Latin Empire

The Latin Empire, also referred to as the Latin Empire of Constantinople, was a feudal Crusader state founded by the leaders of the Fourth Crusade on lands captured from the Byzantine Empire. The Latin Empire was intended to replace the Byzantine Empire as the Western-recognized Roman Empire in the east, with a Catholic emperor enthroned in place of the Eastern Orthodox Roman emperors.

Latin Empire
Imperium Constantinopolitanum
Imperium Romaniae
Imperium Romanorum
1204–1261[note 1]
The Latin Empire with its vassals (in yellow) in 1204
Common languagesLatin, Old French (official)
Greek (popular)
Latin Catholic (official)
Greek Orthodox (popular)
GovernmentFeudal Christian Monarchy
Baldwin I
Robert I
Baldwin II
Historical eraHigh Middle Ages
 Joint Nicean-Bulgarian campaign against Empire
1261[note 4]
1204 est.[3]179,000 km2 (69,000 sq mi)
1209 est.[3]206,000 km2 (80,000 sq mi)
1228 est.[3]47,000 km2 (18,000 sq mi)
1260 est.[3]14,000 km2 (5,400 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Byzantine Empire (Angelos dynasty)
Byzantine Empire (Palaiologos dynasty)
Principality of Achaea
Duchy of Athens
Duchy of the Archipelago
Today part ofTurkey

The Fourth Crusade had originally been called to retake the Muslim-controlled city of Jerusalem but a sequence of economic and political events culminated in the Crusader army sacking the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Originally, the plan had been to restore the deposed Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who had been usurped by Alexios III Angelos, to the throne. The crusaders had been promised financial and military aid by Isaac's son Alexios IV, with which they had planned to continue to Jerusalem. When the crusaders reached Constantinople the situation quickly turned volatile and while Isaac and Alexios briefly ruled, the crusaders did not receive the payment they had hoped for. In April 1204, they captured and plundered the city's enormous wealth.

The crusaders selected their own emperor from among their own ranks, Baldwin of Flanders, and divided the territory of the Byzantine Empire into various new vassal crusader states. The Latin Empire's authority was immediately challenged by Byzantine rump states led by the Laskaris family (connected to the Angelos dynasty of 1185–1204) in Nicaea and the Komnenos family (which had ruled as Byzantine Emperors 1081–1185) in Trebizond. From 1224 to 1242 the Komnenos Doukas family, also connected to the Angeloi, challenged Latin authority from Thessalonica. The Latin Empire failed to attain political or economic dominance over the other Latin powers that had been established in former Byzantine territories in the wake of the Fourth Crusade, especially Venice, and after a short initial period of military successes it went into a steady decline due to constant war with Bulgaria to the north and the various Byzantine claimants. Eventually, the Nicaean Empire recovered Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire under Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261. The last Latin emperor, Baldwin II, went into exile, but the imperial title survived, with several pretenders to it, until the 14th century.

Like the term "Byzantine Empire", "Latin Empire" was not a contemporary term used by the empire itself or the rest of the world. The Byzantines referred to the Latin Empire as the Frankokratia (Greek: Φραγκοκρατία, lit. "rule of the Franks") or the Latinokratia (Λατινοκρατία, lit. "rule of the Latins") and the Latin Emperors themselves referred to the empire by various names, commonly imperium Constantinopolitanum (lit. Empire of Constantinople), but also imperium Romaniae (lit. Empire of Romania) and imperium Romanorum (lit. Empire of the Romans). The term Romania ("Land of the Romans") had been used unofficially by the population of the Byzantine Empire for their country for centuries.