On This Day – 10 November 1202

The siege of Zara began. This was the first major action of the fourth crusade and the first attack against a Catholic city by Catholic crusaders. The attack was forbidden by Pope Innocent III who threatened the crusaders with excommunication.

The fourth crusade was the first time that the Pope was in direct control of the crusade rather than the secular nobles of the previous campaigns. The Pope managed to raise an army of about 35,000 crusaders before entering into negotiations with the Venetians to construct and crew a fleet. The fleet was to carry the crusaders to the Egyptian Delta which the Pope planned to use as a staging post before marching the army into Palestine.

For this service the Pope offered to pay the Venetians 94,000 Silver Marks in instalments and the crusaders were scheduled to arrive in Venice before the end of April 1202, so that the voyage could take place during the summer sailing season.

A significant percentage of what was owed to the Venetians was to come from passage money paid by individual crusaders. The crusaders arrived late and then only 12,000 crusaders arrived in Venice. Even though the crusaders gathered all their available funds and offered their gold and silver plate to the Venetian moneylenders, they were only able to raise approximately half the money (51,000 Marks).

In lieu of pay, for the time being, the Venetians accepted the invasion of Zara and Triestse with the expectation that the crusaders would pay the remainder from the spoils of the crusade proper.

After landing at Zara some of the crusade leaders, realising that Zara was a Catholic city, refused to participate in the siege and ordered their companions to stop; however the crusaders took the city after a relatively short siege.

The Pope excommunicated the entire crusader army in 1203 for their actions at Zara, only to grant absolution to them later.