Darren Buxbaum's Catalan Almughavars
By David Kuijt and Chris Brantley
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The Grand Catalan Company may have been the first true mercenary company
in Western Europe, long before the Italian Condottas and the infamous Free
Company of Sir John Hawkwood.
The Catalan Company was raised in 1281 to fight as mercenaries in the War
of the Sicilian Vespers, where the Angevin and Aragonese dynasties fought
over the Kingdom of Sicily. When the war ended 20 years later, its commander
was Rutger von Blum, better known as Roger de Flor. De Flor was originally
a Templar sergeant. At the fall of Acre in 1291 he became rich using one
of the Templar galleys to shuttle fugitives from Acre to Cyprus for
enormous fees; later he was a pirate before he joined the Catalan Company
and worked his way up to command it.
When peace broke out in Sicily, the Catalan Company was
no longer needed and Sicily
was strongly interested in seeing the last of them.
De Flor negotiated a deal with the Byzantine Emperor, Andronikos II,
who desperately needed mercenaries to fight the Turks after the Byzantine
defeat at Nicomedia in July 1302.
The Company arrived at Constantinople in September 1303. They had no
sooner arrived in Constantinople than they got involved in a bloody
melee in the street with the local Genoese community. Soon afterwards
they were shipped to Anatolia to
relieve Philadelphia, a Byzantine city entirely surrounded by the Turks
for some years. A large force of Alan cavalry (survivors of Nicomedia)
were sent with them but didn't stay long.
In short order there was a falling out between the Catalans and the Alans,
and a sharp skirmish in which the Alans suffered 300 casualties including
the son of their chieftain. Afterwards all but 1000 of the Alans left.
The Catalans then conducted a raiding campaign throughout the Turkish-held
lands in Byzantine Nicaea, landing at Cyzicus in 1303 and striking south to
Philadelphia, passing through Sardis, Magnesia, and Ephesus before recrossing
the Straights of Bosphorus to land at Neapolis in Gallipoli. By this point,
the Catalans, who had recruited nearly 3000 Turkic horse into their ranks,
were considered by the Byzantines to be little better than brigands and
freebooters. The successes had inflated the already arrogant De Flor,
leading him to entertain plans of a setting up his own version of the
Byzantine Empire in Anatolia. Needless to say, this put him at odds
with the Byzantine Emperor, and eventually led to De Flor's assassination in an
Alan ambush in April1305 and the subsequent
Byzantine massacre of the
Catalonian and Aragonese
populations in Constantinople. Command of the Catalan company
fell on Ramón Muntaner. Further losses occurred in conflict with
the Genoese soon after, but Catalan and Aragonese reinforcements, plus the
addition of disaffected Turkish and Turkopouli
deserters from the Byzantine army kept the Catalan Company in existence.
The Byzantine emperor then attempted to stop the Catalans
(who were by then reduced to 206 horse and 1256
horse) at Apros in July 1305, but was defeated after
his Alan allies, fearful
of Catalan wrath at the loss of de Flor, deserted the Byzantine army in the
field. The Catalans then advanced to Rhaidestos, which became a center of
operations for an ineffectual blockade of Constantinople and
devastating raids throughout
Thrace and Macedonia for approximately two years (1306-1307 AD).
By 1308, internal dissension and
a stepped-up Byzantine resistance
forced the Catalans to move
into Thessaly in Northern Greece. Using Salonica as a center of operations,
they raided that region and ravaged the rich Eastern Orthodox monasteries
at Mt. Athos.
In 1309, Frederick III of Sicily
sent the Infante Ferran of Mallorca to Gallipoli
assume the captaincy of the company. Bernat de Rocafort
opposed the Infante and his supporters within the company, forcing their
departure. It was at this time that Ramón Muntaner left the company to take service with the Infante, and later wrote his
chronicles which are the primary source of information on the Company's early
history. Bernat de Rocafort offered the Company's
services to Charles of Valois in support of his claims
to the Byzantine Empire, but Charles found de Rocafort
to be a tyrant and had him seized and imprisoned in Naples, where he died of
hunger the same year.
In 1310, the Catalans found a new employer, Walter de Brienne, the
Duke of Athens and one of the prominent leaders of the so-called Romanian
Frankish "Latin Empire." They captured over thirty castles for
the Duke, but
when peace was concluded in 1311 de Brienne attempted to dismiss them
without pay, and answered their demands with insults. This
led to rebellion and open battle. On 15 March 1311, the
Catalans laid a
trap for the Duke at Halmyros by the River Kephissos.
The Catalan arrayed for battle behind a newly flooded field.
Walter and his Frankish knights charged unknowingly into the mire
where they were set upon by the
light footed almugavars.
and a huge proportion of his knights were slaughtered, leaving the Catalans
masters of his Duchy.
The Catalan Company asked the royal house of Catalonia-Aragon to provide them
with a figurehead
ruler; during the next seventy years they were "ruled"
by a succession of eight absentee Dukes, none of which seem to have ever set
foot in Athens. Having seized their own country, the Catalans
gradually expanded their holdings into Thessaly, and
held their Duchies of Athens and Neustria for nearly
In 1379 another free company from the Iberian peninsula, the Navarrese Company,
moved on from its efforts to conquer Albania and attacked the Catalan
Duchy of Athens in concert with a Florentine force. In 1388 a
a Florentine army defeated the Catalans in a decisive battle at
Kaledes (a.k.a. Peritheorion or Anastasioupolis), at the far end of
Lake Vistonis on the road from Xanthi to Komotini. Following this
defeat and the subsequent loss of their Duchy, the Catalan Grand
The Catalan Grand Company had a habit of making enemies of its friends and friends of its enemies, which included the
Alans (II/58), the Latin Kingdoms (IV/32), the Byzantines
(IV/33, IV/50, IV/51ab), the Navarrese Company (IV/39c), the Anatolian Turks
(IV/49), the Ottomans (IV/55ab) and the Genoese and Florentines (IV/61).
The Catalans can make Big Battle alliance with the Alans (II/58).
|1x 3Kn (Gen)
||Aragonese Knights, typical Spanish knights of the early 14th century. After the conquest of Athens, some of
them might be feudal retainers of the deposed Romanian Franks.
||Aragonese Jinetes (javelin and shield) throughout the period.
||Catalan Almughavars, who fought with a long spear, several javelins, and a big sword, but no shield. Very fierce.
||Light Horse are Alans only briefly (1303 AD), thereafter use Turks (bow and shield) or Turcopoles (similar to the Turks, without turbans) after 1305.
After 1380, replace the Turks with Albanian LH. Ax are
||Catalan crossbow (and/or Greek native archers after 1311 AD)
Despite its historical success, the Catalan Company appears to be a difficult army to master tactically.
With 1-3 elements of Light Horse and
6-8 elements of Auxilia, the Catalan Company seems decidedly overmatched against heavier historical opponents: the Alans with their Blades, the Romanian Franks with their Knights, and the Later Byzantines/Early Ottomans with their Cavalry.
key for the Catalan Commander is effective use of the Auxilia, the fearsome Catalan Almughavars. In accounts of the Catalan Company's actions, it is invariably the Almughavars who are given credit for carrying the tide of battle. How to accomplish that in DBA terms?
Effective use of
bad going terrain.
However, with an Aggression factor of 4, they will seldom
obtain the benefit of terrain placement. Rough terrain
also diminishes the value of the Catalan Light Horse and Knights.
It is tempting to conclude that the reason this army performed well
historically is because it avoided battle and used mobility and speed in
a raiding strategy to stay one step ahead of its opponents. However, in
most of its battles the Catalans appear to have been outnumbered. In
particular they defeated a much larger Byzantine army at Apros, as well
as the Romanian Franks (Duchy of Athens) at Kephissos in pitched battles.
They did so, in part, because they were leaner and meaner than their "soft"
opponents, a matter of troop quality or morale not reflected in the DBA game
Big piles of loot are certainly appropriate.
A medieval style camp with both European and Turkic-style tents would reflect the mixed composition of the company
in Byzantine service. Since they often operated using a city or town as a
base of operations for raiding throughout a district, a small section of
city walls, dwellings, orchards, or similar built up areas
also make good subjects.
Here are figure recommendations for the Catalan Grand Company,
primarily from Essex 15mm ranges. Essex also provides a Catalan army pack:
- Auxilia: Essex XMED7 (Almughavars) are excellent; there are only
two figure variations in a pack. Irregular HR38 (Almugavar infantry) mix well
with them, they also have two figure variations. If you want a little more
variety, Essex MID65 (shieldless javelin) aren't bad, although not as good as
the previous two codes mentioned.
- Knights: Essex MID80-83A are particularly Spanish with distinctive
shields and helmets. Note that the Catalan Company were mercenaries, coming
off a long war in Sicily; as such they would not have had top-of-the-line
flashy helmets and equipment. As such, in their first phase (before the
conquest of Athens in 1311) they might be equipped as Spanish knights of
the last half of the 13th century. Essex's Later Spanish
(Mid99-103) also serve for the later period.
- Aragonese Light Horse:
Essex MID84 light horse (ginetes) would probably be fine. Irregular HR38 Genitor
figures would be perfectly appropriate.
- Turkish Light Horse: Any of Essex RNO25-28
would be fine.
- Albanian Light Horse: Essex EMED57 (Albanian light cavalry) are
listed as the LH figures for the Essex Scanderberg Albanian army; without
seeing them I'd guess that they are probably appropriate figures for 14th
century Albanian LH.
Unfortunately, relatively little is available on the Catalan Grand
Company on-line or in print. The following out-of-print resources may be available for reference in library
collections or through used booksellers:
"Catalan Domination of Athens, 1311-1388," by Kenneth Meyer Setton.
"The Rise of the Aragonese-Catalan Empire, 1200-1350," by Jerome Lee Shneidman
"The Problem of a Catalan Mediterranean Empire, 1229-1327," by J. N. Hillgarth
For discussion of the operations of the Catalan Company in Nicaea, Thrace and Macedonian, consult histories of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Andronikos II (a.k.a. Andronicus II).
The other primary source is Ramon Muntaner's
(here as translated by Lady Goodenough).
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Except where indicated, the Catalan images
from the collection of David Kuijt.
Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page
can be sent to Chris Brantley,
Last Updated: 4 Nov. 2004