Since the Byzantines were often keen to point out that it was at Byzantium that the Ten Thousand first found real refuge from the pursuit of the Persians and the hostility of locals, it seems fitting that my first post after my return from my so-called anabasis touch on something related to Byzantium.
Thomas Madden, a fine historian who works in Crusades history as well as on Byzantine-Venetian relations, has an excellent, professional review of three new Crusades books in the latest issue of First Things. As my main period of interest is a bit earlier, I have not had the opportunity to read Madden’s works myself, but I am aware that he is very highly regarded and his recent work on Enrico Dandolo is, from all accounts, an accomplished piece of scholarship. I recommend the review to anyone interested in a learned opinion of the three books by Asbridge, Phillips and Tyerman, as well as a short but informative recapitulation of the Fourth Crusade.
It was unfortunate that Prof. Madden did not have the opportunity to include Prof. Angold’s recent work on the Fourth Crusade (Longman, 2004), called simply The Fourth Crusade, especially since the book touches very directly on Madden’s point about the historiographical pattern of depicting the Fourth Crusade in the most lurid colours. Since Prof. Angold takes a noticeably different view of the Fourth Crusade from essentially all previous scholars, who have tended in their pro-Byzantine or anti-Crusader sentiments to emphasise the violence of the sack of the City, this may explain Prof. Madden’s lack of attention to it. It should be noted that his book does not minimise the political consequences of the Crusade, which were horrendous for the empire and ultimately ruinous for the Balkans in the long run, nor does he minimise the looting and desecration of Constantinople. Where Prof. Angold does depart from the standard story is in his account of the slaughter attending the sack of the City, which I believe he regards as essentially a popular and propagandistic myth. Whether or not Prof. Angold’s arguments ultimately convince, his book probably deserved at least some attention in a review dedicated to the Crusades as a topic, even if the audience for the review is not one of professional medievalists and Byzantinists. In the coming months, if there is time in my reading schedule, I will look at the books under review here, as well as Angold’s, and put up my thoughts on them.