Bohemond I of Antioch
Bohemond I (circa 1055 – 1109) was the eldest son of Robert Guiscard, and took after him as a gifted warrior and capable diplomat, and also as a treacherous, ambitious, and duplicitous leader. Bohemond’s disinheritance in favor of the offspring of his father’s new wife, forced the son to seek his own fortunes, and he found them in the First Crusade.
In the late 11th century, the Byzantines were threatened by the Seljuk Turks, who had defeated them decisively at Manzikert in 1071 and wrested their heartland of Anatolia. They appealed to the Pope for help, and in 1095, the Pope organized a gathering of thousands of notables at Clermont in France, where he issued a call to arms to defend the Byzantines and seize Jerusalem from the Muslims.
The Pope’s appeal was wildly successful, and thousands took the cross and took to arms, inaugurating centuries of warfare that came to be known as the Crusades. After an early disorganized mob of religious enthusiasts led by an eccentric named Peter the Hermit was massacred, a more disciplined force of knights and men at arms, led by great lords such as Bohemond, arrived at Constantinople.
That put the Byzantine emperor in a quandary, as the new arrivals not only had divided loyalties, but Bohemond in particular had been a sworn enemy until quite recently, having fought the Byzantines for decades at his father’s side. So the emperor extracted from Bohemond and the others an oath to return to the Byzantines all territories recaptured from the Turks. Bohemond, who saw the Crusade merely as an opportunity to win himself a realm, swore. The Crusaders were then ferried across the Bosporus into Anatolia, and marched south.
In October of 1097, Bohemond and his Normans were the first to arrive at Antioch, which they immediately invested. He played a leading role in the siege and in beating back Muslim attempts to relieve the city, and eventually made contact with a Muslim commander inside the city, who helped Bohemond and his men scale the walls at night and seize Antioch. He held the city for the Byzantine emperor, on condition that the latter come to the Crusaders’ aid against an expected Muslim counterattack.
The Byzantines sent reinforcements, but halfway to Antioch they received false intelligence that it had already been recaptured by the Muslims, and turned back, compelling the Crusaders to withstand a Muslim siege on their own. Surviving the siege, Bohemond reasoned that he was relieved of his oath to the Byzantines since they had failed to fulfill their part of the deal. So he kept Antioch for himself, while the remaining Crusaders continued on to capture Jerusalem.
Styling himself Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch, he had to defend his principality against his Muslim neighbors as well as the Byzantines. In 1100, he was captured by the Turks in an ambush, but released in 1103 and returned to Antioch. In 1107 he launched a Crusade against… the Byzantines. He landed in the Balkans, but things did not go well, and he was eventually compelled to accept terms allowing him to continue as ruler of Antioch, but as a vassal of the Byzantines. It was a humiliating climb down, after which Bohemond faded from history, and little is known of his life thereafter until his death in 1119.