Bohemond I of Antioch
|Prince of Antioch|
|Regent||Tancred of Hauteville|
|Prince of Taranto|
San Marco Argentano, Calabria, County of Apulia and Calabria
|Died||7 March 1111|
Bari, County of Apulia and Calabria
Canosa di Puglia Mausoleum
|Spouse||Constance of France|
|Issue||Bohemond II of Antioch|
|House||Hauteville family Italian Altavilla|
|Mother||Alberada of Buonalbergo|
Bohemond I of Antioch (c. 1054 – 3 March 1111), also known as Bohemond of Taranto, was the Prince of Taranto from 1089 to 1111 and the Prince of Antioch from 1098 to 1111. He was a leader of the First Crusade, leading a contingent of Normans on the quest eastward. Knowledgable about the Byzantine Empire through earlier campaigns with his father, he was the most experienced military leader of the crusade.
Childhood and youth
Bohemond was the son of Robert Guiscard, Count of Apulia and Calabria, and his first wife, Alberada of Buonalbergo. He was born between 1050 and 1058—in 1054 according to historian John Julius Norwich. He was baptised Mark, possibly because he was born at his father's castle at San Marco Argentano in Calabria. He was nicknamed Bohemond after a legendary giant.
His parents were related within the degree of kinship that made their marriage invalid under canon law. In 1058, Pope Nicholas II strengthened existing canon law against consanguinity and, on that basis, Guiscard repudiated Alberada in favour of a then more advantageous marriage to Sikelgaita, the sister of Gisulf, the Lombard Prince of Salerno. With the annulment of his parents' marriage, Bohemond became a bastard. Before long, Alberada married Robert Guiscard's nephew, Richard of Hauteville. She arranged for a knightly education for Bohemond.
Robert Guiscard was taken seriously ill in early 1073. Fearing that he was dying, Sikelgaita held an assembly in Bari. She persuaded Robert's vassals who were present to proclaim her eldest son, the thirteen-year-old Roger Borsa, Robert's heir, claiming that the half-Lombard Roger would be the ruler most acceptable to the Lombard nobles in Southern Italy. Robert's nephew, Abelard of Hauteville, was the only baron to protest, because he regarded himself Robert's lawful heir.
Bohemond fought in his father's army during the rebellion of Jordan I of Capua, Geoffrey of Conversano and other Norman barons in 1079. His father dispatched him at the head of an advance guard against the Byzantine Empire in early 1081 and he captured Valona (now Vlorë in Albania). He sailed to Corfu, but did not invade the island since the local garrison outnumbered his army. He withdrew to Butrinto to await the arrival of his father's forces. After Robert Guiscard arrived in the latter half of May, they laid siege to Durazzo (present-day Durrës). The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos came to the rescue of the town but, on 18 October, his army suffered a crushing defeat. Bohemond commanded the left flank, which defeated the Emperor's largely Anglo-Saxon Varangian Guard.
The Normans captured Durazzo on 21 February 1082. They marched along the Via Egnatia as far as Kastoria, but Alexios's agents stirred up a rebellion in Southern Italy, forcing Robert Guiscard to return to his realm in April. He charged Bohemond with the command of his army in the Balkans. Bohemond defeated the Byzantines at Ioannina and at Arta, taking control of most of Macedonia and Thessaly; however, the six-month siege of Larissa was unsuccessful. Supply and pay problems (and the gifts promised to deserters by the Byzantines) undermined the morale of the Norman army, so Bohemond returned to Italy for financial support. During his absence, most of the Norman commanders deserted to the Byzantines and a Venetian fleet recaptured Durazzo and Corfu.
Bohemond accompanied his father to the Byzantine Empire again in 1084, when they defeated the Venetian fleet and captured Corfu. An epidemic decimated the Normans and Bohemond, who was taken seriously ill, was forced to return to Italy in December 1084.
Robert Guiscard died at Cephalonia on 17 July 1085. Orderic Vitalis, William of Malmesbury and other contemporaneous writers accused his widow, Sikelgaita, of having poisoned Robert to secure Apulia for her son, Roger Borsa, but failed to establish her guilt. She persuaded the army to acclaim Roger Borsa his father's successor and they hurried back to Southern Italy. Two months later, the assembly of the Norman barons confirmed the succession, but Bohemond regarded himself his father's lawful heir. He made an alliance with Jordan of Capua, and captured Oria and Otranto. Bohemond and Roger Borsa met at their father's tomb at Venosa to reach a compromise. Under the terms of their agreement, Bohemond received Taranto, Oria, Otranto, Brindisi and Gallipoli, but acknowledged Roger Borsa's succession.
Bohemond renewed the war against his brother in the autumn of 1087. The ensuing civil war prevented the Normans from supporting Pope Urban II, and enabled the brothers' uncle, Roger I of Sicily, to increase his power. Bohemond captured Bari in 1090 and before long, took control of most lands to the south of Melfi.
In 1097, Bohemond and his uncle Roger I of Sicily were attacking Amalfi, which had revolted against Duke Roger, when bands of crusaders began to pass on their way through Italy to Constantinople. It is possible that Bohemond had religious reasons for joining the First Crusade. It is equally likely that he saw in the First Crusade the chance to gain a lordship in the Middle East. Lilie details that Bohemond's "father's second marriage deprived him of future prospects," in Norman Italy. While he was well known as a warrior, Bohemond's lordship in Italy was small. Geoffrey Malaterra bluntly states that Bohemond took the Cross with the intention of plundering and conquering Greek lands. Another reason to suspect Bohemond's religious zeal is the supposed embassy Bohemond sent to Godfrey of Bouillon, a powerful Crusade leader, asking him to join forces to sack Constantinople. While Godfrey declined his offer, taking Constantinople was never far from Bohemond's mind, as seen in his later attempt to take over the Byzantine Empire.
He gathered a Norman army, which would have been one of the smaller crusade forces with 500 knights and about 2,500-3,500 infantry soldiers, alongside his nephew Tancred's force of 2,000 men. What contributed to the Norman army's reputation as a great fighting force was their experience fighting in the East. Many Normans had been employed as mercenaries by the Byzantine Empire. Others like Bohemond had experience fighting the Byzantines and Muslim groups in the East fifteen years prior with Robert Guiscard. Bohemond crossed the Adriatic Sea to Constantinople along the route he had tried to follow in 1082–1084 when attacking the Byzantine Empire. He was careful to observe the correct attitude towards Alexios along this route, which was mainly keeping his soldiers from plundering Byzantine villages en route to Constantinople.
When he arrived at Constantinople in April 1097, he took an oath of homage to Emperor Alexios, which he demanded from all crusade leaders. It's not clear what exact negotiations Bohemond and Alexios made concerning Bohemond governing the part of the Eastern Byzantine Empire Alexios hoped the crusaders would reclaim. Alexios had no reason to trust Bohemond enough to give him a position at the time, but hinted that he could get a position by proving his loyalty, similarly to Bohemond's half-brother Guy. Bohemond's best chance at gaining a favorable position was to be loyal to Alexios, which he attempted to prove while the crusaders were camped around Constantinople. Bohemond, proficient in Greek, was a conduit between Alexios and the crusade leaders. Bohemond also attempted to prove his loyalty by convincing other crusade leaders to take the oath of homage to Alexios.
From Constantinople to Antioch, Bohemond was a stand out among the leaders of the First Crusade. Bohemond's reputation as an effective strategist and leader came from his fighting experience in the Balkans when he took charge of his father's army against Emperor Alexios (1082–1085). There Bohemond became familiar with various Byzantine and Muslim strategies, including an encircling strategy used by Turkish forces at the siege of Nicaea. Mounted archers would encircle the crusader force, who would be unable to retaliate using close combat weaponry. Bohemond's familiarity with this Eastern strategy allowed him to adapt quickly, leading to crusader victories through Antioch.
The Emperor's daughter, Anna Comnena, leaves a portrait of him in her Alexiad. She met him for the first time when she was fourteen and was seemingly fascinated by him, leaving no similar portrait of any other Crusader prince. Of Bohemond, she wrote:
Now the man was such as, to put it briefly, had never before been seen in the land of the Romans, be he either of the barbarians or of the Greeks (for he was a marvel for the eyes to behold, and his reputation was terrifying). Let me describe the barbarian's appearance more particularly – he was so tall in stature that he overtopped the tallest by nearly one cubit, narrow in the waist and loins, with broad shoulders and a deep chest and powerful arms. And in the whole build of the body he was neither too slender nor overweighted with flesh, but perfectly proportioned and, one might say, built in conformity with the canon of Polycleitus... His skin all over his body was very white, and in his face the white was tempered with red. His hair was yellowish, but did not hang down to his waist like that of the other barbarians; for the man was not inordinately vain of his hair, but had it cut short to the ears. Whether his beard was reddish, or any other colour I cannot say, for the razor had passed over it very closely and left a surface smoother than chalk... His blue eyes indicated both a high spirit and dignity; and his nose and nostrils breathed in the air freely; his chest corresponded to his nostrils and by his nostrils...the breadth of his chest. For by his nostrils nature had given free passage for the high spirit which bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible... He was so made in mind and body that both courage and passion reared their crests within him and both inclined to war. His wit was manifold and crafty and able to find a way of escape in every emergency. In conversation he was well informed, and the answers he gave were quite irrefutable. This man who was of such a size and such a character was inferior to the Emperor alone in fortune and eloquence and in other gifts of nature.
Bohemond saw the opportunity to use the crusade for his own ends at the siege of Antioch. When his nephew Tancred left the main army at Heraclea Cybistra and attempted to establish a footing in Cilicia, the movement may have been already intended as a preparation for Bohemond's eastern principality. Bohemond was the first to take up a position before Antioch (October 1097). In the subsequent siege of Antioch, he played a key role in gathering supplies, stopping the attempt of Ridwan of Aleppo to relieve the city from the east, and connecting the besiegers on the west with the Genoese fleet which lay in the port of St. Simeon. Due to his successful efforts Bohemond was seen as the actual leader of the siege of Antioch, rather than the elected leader Stephen of Blois, who would soon leave the siege, claiming illness.
Bohemond was able to make a deal with Firouz, one of the commanders of the city wall to end the siege of Antioch. However, he did not press to end the siege until May 1098 when learning of the approach of Kerbogha with a relief army. He then proposed to the other crusade leaders that the one to take Antioch should be put in charge of the city, as Alexios' representative Tetigus had left in February 1098. Firouz led Bohemond's force up the walls of Antioch, allowing the Norman troops to infiltrate and ultimately capture the city.
The Crusaders' troubles were not over, however, as Kerbogha started his own siege on Antioch. Bohemond was credited as the general and creator of the battle plan used to defeat Kerbogha by Raymond of Aguilers. Running very low on food and supplies Bohemond took the initiative by leaving the city and attacking Kerbogha's forces, leading to a victory for the crusaders.
Bohemond then wanted to take control of Antioch for himself, but there were some problems he had to face first. Raymond of Toulouse, a prominent crusade leader, did not want to hand Antioch over to Bohemond. Raymond claimed that Bohemond and other leaders would be breaking their oath to Alexios, which was to give any conquered lands to the Byzantine Empire. Bohemond argued that because Alexios had failed to come to the crusaders' aid at Antioch that the oath was no longer valid. Bohemond set himself up as the Prince of Antioch, and no Latin crusader or Byzantine force came to take it from him. Raymond of Toulouse decided to give up Antioch to Bohemond in January 1099, as the other crusaders moved south to the capture of Jerusalem.
After the fall of Jerusalem, Bohemond went there at Christmas 1099 to fulfill his crusade vows. While there he took part in the installation of Dagobert of Pisa as Patriarch of Jerusalem, perhaps in order to check the growth of Godfrey and his knights of Lorraine's power in the city. By submitting to the patriarch, Bohemond made connections to Jerusalem, a potential ally against future attacks on Antioch, and to remain in the Pope's good graces. While Bohemond had the fine territory, strategic position, and army necessary to found a principality in Antioch, he had to face two great forces—the Byzantine Empire, which claimed the whole of his territories, and the strong Muslim principalities in the north-east of Syria. Against these two forces he would ultimately fail.
Wars between Antioch and the Byzantine Empire
By 1100, the town of Malatia, which guarded one of the Cilician Gates through the Taurus Mountains, had been captured by an Armenian soldier of fortune. He received reports that the Danishmend Gazi of Sivas was preparing an expedition to capture Malatia. The Armenians sought help from Bohemond.
Afraid to weaken his forces at Antioch, but not wishing to avoid the chance to extend his domain northwards, in August 1100 Bohemond marched north with only 300 knights and a small force of foot soldiers. Failing to send scouting parties, they were ambushed by the Turks and completely encircled at the Battle of Melitene. Bohemond managed to send one soldier to seek help from Baldwin of Edessa but was captured. He was laden with chains and imprisoned in Neo-Caesarea (modern Niksar) until 1103.
Emperor Alexios was incensed that Bohemond had broken his oath made in Constantinople and kept Antioch for himself. When he heard of Bohemond's capture, he offered to redeem the Norman commander for 260,000 dinars, if Danishmend Gazi would hand the prisoner over to Byzantium. When Kilij Arslan I, the Seljuk overlord of Danishmend Gazi, heard of the proposed payment, he threatened to attack unless given half the ransom. Bohemond proposed instead a ransom of 130,000 dinars paid just to Danishmend Gazi. The bargain was concluded, and Gazi and Bohemond exchanged oaths of friendship. Ransomed by Baldwin of Edessa, he returned in triumph to Antioch in August 1103.
His nephew Tancred had taken his uncle's place for three years. During that time, he had attacked the Byzantines, and had added Tarsus, Adana and Massissa in Cilicia to his uncle's territory; he was now deprived of his lordship by Bohemond's return. During the summer of 1103, the northern Franks attacked Ridwan of Aleppo to gain supplies and compelled him to pay tribute. Meanwhile, Raymond of Toulouse had established himself in Tripoli with the aid of Alexios, and was able to check the expansion of Antioch to the south. Early in 1104, Baldwin and Bohemond passed Aleppo to move eastward and attack Harran.
Whilst leading the campaign against Harran, Bohemond was defeated at Balak, near Raqqa on the Euphrates (see Battle of Harran). The defeat was decisive, making the great eastern principality which Bohemond had contemplated impossible. It was followed by a Greek attack on Cilicia and, despairing of his own resources, Bohemond returned to Europe for reinforcements in late 1104. It is a matter of historical debate whether his "crusade" against the Byzantine empire was to gain the backing and indulgences of Pope Paschal II. Either way, he enthralled audiences across France with gifts of relics from the Holy Land and tales of heroism while fighting the infidel, gathering a large army in the process. Henry I of England famously prevented him from landing on English shores, since the king anticipated Bohemond's great attraction to the English nobility. His newfound status won him the hand of Constance, daughter of the French king, Philip I. Of this marriage wrote Abbot Suger:
Bohemond came to France to seek by any means he could gain the hand of the Lord Louis' sister Constance, a young lady of excellent breeding, elegant appearance and beautiful face. So great was the reputation for valour of the French kingdom and of the Lord Louis that even the Saracens were terrified by the prospect of that marriage. She was not engaged since she had broken off her agreement to wed Hugh, count of Troyes, and wished to avoid another unsuitable match. The prince of Antioch was experienced and rich both in gifts and promises; he fully deserved the marriage, which was celebrated with great pomp by the bishop of Chartres in the presence of the king, the Lord Louis, and many archbishops, bishops and noblemen of the realm.
Bohemond saw the root of his problems in Alexios and Constantinople when it came to preserving the Principality of Antioch. He thought that defending Antioch against Alexios would not be enough, since he was greatly outnumbered by the Byzantine army. Instead, Bohemond decided to go on the offensive and attack the Byzantine Empire at its core in Constantinople.
Bohemond was then resolved to use his newly recruited army of 34,000 men not to defend Antioch against the Greeks, but to attack Alexios. Bohemond took a route similar to the one that was successful for his father in Illyria and Greece. Alexios, aided by the Venetians, proved to be much stronger than when he faced Bohemond and Robert Guiscard in 1082–1084. Alexios was used to Norman battle tactics and their strength, and decided on a war of attrition rather than face them head on. During the Norman siege of Dyrrhachium of 1107–1108, Alexios blockaded the Norman camp until Bohemond was forced to negotiate.
Bohemond had to submit to a humiliating peace, all his ambitions destroyed. Under the Treaty of Devol in 1108, he became the vassal of Alexios with the title of sebastos, consented to receive Alexios' pay, and promised to cede disputed territories and to admit a Greek patriarch into Antioch. Henceforth, Bohemond was a broken man. He died six months later without returning to Antioch. With one last jab at Alexios, by not returning to Antioch the Treaty of Devol became null and void as it only applied to Bohemond himself. Antioch was left in Norman hands with Bohemond's nephew Tancred.
Bohemond I in literature and media
The anonymous Gesta Francorum was written by one of Bohemond's followers. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena is a primary authority for the whole of his life. A 1924 biography exists by R. B. Yewdale. See also the Gesta Tancredi by Ralph of Caen, which is a panegyric of Bohemond's second-in-command, Tancred. His career is discussed by B. von Kügler, Bohemund und Tancred (1862); while L. von Heinemann, Geschichte der Normannen in Sizilien und Unteritalien (1894), and Reinhold Röhricht's Geschichte des ersten Kreuzzuges (1901) and Geschichte des Königreichs Jerusalem (1898) may also be consulted for his history. The only major biography (of Tancred) that exists in English is "Tancred: a study of his career and work in their relation to the First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states in Syria and Palestine" by Robert Lawrence Nicholson. Details of his pre-crusade career can found in Geoffrey Malaterra's Deeds of Count Roger....
Count Bohemund by Alfred Duggan (1964) is a historical novel concerning the life of Bohemund and its events up to the fall of Jerusalem to the crusaders. Bohemond also appears in the historical novel Silver Leopard by F. Van Wyck Mason (1955), the short story "The Track of Bohemond" in the collection The Road of Azrael by Robert E. Howard (1979) and in the fantastical novel Pilgermann by Russell Hoban (1983).
The historical fiction novel Wine of Satan (1949) written by Laverne Gay gives an embellished accounting of the life of Bohemond.
The Crusades series by David Donachie (writing as Jack Ludlow) casts Bohemund as the main protagonist.
In Age of Empires II: Lords of the West, there are two campaigns relating to Bohemond for his victory against Alexia Kommenus and his defending against Kerbogha's siege of Antioch.
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- Luscombe & Riley-Smith 2004, p. 760.
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- Albert of Aix records his death at Bari (Albericus Aquensis II.XI, p. 177).
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