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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old May 13th, 2013, 06:22 PM   #1

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How long would the Byzantine Empire have lasted if not for the sack of 1204?


It's purely speculative of course, but how long does everyone think the Byzantine Empire would have lasted if the sack of 1204 had not occurred during the Fourth Crusade? To me - and I think most historians agree - that was the devastating blow from which they never recovered. Considering they were making some strides to recover following Manzikert, I think they could have survived as a respectable entity into modern times, perhaps as a nation consisting of Greece and the western half of Turkey.

On the other hand, the Empire was plagued by poor leadership, decreasing income, an antiquated military structure, and they failed to "modernize" their economy to compete with the likes of Venice and other burgeoning mercantile economies in Europe. So they may have fallen in 1453 (or shortly thereafter) without the Fourth Crusade.

What say you? Would there be a viable Byzantine Empire today (or at least more recently) if the sack of 1204 had not occurred?
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Old May 21st, 2013, 07:53 AM   #2
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I agree that the Fourth Crusade was the catalyst for the eventual fall of the empire in 1453, but I think such a calamity could have been prevented if Manuel Komnenos had been followed by capable successors. Manuel, through his constant scheming in Italy and the Balkans, left a tangled web of international animosity against the empire that only a visionary statesman could have alleviated. Also, the return of the landed magnates to Asia Minor under the Komnenoi further undermined the imperial tax and military recruitment system. Upon seizing the throne Andronicus initiated reforms of the system that in the long run may have benefited the free peasantry and reconstituted the militias of the 9th and 10th centuries, but his psychopathis bloodlust ensured he would never be able to fully implement this process. Of course, under the incompetent Angeli the true breakdown of the empire began and it was left to the crusaders to deliver the coup de grace.
As for as how long the empire may have survived in a different scenario, it is interesting to note that after the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century and the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in WW1, Greece was presented with territory that would have included lands in Turkey held by the empire around the year 1200. Unfortunately, the new republic of Turkey would have kept Constantinople.
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Old May 21st, 2013, 11:06 PM   #3

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There was already a long decline which had multiple factors but the main problem was erosion of tax base by both Turk raids and flight from Anatolia even if nominally much territory was under the Empire but even more important was loss of Greek merchants to Italy control of trade not only around Italy but everywhere in the Mediterranean. Greek trade had helped hold the Empire together culturally as well as economically and Greek navy had been additionally an important military resource. Perhaps a brilliant Emperor could have turned things around for awhile but most likely the culture was simply unable to modernize in the same way as younger cultures without the mass of history carried on.
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Old May 22nd, 2013, 12:41 PM   #4

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Alexios' failure to recapture the Heart of Anatolia was probably just as fatal. If they had recaptured Anatolia, and If the Sack of 1204 never happened, then I think they could have survived longer than 1453. It would also depend on if, like so many times before in Roman history, a great leader emerged to save the Empire.
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Old May 22nd, 2013, 11:12 PM   #5

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If the Fourth Crusade didn't occur, then the Byzantine Empire would survive up to the modern times as a modern nation. The Byzantine Empire would of have annexed the Seljuk Sultanate if they had a really good emperor. The modern descendant of the Byzantine Empire would consist of Greece, Albania, FYROM(Macedonia), Southern Bulgaria, Cyprus and Western Turkey. The Byzantine Empire wouldn't conquer a lot of nations further after 1204 like it did during the 6th century, but it'll probably expand and decline a bit through the 13th century to the 20th century. Since the empire had good and bad emperors, the Byzantine Empire wouldn't be a major colonial power. I don't know if the Byzantine Empire would consider to have a colony in the early modern era, but if they did they'll probably have one or two oversea colonies.
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Old May 23rd, 2013, 12:00 AM   #6

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The Empire was already weak before 1204. The political factionalism, the power of the aristocracy and the corruption of the administration had grown to an untenable point. By 1204 the Emperor's authority was illusionary and relied heavily on the support of the aristocracy. If the crusaders were able to seize Contantinople, it was because the Empire's internal turmoil, this is to say, Alexios Angelos invitation. Without a serious and long-term restoration of the Imperial power, it would be impossible to deal with the foreign menaces, but, at the same time, the increasing strenght of its enemies (Turks and Bulgars), followed by territorial losses, made it impossible to achieve some internal stability to rebuilt a strong army. Forced to rely in the diplomacy and foreign mercenaries of dubious loyalty, the Empire was condemned.
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Old May 23rd, 2013, 05:45 AM   #7
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By the point of 1204 the Byznatine were already pretty screwed, sack or no sack, the final blow was probably the dreadful succession problem left in the wake of the Manuel Komnenos' death.

Manuel's reign was perhaps one of the most controversial in the entire middle ages, to contemprory and even many modern reader, you see the glimmer of hope that the Glory of Rome would be revived under him. but almost everything that went wrong after his death which ended up with the 4th Crusade was either directly or indirectly caused by decisions during his reign.

Then again, if he had an adult heir who was relatively capable when he died, maybe that all wouldn't have come to pass either.

But by 1204, Bulgaria had already gone off independent (which was a devastating blow, seeing that after the loss of Asia minor, the gain of Bulgaria was basically the only thing that was softening the financial blow) . And Manuel's heir had long died, and the series of coups and political intrigue that caused his death directly lead to the events which brought the Crusaders into Constantinople.
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Old May 23rd, 2013, 12:06 PM   #8

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I do not think they would have lasted much longer if the sack had not occurred. The Ottomans bypassed Constantinople in the fifteenth century partially because it was weak even though it did resist conquest multiple times. However the Ottoman state would have still been far greater than the Byzantine state without the sack and would have viewed the Byzantines as a larger threat. Therefore if the sack during the fourth crusade had not occurred Constantinople may have fallen even sooner.
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Old May 24th, 2013, 01:39 PM   #9

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In my own opinion, the Byzantine Empire, as well as the whole of Orthodox europe, was condemned to be absorbed by the West. Constantinople's Sack in 1204 merely represented the end of this process, as did the division of the Empire into a number of Latin holdings. The Greek territories operated in this period much like their western counterparts.

The catalyst to this process I beleive the inevitable overshadowing of Constantinople by the western territories; but also I find has its origin in the strange process which occurred in the Islamic realm 300 years previously- the usurpation of the Islamic world by the Turkic peoples. After falling prey to this same process, evident within the Byzantine empire of the time, and outside of it, the whole Civilization I beleive was inevitably going to slip under the coat of Islamic and Western assimilation.

That is why today, many would see the Balkan coutnries as part of European civilization- but it is the edge, bordering on the Islamic world. This stems from this time period, and of Constantinople being at the center of this tug-of-war.

I also see the sack and dismemberment of the Empire in 1204 to be the true end of the Empire- any restoration notwithstanding. Byzantine Civilization, on the other hand, lasts until the 17th or 18th century, in my opinion. But the Empire itself I see as being dead and burried in 1204, and don't think it could have lasted much longer than that.
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Old May 24th, 2013, 02:01 PM   #10
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They would of fell anyways
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