Bohemund of Taranto

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Bohemund I (1058-1111CE), Prince of Taranto and of Antioch, was a Norman lord of the 11th century, one of the foremost leaders of the First Crusade and a founder of one of the most powerful Crusader States.

Born in Sicily, then a Norman-held country, in his youth Bohemund served his father Robert Guiscard in a series of wars against Byzantium, attempting to seize control of the Empire and supplant Emperor Alexius I on the throne. While these campaigns, waged first by Robert and his death by Bohemund were unsuccessful (Bohemund himself lost his Balkan territories), they severely hurt the Byzantines and may have contributed to their inability to stop Turkish expansion into Asia Minor. Ironically, when this Turkish expansion threatened Constantinople, it triggered a chain of events which cumulated in the First Crusade, which Bohemund embraced wholeheartedly.

Crusader

Responding to Pope Urban II's call for crusaders, Bohemund quite literally dropped everything (including the siege of Amalfi) and set out for Constantinople, the rallying point of the Armies. There, despite his long wars against Alexius and a competing claim to the throne of Byzantium, he quickly swore allegiance. Bohemund was a notably ambitious man, however, and immediately began lobbying Alexius for the overall command of the Crusader army which had gathered. Likewise, he sought territorial concessions, particularly title to large tracts of the Holy Land. This eye for expansion was shared by his nephew Tancred and between the two of them they laid claim to several conquered territories.

Bohemund had several rivals in the Crusader army, none greater than Raymond of Toulouse. As the campaign progressed through Asia Minor and into the Levant this rivalry became open hostility, particularly over title to the city of Antioch. At the siege of Maarat an-Numan the infighting between the two lords was so great that the army itself rebelled, compelling the two to made at least a semblance of peace, but because of the severity of the break Bohemund did not continue to Jerusalem, preferring instead to consolidate his hold on Antioch and his other new territories.

Prince

After the fall of Jerusalem Bohemund supported the establishment of a Roman Catholic Patriarch (as opposed to a Greek Orthodox one) in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a deliberate slight to Alexius. Likewise, when Alexius demanded return of formerly Byzantine territory (one of the terms of Bohemund's oath of allegiance) Bohemund reneged rather than lose his new territories and promptly went to war against Alexius. During this conflict he was ambushed by Turks and captured, and was held a prisoner for three years, during which time Tancred managed his lands, mostly to his own advantage.

Bohemund's captivity was well known and in 1102 the Crusade of the Faint-Hearted was almost wiped out attempting to rescue him. Baldwin I ransomed Bohemund in 1103, whereupon he immediately began expanding his territory again. This campaign began with an attempt to seize Harran, a disastrous move which cost Bohemund much of his army and put a hold on his territorial ambitions.

After this debacle, Bohemund traveled to Europe to recruit reinforcements for his Principality of Antioch and married Constance of France, the sister of Phillip II. Bolstered by his European gains, he returned to Antioch and once again attacked Byzantium but was humiliatingly defeated by Alexius and forced to swear fealty, becoming a vassal of the Emperor and returned to his Italian holdings, where he died in 1111. He was buried in Canosia and succeeded by his son, Bohemund II.

Period Sources

Alone of all the lords of the First Crusade, Bohemund was given a detailed personal description by Anna Comnenia:

Now [Bohemond] was such as, to put it briefly, had never before been seen in the land of the Romans [that is, Greeks], 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.