The Fourth Crusade and it’s Motives (2023)

By Ty Evans

I want you to think about the crusades for a second. I would bet that what came to your mind was tales of noble knights fighting off eastern barbarians in the name of the honorable christian church, right? I am aware that talking about all of the Chirstian Crusades in one paper can seem to be impossible, which is true. That’s why I will be focusing on the Fourth Crusade. After some background information to give context, I am going to be giving my analyzation about what were the motivations behind this christian holy war.

The Fourth Crusade took place in the years of 1202-1204 and is famous for being a complete failure, as well as leading to a massacre as gruesome as they come. Pope Innocent III had taking back Jerusalem from muslim control high on his agenda from the time he was elected, also known as “The Holy Land”. The Pope also was motivated to unify the western and eastern christians under his control. The crusades had been labeled as a religious pilgrimage taking back former christian land from muslim rulers. The christian church found a clever way to recruit forces by offering not only people who joined, but also people who financially supported the army guaranteed absolution of all confessional transgression. Which basically is the equivalent to a golden ticket to Heaven. After more than 35,000 people joined the Pope’s army, the generals decided to not pass through Anatolia due to dangerous conditions and rough terrain. The new plan was to go through through Egypt which was under muslim control at the time. This lead to the construction of Europe’s largest naval fleet since the Roman empire. Apparently, the church was in over their heads and didn’t have the funds to pay for the new fleet of ships. The Venetians agreed to help them with the expenses as long as they returned the favor and helped them take back Zara. A city that the Venetians were in contest over with Hungaria. The only problem with the plan was that Zara was a christian city. Once word got back to Pope Innocent that the crusaders were turning their swords on fellow Christians he threatened to excommunicate the knights involved and Venetians. There are conflicting accounts of how the threat was taken by the knights that lead the crusade but I came across three main claims. The knights did not receive the Pope’s decision in time, some of the knights defected after hearing of the news while the rest ignored the warning , or that the knights decided to withhold the information of excommunication from their army and march on to Zara. At this point, things began to go downhill quickly for the crusaders and with that it seemed as though their motivations for the pilgrimage had as well. After storming Zara and failing they were left with depleted numbers, the same debt, and no home.

That’s when a young and salty prince of an overthrown eastern empire, Alexios, comes into the picture. He offered the army compensation to attack Constantinople which at the time was the center of the Byzantine empire and in doing so put him on the throne. After taking over the city, Alexius co-ruled with his father. The young leader could not come up with the crusaders payment for a long period of time which made them grow restless. Alexious became so desperate he had golden relics melted down to help with the payment. The crusaders at that point were frustrated enough to turn their aggression on the city. They looted, pillaged, raped, and murdered an unknown amount of fellow christains on their rampage through the city. The crusaders would take control of the city and claim it as their own for a short period of time. The Fourth Crusade brought death, tragedy, and pain to many people, which brings up questions regarding the religious reasons behind the crusade.

While researching the various sources, I had one recurring question. How did the leader of a major church, who had very peaceful teachings, convince the clergy that taking over a portion of land with deadly force was God’s will? A primary block in the foundation of the Christian religion is the Ten Commandments. One of the most important commandments is “Thou shall not kill”. I am not claiming to be an expert on the motives of Pope Innocent’s actions, but I know that “Thou shall not kill” and going on a killing spree through the muslim empire do in fact contradict each other. In fact, President Obama went as fair to compare the crusades to the islamic extremist group, I.S.I.S, during a prayer event. The fact that the church was offering a spiritual reward to kill fellow human beings alone gave me an idea of how the Pope was using his position of power to manipulate his followers. I understand the significance of Jerusalem in the christian faith but what I can’t understand is how the land was worth undermining a major principle of the religion. Now, I am not ignorant to know that in the time of the fourth crusade empires were constantly fighting over land but what my issue lies in labeling it as a “Religious pilgrimage”. The church abused their influence on its followers and I doubt this was the only occurrence. That being said, I think that Pope Innocent used religious propoganda to fuel a turf war with muslim empires.

I was met with some challenges getting an idea of the specifics while researching this historical event. Most of the articles I found had parallels in the big picture of what happened but started to become more unclear the further I dug into the details. I found that the general presentation of the fourth crusade was that it was a complete disaster. This was no surprise considering the gruesome end to what started as a religious outing. It would be extremely difficult to defend the actions of the fourth crusade. The armies that were supposed to be noble, religious men turned on innocent people. Some also argue that the crusades were warranted by taking back the Holy Land that belonged to them. Which seems to be one of the only arguments to make in defense of the christian church.

In conclusion, the fourth crusade is without a doubt a black sheep in the history of the christian religion. After reading into what occurred I was left wondering how supposed men of faith, that had been set out to take back their Holy Land, would turn their backs on their biblical morals as soon as they hit adversity. My research also made me question the trust people put into their own religions today. If the head of a religion as prominent as christiany manipulating their followers like this thousands of years ago, what is stopping them from doing the same thing today? I think it is important to have beliefs but this is an example of how putting your unwavering belief in an institution that has lied before can be dangerous. I will leave you with this: stand strong for what you believe in but don’t stand for beliefs that someone has instructed you to follow.

Works cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Fourth Crusade.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 26 Apr. 2019,

CNN. “Obama Brings up Slavery, Crusades at Prayer Breakfast.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015,

CrashCourse. “The Crusades – Pilgrimage or Holy War?: Crash Course World History #15.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 May 2012,

“Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).” Untitled-4,

Harris, Jonathan. “The Debate on the Fourth Crusade.” History Compass, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 21 Dec. 2005,

Person. “Holy Smoke.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 20 June 2017,

“Pope Innocent III and the Marks of a Great Papacy.”, 23 Sept. 2013,

“The Crusade That Ruined Everything.” YouTube, 16 Jan. 2017,

“The Crusades – Revision 3 – KS3 History – BBC Bitesize.” BBC News, BBC,

User, Super. “The Battle over the Crusades.” Catholic Education Resource Center,


What were the motives of the Fourth Crusade? ›

The main objective of the crusaders was to place Alexios IV on the Byzantine throne so that they could receive the rich payments he had promised them.

What did the Christians crusaders answer the call to journey to Jerusalem because participants hoped to? ›

The crusaders had two goals: to free eastern Christians from the Muslims and to free the Holy Sepulcher from the Muslims. Earlier medieval Christians went to Jerusalem as an act of pilgrimage for the remission of their sins.

What happens on the 4th crusade? ›

In 1204, the Fourth Crusade captured the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. The Latins (as the Byzantines often referred to western Europeans during this period) looted and occupied the city until the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261.

What did the Fourth Crusade destroy? ›

The sack of Constantinople occurred in April 1204 and marked the culmination of the Fourth Crusade. Crusader armies captured, looted, and destroyed parts of Constantinople, then the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Why did the 4th crusade go wrong? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Fourth Crusade failed because most of the crusaders who participated never reached Jerusalem or the Holy Land, the original goal of the crusade. Instead, the crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204 and decided not to move forward to the Holy Land.

Why is Jerusalem significant for Christians? ›

For Christians, Jerusalem is also the place where Jesus preached, died and was resurrected. Many also see the city as central to an imminent Second Coming of Jesus. Jerusalem is now a major pilgrimage site for Christians from around the world.

Why did feudalism decline during the Crusades? ›

Answer and Explanation: The Crusades helped bring an end to feudalism by weakening its power structure, which was heavily decentralized. The Crusades took a huge toll on the power of feudal lords. We have to remember that medieval Europe did not have strong nation-states like we do today.

How did the Crusades affect feudalism? ›

The crusades had a major impact on Western Europe. They helped to end feudalism by increasing the authority of kings. The land of nobles who died in battle without leaving an heir passed to the king. Some nobles sold their land to raise money to pay the special tax levied by the king to offset the cost of the crusades.

Who was attacked in the 4th crusade? ›

The diversion of the Fourth Crusade from the Holy Land to attack, capture, and pillage the Byzantine city of Constantinople divided and dissipated the efforts of the Christians to maintain the war against the Muslims. It is widely regarded as a shocking betrayal of principles out of greed.

Where did the 4th Crusades end? ›

It was hoped that Egypt could then be ransomed for the return of Jerusalem. But the crusade never achieved any of this; instead ending in the rapacious looting of the Byzantine Empire's capital of Constantinople in April 1204.

How did the Knights of the Fourth Crusade violate the original purpose of the Crusades? ›

The knights of the Fourth Crusade violate the original purpose of the Crusades by never reached the holy and instead they tried to fund their campaign by looting Christen cities along the route.

What was the purpose of the Reconquista quizlet? ›

The reconquista was a series of campaigns by Christian states to recapture the territory from the Muslim Moors who occupied much of the peninsula. Reconquista it was considered a holy war similar to the Crusades because the Catholic Church wanted the Muslims removed from Europe.

What is the name of the holy city that the Crusaders fought for? ›

The best known of these military expeditions are those to the Holy Land in the period between 1095 and 1291 that were intended to conquer Jerusalem and its surrounding area from Muslim rule.

What compromise ended the Third Crusade? ›

The compromise that ended the Third Crusade (1189-1192) was outlined in the Treaty of Jaffa. It specified that Muslims would keep control of Jerusalem, but that Christians would still be allowed to visit the city. The treaty was signed by King Richard I and Saladin.

Why did the Crusaders go to the Middle East? ›

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims started primarily to secure control of holy sites considered sacred by both groups.

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