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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Last Crusade of Bohemond I of Antioch

When Bohemond arrived in Europe in late 1104, he had a hero’s welcome wherever he went. The story of his exploits in the First Crusade had turned him into a living legend. Tales of his bravery in fighting the heathens during the battles of Antioch and Jerusalem (though he never fought in Jerusalem) had made him more popular than any other leader of the First Crusade. In his letters to the Pope and European monarchs, he introduced himself as the “Prince of Antioch.” In his meetings, he distributed the relics which he had brought from the Holy Land. 

Bohemond was in Europe on a mission. He was planning a new crusade, whose goal would be to secure Jerusalem but along the way the crusaders would also conquer the Byzantine Empire. When he reached Italy, he was received by Pope Urban’s successor, Pope Paschal II. It seems that he managed to convince the pope. At the Council of Poitiers in 1106, Paschal II launched a new crusade. He granted Bohemond the banner of St Peter to carry into the battle and a legate to help him gain support for his cause.

Since Bohemond was unmarried, eligible heiresses were being lined up for him. He decided to marry the most powerful woman of his time: Constance, daughter of the French king, Philip I. Meanwhile, he was recruiting men for his new crusade. His marital connection with the royal house of France, helped him gather a large number of men. 

Bohemond toured Europe, promising his followers more spectacular victories in the Levant than those that the First Crusade had achieved at Nicaea, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Fighters from all over Europe flocked to be part of his holy war. Only England refused to pay heed to his call. King Henry I refused to allow Bohemond to cross the English Channel. It is not clear why Henry I did not want to have Bohemond in England—perhaps it had something to do with Bohemond’s connections with the French royal house. 

With an army of 34000 men, Bohemond set out from Europe in October 1107. Despite the high expectations, the crusade against the Byzantine Empire went badly. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos knew about Norman tactics. When Bohemond’s troops arrived in Epirus, in south-western Balkans, Alexios refused to get drawn into a pitched battle. With the help of his Venetian allies, he cut off the supply lines of Bohemond’s troops and then allowed the siege to drag on. Famine and disease began to spread in Bohemond’s camp.

By 1108, the condition in Bohemond’s camp was desperate and he was forced to sue for peace. In her book of history, the Alexiad, Anna Komnene, the daughter of Emperor Alexios, gives details of the humiliating peace agreement that Bohemond was forced to sign in Diabolis (modern Albania). The agreement made Bohemond the liegeman of not only Alexios but also his son and heir John Komnenos. Humiliated by the crushing defeat, Bohemond never returned to Antioch. He died in Italy in 1111.

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