The Latins break open the tombs of the emperors in Constantinople

The history of Nicetas Choniates ends with a mournful description of the damage done to the city of Constantinople by the victorious Latins in 1204.  It seems to describe events well after the initial capture and sack of the city.

The following is very interesting:

Exhibiting from the very outset, as they say, their innate love of gold, the plunderers of the queen city conceived a novel way to enrich themselves while escaping everyone’s notice. They broke open the sepulchers of the emperors which were located within the Heroon erected next to the great temple of the Disciples of Christ [Holy Apostles] and plundered them all in the night, taking with utter lawlessness whatever gold ornament, or round pearls, or radiant, precious, and incorruptible gems that were still preserved within.

Finding that the corpse of Emperor Justinian [d.648] had not decomposed through the long centuries, they looked upon the spectacle as a miracle, but this in no way prevented them from keeping their hands off the tomb’s valuables. In other words, the Western nations spared neither the living nor the dead, but beginning with God and his servants, they displayed complete indifference and irreverence to all.

Not long afterwards, they pulled down the ciborium of the Great Church that weighed many tens of thousands of pounds of the purest silver and was thickly overlaid with gold.[1]

All the emperors of the East, from Constantine the Great onwards, were buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.  The church was pulled down after 1453 by the Moslems, and a mosque built in its place.  I believe that some of the porphyry sarcophagi of the emperors can still be seen at the archaeological museum, although I have not seen this myself.

But I had never realised that the tombs were actually looted by the Latins after their capture of the city in 1204.

  1. [1]Nicetas Choniates, Annals, translated as O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniates, tr. H.J. Margoulias, 1984, p.357.

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