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Wolff, R. L.; Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / Volume II: The later Crusades, 1189-1311

I: The Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Crusades,   pp. 2-43 PDF (56.8 KB)

Page 5

place at the disposal of crusaders a large navy and merchant marine, and
could provide markets, equip expeditions with money and grain, and keep the
armies and colonies in the east supplied with materials and men. The cosmopolitan
population of Sicily, with its Greek and oriental elements, had much to contribute
to the knowledge and understanding of the religions, languages, and customs
of the east, and in general could serve as a bridge between east and west.
And yet, the promise inherent in all this was only partly fulfilled. The
Second Crusade would come and go without Roger II, the first king of Sicily,
and the contributions of his grandson William II to the Third Crusade would
be canceled out by his death in 1189. 
 Not that Sicily lacked a strong crusading heritage. Six members of the house
of Hauteville had gone on the First Crusade. Two of them, Bohemond, son of
Robert Guiscard, and his nephew Tancred, had written brilliant pages in its
history and in that of "Outremer". For a time, Bohemond's leadership
in the First Crusade was unrivaled. When he returned to Europe in 1104 to
seek help for the principality of Antioch, he was hailed in Italy and France
as the hero of the Crusade, and great contingents of Christian knights enlisted
in the expedition which he planned to lead through Greece to assault Constantinople.
Roger II, then in his early teens and still under the regency of his mother
Adelaide, watched this new "crusade" get under way. Admittedly,
Bohemond's saga came to an abrupt end with his surrender to emperor Alexius
I Comnenus. Yet he may well have impressed his young cousin as a model of
shrewdness and bravery. 
 Bohemond's actions directed the eyes of the Norman princes of Sicily toward
the conquest of the Byzantine Empire. Within a quarter-century, in the campaigns
of Robert Guiscard and Bohemond's attack in 1107-1108, the Normans twice
had bid for Constantinople, and twice had failed. The Byzantine emperors,
of course, had never even recognized Norman rule over Apulia, much less tolerated
any Norman expansion into the eastern Mediterranean. They suspected Norman
aims, and plotted against them in Italy and Antioch alike. Thus the ambition
to seize Constantinople itself, inherited from Guiscard and Bohemond, involved
great danger, despite the fact that the project of a "crusade"
against the Byzantines appealed to many western Europeans and sometimes received
the approval of the pope.2 
 2 On Bohemond's last war with the Byzantine Empire, see volume I of this
work, chapter XII, pp. 390-391 (bibliography in note 30); also Monti, La
Espansione mediterranea, pp.58-60. 

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