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Paschal II, Bohemund of Antioch and the Byzantine Empire

Paschal II, Bohemund of Antioch and the Byzantine Empire

By J.G. Rowe

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol.49:1 (1966)

Introduction: All students of the medieval crusade are familiar with the ill-starred attack which Bohemund, Prince of Antioch, launched in 1107 from southern Italy against the western flank of the Byzantine Empire. The siege of Durazzo and Bohemund’s subsequent defeat at the hands of the Emperor Alexius Comnenus have been examined in detail by many writers, the accounts of Chalandon and Yewdale being perhaps the best. ¬†Yet there are still some problems which deserve further examination, and chief among these is the role played by the Papacy in the creation of this abortive expedition.

Most historians are persuaded that Pope Paschal II gave his blessing to Bohemund’s invasion. For example, Sir Steven Runciman judges Paschal to be a weak man who felt constrained to encourage Bohemund’s desire to conquer the Byzantine Empire, thus hastening the development of that great tragedy of medieval Christendom, the schism between the Greek and Latin churches. Professor Harold Fink agrees although he is not so decided in his views. In the American History of the Crusades, Fink thinks it ” likely ” that Paschal ” succumbed to the anti-Byzantinism of the day and fell in with Bohemund’s plans.”

On the other hand, the distinguished American medievalist Marshal W. Baldwin suggested years ago that Paschal was hoodwinked by Bohemund. The wiles of the guileful Norman prince prevented the Pope from perceiving the sinister meaning of his attempts to gather men in Western Europe for a new expedition which, although ostensibly destined for Jerusalem, was eventually transformed into an attack on the Byzantine¬†Empire. In short, Baldwin proposed that the Papacy never knowingly gave its official sanction to Bohemund’s perversion of the crusade.

The purpose of this essay is to give Baldwin’s suggestion the thorough examination it deserves. This will require a rigorous critique of the evidence, presented in chronological fashion for the sake of clarity. An irrefutable defence of Baldwin’s hypothesis will not be forthcoming. The fragmentary nature of the evidence renders such a happy result impossible. It will suffice if I am able to cast some doubt on the current interpretation of an important event in the history of the Papacy in its relation to the crusade.

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