Andrew Jotischky

title.none: Asbridge, The Creation of the Principality of Antioch (Andrew Jotischky)

identifier.other: baj9928.0111.007 01.11.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrew Jotischky, University of Lancaster,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Asbridge, Thomas. The Creation of the Principality of Antioch 1098-1130. Rochester: Boydell and Brewer, 2000. Pp. vi, 233. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15661-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.11.07

Asbridge, Thomas. The Creation of the Principality of Antioch 1098-1130. Rochester: Boydell and Brewer, 2000. Pp. vi, 233. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15661-4.

Reviewed by:

Andrew Jotischky
University of Lancaster

For the Byzantine emperor whose summons for western military aid provided the immediate impetus for the First Crusade, the target of the expedition against the Turks was not so much Jerusalem as the strategically more significant city of Antioch. This ancient city, Rome's bulwark against the Persians, had become the key to the eastern Mediterranean long before its capture by the Muslims. As a centre of culture (pagan as well as Christian), Antioch far outshone Jerusalem in the early Christian period; it could with some justification be called the birthplace of the term 'Christian', if not the idea; and, in rivalry with Alexandria, developed a distinctive theological tradition of its own based on the spirituality of the monasteries of the Syrian hinterland. Recaptured by the Byzantines at the end of the tenth century, the city came under Seljuk rule only briefly, from 1086 to 1098. When the crusaders appeared in northern Syria in the autumn of 1097, the city and the surrounding towns and countryside had large populations of Greeks, Greek-speaking Syrians and Armenians as well as Muslims.

It is somewhat surprising, then, that Antioch has for so long been the poor relation of the kingdom of Jerusalem. With the exception of Claude Cahen's La Syrie du nord a l'epoque des Croisades et la principaute franque d'Antioche (Paris, 1940), little has been written directly on Antioch, and Thomas Asbridge's is the first monograph since Cahen. Antioch had no William of Tyre, it is true, but in Walter the Chancellor it had its own chronicler, albeit one whose coverage spanned a shorter period, and Asbridge shows in addition how useful the chronicles of Albert of Aachen and Fulcher of Chartres continue to be for Antiochene affairs for the period after the first crusade. Besides the Latin chronicles, there is Matthew of Edessa to represent the Armenian perspective, and Asbridge makes full use of such Arabic narrative material as has been translated into European languages. Nor do chronicles exhaust the available source material, for the cartularies of the great religious houses of the kingdom of Jerusalem, though representing only a fraction of the record, nevertheless give us a good deal of information about property ownership in the principality of Antioch. The sources may be less varied and less extensive than for the kingdom, but there is plenty available to do Antioch justice.

The origins of the Principality of Antioch lie in the first crusade itself. Asbridge emphasises that the end result--a Latin state with fluid borders lying between the Mediterranean coast and the Jabal as-Summaq, with the Taurus mountains to the north-- did not constitute a 'natural' or historical entity. The successful capture of Antioch in 1098 owed much to the willingness of the Armenian populations of the Cilician towns to rebel against their Seljuk governors and throw their lot in with the crusaders. However, as Asbridge notes, they were just as ready to overthrow their new masters when it became possible, as for example after the Latin defeat at Harran in 1104. Indeed, a characteristic feature of the political narrative related by Asbridge is the number of times that critical towns and fortifications changed hands in the principality's early years.

Rulership of Antioch was characterized in its early years by the need to balance aggressive expansion with negotiated settlements. For Asbridge, the crucial figure--indeed, in many ways the hero of his book--was Tancred, whose rule between 1104 and 1112 saw steady expansion by a combination of military daring and political common sense. In contrast, Bohemond, the founder of the principality, appears a less impressive figure. Bohemond is usually, and rightly, credited with the capture of the city of Antioch in 1098 and its subsequent defence against superior odds in the immediate aftermath of the conquest, but Asbridge argues that all the crusade leaders contributed to the capture of, and thus exercised lordship over, the outlying towns in what became the principality of Antioch, and that only their willingness to surrender such rights as they moved toward Jerusalem left Bohemond in full control. Tancred only became ruler of the new state because Bohemond got himself captured in 1100, and after Bohemond's release from captivity in 1103 he found himself unwanted. Bohemond's departure for the West to launch a new crusade gave Tancred a second opportunity to exercise the regency, and from 1104 onward he proved himself--in typical Norman style--a master of resourceful and vigorous government. His successful policies were largely continued by Prince Roger, but over-confidence or miscalculation in 1119 led to the worst disaster in the principality's history, the defeat at the Field of Blood. Roger's own death, along with many of his barons', left the principality at the mercy of its neighbours--Latin, Muslim and Armenian--but only the kingdom of Jerusalem was sufficiently powerful to take advantage of this, and there began nearly a decade of paternalist supervision of Antioch by Baldwin II. Previous historians have wondered why Il-ghazi, victor of the Field of Blood, did not exploit his victory in pitched battle by taking the undefended city of Antioch itself, and much reference has been made to the vilification of Il-ghazi in the Muslim sources as a drunkard who squandered his opportunity by prolonged alcoholic celebration. Asbridge is sceptical of the usefulness of this interpretation, arguing instead that Il- ghazi's army was simply inadequate for a siege. Here he is doubtless correct to attribute the slander on Il-ghazi in Usamah ibn-Munqidh's memoir to an anti-Seljuk bias; on the other hand, as he shows, the contemporary Muslim chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi had noted Il-ghazi's drunkenness as early as 1115. Repetition of the accusation may owe a good deal to the desire of later Muslim historians to draw contrasts between the moral inadequacy of Il- ghazi and the apparent sobriety of successful jihad warriors such as Nur ad-Din and Saladin.

Much of the book consists of a detailed and thorough analysis of the political vicissitudes of the principality. This emphasis, privileging political questions, and thus solutions, over ideological, social and cultural concerns, in part seems to reflect Asbridge's own interests as a historian; equally, however, it is determined by the nature of the surviving source material. Asbridge, who has already published a translation (with Susan Edgington) of Walter the Chancellor, is thoroughly acquainted with the Latin chronicles, [1] and shows familiarity also with the Greek, Muslim and Armenian sources available in translations. Most of this material relates to the political currents in northern Syria: to the policies and personalities of rulers, to military affairs and their consequences. Asbridge's analysis of the narrative sources results in important new interpretations; for example, of the troubled relationship between Antioch and the county of Tripoli; and of the nature of the treaty of Devol, which he argues convincingly was based on the Byzantine principle of the pronoia. Here Asbridge argues, against the interpretation of Ralph-Johannes Lilie, that Devol was neither constitutionally innovative, nor, in its long-term effect, particularly important to either the Byzantines or the Norman rulers of Antioch. This depends, I suppose, partly how long one's view is, for although it is true that the Byzantines were unable to enforce its terms during the period of Asbridge's book, during the 1140s and 1150s Emperors John and Manuel Komnenos succeeded in imposing themselves on Antioch and eventually in extracting homage from its prince. Asbridge also has interesting things to say about the title of prince itself, which he suggests was exploited by Bohemond II (1126-30) as a symbol of independence from Byzantine overlordship, and which may even have been accompanied by the use of Byzantine imperial vestments. Bohemond II grew up in Norman-ruled southern Italy, and his investiture in Antioch preceded by only a few years his cousin Roger's enthronement as king of Sicily, with its powerful use of Byzantine court ceremonial.

Asbridge's most original contribution to crusading history, however, lies in the chapter on lordship in Antioch, where he uses a combination of chronicle and charter evidence to construct a prosopography of the Antiochene nobility. Twenty-four barons, male and female, are identified, and their family origins, relationships to other barons and to the ruling dynasty and landholdings are described. This chapter will form the indispensable basis for any future work on government and politics in the principality. Together with the chapters on "The Princes of Antioch" and "The Development of Institutions", this analysis provides a fuller framework on which to hang the political narrative than has existed up till now. One of the most useful aspects of this part of the book is the examination of titles and their meaning. We see, for example, the import of a Norman and northern French military and civil apparatus of government in offices such as the marshal, chamberlain and seneschal, while at he same time the retention of what appears to have been a Greek office, the 'dux' of Antioch responsible for the civil administration of the city itself. Asbridge argues that this combination "produced a form of adminstration that contained elements not found in other Frankish settlements in the Levant". (193) Taken alongside the discussion of the ceremonial investiture of Bohemond II, this hints at a sophisticated style of government that bears intriguing similarities to the more celebrated one in Roger II's Sicily. Asbridge is too careful a reader of the sources to imply more than is justified, but this comparison, only hinted at in patches, might perhaps have been taken farther.

The final chapter examines the Latin Patriarchate of Antioch. Here Asbridge, like all historians writing in this field, owes much to the works of Bernard Hamilton and Rudolf Hiestand. There is interesting material on the relations between the Franks and indigenous clergy. The willingness of Raymond of Toulouse to allow his nominee for the bishopric of Albara, a Latin priest, to be consecrated by the Orthodox patriarch, John the Oxite, confirms Hamilton's thesis that the crusaders' original intention was to work alongside the existing Greek hierarchy as far as possible. The intervention of Patriarch Bernard and Prince Roger in the affairs of the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1118 prefigure elements in the career of a later twelfth-century patriarch of Antioch, Aimery of Limoges, who was to befriend the Syrian Orthodox patriarch Michael the Syrian. Moreover, the disagreements between prince and patriarch over which side to take in 1118 seem to foreshadow the maltreatment of Aimery at the hands of his prince, Reynald de Chatillon, in the 1150s. Asbridge gives a full discussion of the conflict that arose over ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the archbishopric of Tyre, and argues that the dispute allowed the patriarchate of Antioch to exercise a degree of independence from Rome. One might wonder, however, whether the full implications of the replacement of Greek Orthodox clergy with Latins in the office of patriarch have not been missed. The Latins who were appointed to the patriarchate were, by virtue of their ordination in the Roman Church, obedient to the papacy; yet for Orthodox clergy, the pope was merely the bishop of Rome, the equal of the patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch. Although there is little evidence for papal direction of the patriarch in the period covered by Asbridge's book, the later history of the Latin patriarchate is largely coloured by papal intervention, and thirteenth-century patriarchs were appointed by the popes from among western clergy and sent out to the east. An independent patriarchate of Antioch proved to be a chimera.

This book is based on the author's Ph.D research undertaken under the supervision of Jonathan Riley-Smith at the University of London, and although the outlines of the Ph.D sometimes show through, the writing is assured and controlled throughout. Asbridge inspires confidence as a guide to an unfamiliar geography as well as to the political and military complexities of Antioch--appropriately enough, given that in 1999 his dedication to understanding realities 'on the ground' extended so far as to walking the route taken by the crusaders from Antioch to Jerusalem. The authority with which Thomas Asbridge writes on the early principality of Antioch demonstrates what can be done with apparently limited source survival. This lucid and careful study will serve a generation of scholars and their undergraduate students well, and it is to be hoped that the author will now take his story further into the twelfth century and even beyond.


[1] Walter the Chancellor's The Antiochene Wars, trans. T. S. Asbridge and S. B. Edgington (Aldershot, 1999).