Post-classical history

Bohemund I of Antioch (d. 1111)

Leader of the Italian Norman contingent in the First Crusade (1096-1099) and subsequently prince of Antioch (1098-1111).

Bohemund was the nickname of Mark, a son of Robert Guiscard, the Norman conqueror of southern Italy, by his marriage to the Norman Alverada. Guiscard repudiated this first marriage in 1058 in order to marry the Lombard princess Sikelgaita, and Bohemund lost his right of inheritance to the duchy of Apulia in favor of the sons she bore him. However, as a young adult Bohemund fought constantly at his father’s side, and, specifically, he participated in his father’s attacks on the Dalmatian coast of the Byzantine Empire in the 1080s. This was intended to provide him with his own lands, but after Guiscard died in 1085 the Dalmatian conquests were soon lost. Bohemund was left to fight his half-brother and his paternal uncle, the count of Sicily (both called Roger), for a small territorial inheritance in Apulia, including the cities of Taranto and Bari. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it was widely thought even at the time that Bohemund took part in the First Crusade for reasons of territorial ambition.

Bohemund announced his participation in the expedition in dramatic fashion: the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum claims that Bohemund heard about the crusade while besieging Amalfi and was “inspired by the Holy Ghost” to cut up his most valuable cloak into crosses and abandon the siege, along with most of his army, in order to go and join it [Gesta Francorum, ed. and trans.Rosalind Hill (London: Nelson, 1962), p. 7]. However, it is highly unlikely that this was Bohemund’s first intimation of the expedition, since he and Pope Urban II were well acquainted and this was seven months after the crusade was announced at the Council of Clermont. Most probably, Bohemund was pre empting possible opposition to his participation by a show of responding to popular enthusiasm and pressure. Bohe- mund’s contingent, which was not large, crossed the Adriatic Sea in October 1096, ahead of the other major armies, and landed near Dyrrachion (mod. Durrës, Albania), which Bohemund and his father had besieged during the winter of 1081-1082 and which was betrayed into their hands: a lesson that Bohemund was to put to good use at Antioch. The approach of their old antagonist was viewed with great suspicion by the Byzantines: this is reported not only by Anna Komnene, the emperor’s daughter, whose account was written in the light of subsequent developments, but also by Latin writers, one of whom reported a secret approach to Godfrey of Bouillon to suggest an attack on Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey).

Emperor Alexios I Komnenos endeavored to contain the potential threat from Bohemund by extracting an oath from him: according to the Gesta Francorum, in return for an oath of loyalty the emperor would give Bohemund lands “beyond Antioch” (p. 12). The exact terms of this oath have been much discussed. Byzantine fears were seen to be justified in the summer of 1098, when Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) was captured by the crusaders after a long siege, and Bohe- mund kept the city, which was formerly Byzantine and which was immensely important to the empire, strategically, economically, and symbolically. At what point Bohemund decided Antioch was to be his is not established, but his actions in the spring of 1098 suggest that he was actively maneuvering to this end: having identified a traitor within the city, he encouraged first the withdrawal of the Byzantines under their general, Tatikios, and then the desertion of Stephen of Blois, who held some position of overall command within the barons’ war council. He extracted a promise from the other leaders that the city should be granted to whichever of them was able to engineer its capture. Thus, when the city was betrayed to the crusaders, Bohemund laid claim to it, and although succeeding months were spent in wrangling over his possession, especially with Raymond of Saint-Gilles, he remained in Antioch when the rest of the leaders marched south to Jerusalem early in 1099. Bohemund did not participate in the siege and capture of Jerusalem, and he did not complete his pilgrimage by visiting the city until Christmas 1099.

There is little evidence for the earliest stages of consolidation of the principality of Antioch by Bohemund. While campaigning in Cilicia in August 1100, he was captured by the Dānishmendid emir and held for ransom. His nephew Tancred assumed the regency of Antioch during his absence (1101-1103) but was understandably unwilling to raise the enormous sum demanded to release him. Bohe- mund, meanwhile, persuaded his captor to refuse an offer by Emperor Alexios to ransom him, which would have ended his ambitions, in favor of a smaller sum and an alliance with the Franks. The sum (100,000 bezants) was raised by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem and Patriarch Bernard of Antioch. Remarkably, Bohemund emerged from captivity to reclaim Antioch intact from Tancred, and with his legendary status enhanced by tales of his wily negotiations with the emir, and his winning ways with the emir’s womenfolk. Bohemund and Joscelin I of Edessa profited from the alliance with the Dānishmendid emir to secure Marash (mod. Kahramanmaras, Turkey) in 1103, while a Byzantine attempt to reclaim Cilician cities was unsuccessful. In the following year, however, Bohemund and Tancred found themselves constantly fighting both Muslims and Byzantines, and in September 1104 Bohe- mund announced that he would sail for Europe to secure reinforcements. He left Tancred as his regent.

Bohemund headed first for his lands in southern Italy, where he spent some months putting his affairs in order after nine years’ absence and recruiting Normans for an expedition. In Rome he persuaded Pope Paschal II that the Byzantines were inimical to the Latin settlements in Outremer, and gained crusading status for a planned attack on the Byzantine Empire. From there he traveled to France, where King Philip I gave him permission to recruit, and to Normandy, where he met King Henry I of England and his sister Adela, widow of Stephen of Blois, at Easter 1106. They brokered a marriage for him with Constance, daughter of Philip of France and divorced countess of Champagne. Although Constance went no further than Italy with Bohemund, the marriage was an impressive mark of favor and a boost to recruitment.

Bohemund returned to Italy late in 1106 and spent much of the following year planning his crusade. He and his army landed on the Dalmatian coast of the Byzantine Empire in October 1107 and marched on Dyrrachion. This time, too, he was unable to take the city by assault, and Emperor Alexios moved swiftly to blockade him by sea. In the spring of 1108 the Byzantine army moved up to encircle the crusaders, and in the summer famine and disease sapped their morale. In September Bohemund was forced to surrender. The Treaty of Devol, which Anna Komnene reports verbatim, made him the emperor’s liege-man (Gr. to lizion anthropon) [Anne Comnène, Alexiade, ed. Bernard Leib, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres,1937-1976), 3:127]; he was to govern Antioch under the emperor’s suzerainty, while his Cilician conquests were to be forfeited to the emperor. A Greek patriarch was to be restored in Antioch. Finally, Tancred was to be obliged to comply with the treaty. This last requirement ensured that Bohemund was unable to return to Antioch, and instead he retreated to his Italian lands, where he died in 1111, leaving two infant sons by his French wife to inherit his claim to Antioch.

Although Bohemund’s career ended ignominiously, he has retained the aura of a legendary hero. Anna Komnene remembered him vividly some forty years after she, as a young woman, had witnessed his humiliation at Devol: his tall stature, his light brown hair, his blue eyes, his charm, and even his laugh. Other writers exaggerated his adventures on campaign and in captivity. He is depicted as a man whose abilities were exceeded only by his ambition.

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