has ever doubted that Doge Enrico Dandolo,
the 39th Doge of Venice, was clever. His audacious appropriation of
the forces of the Fourth Crusade to serve the ambitions of Venice is
irrefutable evidence that he was a master of intrigue. The only question
is whether he planned the events of 1201-1204 from the beginning or
merely reacted brilliantly to opportunities as they unfolded.
In the First
Crusade of a hundred years earlier the Europeans had captured Jerusalem,
Acre, Tyre and other cities of the Holy Land and installed a Frankish
monarch to govern the new kingdom. In the intervening period the Saracens
had recaptured the territory and successfully defended it against
the forces of the Second and Third Crusades (except for Acre, which
was recovered by the Europeans in the Third Crusade). By 1200, under
the urging of Pope Innocent, leadership had emerged in France and
Germany for a Fourth Crusade to be launched with a new strategy.
The new plan
was to attack the Saracens from the opposite direction, travelling
by ship to Egypt and marching eastward and northward from there to
the Holy Land. Only Venice had the resources for transporting an army
such as the one the French and German leaders envisioned.
In 1201 a delegation
from the north arrived at Venice to commission construction of a new
fleet of warships and transports for the enterprise. Venice agreed
to supply, at a cost of 84,000 marks, transportation and nine months
of provisions for a Crusader army of 4,500 knights and 19,000 squires
and foot-soldiers. Moreover, Venice agreed to supply fifty additional
galleys on her own, in exchange for the promise of one-half of any
territory captured on the Crusade. June 1202 was set as the time for
the Crusaders to gather at Venice, pay for the fleet and embark for
the attack on Egypt.
Did Doge Dandolo
and the Venetians foresee already that the Crusaders had badly overestimated
the size and financial resources of the army that they would gather?
The evidence suggests that Dandolo may have already been working a
separate agenda: at the same time that arrangements with the Crusaders
were being concluded, Venice was also negotiating a treaty with Egypt
that almost certainly included a mutual promise of non-aggression.
Only in the
following year did Venice's individual goals
begin to surface.