Isaac II (Second Reign)

1203-1204

Isaac had been languishing in his cell for about eight years when, all of a sudden, his jailers came with news that must have sounded like a prank. They were not only there to set him free but to give him the imperial robe and take command of the empire again.

But old Isaac was allowed little time for celebrations. In the preceding hours Alexius III had bailed out of town with all the gold and jewels he could carry, Venetians and Franks were terrorizing the city and were about to overrun it and his own son Alexius IV was in their camp fancying himself the true Byzantine emperor.

Isaac was either instructed to or realized he had no option but to attempt conciliation of this hopeless moment by recognizing Alexius as co-emperor and try to bargain with the leaders of the Crusade. For a while the two would cling on to power but unable to do much what with thousands of Crusaders having free reign all around and in the city. When these same leaders could find no more cows to milk and stones to bleed they turned on the emperors and made it known that if Alexius couldn't keep to his word and provide for all the terms of their agreements then they would seize control of the empire and nominate their own leaders. Given an ultimatum that was quite impossible to fulfill the two were deposed by an emergency council of influential Byzantine nobility and church leaders and Alexius V was put in their place. Alexius spared no time in executing Alexius IV and Isaac himself died just days after, probably poisoned.

Although Alexius V looked the part of a strong leader and did what he could to prepare for the worst it was too little, too late and Constantinople fell to the invaders after brief and weak resistance. The massacre of civilians, the unprecedented cruelty, the raping, the pillaging and the desecration of holy places followed on such a vast and infamous scale that to this day the whole episode remains one of the sorriest chapters in history.

No coin photos available.