by Donna Reinhard, Saint Louis University

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Thomas Madden states the question regarding the fourth crusade well: “what happened to transform an effective and limited intervention in Byzantine politics into mass slaughter at Constantinople?”[1] Madden argues that historians have spent too much energy on deterministic thinking when, in fact, Constantinople’s fall was not inevitable; it was a shock to the world.[2] He proposes that the key to understanding the tragedy of 1204 is not in the tensions between East and West but in “the treaties that had governed the crusaders’ actions since 1201.”[3] While broken treaties provide critical insight into the impetus for the tragedy of 1204, is it possible to understand why the 13th century chroniclers presented deterministic thinking in their historical narratives?[4] While Jonathan Harris proposes that the deterministic underpinning of Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates account was due to his dependence upon classical models,[5] I propose that theological aspects may also have been at work in Choniates’ interpretation of the events, especially since the same theological presuppositions can be seen in the Western church’s interpretation of the fall of Constantinople. In this essay I will explore how the importance of relics in medieval Christian spirituality, combined with the pilgrimage nature of the crusade, led some in the Western church to interpret the sacking of Constantinople as the partial fulfillment of crusader vows. In addition, I will investigate how theological presuppositions about icons, specifically Marian icons, in Constantinople may provide insight into the Eastern analysis of this crusade.

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