The Fourth Crusade, made up of western Europeans and Venetians, sailed south and eastward from Venice. Galleys transported the men, horses and supplies to the Byzantine capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey to do battle. In 1204, the Crusaders conquered the city.
The Venetians brought back four lifesize bronze horses which had been cast in Greece about 400 B.C. I saw those horses above the entrance of San Marco Basilica in Venice in June 1959. My memory was refreshed when I recently read Sharon Waxman's new book "Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World." She references with narrative and photos treasures of the Louvre, British Museum, Metropolitan and Getty Museums. Ownership of some of the treasures has been in question for years, among them, the Venetian horses.
Thirty years after seeing the horses, I became acquainted through Niles Rotary with Dr. Oscar G. Darlington Jr., retired dean of liberal arts at Ohio Northern University near Lima. Darlington was a scholar, historian and engaging storyteller. He also was an active Gideon, delivering Bibles to public places that had use for them. I was employed at Shepherd of the Valley in Niles in development work at the time and facilitated the delivery of Bibles to some residents there.
Darlington was an advocate for the study of history. A particular interest was ancient history. He spoke of how important it is to study what people did years ago. The study is often key to understanding how modern people and nations relate to each other and their environment. He cited the wandering trail and various owners of the Venetian horses as a case in point.
Darlington told how the horses cantered through history, their reins changing, usually by force, from one owner to another. Might, not the rule of law, made right in those days. Darlington started by telling about Nero going to the Olympic games in Greece some time in the 60s A.D. Nero claimed the prize bronze horses for himself, not because he was a victorious athlete, but because Nero was Emperor of Rome.
The horses remained in Rome until some time after 330 A.D. when the Roman Empire divided into eastern and western components. Emperor Constantine took the horses to Constantinople, where they resided for nearly 900 years until the Venetians transported them back to Italy and a site above the reconstructed entrance to the cathedral.
About 600 years later, after conquering northern Italy in 1797, Emperor Napoleon carted the horses from Venice to Paris as a symbol of his prowess as a conqueror. Generals Wellington (English) and Blucher (Prussian) put a bit in Napoleon's mouth, exiling him to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. In 1815, the horses were ordered by the victors back to Venice where they "belonged." After their earlier victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in 1802, the English took the treasured Rosetta Stone (essential to the translation of hieroglyphics) to the British Museum. The French had found the Rosetta Stone in 1798 in Egypt. Some years later the British also "acquired" what is known as the Elgin Marbles from the Turks who occupied Athens at the time.
The near end of the circuitous track the horses followed took place in 1943, when German Field Marshal Goring had the trophy horses boxed up in Venice to be taken to Berlin by train. The Allied military forces fortunately arrived in time to prevent that move. In the 1990s, the original horses were moved inside the Basilica to protect them from the damages of acid rain. Reproductions are now outside in the place of the originals.
For several decades the governments of modern states where the original artifacts were created have been demanding that treasures located outside their borders, including the Elgin Marbles from Athens and the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, be returned. Possession and documentation are important parts of modern law. Proper, safe care and visibility are matters of importance regarding these treasures of the world, too. Read "Loot" and reflect on the issues of ownership.
I have fond memories of Dr. Darlington. He opened my eyes to new vistas in the world.