Roman Catholic Conquest of Constantinople (AD 1204)

In 1204, during their Fourth Crusade, Roman Catholic crusaders conquered and looted Constantinople. The crusaders destroyed significant parts of Constantinople and stole antiquities and artwork. Constantinople’s library was destroyed, the city’s churches and monasteries were ruined, women—even nuns—were raped, and thousands of people were killed.

Although Pope Innocent III denounced the terrible crimes of the crusaders, he accepted the stolen money, jewels, and gold taken back to Rome from the sacking of Constantinople. The Roman Catholics founded a Latin empire when Baldwin I was crowned Constantinople’s new emperor in the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).

The Byzantines fled Constantinople and founded the temporary empires of Nicea (modern Iznik) and Trebizond (modern Trabzon). In 1261, Constantinople was recovered from Roman Catholic control and the Byzantine empire was reestablished. The conquering of Constantinople by the Roman Catholic Church not only significantly increased the division between the eastern and western churches that had begun in 1054, but also weakened the Byzantine empire to the point where the Ottoman Turks were able to conquer the city in 1453.

Although the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have taken important steps toward reconciliation, the Roman Catholic insistence on the primacy of the Pope over the universal church remains a major obstacle.