Georgios Theotokis, Bohemond of Taranto (Pen & Sword, 2020)
If you have even a passing knowledge of the Crusades, you will know the name Bohemond of Taranto. But until Georgios Theotokis came along with this book, full-length studies of Bohemond in English have been few and far between. Theotokis concentrates on three aspects of Bohemond’s military career: as a strategist, a tactician, and trans-cultural warrior.
Theotokis begins by describing Bohemond and his Norman background before taking us into the action when Bohemond accompanied his father on the Norman invasion of the Balkans in 1081. That did not go the way they had planned, with Byzantine resistance proving formidable, especially at sea. But the crushing victory over Alexios I Komnenos at Dyrrachium opened the doors of Greece to an army now under the command of Bohemond. He won several subsequent victories but ultimately came undone in battle and through logistical problems. There then followed a succession crisis and civil war at home, but bigger events soon took over.
Bohemond was typically at war, this time in Italy, when the First Crusade swept him along in its tide. Bohemond signed on, and after he and the other leading crusaders had negotiated their passage through the Byzantine Empire, he was on his way to the Holy Land. The sieges and battles with which we are familiar followed. Of particular note was the siege of Antioch in 1097/98 where, Theotokis argues, Bohemond’s strategic and tactical experience had made him the de-facto leader of the Crusade, but that did not make it automatic that he would take control of Antioch over the other crusaders or Alexios.
After much, mainly diplomatic, struggle, Bohemond emerged as the prince of Antioch, and he set about consolidating his new principality. Then in 1100, Bohemond made a terrible mistake, leading to his capture in battle. His ransom paid, Bohemond returned to Antioch and more struggles against the Turks. He nearly lost everything at the Battle of Harran in 1104, continues Theotokis, and the situation certainly deteriorated. Bohemond returned to Europe in 1105 to raise support for a new campaign against the Byzantine Empire in the Balkans. That culminated in the Treaty of Devol in 1108 and also ended Bohemond’s designs in the Balkans. He died quietly three years later. Theotokis concludes by arguing that Bohemond was indeed a great, but flawed, soldier and strategist.
Georgios Theotokis has written an engaging military biography of Bohemond that is anchored in the primary sources and secondary interpretations. His own analysis is forthright and will give students of the Crusades plenty to chew on. Theotokis is adept at describing battles and campaigns, and he provides a balanced analysis of the problems the crusaders faced. However, Theotokis does not fall into the trap of confining Bohemond’s military career to the Crusades, but gives due weight to his other activities, particularly his diplomatic successes and failures. Bohemond was a complex leader and warrior, and this biography does him justice.