“We Have Met Devils!”: The Almogavars of James I and Peter III of Catalonia-Aragon
Morris, Paul N.
Anistoriton v. 4, 23 September (2000)
This paper examines the role and nature of the Almogavars, fierce mountainmen of the medieval federation of Catalonia-Aragon, during the reigns of James I the Conqueror (1213-1276) and his son, Peter III the Great (1276-1285). Extremely capable warriors, the Almogavars were utilized by James to complete the Aragonese phase of the Reconquest, the eight hundred year long duel between the Christians and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula. Under Peter, the Almogavars played a pivotal role in turning the Mediterranean into an Aragonese lake, defeating French knights, Byzantine troops, and Turkish warriors with deadly efficiency. The Almogavars thus played a critical role in turning the peninsular federation into a maritime force to be reckoned with.
On March 10, 1311, Walter (Gautier) de Brienne, fifth Duke of Athens and nearest relative of the last Burgundian duke, Guy II de la Roche, made his will, stating his wish to be buried in the Greek monastery of Daphne. For several months, he had been marshaling warriors from all parts of Frankish Greece: Athens, Thebes, Plataea and Achaea, Locris, Euboea, and the Archipelago. When the muster call was complete, Gautier had some 6,400 knights and 8,000 foot. He would have had more men if it had not been for the fact that 500 Catalans in his employ deserted to join the enemy arrayed against him: a force of Almogavars, 8,000 strong, which was bolstered by Turkish and Thessalian contingents. This force had occupied several of Gautier’s Thessalian fortresses at his refusal to pay four months’ worth of wages for service against his many enemies. When the duke demanded their unconditional surrender, the Almogavars had refused and had readied themselves for battle, flooding the fields where they knew the Frankish knights would charge. When he made his will, Gautier may have had some premonition of the bloody defeat that lay ahead, for in five days he was dead, his decapitated body lying in the fields near the river Cephissus, his best knights lying with him, casualties of a deadly charge against the muddy ground held by the closed ranks of Almogavars (Setton, 10).