Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bohemond of Taranto

     Bohemond was one of the leaders of the First Crusade.  In fact, he was the leader of the First Crusade until they took Antioch.  After he claimed that city for his own, he settled down to empire building and went no further.  This is why Godfrey de Bouillon  is held to be the leader of the Crusade.
     He was named Mark when he was born but because of his size, even as an infant, he was renamed Bohemond for   
Boamundus Gigas the giant.         Siege of Antioch, Wikipedia
The Gestae Francorum
written by an anonymous supporter of Bohemond, gives an account of the Crusades from the Frankish point of view.  An opposing point of view is put forth by Anna Comnena in her Alexiad
     Anna Comnena was the eldest child of the Emperor Alexius in Constantiople and was well placed to observe all of the players as they passed through the imperial court. It has been frequently noted that she was fascinated by Bohemond and, as a result of this fascination, we have one of the few full physical descriptions of a historical character.  It is amusing to me that , in paintings he is often depicted with long hair and a moustache (like in this engraving by Gustave Dore) , even a beard, when Anna clearly states that he was so clean shaven she could only guess at the color of his beard. He also kept his hair short, in contrast with his Frankish allies.  Anna refers to them variously as Franks and Kelts but Bohemond was neither of these.  
     His father, Robert Guiscard, was a Norman.  His brother was Roger II of Sicily and, although Anna comments on his low birth, Bohemond was married to Constance, the sister of the King of France,  Louis VI.  The First Crusade was largely a Frankish campaigning so Anna can be forgiven for being mistaken.  The king himself could not participate because he was excommunicated at the time. 
     As a younger brother, with no kingdom to inherit, he saw the Crusades as an opportunity to carve out a kingdom for himself.  At first, he and his father set their sights on Constantinople; thinking that it was in a weakened state and ripe for picking, although the call to arms was not just to recover Jerusalem but to save the Christian Byzantine empire from attacks by the Turks.  This is why Anna despises Bohemond; he was an enemy of her father.
      In spite of that, she says "the sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror."  He was a "full cubit over the tallest man".  Indeed, she wrote that the man who brought him in as a prisoner to the emperor barely come up to his buttocks.  Bohemond was "perfectly proportioned" with very white skin, light brown hair, and pale blue eyes. "in him both courage and love were armed, both ready for combat".  She mentions on several occasions that he has large nostrils, which is Medieval for big nostrils, big..........  Like large hands, which he also had.
      Shortly after the Crusaders had taken Antioch, they were besieged by Turks.  The Gestae Francorum relates how they were in dire straits since they had only just won the city through siege and supplies were low.  A priest had a vision that the spear of Longinus was buried in Antioch and the angel who came to him had shown him where it was buried.   It was duly excavated and carried before them while they mounted an assault on the Turks and defeated them. 
      Bohemond became the Prince of Antioch and one of the possessors of the "Spear of Destiny".  Ownership of this spear is supposed to confer invincibility in battle, Bohemond as a ferocious warrior was a fitting owner of the spear.  Others who are said to have owned it are Theodosius, Alaric, Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Frederic Barbarosa, and, mostly infamously, Adolf Hitler. There is more than one spear that is claimed to be the spear. If it sounds a little like the Elder Wand or the "Wand of Destiny" from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that is no accident.  If you doubt that, consider this: the Peverell brother who owned it first was called Antioch. 
      Bohemond enjoyed a long and exciting career, too long to cover here but perhaps this will pique your interest enough to read more.  He died in Apula in 1111, at the age of 53, leaving his principality to his son, Bohemond II.  The spear that was found in Antioch was taken by the Turks when Antioch fell and is now in the museum of a monastery in Echmiadzin. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Vir Alienus verus est,
In Terra Aliena sedet,
Omnes consilium alienum pro nemone capet.
Non opinionem habet, 
Non scit ubi agit,
Estne similiter cum te et meo?
Vir Alienus, placebisne audire,
Quod amissis non scis, 
Vir Alienus, mundus tibi imperare est.
Caecus cum potente est,
Solum quod volet videre videt,
Vir Alienus potestne meum omnino videre?


Anonymous said...

Trying to get a feel for just how big a man he just how long is a cubit?

I'm wondering just how he died. There's a legend attached to the Spear that if you lost it, you would die. Did he die under suspicious circumstances?


The Red Witch said...

Anna Comnena said very little about his death just that he sailed to Lombardy and six months later he was dead. He was abut 53 so it couldn't have been very suspicious.
The Gestae Francorum ends with the capture of Jerusalem. There must be some correspondence and other sources of material on Bohemond since he married into the French royal family.
A cubit is 18 inches.
The spear is only mentioned with that one battle in the Gestae Francorum. It doesn't appear as though he took the spear with him anywhere but left it in Antioch which was conquered by the Muslims two centuries later.
Monty Python refers to it in the Holy Grail with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

Anonymous said...

Anna doesn't sound as though she despises Bohemond, certainly not in the extracts you've quoted. There's a definite sense of admiration, despite herself.

He died in 1111, now there's a year! Pity it wasn't on the 11th November :)

I never got the last Beatles song -I was just too busy, but I'll try and make some effort with this one.

J. said...

a cubit is the length of an average adult forearm.

the song is "nowhere man."

Anonymous said...

The information on the Spear and the connections to the Elder Wand are really fascinating. Is it me or does behemoth keep coming to mind on reading his name?

The Red Witch said...

It is not you, his name was Mark and he was nicknamed Bohemond after a giant Boamundus because he was so tall.

Unknown said...

I have read a good deal about the First Crusade and found Bohemond a fascinating person. After reading Thomas Asbridge's The First Crusade: A New History, I thought it would make a great movie because of all the natural drama, the story practically writes itself. Bohemond would make a great presence so it is unfortunate that he stops at Antioch and with it ends his direct involvement in the Crusade. I have to say I have never been able to talk to anyone either online or in person about the First Crusade. No one knows anything about it nor does anyone seem to care. Thanks for creating this blog!

The Red Witch said...

thank you, he is one of my favorite people from the middle ages. If you look around the blog, you will note that I translated the Deeds of the Franks into English here with notes and wrote other blogs about him. I sometimes wonder who would win in a fight, Bohemond or Hereward the Wake (another fav.).

Unknown said...

I'm trying for the second time in three years to write a novel based on the First Crusade. It's not easy. The story basically writes itself but it's still difficult.

The Red Witch said...

There are quite a lot of documentary sources to help fill out the story, from Tancred's biographer to Anna Comnena. Whose perspective are you writing the story from? And are you able to read Latin?

Unknown said...

"His father, Robert Guiscard, was a Norman. His brother was Roger II of Sicily and, although Anna comments on his low birth, Bohemond was married to Constance, the sister of the King of France, Louis VI. The First Crusade was largely a Frankish campaigning so Anna can be forgiven for being mistaken."

Bohemond was not married to Constance until years later.

By all accounts, he was "low birth," as (1) neither of his parents were of high birth, (2) his father was considered no better than a highway robber until later in his career, and (3) having been denounced as a bastard after his parents' forced divorce barred him from early marriage to anyone of import. He received his lands in agreement with his half-brother, Roger Borsa, with whom he spent many years playing out his anger. Constance was perhaps permitted to marry him because by that point, he was insanely famous and, finally, significantly wealthy in his own right.

While I personally believe Bohemond got shafted, sadly inheritance rules were not in his favour. Bohemond was heads and tails the greater man than his half-brother, although maybe not as good a "man" as his wily stepmother, Sichelgaita. There's speculation she had her portrait painted in Bohemond's masoleum in Canosa. While I think it was a pity Robert Guiscard divorced Alberada, Sichelgaita in many ways was his perfect partner...

I wish we had more personal stories outside the epic scope of "the Crusade." I know there was one story about him being transported across Anatolia in a casket with a dead chicken hidden upon his person so people would smell the casket and believe he was truly rotting inside of it. These small stories really give us deeper insight into his psyche. I think the Gusicard and Bohemond are fascinating characters. I recommend John Julius Norwich's "The Normans in the South" 2-part series for more reading.