading history that I have ever encountered (the only better one is Stephen Howarth's The Knights Templar). Phillip's prose is both smooth and engaging, and he cuts right to the heart of the issues. He clearly has done significant research into this subject, and he provides generous quotations from many primary sources.

Despite being a popularization, this book is surprisingly scholarly. He cites all of his sources, has explanatory footnotes, and seems to be very accurate.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a quick and fun read. The first problem to be faced is that Donald Queller in 1978 wrote a book that covers almost exactly the same ground except for Phillips last two chapters on the Latin Empire after the Crusade. In 1978 when first published, Queller's thesis regarding the "accidental" nature of the 4th Crusade's final destination was sensational. His conclusions were opposed to Runciman, Norwich and others. Queller offered a persuasive revisionist history of the 4th Crusade. The second problem is that in 1997, Queller and Thomas Madden, updated and reissued the 1978 work under the title, "The 4th Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople," and it a far superior book to this one.

The third problem is that, to the best of my knowledge, there is not an original thought in Phillip's book. So, where do the two stars come from? One of the stars is issued for a generally readable and accurate assessment of the 4th Crusade that is derivative from other secondary sources. The second star is earned for the extensive translated quotes from the actual crusaders, Greeks, and other contemporaries involved with or around this incident. This helps illuminate the thinking of those involved within their own cultures and time. From there it is downhill. The last two chapters on the end of the Crusade and the Latin Empire are weak and weaker. The book occasionally delves off into tenuously related sidetracks. No author should use the same quotes more than once in a book. Phillips manages to do this on at least two occasions. There are other indications of sloppy editorial work, but I will not enumerate them. Phillips uses 21st Century analogies gratuitously and unenlighteningly. Penguin published the paperback on lousy paper, with weak print density, and almost no white space.
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