Today it is Tuesday the 13th, and although this means nothing to most of you, the Greeks, or at least the superstitious ones, are keeping an extra eye out today. Nope, Friday the 13th means nothing to us. It’s Tuesday that sends shivers down our spines.
Of course, there’s an interesting story of how this came to be, there always is. There is also a very interesting story for Friday the 13th, but I’m saving that for the right day. So…
We firstly have to go back in time, in the Byzantine Empire, and its glorious capital, Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. The year is 1182 and Europe is in turmoil, but yeah, nothing new there… Apart from everything else, the religious schism between the Eastern and the Western Churches deepens day by day. In May of the same year, the Eastern Orthodox population of Constantinople, massacres the Latin Catholic population… This damaged the already tensed relationships, although the commercial ones were back to normal soon. Priorities, people…
Anyway, the Westerners wouldn’t forget and in the decades that followed, many things happened on both sides. In the West, the Crusades had begun, and the East was going through what probably inspired George R. R. Martin to write “A Game of Thrones”. Emperors coming and going, mysterious deaths, intrigues, riots, you know, the whole shebang!
Now, the Crusades were a huge topic of the time. Not everyone supported them, and although this wasn’t the popular opinion, it had also spread to the Byzantine Emperors, and the folk. Well, with the pace the Emperors were changing, it is not safe to say where the Empire stood after all.
Fast forward to 1204, where the 4th Crusade has already started and the Republic of Venice is on the rise. In the East, Alexios Doukas has declared himself Emperor, and his predecessor, Alexios IV, is imprisoned mainly for negotiating with the Crusaders. When Doukas demanded his execution, the Crusaders declared war.
Constantinople was under siege in early April 1204. It fell a few days later, with the Crusaders vandalizing and looting the city for days. The calendar said Tuesday, April the 13th.
The city was liberated in 1261, but the Byzantine Empire would never really recover to its full strength, something which for many historians, led to its decline and the eventual fall of 1453.
For what is worth, though, in 2001 (yes, 800 years later) Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the then Archbishop of Athens, Christodoulos, apologizing for the atrocities between Christians… It’s something, I guess.
First published: 13/6/2017