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Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch

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Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch
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Author(s): Ralph Bailey Yewdale
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 140
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-209-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-210-9

The Warrior Prince of Antioch

Bohemond—nicknamed because of his large size as a child—was a Norman soldier and adventurer who became a pivotal figure among the committee of nobleman leaders of the First Crusade. He learnt his military craft at the side of his father Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria. Upon the death of his father, Bohemond went to war with his half-brother, Roger and his mother to reclaim what he considered his lost birthright. The outcome was a partial victory in the award of the principality of Taranto, but it was clearly not enough for a man of his enormous ambition, intellect and military prowess. The First Crusade in 1096 provided the opportunity he required. Irrespective of his religious convictions, which may have been inconsiderable from the outset, Bohemond all but led the crusade with more military success than were achieved in the two subsequent crusades. He defeated and ejected his Muslim enemies from the principal object of his ambitions—Antioch—and then held it in defiance of the claims to it by Alexius of Byzantium. This was a fascinating man was—quite literally—a giant figure of the Norman period in every sense. Available in soft cover and hard back with dust jacket.

The various divisions of the crusading army left Nicea at different times, and after convening again at the Gallus River, set out early on the morning of June 29 on the long march across Asia Minor. Daylight found the army separated into two groups, the troops of Bohemond, Robert of Normandy, and Stephen of Blois marching over one road, and those of Godfrey, Raymond, Hugh, and Robert of Flanders over another to the north and east of that followed by the Normans, the separation being either the result of a blunder or of a realization of the difficulty of feeding so large an army advancing over a single route.<br>
On the evening of June 30, scouts of Bohemond’s army announced the presence of enemy forces ahead, and they returned again next morning with the news that the Turks were preparing for battle. Bohemond, who seems to have been in command of all the Norman forces, gave the order to dismount and to pitch camp near a swamp, and then exhorted his men to fight bravely against the enemy. Not long afterwards, the Franks beheld the first charges of the Turkish cavalry and the beginning of the battle which has gone down into history as the Battle of Dorylaeum, but which was, in reality, probably fought at Inonnii or Bozüyük.<br>
Unable to withstand the Turkish attack, the Normans fell back on their camp, which had already been attacked from the rear by the Turkish horsemen. Realizing that his whole army was in a serious plight, Bohemond sent to Godfrey and Raymond for aid. Valuable time seems to have been lost in getting into communication with the northern army, but the reinforcements arrived in time to save the Normans from disaster. Joining forces, the Crusaders hastily drew up a new line of battle, while Adhemar of Puy, the papal legate, began a flanking movement against the Turks, who fled almost at the first onslaught, hotly pursued by the Franks, and leaving behind them a great amount of spoil. The victory was complete, and the military power of Kilij Arslan broken for some time to come.<br>
The further resistance of the Turks to the advance of the Crusaders through Asia Minor and Armenia was slight and ineffectual. A detachment of Turks, which the Franks encountered near Heraclea, was routed by the spirited charges of Bohemond and his men. Rumours of the presence of a Turkish army which came to the ears of the Crusaders near Plastentia failed to materialize, and Bohemond, who had left the main army to seek the Turks, rejoined the expedition at Marasch without having met the enemy forces.<br>
It was during the march through Asia Minor that we encounter the first definite evidence of Bohemond’s designs upon Antioch. At Heraclea, Tancred and a group of Normans left the army and marched southeast into Cilicia, with the intention of securing control of the strategically important lands of Cilicia and northern Syria, outlying portions of the future principality of Antioch. With him went Baldwin, brother of Godfrey of Bouillon, with a force of Lotharingians, the presence of this body being undoubtedly an attempt of the Lotharingian party to checkmate the plan for Norman aggrandizement, and to gain their own share of the spoils.<br>
After quarrelling with Baldwin over the disposition of Tarsus, to which they both laid siege, Tancred left the Lotharingians, marched eastward and secured possession of the important cities of Adana and Mamistra. After capturing Tarsus and leaving a garrison there, Baldwin followed Tancred to Mamistra, where the armies of the two leaders engaged in a battle, in which the Normans were defeated. Tancred then seems to have gone into Syria, where he captured a great number of fortresses in the region of Antioch; it is impossible to identify many of them, but the Port of St. Simeon, Alexandretta, Artasium or Artah, and probably Balana and Baghras were among the number. Baldwin rejoined the crusading army at Marasch only to leave it to found the Latin county of Edessa.<br>
Events had already disclosed that Bohemond was to have a rival in his designs upon Antioch, for Raymond of Toulouse, hearing at Genksu that Antioch had been evacuated by its garrison, sent forward a detachment of his forces to seize the city. On approaching Antioch, they learned that Antioch was still defended by the Turks, and the Provençals contented themselves with capturing a number of fortresses in the vicinity.<br>
The actions of the Normans, the Lotharingians, and the Provençals were quite typical of the conduct of the leaders in general. As the army approached northern Syria, the scramble of the crusading nobles for fortresses and territory began. “Everyone wished to make his own fortune; no one thought of the public weal,” writes Raymond of Agiles.<br><br>********<br><br>In the spring of 1108, Bohemond burned his transports, as his father had done in 1081, and began to push the siege more vigorously. A great battering-ram, protected by a testudo, which was covered by ox-hides and mounted on wheels, was brought up to the eastern wall and swung against it. Some impression was made on the fortifications, but the defenders of the city, jeering at the efforts of the Crusaders, opened their gates and mockingly invited them to enter. Seeing that they could do little by making a breach in the walls, Bohemond’s men ceased their efforts, and left the machine, which had been rendered stationary by the removal of its wheels, to be burned by the Greeks. An attempt to undermine the walls of the city by tunnelling through the hill on which the northern section of Durazzo was built was foiled by a Greek counter-mine, and the excavators were driven from their tunnel by having a form of Greek fire shot into their faces.<br>
Bohemond now brought up the most formidable of his machines, a great wooden tower, which had been under construction almost since the beginning of the siege. The height of the city walls had been estimated with a great nicety, and the tower was built so as to top them by five or six cubits. It was equipped with drawbridges which could be let down upon the walls, had several stories, and was pierced with windows at frequent intervals, from which missiles could be cast; the whole machine was mounted on wheels, and was propelled by soldiers hidden inside the base, so that when it was in motion, it appeared like a great giant, advancing by its own power.<br>
On beholding this terrible machine approaching the walls, Alexius, the governor of Durazzo, ordered the construction of a lofty scaffolding on the walls, opposite the tower, and surpassing it in height by a cubit. From this the Greek soldiers launched their liquid fire at the tower, but finding that it did not take effect, they filled up the space between the walls and the tower with inflammable material well soaked with oil, and then ignited the mass with their Greek fire. The tower, which had been rendered immovable by the removal of the wheels, was soon in flames, and the soldiers in it were consumed by the flames or were forced to fling themselves to the ground. The glare of the conflagration could be seen for a long distance about the besieged city, and a great cry which went up from Bohemond’s troops bore witness to their dismay at the destruction of their mightiest machine.