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Alexius and Bohemond of Taranto

Posted by on February 14, 2013

In the following months, the other Latin armies arrived in Constantinople. However, they did not all arrive at the same time and not all of the princes swore the oath put forth by Emperor Alexius Comnenus: Baldwin of Boulogne and Tancred of Hauteville crossed the Bosphorus, avoiding Alexius so they wouldn’t have to swear their vassalage to him. Count Raymond of Toulouse refused to swear the oath, but he did promise the emperor that he wouldn’t threaten his possessions.

Alexios_Komnenos_(1106-1142)Alexius I Comnenus 

Of all the princes who did — and didn’t — swear the oath of allegiance to the emperor, there was one prince who Alexius and his daughter, Anna Comnena, did not trust or even like: the Norman prince, Bohemond of Taranto. Alexius knew Bohemond’s greed and temperament well because, in the1080s, shortly after he ascended the imperial throne, Alexius engaged in a lengthy conflict against a Norman army after that army invaded the Balkans; Byzantine held territory. The Norman army was commanded by the wily Robert Guiscard. Bohemond, the eldest son of Robert, fought alongside his father, but assumed control over the army partway through the war after Robert returned home to settle a dispute. So, Bohemond brought with him to the crusading cause, military expertise and prowess, traits that even his Byzantine enemies — including Alexius and Anna — revered.

“Bohemond’s appearance was, to put it briefly, unlike that of any other man seen in those days in the Roman world, whether Greek or Barbarian. The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror…His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest man. He was slender of waist and flanks, with broad shoulders and chest, strong in the arms…There was a certain charm about him, but also a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect…even this laugh sounded like a threat to others,” Anna Comnena wrote.

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                                                                                    Bohemond of Taranto

However, when Bohemond met with Alexius in April 1097, he swore the oath, publicly displaying his intention to make peace with his former enemy. It should be noted that   Bohemond’s desire to make peace with Alexius was superficial: peace with the Byzantine Emperor would make it much easier for Bohemond to acquire an eastern kingdom for himself.

Regardless, Alexius bestowed upon Bohemond the same kindness and generosity as he had to the other princes. He gave his former Latin foe an entire room packed with gold, silver and other jewels. According to Anna, when Bohemond saw the immensity of these riches, he exclaimed: “If such riches were mine, long ago I would have been lord of many lands.”

Modern and medieval historians alike claim Bohemond’s status as a prince, but one who had very little wealth. When Bohemond joined the Crusade, he possessed only a small fief in the Duchy of Apulia. For that reason, he was unable to recruit as large an army as had his contemporaries. By the time Bohemond reached Constantinople he had little, if no, money left to purchase supplies for himself and his small force; another reason Bohemond was so willing to work with Alexius.

For Alexius, the deed was done: he had subdued the crusaders and on peaceful terms. Now, he needed to succeed in the second stage of his plan: recapture all Byzantine territory that had been lost to the Seljuk Turks and repel the Turkish threat forever.

* Latin was another word historians used to describe the Crusaders. Latin, meaning they came from Catholic Europe. The Crusaders were also known to the Byzantines and Muslims as Franks.

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