Why didn't Catholic Europe support the Byzantine empire against the Turks? Or did they? How? Yes, there were some differences between the Catholic and Orthodox interpretation of Christianity but the Turks were Muslims and should have been considered much worse (c.f. the "reconquista"), shouldn't they? They co-operated during the Crusades and the European empires (Franks, Habsburg) "Catholic Europe" should have appreciated Byzantium as a buffer towards the Muslim world?

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    You should probably mention that you mean Ottoman turks, since the crusades were initially started by "Europe" to help Byzantines against Seljuk turks.
    – taninamdar
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 4:01
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    @taninamdar - ...assuming he didn't actually mean just "Turks". The changeover from Seljuk leadership to Ottoman didn't really significantly change the nature of the threat Constantinople was facing.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:51
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    This question has received multiple answers; if one of them answered your question, please consider marking it accepted. If not, it would be useful if you indicate what you find missing.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 8:48

5 Answers 5


There was a certain amount of natural antagonism between the west and the Byzantines. Part of this was religious: They belonged to different sects of Christianity, and thus often viewed each other as little better than heretics or Muslims. Another part was commercial. What little commerce the west had was in direct competition with the Byzantines, whose geographic position forced Western merchants to pay whatever fees were demanded (or try to sneak through the Bosphorous).

Even so, in March of 1095 relations got warm enough and the Byzantines got desperate enough to ask the west for help. This was just a simple request for mercenaries to help against the Seljuks.

However, Pope Urban II had a more grandiose vision in mind. He convened The Council of Clermont, where he argued that it was a Christian moral duty to aid the Byzantines against the Muslims. He backed this up with a edict forbidding Christians waging war on Christians except on alternating weekdays(!), and with a rousing speech that was distributed and publicly read by the clergy throughout the Catholic area.

The result was the Crusades, which lasted for roughly 2 centuries, and one of which ironically ended up administering the coup-de-grace on the Byzantine empire.

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    It should be noted that the crusades (well, first one) indeed took some burden off the Byzantine Empire, and delayed the "inevitable" for the fate of the Byzantine Empire. If I had to speculate, if the Venetians didn't hijack the 4th Crusade, causing it to sack Constantinople, there's a possibility the Byzantine Empire could have withheld. However, if none of the Crusades occurred, I'm sure the Byzantine Empire would have eventually fell.
    – James Haug
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 19:57
  • The Venetians didn't "hijack" the 4th Crusade. They simply hadn't been paid promised fees after building an enormous fleet to deliver (far fewer numbers of) troops, and sought recompense by sacking numerous ports along the way, as well as Constantinople. This on the heels of serious antagonism between the Pope and Venice. If the Pope(s) had paid for past Venetian help against the Turks, and forced Genoa to play nice, it might still be Christian today. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 20:06

Please keep in mind that the IVth Crusade mentioned in the first answer has resulted in taking of Constantinople by mostly Venician troops in 1204. This has resulted in a long-lasting civil war between the Latins and the Byzantines. Finally Constantinople was taken back by the Byzantines in 1261, but the Empire did not regain all its territory and wealth.

Facing the Tukish menace, Byzance has tried to gain the help of Rome by uniting with the Latin Church. But, though the Orthodox Churches have signed the "Laetentur coeli" union with the Latin during Ferrafa-Florence Council in 1439, this union was often rejected by the clergy and the population. In fact, the Union weakened the Orthodox Church. The Greek Church has repudiated its signature. In 1441, the Russian Church proclaimed its independence, imprisoning the Kiev Patriarch (who has after become a cardinal and later, the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople). In 1451, even the unionist Bysantine Patriarch has to seek refuge in Rome. The subsistence of the "byzantine schism" is the formal pretext for the Pope Nicolas V not to help Byzance. After the Union was proclaimed in Constantinople in december 1452, the Pope has changed his mind, but his call for a new Crusade met no success.

The latin world was discouraged by the defeat in Varna in 1444. By 1453, Hungary and Venise were bound by numerous treaties with Mehmed II the Conqueror. The French and the English were in war agaist each other. Finally, only Venice and Gene have sent some limited help.

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    Its actually debatable whether the reconstituted entity after 1261 should be considered "The Byzantine Empire" anymore. I'm of the opinion it should not, but I understand the argument from those who think it should.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 8:54
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    (Oh... +1, but add some hyperlinks for stuff in here like Varna, the recapture, the FF Council, etc. and you'll vastly improve this answer).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 9:01
  • The Hundred Years War was effectively over in October 1453 following thee French victory in the Battle of Castillon. Rather than being at war with the French, the declining mental capability of Henry VI meant the English were tied up by the start of the War of the Roses. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 20:33

The question needs a time period, but assuming that you are asking about the period when Constantinople fell in 1453, the old map below shows the situation:

Constantinople 1453

As you can see from the map, Constantinople was in a desparate situation, completely surrounded by Turkish territory for hundreds of miles. The only European power that could help them was the Republic of Venice, which still controlled the sea route to Constantinople, a slender thread of a lifeline. Venice controlled the legendary port of Negroponte, shown as a red dot on the map, and by this link connected to Constantinople and beyond to Trebizond in the Black Sea. This valuable commercial route was kept open despite being completely surrounded by Turkish power. Venice did what it could, but eventually the Turkish forces became overwhelming.

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    Venice was always against the Byzantines, It was them who lured the Crusaders to Constantinople. It seems you are confusing them with Genoa who indeed helped a bit.
    – Anixx
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 23:12
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    @Anixx - Venice was in fact the main party I was thinking of when I mentioned economic rivalry in my answer. However, "always" is a bit extreme. Venice was the last portion of the west under Byzantine rule (to the early 9th Century), and as late as the 12th century had an exclusive trading concession with Constantinople (hence its wealth). There was a falling out after that, the concession was given to Genoa instead, and that's what set the stage for the gutting of the Byzantine Empire that was the 4th Crusade 20 years later.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:26
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    Venice was loosely allied with Constantinople at the time period of which I am writing (1450-1453), and in fact, even sent a fleet to help defend Constantinople during the siege (although it arrived too late). Genoa had no significant contribution to the war. The Pope sent several ships to aid Constantinople though. Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:56
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    A key point was that the European Christian land forces had lost both the 1444 Battle of Varna and the 1448 Battle of Kosovo and so could not reach a Constantinople which had destroyed itself and its resources in four civil wars in the 14th century, even after the 1261 reconquest of the city from the Latins.
    – Henry
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 20:19

In 1054, The Great Schism occurred; this was an official "split" or in reality, a mutually agreed divorce between The Roman Catholic Pope-(i.e. "The Bishop of Rome") and the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople. More specifically, The Great Schism was a split or divorce between The Western and Eastern rite Churches.

Although the Byzantine Empire was a mixed Roman and Greco-Roman Empire during the first 275 years of its imperial reign, it became an increasingly Greek Eastern Christian Empire beginning in the early 600's with the crowning of Emperor Heraclius. From 606, until 1206, the Greco-Byzantine Empire dominated the Eastern Christian world and grew in power and influence. The city of Constantinople was one of the largest cities in the world and Constantinople was, by far, the largest and most sophisticated Christian city in the world at that time. For the Pope, the Papal states, as well as the (fairly long) line of Holy Roman Emperors, Constantinople, was the prize package for an invasion. The Byzantine citadel, would be an important preliminary conquest prior to reaching Muslim Palestine-(specifically, Jerusalem). The Crusading Armies from the West-(with blessings from the Pope) conquered Constantinople in 1206 and occupied the Byzantine Citadel until 1256; this marked the historic turning point for Medieval Greek Christian Constantinople.

Beginning in 1256, the newly liberated city of Constantinople now had to face the Seljuk Turkish Muslim threat moving closer to the city, as well as towards Western Asia Minor. Although Constantinople regained its independence from the Crusaders, it was unable to return to its preeminent status and in turn, the Power and Governance of the Byzantine Empire relocated southward to the Peloponnese, specifically to the interior town of Mystras-(near ancient Sparta). From 1256, until, May, 1453, Constantinople-(similar to Rome after the Pax Romana 1000 years earlier), became a figurehead city, as well as a militarized city on the constant defense from Seljuk Turkish Muslim encroachment and ensnarement. Though Constantinople, despite its beleaguered status, continued to remain the Capital of Eastern rite Christianity. However, by May, 1453, it was curtains for Constantinople and the city was overrun, conquered and occupied by the Seljuk Muslim Turks.

Although there appears to be a spirit of religious ecumenism and reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches since the historic 1965 Second Vatican Council, one must not forget the deeply rooted bitterness and enmity that existed between the 2 Churches since 1054 and especially since 1206. The Papacy hated Constantinople and the feelings of the Byzantine Leadership towards the Papacy in Rome were mutual-(This MAY have been the time where the word, "Byzantine" became a part of the Western Dictionary, though pejorative in meaning when read by Western eyes).

By the 1400's, Greek academic, financial and even a few religious elites escaped the Seljuk Muslim Turkish advancement towards Constantinople and relocated to the Veneto in Northeast Italy, specifically, Venice. Conversely, the Venetians, had occupied a sizable portion of Greece's islands and the Peloponnese-(even during the early years of Ottoman occupied Greece). Although the Greek newcomers to the Veneto had several precious ancient manuscripts to offer the burgeoning Northern Italian Renaissance Scholars and Luminaries, living as a Greek Eastern Christian in an increasingly Western Roman Catholic world was overwhelming and obscuring. In other words, Roman Catholicism, as a theology, a political presence, as well as a major cultural Mover, had triumphed over Byzantine Christianity with The Fall of Constantinople in May, 1453-(However, such a triumph for the Catholic Church proved to be somewhat ephemeral in the wake of a rising Russian Orthodox Christian global presence, as well as with the rise of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation).

The elimination of the Byzantine Patriarch's global power, as well as the elimination of the Byzantine Emperor's power, led to the Papacy's consolidation of theological and territorial power West of Constantinople......but NOT to the (immediate and semi-distant) NORTH of Constantinople.....these territories became part of the larger Ottoman Turkish Muslim Empire.

So there are many reasons as to why the European West remained distant from the Muslim-Christian struggle for power in Constantinople during the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern era. There is no singularly rooted answer to this question; it is complex in its explanation and continues to engender great debate to this day.

  • Seljuks? They were done by the 13th century. Don't you mean Ottoman?
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 15:17

Actually, "Europe", understood as a mix of nations that were Christian and occupied the european continent, did support the Byzantine Empire against its threats, especially Muslim, and especially Turkish threats.

Against Muslim forces from the differents califates, the Byzantine Empire beneficiated from time to time of the help of Italian republic forces.

When the Seldjukids Turks threatened the Byantine Empire, Bulgarian and Kievians forces helped the Byzantine Empire to ultimately repell them, before the Seldjukids were destroyed by colliding forces.

Against the Ottomans, Constantinople was helped by an European coalition, that fought and was destroyed in the battle of Nicopolis. THis was a huge effort: France lost so many knights during this battle that it was weakened and suffered from a reboost of the Hundred Years War.

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