Alexius IV Angelus

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Alexios IV Angelos or Alexius IV Angelus (Greek: Αλέξιος Δ' Άγγελος) (c. 1182-February 8, 1204) was Byzantine Emperor from August 1203 to January 1204. He was the son of emperor Isaac II Angelos and his first wife Eirene (Herina). His paternal uncle was Emperor Alexios III Angelos.

Prince in exile

The young Alexios was imprisoned in 1195 when Alexios III overthrew Isaac II in a coup. In 1201, two Pisan merchants were employed to smuggle Alexios out of Constantinople to the Holy Roman Empire, where he took refuge with his brother-in-law Philip of Swabia[1], King of Germany.

While there he met with Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, Philip's cousin, who had been chosen to lead the Fourth Crusade, but had temporarily left the Crusade during the siege of Zara to visit Philip. Boniface and Alexios discussed diverting the Crusade to Constantinople so that Alexios could be restored to his father's throne; in return, Alexios would give them Byzantine soldiers to help fight the Crusade, as well as money to pay off the Crusaders' debt to the Republic of Venice. Additionally, he promised to bring the Greek Orthodox Church under the authority of the pope. Alexios accompanied Boniface back to the Crusader fleet, which had moved on to Corcyra, and the Venetians were in favour of the plan when they learned of it. In 1202 the fleet arrived at Constantinople. Alexios was paraded outside the walls, but the citizens were apathetic, as Alexios III, though a usurper and illegitimate in the eyes of the westerners, was an acceptable emperor for the Byzantine citizens.


On July 18, 1203 the Crusaders launched an assault on the city, and Alexios III immediately fled into Thrace. The next morning the Crusaders were surprised to find that the citizens had released Isaac II from prison and proclaimed him emperor, despite the fact that he had been blinded to make him ineligible to rule. The Crusaders could not accept this, and forced Isaac II to proclaim his son Alexios IV co-emperor on August 1.

Despite Alexios' grand promises, Isaac, the more experienced and practical of the two, knew that the Crusaders' debt could never be repaid from the imperial treasury. Alexios, however, had apparently not grasped how far the empire's financial resources had fallen during the previous fifty years. Alexios did manage to raise half the sum promised, by appropriating treasures from the church and by confiscating the property of his enemies. He then attempted to defeat his uncle Alexios III, who remained in control of Thrace. The sack of some Thracian towns helped Alexios' situation a little, but meanwhile hostility between the restive Crusaders and the inhabitants of Constantinople was growing.

In December 1203 violence exploded between the Constantinopolitans and the Crusaders. Enraged mobs seized and brutally murdered any foreigner they could lay hands upon, and the Crusaders felt that Alexios had not fulfilled his promises to them. Alexios refused their demands, saying, "I will not do anymore than I have done." While relations with the Crusaders were deteriorating, Alexios had become deeply unpopular with the Greek citizenry, and with his own father. Blinded and nearly powerless, Isaac II resented having to share the throne with his son; he spread rumors of Alexios' supposed sexual perversity, alleging he kept company with "depraved men". The chronicler Niketas Choniates dismissed Alexios as "childish" and criticized his familiarity with the Crusaders and his lavish lifestyle.

Deposition and death

At the end of January 1204, the populace of Constantinople rebelled and tried to proclaim a rival emperor in Hagia Sophia. Alexios IV attempted to reach a reconciliation with the Crusaders, entrusting the anti-western courtier Alexios Doukas Mourtzouphlos with a mission to gain Crusader support. However, Alexios Doukas imprisoned both Alexios IV and his father on the night of January 27-28 1204. Isaac II died soon afterwards, possibly of old age or from poison, and Alexios IV was strangled on February 8. Alexios Doukas was proclaimed emperor as Alexios V.


[1]- Philip was married to Eirene Angelina, a sister of Alexios IV.


  • Angold, Michael, The Fourth Crusade (London and New York, 2004).
  • Brand, C.M., 'A Byzantine Plan for the Fourth Crusade', Speculum, 43 (1968), pp. 462-75.
  • Harris, Jonathan, Byzantium and the Crusades (London and New York, 2003).
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Phillips, Jonathan, The Fourth Crusade And The Sack Of Constantinople (London and New York, 2004).

Preceded by:
Alexios III
Byzantine Emperor
with Isaac II
Succeeded by:
Alexios V

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