Bohemund I

The Norman Bohemund I (ca. 1055-c. 1111) was one of the chief lay leaders of the First Crusade, in 1095-1099, and the self-proclaimed prince of Antioch.

The eldest son of the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard, Bohemund became involved after 1080 in several Norman expeditions against the Byzantine Empire in southern Italy and on the Greek mainland. But when his father died in 1085, the Greek invasion came to a halt, and Bohemund returned to Italy to wrest what lands he could, including Taranto, from his half brother, Roger, the successor to the fiefs in Apulia and Calabria. In 1096 Bohemund joined the French contingent of the First Crusade on its way to Constantinople.

In spite of his reputation as an enemy of the Byzantines, he soon reached an agreement with Emperor Alexius and swore an oath of allegiance to him. But this only aggravated the rivalry between Bohemund and Count Raymond of Saint-Gilles for the position of supreme lay leader of the crusade. Although charming when necessary, Bohemund was ambitious, aggressive, and capable of duplicity when it served his ends. Princess Anna Comnena, daughter of Alexius, was both attracted and repelled by this Norman, whom she described as blond, clean-shaven, and very tall but beautifully proportioned. "A certain charm hung about this man," she wrote, "but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible."

At the siege of Antioch in the spring of 1098, Bohemund was successful in breaching the city's walls. Once in command, he took the title of prince of Antioch, thus ignoring his promise of 1097 to give the fortress to the Emperor. In August 1100 he was captured by the Turkish emir of Sivas and held prisoner until he was ransomed in the spring of 1103. During his captivity Tancred acted as regent in Antioch.

When Bohemund's small and ill-equipped army was defeated in 1104 by the Turks at Harran near the Euphrates River, he returned to France. He married Constance, the daughter of King Philip, and remained in France until 1107, when he set out to lay siege to the Byzantine town of Durazzo. Emperor Alexius, however, contained him and forced him to a truce. Alexius finally took his revenge, and Bohemund became his vassal for Antioch. The crusader returned to Italy and died in Apulia in 1111.

Bohemund was a skillful military commander—one of the great Norman conquerors of the late 11th century. Constantly at odds with the Greek emperor and his own allies, Bohemund was a living denial of the ideals of Christian unity preached by the ecclesiastical leaders. Apparently, he was more interested in using the crusade for his own purposes—primarily to counter the Byzantine military force— than in rescuing the Holy Sepulcher from the infidel.

Further Reading on Bohemund I

The best book on Bohemund is Ralph B. Yewdale, Bohemund I, Prince of Antioch (1924). Useful material may also be found in Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. 1 (1951) and vol. 2 (1952), and in Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, vol. 1: The First Hundred Years (1959; 2d ed. 1969).

Additional Biography Sources

Yewdale, Ralph Bailey, Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch, New York: AMS Press, 1980.

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