Leaders of the First Crusade: Bohemond I of Antioch

Bohemond-I Bohemond (c. 1058-1111) was the son of Robert Guiscard (the ‘Fox’), a Norman ruler of Calabria and Apulia who had plagued the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I and taken Sicily. Bohemond travelled with his father on campaign against the Byzantines. When Robert Guiscard died, he left Bohemond as his oldest son from a first wife but the majority of his inheritances fell to Roger, his younger son from a more recent marriage. Bohemond was naturally annoyed and so he made war against his brother Roger. Eventually this culminated in Bohemond settling for the southern-Italian city Taranto and some other possessions, although Bohemond was still an ambitious man.

When the crusaders marched through Amalfi in Italy, where Bohemond was campaigning, he got caught by the crusading fever and began to ready himself right away. As one of the most prominent leaders of the First Crusade, Bohemond managed to cut a deal with the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I that he could go through Constantinople. He also lead the crusaders through Asia Minor, which was no easy task. The Byzantine princess and historian, a fourteen year old when she met Bohemond, wrote an engaging description of the Norman crusader: 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.

Bohemond, sketch by Lowgan (on newgrounds):

Bohemond, sketch by Lowgan (on newgrounds)

In 1098, Bohemond played a large role in capturing Antioch. He managed to get a wealthy weapons maker called Firouz to spy for him within Antioch. Firouz was an Armenian Christian who was unhappy with his position in the Turkish government. His wife had been seduced by a Turkish soldier, he had been fined and he was ready to betray the Turkish rule in Antioch. One day Firouz threw a rope ladder over the wall for Bohemond’s men, inciting the Armenians within Antioch to massacre the Turks, leading to the crusaders taking the city.

Boehmond captures Antioch by L.Gallait, 1840, "Croisades, origines et consequences"

Boehmond captures Antioch by L.Gallait, 1840, “Croisades, origines et consequences”

After he and Raymond of Toulouse secured Antioch against the reinforcements of the Turkish Atabeg, Kerbogha, Raymond left to pursue more territory and Bohemond stayed behind in Antioch. He kicked Raymond’s forces out, seizing the city for himself. But neither Raymond of Toulouse nor the Byzantine Empire were on Bohemond’s side. Bohemond’s family had harried the Byzantines and he was far too brash and Norman for the Komnenian family’s liking. He’d also regularly insulted Raymond, who believed he had found the Holy Lance – Bohemond wasn’t so sure.

At any rate, Bohemond got himself captured by a Turkish commander in 1100 and was held for three years before anyone ransomed him. In the meantime, his nephew Tancred had been ruling Antioch and irritating the Byzantines.

Tancred

Tancred

Suffering more setbacks to expansion, Bohemond returned to Europe in 1104 and began building an army. He told tales of high chivalry and adventure and he was so charismatic and illustrious that Henry I, King of England, forbade him from coming ashore since he would have such sway over the nobles. But he managed to to win the hand of Constance, daughter of the King of France. They had a son, Bohemond, who would later rule Antioch as Bohemond II.

The Marriage of Bohemond and Constance

The Marriage of Bohemond and Constance

Foolishly, Alexius used his new army of over 30,000 to try and attack Emperor Alexius I. He was defeated and had to give way to the Treaty of Devol in 1108, which was intended to make Antioch a vassal state of Byzantium and install a Greek Patriarch for the church there. For Bohemond, this was the end of his expansionist dreams and he died a few years later in Sicily. For his nephew Tancred, who had more than a pinch of his uncle’s zeal, the treaty was an affront to his right of conquest. So in actuality, Antioch was not made a vassal state of Byzantium until 1158.

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2 thoughts on “Leaders of the First Crusade: Bohemond I of Antioch

  1. acne says:

    I found this article to become loaded with detailed information that I know to be correct. Not as soon as did you stray from your suggestions, nor did you provide off the wall info that confuses readers.

    • idrilreid says:

      Thank you for your nice comment! In providing information about the Crusades, I always hope to be clear and not to fill posts with propaganda for either a Christian or Muslim perspective. I feel like too many articles on the Crusades become confusing with very biased information or filled with a few too many myths and legends to understand the truth, so I tried not to do that.

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