Bohemond I of Altavilla, or Bohemond I of Antioch or Boemondo of Taranto, Prince of Taranto, was one of the commanders of the First Crusade, during which he became the Principality of Antioch. In 1106 he married Constance daughter of the king of France Philip I.
Boemondo was the eldest son of Robert the Guiscardo, Duke of Puglia and Calabria, born of the latter's marriage with Alberada di Buonalbergo, who was later repudiated. He was baptized with the name of Marco in honor of the patron saint of San Marco Argentano (according to a local tradition, without any historiographical and / or documentary foundation), but became known as Bohemond because of a legendary biblical creature bearing this name, the Behemoth . Until 1098 he signed the documents simply as Roberti ducis filius. His son and successor referred to him simply as magnus Boamundus. Moreover, because of his dispute with his brother for the Duchy of Puglia, he was called dux Apuliae by some chroniclers. However, the title used most frequently by other Crusader leaders during his lifetime and later was Prince of Antioch (Antiocenus princeps).
He served under his father in the great attack on the Balkans against the Byzantine Empire (1080-1085) and commanded the Norman army during the absence of Guiscardo (1082-1084), penetrating in Thessaly as well as in Larissa, but was rejected by Alessio I Comneno. This ancient mutual hostility had great influence in determining the course of the emperor's rule in the period from the time of Bohemond (which his father had assigned to the throne of Constantinople) to that of Roger II.
When Roberto il Guiscardo died in 1085, while his younger half-brother Ruggero Borsa inherited Puglia and other Italian territories, Boemondo should have inherited his father's Balkan possessions, which however were immediately lost by the Greeks. The half-brothers thus arrived at an open contrast that was finally solved thanks to the mediation of Pope Urban II, who obtained for Bohemond the recognition of some possessions around Taranto. Boemondo then received from the stepmother Sichelgaita a small principality (an allodial possession) as compensation for the renunciation of his rights over the duchy of Puglia. But he aimed at achieving a much greater prestige for himself: the chronicler Romualdo Guarna said of Bohemond that "he always sought the impossible".
In 1096 Bohemond, along with his uncle Roger I, the Great Count of Sicily, was besieging Amalfi who had turned against the Duke Ruggero, when bands of Crusaders began to cross Italy to head to the Holy Land. The zeal crusade conquered Bohemond: it is possible that he saw in the First Crusade an opportunity to realize the paternal policy of an expansion to the East and had hoped, in a first phase, to carve for himself an Eastern principality. Goffredo Malaterra bluntly states that Boemondo took the Cross with the intention of raiding and conquering Greek lands.
At the Third Council of Melfi, from 10 to 17 September 1089, Pope Urban II banned the first Crusade. The Pontiff, together with the Norman half brothers Ruggero Borsa and Boemondo I, laid the foundations for establishing a league in order to free the Holy Land from the Muslims. Thus began the preaching for the crusade, which was formally called, later, in Clermont.
Bohemond gathered a Norman army, perhaps the best team of the crusader: surely his contingent was not particularly numerous, summing about 500 men out of a total of about 35,000 crusaders. At the head of his army he crossed, starting from Trani, the Adriatic Sea and, after having disembarked at Durrës, he headed for the Via Egnatia to Constantinople, crossing, under the prudent escort of Pecenegos sent to him by the Emperor of Constantinople, the he had tried to follow in 1084. He paid great attention to observing a "correct" attitude towards Alessio and when he arrived in Constantinople in April 1097 he paid homage to the Emperor.
While Baldwin of Boulogne and Tancred of Altavilla headed east from Asia Minor to settle in Edessa County, the main army of the First Crusade continued south to besiege Antioch. Bohemond was the first to stand in front of Antioch (October 1097) and took part in massive siege of the city, defeating the attempts of Muslims to bring relief from the east and maintaining links to the west of the besiegers with the port of San Simeon and with the Genoese ships that were at anchor. With over four hundred towers, the city was almost impenetrable. The siege continued throughout the winter, with great difficulty among the Crusaders, who were often forced to eat their horses, or, according to legend, the bodies of their Christian companions who did not survive.
However, Boemondo persuaded a tower guard, a converted Christian named Firouz, to allow the Crusaders to enter the city. This happened on June 3, 1098, and a large massacre of Muslims followed. Only four days later, a Muslim army from Mosul led by the sateg Kerbogha came to besiege the Crusaders themselves. Alessio I Comneno, the Byzantine Emperor, was coming to the aid of the Christians, but he came back when he received news that the city had already been reconquered by the Muslims.
However, the Crusaders were still facing the siege, with the help of a mystic named Peter Bartholomew. Peter announced that he had a vision of St. Andrew the Apostle, who would have told him that the spear of Longinus, who had pierced Christ's side on the cross, was in Antioch. It dug under the cathedral of San Pietro, and the spear was found by Peter himself. Although most likely this had been put there by himself (this was also the opinion of Ademaro of Le Puy, papal legate), this raised the morale of the crusaders. With the newly discovered relic at the head of the army, Bohemond marched to meet Kerbogha, who was miraculously defeated - miraculously because, according to the Crusaders, an army of saints appeared on the battlefield to aid them.
The control of the city was the subject of a long dispute. There were nine counts in the army of the Franks in charge of their command, Bohemond picked them up for advice and asked who should go Antiochia once conquered, and, since everyone required it for themselves, they agreed to lead the siege a week to each, agreeing that it would go to those who, in his week, had managed to conquer it. Following the corruption of the Firouz guard, Boemondo succeeded and was thus named Prince by the other Crusaders.
Bohemond asserted his claims against Raimondo IV, who upheld the rights of Alessio and obtained full possession of Antioch in January 1099. He therefore stayed in the vicinity of the conquered city to make his positions secure, while the other Crusaders moved south for the conquest of Jerusalem.
He went to Jerusalem on Christmas 1099, when Dagobert of Pisa was elected patriarch, perhaps in order to prevent the growth of a strong lotaring power in the city. Everything made it seem like Bohemond was destined to lay the foundations of a great principality in Antioch that could have contained Jerusalem. He had a good territory, a good strategic position and a strong army. However, he had to face two great forces: the Byzantine Empire, which claimed all its territories supported in its claim by Raymond of Toulouse, and the strong Muslim municipalities of the north-east of Syria. Against these forces he failed.
In 1100, at the Battle of Melitene, he was captured by the Danishmendidi of Sivas and languished in prison until 1103. His cousin Tancredi (son of Oddone Bonmarchis, called Marchisius "the Buon Marquis", of the family of the lords of Monferrato, and Emma di Altavilla sister of Roberto il Guiscardo - Emma was also the name of a sister of Bohemond I d'Altavilla, whose homonymy has often created confusion in some authors, who, confusing the degree of kinship between the two scions of the Norman house, erroneously indicated Tancredi as nephew of Bohemond prince of Antioch, instead of his cousin - From: Tancredus of Rodolfo di Caen), took his place but in the meantime Raimondo was installed with the help of Alessio in Tripoli and was able to contain the expansion to the south of Antioch.
Ransacked in 1103 by the generosity of the Armenian prince Kogh Vasil, Boemondo had as its first objective to attack the neighboring Muslim powers to secure supplies. However, in attacking Harran in 1104 he was severely defeated on the river Balikh, near al-Raqqa, on the Euphrates. The defeat was decisive, making that great Eastern principality Boemondo had unrealized. A Greek attack followed in Cilicia and, despairing of its own resources, Bohemond returned to Europe to look for reinforcements in order to defend his position. When he arrived in Rome, Boemondo succeeded in convincing Pope Pasquale II of the perfidious Graecorum and so the papal legate Bruno di Segni (who accompanied Bohemond in France) received the task of preaching the holy war against Byzantium. At Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in front of the casket of Saint Leonard Boemondo, he placed silver chains in memory of those who had tortured his body in Gümüştekin prison for three years. Then he found himself in Chartres with the French king Philip I. His charming personality earned him the hand of Constance, the daughter of the French sovereign Philip I, whom he married in Chartres in 1106. Of this marriage Sugerio di Saint-Denis wrote:
"Bohemond came to France to obtain by all means at his disposal the hand of Costanza, sister of Monsignor Luigi, a young lady of excellent education, with an elegant appearance and a splendid face. The reputation of the value of the kingdom of France and of Monsignor Luigi was so great that even the Saracens were terrified by the prospect of such a marriage. She was not engaged until the marriage agreement that linked her to Ugo, Count of Troyes, was busted, wishing to avoid another inappropriate party. The prince of Antioch was sailed and rich with gifts and promises; he deserved the marriage that was celebrated with great pomp by the bishop of Chartres in the presence of the king, of Monsignor Luigi, of numerous archbishops, bishops and noblemen of the kingdom. »
In this way Bohemond was able to recruit a vast army with the royal consent. Dazzled by his success, Boemondo decided to use his army not to defend Antioch against the Greeks, but to attack Alessio. So he did, but Alessio helped by the Venetians proved too strong and Bohemond had to submit to a humiliating peace with the Devol's treaty of 1108, which made him a vassal of Alessio, bending to receive his reward with the title of Sebastos, with the promise to renounce to the disputed territories and to admit a Greek patriarch to Antioch. From then on Boemondo was a finished man.
He then returned to Italy in the hope of finding means and men to enable him to continue his policy in the Holy Land with efficacy and determination, but in 1111 he died in Bari and was buried in Canosa di Puglia.