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Response to Review no. 371

It is extremely flattering that a scholar of the standing of Professor David Jacoby has taken the trouble to review my book. Jacoby’s work is well known to anyone who has worked on the middle and later periods of Byzantine history (1025-1453), the Latin empire of Constantinople and Frankish Greece. His close studies of documentary material, published and unpublished, have borne fruit in a series of seminal articles in the several languages in which he writes with ease. By investigating the original documentation so thoroughly and by refusing to take anything on trust, Jacoby has been able to overturn numerous shibboleths and clichés, and his writings provide a constant challenge and inspiration to others working in the field.

Yet the detailed work that Jacoby produces is not the only way of writing history. For those of us who have the needs of undergraduates, MA students and a wider, non-academic reading public in mind, the type of detail that Professor Jacoby goes into is not possible. In order to give some overview of events and a basic understanding of the period, some degree of generalisation and loss of precision is unavoidable. It is this difference which, I believe, lies behind some of the criticisms of detail which Jacoby has made of my book.

For example, Jacoby criticises my bibliography because it does not contain some of the latest editions of contemporary sources. As I made clear in the acknowledgements, however, the versions and translations cited were those which were likely to be most accessible to general readers and students, who would not have the chance to use specialised academic libraries. The same applies to the maps, which Jacoby says are ‘seriously flawed’. These were inserted just to give a general idea of the geography of the region. That of Constantinople illustrates the important point: the city’s easily defended position. The question of whether the church of the Forty Martyrs is in the wrong place is hardly relevant, especially as its position is largely a matter of speculation anyway. The map of the Latin states of Syria and Palestine is attacked by Jacoby because it does not show the territorial changes which took place in the twelfth century. Its task in the book, however, is simply to show where those states were in a broad eastern Mediterranean context.

I do not wish to deny that I have made mistakes. I therefore am grateful to Professor Jacoby for pointing out that I misspelt the surname of the eminent medievalist, Hans Eberhard Mayer. A guilty plea must also be recorded as regards my statement that Venice occupied Dyrrachion in the years after 1204: the city in fact ended up being taken over by the Despot of Epiros. No doubt there are plenty of others of a typographical nature, which Jacoby has not listed because of shortage of space.

On the other hand, many of my supposed errors are in fact Jacoby’s misreading of the relatively limited point that I am trying to make. He attacks my treatment of the treaty between Venice and Byzantium in 1082 because it supposedly repeats the well-worn argument that the treaty crippled the empire’s economy and enabled the Venetians to monopolise trade between Constantinople and the West. This view, says Jacoby, has been ‘convincingly discarded’ (in an article of his own). Yet that was not my argument or the point of discussing the treaty. On pp. 39-40 I alluded to the treaty simply to show that it was a typical example of Byzantine diplomatic practice: finding an ally who could attack your enemy from behind, in this case the Normans of Southern Italy. I say that the emperor Alexios could be blamed for over-generous concessions here, as indeed he has been,(1) but I was not offering analysis of the treaty and its effect on Byzantine commerce per se. On pp. 114-15 I discuss the treaty in the context of John II’s conflict with Venice in 1119-26 as essential background to the run up to the Fourth Crusade. Again I was not offering a view on the treaty’s long-term commercial implications but merely pointing out that the Byzantines clearly were not happy with it, or they would not have refused to renew it.

Jacoby claims that I am in error to suggest that the First Crusade might have been unwittingly prompted by Alexios I’s requests for mercenary troops from the West, on the grounds that all evidence for such requests is western European and therefore unreliable. This is not the case. Byzantine sources do mention attempts to recruit western mercenaries in the 1090s. Anna Comnena tells us that Alexios I recruited a contingent of Flemish knights after meeting the count of Flanders in 1091 and that during his Petcheneg campaign he was expecting to be joined by a contingent of troops from Rome.(2) Jacoby also asserts that the request at Piacenza was unlikely because there was no need for mercenary troops at the time, but there is abundant evidence that the Byzantines were recruiting western mercenaries throughout the eleventh century and not just at particular moments of crisis.(3) I therefore feel completely justified in taking the Latin sources about the Council of Piacenza seriously, while being alert to their obvious bias.

My account of the negotiations between Isaac II Angelos and Saladin in 1185-92 is criticised, partly because the mosque in Constantinople was a new one and not an existing one and partly because there is no evidence that Isaac requested the protectorship of the Holy Places from Saladin before 1192. As for whether the mosque was new or old, the matter is perhaps not of the first importance, nor is it an issue that I am even trying to address. The point here is that the type of dealings that the Byzantines had with Saladin between 1185 and 1192 were not anything new, even if the particular mosque being discussed was. As for the protectorship of the Holy Places, it is not unreasonable to assume that Isaac had been requesting this all along, since so many other Byzantine treaties with Muslim powers had made that demand in return for concessions over the mosque in Constantinople. Besides, one source does mention that Greek clergy were given favoured status in Jerusalem after Saladin’s conquest of the city in 1187.(4) In any case, my aim in discussing the negotiations was not to demonstrate how much or how little Isaac extracted from Saladin, but to show that they did not concern any military alliance or plan to partition the kingdom of Jerusalem as is often suggested.

The chapter on the aftermath of 1204 attracts some of the severest censure. I am held to be in error because I state that the exodus of many prominent Greeks from Constantinople left the place largely to the poor, old and sick, because Jacoby has discovered examples of people who did not fall into those categories, but who nevertheless remained behind. The remark is one made by several contemporaries and eyewitnesses and so it should not be dismissed lightly,(5) but it does not, of course, mean literally that everyone went. My point was only that many did leave and that these provided the courtiers at the rival courts of Arta, Nicaea and Trebizond.

My mention of the Roman church as a beneficiary of the territorial division of the Byzantine empire is held to be inaccurate. I was referring to the ecclesiastical property that was assigned to the Latin church in Greece to support it financially, though my use of the phrase ‘Roman church’ here might have been a little misleading. Finally while it is true that the Venetians only occupied a small part of the island of Euboea in the years immediately after 1204, to go into detail about the process by which they came to dominate the whole island would have been tedious and inappropriate here.

In short, I have to reject most of Jacoby’s corrections. The alternative would be to qualify each statement with carefully-worded get-out clauses designed to assuage the possible wrath of all the specialists in every one of the many fields on which the book touches. That would be regrettable, given that the clarity and fluency of the prose is, in Jacoby’s opinion, the book’s only positive quality.

Jacoby concludes his review by denouncing my overall argument as neither new nor convincing. In a nutshell, my thesis is this: in its dealing with the reformed papacy, passing crusades and the Latin states of Syria between 1050 and 1204, the rulers of the Byzantine empire relied on trusted techniques and ideology. This meant putting the defence of Constantinople above all else and securing recognition of the position of the Byzantine emperor as the emperor of the Romans, the supreme overlord of the Christian world. Successful though it had been in the past, this approach was dangerous in a period when the pope was claiming that he was the head of Christendom and that the defence of Jerusalem was the duty of all pious rulers. The failure of the Byzantines to accede to either of these points led to their being blamed for the loss of Jerusalem in 1187 and to the justification of aggression against them to extort supplies for crusading expeditions.

I will not dwell on Jacoby’s claim that my argument is not new, although I would be interested to know where it has been advanced before. The grounds on which Jacoby says my thesis is unconvincing, on the other hand, are decidedly weak and rather unfair. He claims that the main prop of my argument is the letter written by Pope Innocent III to the Byzantine emperor Alexios III in November 1202. There Innocent warns the emperor that he ought to behave more like his supposed pro-western predecessor Manuel I, ‘so that you might be able to extinguish or feed the fire in distant regions lest it be able in some measure to reach all the way to your territories’. I read this as a thinly-veiled threat that Innocent might not be able to prevent aggression from the west if Alexios failed to co-operate with the effort to recover Jerusalem, a reading endorsed by the translator of the letter.(6) Jacoby regards this as a misreading and asserts that Innocent was referring to the Muslim powers who might march on Constantinople if not checked in Syria.

Jacoby’s reading of the letter is perfectly plausible and he may well be right. What is unreasonable is his insistence that my entire thesis thereby falls. In fact, even if Jacoby’s reading is correct, the 1202 letter is only a tiny part of the evidence I use to back up my argument. Typical of the wide range of material I use are the chronicles which describe the conquest of Cyprus by Richard I of England in 1191. They justify this aggression against Christians by bringing out all the old slurs against the Byzantines, their disobedience to Rome and their supposed alliance with Saladin, while extolling the material advantages that the campaign brought for the crusaders and the Latin position in the Holy Land.

Jacoby’s parting shot is to claim that such justifications should be ignored because they were merely a cover for territorial ambitions on the part of crusade leaders who may not have had the slightest interest in the recovery of Jerusalem. In his opinion, there is no link between ideology and action here, simply opportunistic land grabbing. Whether Richard I, Boniface of Montferrat and others were genuine in their attachment to the cause of recovering Jerusalem is something that no one can ever know, but it makes, in any case, no difference to my argument. As Quentin Skinner has pointed out in quite another context, to assert that an individual’s professed principles must either be seen as the causal conditions of his actions or else discounted altogether is rather simplistic. Those principles were the product of a shared political ideology with which all actions and policies have to be presented as compatible.(7) Aggression against Christian Byzantines, whether done to advance the cause of recovering Jerusalem or simply to grab land and booty for its own sake, still had to be justified in terms of crusade ideology and of the anti-Greek propaganda that had developed in response to Byzantine policies towards passing crusades and the Latin states of Syria. My thesis that Byzantine policies alienated the west and unwittingly provided a justification for aggression is therefore quite unaffected by Jacoby’s objection here.

It is with some reluctance that I have to disagree fundamentally with so distinguished a scholar as Professor Jacoby. To do otherwise, however, would be to invite the situation envisaged by the learned Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus (1391-1425), where ‘there would not be one person among the present generation … who would dare open his mouth’.(8)

1. See for example: George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, transl. J. M. Hussey, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), p. 359.
2. Anna Comnena, Alexiade, ed. B. Leib, 3 vols (Paris: 1937-45), ii. 105, 139; English translation by E. R. A. Sewter, The Alexiad of Anna Comnena (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), pp. 229, 256.
3. Jonathan Shepard, ‘The uses of the Franks in eleventh- century Byzantium’, in Anglo-Norman Studies, 15: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, ed. Marjorie Chibnall (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1993), pp. 275-305.
4. Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, transl. Ernest A. Wallis-Budge, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1932), i, p. 327.
5. Niketas Choniates, Historia, ed. J. A. Van Dieten, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, 11, 2 vols (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1975), i. 589-94; Geoffroy de Villehardouin, La Conquête de Constantinople, ed. Jean Dufournet (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1969), p. 99; Gunther of Pairis, The Capture of Constantinople, transl. A. J. Andrea (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), p. 107; Robert of Clari, The Conquest of Constantinople, transl. E. H. McNeal (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), p. 100.
6. Die Register Innocenz III, ed. O. Hageneder et al, 7 vols (Graz and Cologne, 1964-99), v, pp. 239-43; English translation, Alfred J. Andrea, Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade (Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 35-39, on p. 38.
7. Quentin Skinner, ‘The principles and practice of opposition: the case of Bolingbroke versus Walpole’, in N. McKendrick, ed., Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (London: Europa, 1974), pp. 93-128, on p. 128.
8. Manuel II Palaeologus, Letters, transl. George T. Dennis, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 8 (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1977), no. 52, p. 148.