The Principality of Antioch (1097–1268)

Posted February 6, 2017 5:25 pm by William Purkis under Guest blogs History

In the first guest essay for the Bearers of the Cross project blog, Dr Andrew Buck (Queen Mary University of London) presents an overview of the history of the principality of Antioch. The principality was one of four ‘crusader states’ established in the Near East in the wake of the First Crusade, and was the source for many of the coins now held within the medieval collection of the Museum of the Order of St John.


When Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in November 1095, it soon became apparent that the venture’s ultimate goal was the Holy City of Jerusalem. Before it could reach there, however, another city had to be negotiated: Antioch. Lying at the border between Cilicia (modern day Asia Minor) and northern Syria, it was once the third city of the Roman Empire. By the time the armies of the First Crusade arrived there in late-summer 1097, earthquakes and military disasters had somewhat diminished Antioch’s grandeur, while the city was now in the hands of Muslim overlords, the Seljuk Turks. Nevertheless, it remained an imposing and impressive challenge, one protected by natural and manmade defences and which the crusaders could not ignore if they hoped to travel south to Jerusalem.


Capturing Antioch

It can perhaps come as no surprise, therefore, that it took the crusaders eight gruelling, bloody months (October 1097–June 1098) to capture, subjugate and then secure control over Antioch. Through this period, the surviving sources bear witness to battle, slaughter, famine, disease, and desperation on a grand scale. It is no exaggeration to say that many thousands died here, crusader and non-crusader alike, as Antioch tested the very resolve of the crusade. Tempers even flared over who should control the city once it was captured. It was claimed, first and foremost, by the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, who had secured an oath from the crusade leaders that they would hand over former imperial possessions to him in return for his support, but the Italian Norman adventurer, Bohemond of Taranto, had other ideas. He proposed that whoever secured the city should have it as his spoils. This was initially rejected, but with fears growing over an oncoming Muslim relief force, led by Kerbogha of Mosul (one of Antioch’s rivals in the area), they eventually agreed to Bohemond’s suggestion. Unbeknownst to them, Bohemond had secured the complicity of a city guard, Firuz, to allow a small force into Antioch and thus precipitate its capture.

Map of the eastern Mediterranean, adapted from Google Earth by Andrew Buck

On 3 June 1098, the crusaders finally entered the city. Despite this apparent success, which also witnessed a slaughter of the city’s inhabitants (including Muslims, Jews, and Eastern Armenian, Syriac, and Greek Christians), the citadel held out, and Kerbogha was able to enact a close siege. Hunger and disease set in once again, and more crusaders fled. At this moment, a Provençal peasant, Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have had a vision that contained within the cathedral church of St Peter in Antioch was the Holy Lance, the spear said to have been used by the centurion Longinus to pierce Christ’s side. A metal fragment was duly found, with many (albeit not all) heralding this miracle as a sign of God’s support. The extent to which this proved a catalyst for the events which followed remains a matter for debate, but it is clear that, not long after the finding of the Holy Lance, the crusaders decided to march out of the city to face Kerbogha’s army head on, despite being vastly outnumbered. On 28 June 1098, battle was met, and – against all odds – the crusaders won. Contemporaries saw this as a sign of divine intervention, but the reality is that Kerbogha was the leader of a deeply divided force, one which proved unable to stand in the face of a crusader army united by faith, experience, and, above all, desperation. As Kerbogha’s armies fled, the citadel surrendered. Antioch was now held by the crusaders.


Creating a Crusader State

Disputes continued over who should control the city. Bohemond now saw it as his, while Count Raymond of Toulouse called on his fellow leaders to honour their oaths to Byzantium, but clearly also harboured his own hopes of forging a base of power for himself here.

Amid the bickering, infighting, and reported cannibalism at a nearby fortress, Raymond was eventually forced to back down as his forces pushed him to move on to Jerusalem. In this moment, Bohemond was left free to create a new polity, a ‘crusader state’: the principality of Antioch. One of four such states (the others being the kingdom of Jerusalem and the counties of Edessa and Tripoli), Antioch was thus forged within a complicated social and political framework.

Copper coin of Bohemond I. LDOSJ ANT1

Although the crusaders had secured the city and some of the surrounding area, Byzantine claims were not going to go away, and nearby Muslim cities remained a real threat. Situated as it was on the very frontier of Christendom, the principality’s future was delicately poised.

This soon became abundantly clear. As early as August 1100, Bohemond was captured by Danishmend Turks as he rode to aid the Armenian fortress of Melitene far to the north. His nephew and fellow crusade veteran, Tancred of Hauteville, stepped in at this point to act as the principality’s regent from 1101–3, establishing control over Cilicia and capturing the port of Latakia from the Byzantines. Bohemond was eventually released in 1103, yet disaster struck again the following year when he was heavily defeated (and captured) at Harran after leading a large force north in alliance with Count Baldwin II of Edessa.

Map of the key sites of the principality of Antioch, adapted from Google Earth by Andrew Buck

This led to a great contraction of the principality, which was reduced to its capital and a few scattered fortresses. However, as Antioch’s fortunes began to turn under Tancred’s indomitable leadership, when Bohemond was released in 1105, rather than return to power, he chose to leave Antioch and return to the West, where he married Constance, sister to the king of France, a union which begat him a son, Bohemond II. Tancred, meanwhile, who now took the title of prince, spent the following six years extending and securing the principality’s borders to the north, south, and east. He repelled Byzantine and Armenian incursions into Cilicia, and established military supremacy over Aleppo – Antioch’s nearest Muslim rival – through his control of nearby fortresses such as al-Atharib and Harim, with the city now forced to pay financial tribute to the Latins.


Fluctuating Territories

Before Tancred’s death in 1112 – only a year after Bohemond’s own demise while in Italian retirement in the West – he had established Antioch as the premier power in the region. His successor, and kinsman, was Roger of Salerno.

Copper coin of Roger of Salerno. LDOSJ ANT29

While Roger used the title of prince, his legal status was less secure, for the existence of an heir to Bohemond in the West, Bohemond II, complicated the succession. Roger was an able military leader, although ultimately less successful than his predecessor. As military pressure from the east increased, Roger proved unable to hold off disaster, and in 1119 the principality was attacked by Il-Ghazi, ruler of Mardin and Aleppo. Roger rode out to meet him, but he and his army were wiped out at a battle which came to be known as Ager Sanguinis, or the Field of Blood. This allowed Il-Ghazi to re-assert Aleppo’s power, particularly over the castles of Artah and al-Atharib, although Antioch itself was not threatened (due, so it was said, to Il-Ghazi’s proclivity for drunkenness). Military defeat had thus again robbed Antioch of its ruler, and this time there was no incumbent kinsman to step in. The regency passed instead to King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who held the principality until 1126 and largely restored Latin control over the surrounding region. When Bohemond II finally came to the East in 1126, Baldwin presented the young princeling with both Antioch and his daughter, Alice, as wife. Bohemond quickly set about emulating his father’s restless military energy by launching a campaign to recover territories near to Aleppo, but only four years later in 1130 he was caught in an ambush in Cilicia and killed – leaving behind an infant daughter, Constance, as heiress.

Bohemond II’s death marked an important turning point. First, it re-asserted Antioch’s internal power structures, for it passed control over the princely succession to the nobles, who used the opportunity of finding a husband for Constance to ensure the greater protection of their rights. It also saw a re-alignment in the framework of the crusader states, for the intervention of Baldwin II, so welcomed in 1119, was initially rejected by the Antiochenes, seemingly led by Bohemond’s widow, Princess Alice. Externally, the timing of this was also disastrous, for Muslim unity was growing under Zengi, the atabeg of Mosul and Aleppo, who breached the principality’s eastern frontier at numerous points throughout the 1130s. Likewise, the Armenian warlord, Leon I, launched attacks on Latin interests in Cilicia and renewed Byzantine interest was now also sparked by the apparent offer of an Antiochene marriage alliance before 1132. There was some respite when the new king of Jerusalem, Fulk of Anjou, offered his help between 1132 and 1135, as he was able to defeat Zengi at Qinnasrin in 1133. Yet it was not until 1136 that the principality finally had an in situ military leader, when the Western nobleman Raymond of Poitiers came to Antioch, married Constance, and seemingly had his position as heir fully recognised.

Coin of Raymond of Poitiers. LDOSJ ANT112

Raymond, a skilful warrior, soon established his credentials by immediately recovering Cilicia – although the arrival in northern Syria of the Byzantine emperor, John II Komnenos, in 1137, saw its loss once more (a state of affairs which endured until the 1180s). John then besieged Antioch itself before an agreement was made to recognise his overlordship of the principality and surrender the capital to him should he provide Raymond with the Muslim-held sites of Aleppo, Shaizar, Hama, and Homs in return. A campaign was launched to put this into effect in 1138, but despite some small gains, it failed to capture any major sites. John then left for Constantinople under a cloud of dispute after attempting to take Antioch anyway, and, despite returning to northern Syria in 1142, he proved unable to fulfil his desire to recover the city before dying in a hunting accident in Cilicia in 1143.

In the meantime, Zengi continued to assert his military skill by re-establishing his supremacy over sites recovered for the Latins by John. He also pushed for power further north, which culminated in the capture of Edessa in 1144. This had perhaps been made easier by an open dispute which had emerged between Raymond and Count Joscelin II of Edessa, and it left Antioch’s northern frontiers dangerously exposed, especially after Latin relief forces were defeated. Raymond swiftly sailed for Constantinople to swear fealty to the new emperor, Manuel I Komnenos, although he proved of no immediate use, while a new crusade launched from the West – the Second Crusade (1146–1148) – also failed to alleviate the pressure, for it chose to support Jerusalem rather than Antioch. Even Zengi’s death in 1146 did not improve the principality’s situation, as his successor in Aleppo – his son, Nur al-Din – proved an even better leader. In the long term, Nur al-Din extended his control over Damascus and Egypt, uniting the Islamic Near East to an extent never before seen. More immediately, in 1149, after a series of probing assaults, he attacked Harim, a castle to the east of Antioch and a vital point for monitoring the frontier with Aleppo. Knowing that this could not be ignored, Raymond was drawn into battle at nearby Inab, where he was killed along with all of his men. This heralded large-scale land losses to the east of Antioch, although again the capital itself endured, likely because Nur al-Din did not have the resources to capture and retain it.


Constance and Bohemond III

Fortunately for the Latins, Constance was now old enough – and willing enough – to govern for herself. In spite of opposition from Baldwin III of Jerusalem, the princess took control of Antioch with support from Antioch’s patriarch, Aimery of Limoges, who had come into office after Raymond had earlier had the incumbent, Ralph of Domfront, deposed c.1142 (an act seemingly inspired because Ralph had tried to exert Church power over the prince). Likewise, an infant male heir, Bohemond III, offered hope for the longer term. To provide for the principality’s immediate military needs, however, Constance married another westerner, Renaud of Châtillon, to act as prince-regent. He was an effective general, but proved a divisive politician.

Renaud of Châtillon, prince of Antioch, tortures Antioch’s patriarch, Aimery of Limoges: British Library, Yates Thompson 12, Histoire d’Outremer, f. 120 © The British Library Board

Not only did Renaud soon arrest and torture Patriarch Aimery (smothering his head in honey and placing him atop the citadel in the heat of summer), one of his earliest acts was to ally with Leon I of Armenia’s son, Thoros (whose power in Cilicia was growing), to violently assault the Byzantine island of Cyprus in 1156. This drew Manuel Komnenos into visiting Antioch in 1158, with Renaud agreeing to complete imperial suzerainty at this point, despite staving off an armed response during a dramatic public penance.

Renaud was eventually captured while raiding in November 1161, creating renewed difficulties for those in control of the principality. In the immediate aftermath, Constance again asserted her position, negotiating a marriage alliance between Manuel Komnenos and her daughter Maria (and in the process undermining the authority of Baldwin III, who had initially been asked to mediate). Yet, by 1163, Constance’s eldest child, Bohemond III, sought power for himself. A period of civil war appears to have followed, with the nobles perhaps remaining neutral or even initially supporting Constance, who probably feared that her son was not quite ready for power. The young prince was nevertheless able to drive his mother from Antioch and to seize control.

Potential fears over Bohemond III’s suitability were soon realised when, in 1164, he reacted rashly to an attack made on Harim by Nur al-Din – who had earlier suffered a defeat against the Latins in the county of Tripoli and was in pursuit of vengeance – by chasing the Muslim ruler as he withdrew. Battle was met near Artah and the Antiochenes, supported by Tripoli, the Templars and Hospitallers, as well as Byzantine and Armenian forces, were heavily defeated. Bohemond III himself was captured, and had to look to Byzantium for financial aid in securing his release in 1165, an act which allowed Manuel to implant a Greek Orthodox patriarch at Antioch. This defeat also allowed Nur al-Din to permanently set the principality’s border with Aleppo, as the Latins were unable to recover any lands to the east of the Orontes. As such, future Antiochene military activities were severely curtailed. Unsuccessful attempts were made to recapture lost territories, particularly Harim, and raids were launched on a number of occasions, but with little consequence. Once Aleppo was captured by the ambitious Saladin in 1182 – who styled himself sultan of Egypt and sought to exert the power of his family, the Ayyubids, over al-Salih, the heir of his former master, Nur al-Din (who had died in 1174) – the principality’s future sat on a knife-edge.

This was compounded by the death of Manuel I Komnenos in September 1180. In the wake of the demise of the crusader states’ greatest international patron, Constantinople fell into crisis and was eventually seized by the anti-Latin Andronikos Komnenos, who murdered Maria of Antioch and her son, Alexios II. Hopes of Byzantine support for Antioch were at an end. Bohemond III used this to temporarily re-assert Latin power in Cilicia at the expense of its Armenian lord, Rupen III, but even before Andronikos had taken power, the prince had invoked internal fury by divorcing his second wife, the imperial niece Theodora Komnena, and instead marrying a Latin woman, Sybil, described by some as a prostitute and a witch. Bohemond III was excommunicated in response, and when he launched a violent assault on the Church, the principality’s nobles rebelled. It took nearly two years to find a settlement, but it is likely that underlying tensions endured, with certain figures exiled to Cilicia.


The Invasion of Saladin and the War of Succession

When Saladin invaded the principality in 1188, only a year after defeating the forces of Jerusalem at Hattin and capturing the Holy City, Bohemond III was thus largely without allies. As such, he proved unable to prevent the loss of all but Antioch. The principality never really recovered from Saladin’s invasion. Noble patterns of landholding were broken, which again altered the internal balance of power, and although Bohemond III used the distraction of Richard the Lionheart’s victories during the Third Crusade (1189–1192) to raid northern Syria and gain some concessions from Saladin, these were minor. Moreover, in 1193, Leon II of Armenia – angered at Bohemond III’s earlier treatment of his brother, Rupen III – conspired with the prince’s now seemingly estranged second wife, Sybil, to convince him to come to the castle of Baghras just to the north of Antioch. This fortress protected a route into Cilicia through the mountains, and had previously been under Templar control. Its loss to Saladin had been a big problem for Antioch, so Bohemond was easily led, especially since the Muslim sultan had died earlier that year. Yet, this was a ruse, and the prince was taken captive. Leon II then attempted to seize the capital, but was opposed by the Latins and the other Eastern Christians, who formed a commune to protect the city. In spite of this, it took two years to secure Bohemond III’s release, and this came only with the stipulation that he allow his son, Raymond II, to marry Leon II’s niece, Alice – thus placing the Armenians within the succession. Alice soon gave birth to a son, Raymond-Rupen, but as this came shortly after Raymond II’s death in 1197, they were both expelled from Antioch. Instead, Bohemond III’s other son, Bohemond IV (by this point count of Tripoli), was declared heir with the support of the commune. Yet, despite this apparent agreement, rival factions grew around the two claimants upon Bohemond III’s death in 1201, with those who had earlier been exiled to Cilicia seemingly forming the mainstay of support for Raymond-Rupen. When Bohemond IV was then quickest to Antioch to secure the commune’s recognition as prince, conflict was ignited.

The succession crisis this created lasted for nearly two decades. Conflict began almost immediately, with Leon II laying siege to Antioch. Bohemond IV thus called for help from nearby Aleppo (now under the control of Saladin’s son, az-Zahir) and the Seljuks. Leon II decried this as scandalous, and related this to Pope Innocent III in the hope that he would intervene in his favour, but the Armenian was nevertheless forced to withdraw. This set the tone for the future, with Leon II launching near-annual raids on Antiochene territory and Bohemond IV looking to use allies to force an Armenian retreat. This drew in not only the papacy and Antioch’s Muslim neighbours, but also the military orders, with the Templars supporting Bohemond IV and the Hospitallers offering aid to Leon II in protest at Antioch’s alliance with the Ayyubids (with whom they were in conflict further south). The troubles continued into the 1210s. In 1216 an Armenian insurrection placed Raymond-Rupen on the princely throne while Bohemond IV fled to Tripoli, but this was short-lived, and in 1219 Bohemond IV returned to Antioch, re-asserted his power and brought the succession crisis to an end. The Ayyubids, now avowed enemies of Bohemond IV because, as count of Tripoli and prince of Antioch, he was a potential threat they could not afford to support, invaded the principality from Aleppo. The situation in the Near East was further complicated towards the end of the 1220s by the arrival of Emperor Frederick II of Germany, known as stupor mundi, or ‘the wonder of the world’. Frederick II had come on crusade in an attempt to recover Jerusalem, but while he was in Cyprus in 1228 he tried to enforce Bohemond IV’s homage. The prince, who had come to the island without knowing these intentions, feigned illness and fled. When Frederick II secured Jerusalem (and with it the title of king), as well as a period of peace with the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, in 1229, both Antioch and Tripoli were therefore left out of the agreement.


The End of the Principality of Antioch

From this point on, Antioch’s position within the crusader states, already diminished after 1188, became even weaker. Bohemond IV’s successor, Bohemond V, was to immediately prove his willingness to be a more pro-active general than his father, supporting the Templars and Hospitallers, as well as the forces of Jerusalem and Cyprus, in an attack against the Muslim city-state of Hama in October 1233, as well as a successful Templar-led assault on the Armenians at Baghras. However, this was not a sign of wider ventures. Likewise, the princes now spent the majority of their time at the more prosperous Tripoli, with control of Antioch left to the principality’s constable. This was true also of Bohemond V’s successor, Bohemond VI. The new prince was of little use to Antioch, spending most of his time either at Tripoli or embroiled in internal disputes. In short, the efforts of Antioch were now focused on internal political disputes, not external military engagement.

Meanwhile, two new powers had emerged in the region. The first, the Mamluks, established control over Egypt and Syria following the death of the Ayyubid sultan, al-Salih, in 1249, and their role in securing victory over Louis IX’s crusade in Egypt in 1250. While they were not an immediate threat to Antioch given the need to consolidate their power out of the embers of the Ayyubid Empire, the Mamluks were to later prove their danger. Another group also entered the scene at this time: the Mongols. Spreading from the Eurasian Steppes in the early thirteenth century under the leadership of the infamous Chinggis Khan, by the mid-1240s they had established control over Asia Minor and Cilicia, the Armenian ruler of which, King Hethoum I, submitted to them in 1246.

Coin of Hethoum I

They even threatened Antioch during a raiding expedition in 1244. In 1258, the Mongols crushed Baghdad and soon entered northern Syria, at which point Hethoum convinced Bohemond VI, now his son-in-law through the prince’s marriage to Isabella of Armenia, to swear homage to the Mongols. As such, when the Mongols captured Aleppo in January 1260, Bohemond VI sent forces to help them – and in return received control over fortified sites near to the Orontes, as well as the ports of Latakia and Jabala. This briefly brought some landed strength back to the principality, although it was to be short-lived: the Mamluks, now under the leadership of an indomitable leader by the name of Baybars, rode north that same year and inflicted a heavy defeat on the Mongols at Ayn Jalut. This victory, coupled with a succession crisis in the Mongol heartlands, allowed Baybars the chance to grow in strength, and when Bohemond VI called on his new overlords for help in 1263 following Mamluk aggression, the Mongols proved unable to triumph. To compound this, Bohemond VI was excommunicated in 1263 for having sworn homage to a group that, having demanded the submission of Rome to the khan, were deemed a threat to Latin Christendom. The noose was therefore tightening on Antioch, which was now as isolated as it ever had been, especially after an incursion against Hethoum I, led by the prince of Hama in 1266/7, had inflicted so heavy a defeat that the Armenian retired to a monastery soon after. Cilicia could no longer be called upon for aid. Yet, Bohemond VI remained in Tripoli. Matters came to a head on 15 May 1268, when Baybars laid siege to Antioch. The Mamluk assault was fierce, and after only three days, the city which had taken the First Crusade eight months to secure fell. Baybars had the gates to Antioch locked and everyone inside was killed. Such was the totality of the slaughter, Bohemond VI only found out about the city’s loss when a letter arrived from Baybars boasting of his victory. The principality of Antioch, which had lasted some 180 years, was at an end. Nevertheless, that it had lasted so long in the face of continued disaster is a sign of the successful adaptability of its rulers and ruling elites. Whether through alliances with external powers (such as the other crusader states, western forces, Byzantium, the Armenians, the Muslims, or the Mongols), or the nobility’s move to control the succession after 1130, annihilation had been staved off even when all hope appeared lost. The Antiochenes were no passive passengers, however, as they repeatedly opposed Jerusalemite hegemony during the twelfth century, fell into dispute with numerous rulers and polities, and even embroiled themselves in the political conflicts of their neighbours. With such a rich history, the principality of Antioch is thus worthy of much greater study and interest, and deserves to emerge out of the shadow of its more popular neighbour, the kingdom of Jerusalem.


Dr Andrew Buck is currently Associate Lecturer in History and Student Engagement Tutor at Queen Mary University of London. He has published various articles on the principality and his first book, The Principality of Antioch and its Frontiers in the Twelfth Century, is now available from The Boydell Press. You can follow him on Twitter via @andrewdbuck.




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