Also known as the Empire of Romania, the Latin Empire was a short-lived feudal Crusader state founded by the leaders of the Fourth Crusade after the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. It was part of a chaotic period of the Byzantine Empire which lost around three-eighths of its territory to the Republic of Venice and also lands to the Empire of Trebizond.
In many ways, the Sack of Constantinople was the end of the Byzantine Empire, and while Michael VIII Palaiologos recovered the city in 1261 and regained some territory, the mini-revival didn’t last long. The formation of the Latin Empire came about when the Fourth Crusade, which was supposed to attack Egypt, got involved in a complex political situation involving the Byzantine Empire.
The Crusaders owed a fortune to Venice, and the Venetians wanted to intervene in the Byzantine power struggle to ensure they consolidated their trading privileges. Alexios IV Angelos was a pretender to the throne, and he appealed to Venice for help. The Republic persuaded the Crusaders to divert their mission, and in 1203, they ended up at the walls of Constantinople. The great city was to be taken for the first time, and the result was over half a century of weak rule (barring the reign of Henry) that signaled the death knell for the Byzantines. Keep reading to learn more about the 8 (technically 9) emperors of the Latin Empire.
1 – Baldwin I (1204 – 1205)
Baldwin was the Count of Flanders, the Count of Hainaut and one of the most prominent figures in the Fourth Crusade. He initially benefitted from the chaos that followed the Sack of Constantinople but paid the ultimate price for getting involved in a deadly power struggle. The Crusaders installed Alexios IV as the co-emperor with his blind father, Isaac II, but Alexios was unable to pay the men they money he had promised.
He was murdered by Alexios Doukas (who became Alexios V), but the new leader now had the problem of holding the Crusaders at bay. While he strengthened the city’s defenses, the Crusaders were able to conquer Constantinople on April 12, 1204. According to one Crusader, the invaders took more loot from the city than in any previous sack in human history. Perhaps this is not an exaggeration since Constantinople had amassed an incredible number of precious objects, stones, and statues since its formation in 330 AD and had never before been captured.
Alexios V fled but was caught and executed. The Crusaders chose Baldwin as the new leader of the Latin Empire, and he became Baldwin I on May 9; his crowning ceremony took place a week later at the Hagia Sophia. Baldwin’s portion of the new empire consisted of several regions in Europe and Asia along with a few islands. The only problem was, not all of these territories had been conquered.
Baldwin wanted to conquer Thessalonica but faced resistance from Boniface of Montserrat, who was a rival candidate for the empire and possessed a large portion of territory in Macedonia whereupon he became the King of Thessalonica. Boniface laid siege to the city of Adrianople, one of Baldwin’s territories, but stood down when an agreement was reached where he received Thessalonica as a fief from Baldwin.
However, the Emperor had to deal with a Greek revolt in Thrace which was supported by Kaloyan, Tsar of Bulgaria and soon, they expelled the garrison at Adrianople. Baldwin marched to the city but was defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Adrianople on April 13-14, 1205. Baldwin was captured, but historians don’t agree as to how he met his end. Some say the Tsar murdered him in a fit of rage while others say he was killed for trying to have an affair with the Tsar’s wife. According to legend, Kaloyan used Baldwin’s skull as a drinking vessel; just like Khan Krum did with Emperor Nikephoros I. Eventually, Kaloyan wrote to Pope Innocent III to tell him that Baldwin died in prison.