See biography by R. B. Yewdale (1924, repr. 1971).
Bohemond I (also spelled Bohemund or Boamund; c. 1058–3 March 1111), Prince of Taranto and Prince of Antioch, was one of the leaders of the First Crusade as he led the whole Crusader army until the conquest of Antioch.
It seems that Guiscard left his son with orders to continue the advance into the Byzantine west and perhaps as far as possible, even to Constantinople. Accordingly, in Spring 1082, Bohemond left Kastoria and besieged Ioannina. In the region around Ioannina were settled Vlach foederati of the empire and Bohemond made peace with them, probably garnering their military support, for he left behind him many fortified places still in the hands of the Greeks. Alexius met Bohemond in battle in the environs of Ioannina, which the Norman had been ravaging. Both generals altered their strategies in light of prior engagements, but Bohemond was victorious and again near Arta a short while later. These defeats deeply hurt Byzantine prestige in the region and even Ochrid, seat of the Bulgarian archbishopric, submitted to the Normans. Bohemond stayed at Ochrid, though he could not take the citadel, and from there began organising the defence of his conquests. Alexius responded to Bohemond's ascendance by sowing dissension among his top officers. Bohemond then advanced on Larissa, where he intended to winter. The siege lasted six months until Alexius forced the Normans to retreat in the spring. Bohemond returned to Kastoria and was there besieged until the city fell in October or November 1083. In 1084, Guiscard and his other sons, Roger Borsa and Guy, arrived with a new army in Greece. In winter, Bohemond was ill and returned to Italy.
The war was finally resolved by the mediation of Pope Urban II and the award of Taranto and other possessions to Bohemond. Though Bohemond received a small principality (an allodial possession) for himself in the heel of southern Italy, as compensation from Sichelgaita after renouncing his rights to the Duchy, he sought a greater status for himself. The chronicler Romoald of Salerno said of Bohemond that "he was always seeking the impossible."
He gathered a Norman army, perhaps one of the finest in the crusading host, at the head of which he crossed the Adriatic Sea, and penetrated to Constantinople along the route he had tried to follow in 1082–1084. He was careful to observe a "correct" attitude towards Alexius, and when he arrived at Constantinople in April 1097 he did homage to the emperor. He may have negotiated with Alexius about a principality at Antioch; if he did so, he had little encouragement. From Constantinople to Antioch, Bohemond was the real leader of the First Crusade; and it says much for his leadership that the First Crusade succeeded in crossing Asia Minor, which the Crusade of 1101, the Second Crusade in 1147, and the Third Crusade in 1189 failed to accomplish.
The Emperor's daughter, Anna Comnena, leaves a good portrait of him in her Alexiad; she met him for the first time when she was fourteen, and was quite fascinated by him. She left no similar portrait of any other Crusader prince. Of Bohemond, she wrote:
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.
A politique, Bohemond was resolved to engineer the enthusiasm of the crusaders to his own ends; and when his nephew Tancred left the main army at Heraclea Cybistra, and attempted to establish a footing in Cilicia, the movement may have been already intended as a preparation for Bohemond's eastern principality. Bohemond was the first to get into position before Antioch (October 1097), and he took a great part in the siege of the city, beating off the Muslim attempts at relief from the east, and connecting the besiegers on the west with the port of St Simeon and the Genoese ships which lay there.
The capture of Antioch was due to his connection with Firouz, one of the commanders in the city; but he would not bring matters to an issue until the possession of the city was assured him (May 1098), under the terror of the approach of Kerbogha with a great army of relief, and with a reservation in favour of Alexius, if Alexius should fulfill his promise to aid the crusaders. But Bohemond was not secure in the possession of Antioch, even after its surrender and the defeat of Kerbogha; he had to make good his claims against Raymond of Toulouse, who championed the rights of Alexius. He obtained full possession in January 1099, and stayed in the neighbourhood of Antioch to secure his position, while the other crusaders moved southward to the capture of Jerusalem.
He came to Jerusalem at Christmas 1099, and had Dagobert of Pisa elected as Patriarch, perhaps in order to check the growth of a strong Lotharingian power in the city. It might seem that Bohemond was destined to found a great principality in Antioch, which would dwarf Jerusalem; he had a fine territory, a good strategic position and a strong army. But he had to face two great forces--the Byzantine Empire, which claimed the whole of his territories and was supported in its claim by Raymond of Toulouse, and the strong Muslim principalities in the north-east of Syria. Against these two forces he failed.
Afraid to weaken his forces at Antioch, but not wishing to avoid the chance to extend his domain northwards, Bohemond in August 1100, marched north with only 300 knights and a small force of foot soldiers. Failing to send scouting parties they were ambushed by the Turks, and completely encircled at the Battle of Melitene. Bohemond managed to send one soldier to seek help from Baldwin of Edessa, but was captured and laden with chains, was confined in prison in Neo-Caesarea (modern Niksar). He languished in prison until 1103.
Hearing of Bohemond's capture, Alexius I, incensed that Bohemond had broken his sacred oath made in Constantinople and kept Antioch for himself, offered to redeem the Norman commander and ransom Bohemond for 260,000 dinars, if Ghazi Gumushtakin would hand the prisoner over to Byzantium. When Kilij Arslan I, the Seljuk overlord of the Emir, heard of the proposed payment, he demanded half, or threatened to attack. Bohemond proposed instead a ransom of 130,000 dinars paid just to the Emir. The bargain was concluded and Ghazi and Bohemond exchanged oaths of friendship. Ransomed in 1103 by Baldwin of Edessa, he returned in triumph to Antioch in August 1103.
His nephew Tancred, who for three years and taken his uncle's place, had during that time attacked the Byzantines and added Tarsus, Adana and Massissa in Cilicia, but was now deprived of his lordship by Bohemond's return. Buoyed by Bohemond's return, the northern Franks over the summer of 1103 attacked Ridwan of Aleppo in order to gain supplies and compelled him to pay tribute. Meanwhile Raymond had established himself in Tripoli with the aid of Alexius, and was able to check the expansion of Antioch to the south, and so early in 1104, Baldwin and Bohemond passed Aleppo to move eastward and attack Harran.
But in heading an attack on Harran he was severely defeated at Balak, near Rakka on the Euphrates (see Battle of Harran). The defeat was decisive; it made impossible the great eastern principality which Bohemond had contemplated. It was followed by a Greek attack on Cilicia; and despairing of his own resources, in late 1104 Bohemond returned to Europe for reinforcements in order to defend his position. It is a matter of historical debate how far his 'crusade' to be directed against the Byzantine empire was to gain the backing and indulgences of pope Paschal II. Either way he enthralled audiences across France with gifts of relics from the Holy Land and tales of heroism while fighting the infidel, gathering a large army in the process. Henry I of England famously prevented him from landing on English shores, so great was his pull expected to be on the English nobility. His new found status won him the hand of Constance, the daughter of the French king, Philip I. Of this marriage wrote Abbot Suger:
Bohemond came to France to seek by any means he could the hand of the Lord Louis' sister Constance, a young lady of excellent breeding, elegant appearance and beautiful face. So great was the reputation for valour of the French kingdom and of the Lord Louis that even the Saracens were terrified by the prospect of that marriage. She was not engaged since she had broken off her agreement to wed Hugh, count of Troyes, and wished to avoid another unsuitable match. The prince of Antioch was experienced and rich both in gifts and promises; he fully deserved the marriage, which was celebrated with great pomp by the bishop of Chartres in the presence of the king, the Lord Louis, and many archbishops, bishops and noblemen of the realm.
Dazzled by his success, Bohemond resolved to use his army of 34,000 men, not to defend Antioch against the Greeks, but to attack Alexius. He did so; but Alexius, aided by the Venetians, proved too strong, and Bohemond had to submit to a humiliating peace (the Treaty of Devol, 1108), by which he became the vassal of Alexius, consented to receive his pay, with the title of Sebastos, and promised to cede disputed territories and to admit a Greek patriarch into Antioch. Henceforth Bohemond was a broken man. He died without returning to the East, and was buried at Canosa in Apulia, in 1111.
Count Bohemund by Alfred Duggan is an historical novel concerning the life of Bohemund and its events up to the fall of Jerusalem to the crusaders. Bohemund also appears in the fantastical novel Pilgermann by Russell Hoban and the historical novel Silver Leopard by F. Van Wyck Mason.
He appears as the illegitimate son of Robert Guiscard in the 1066 scenario of the videogame Crusader Kings.