The Life of St. Sabas the Younger as a Source for The History of the Catalan Grand Company
By José Simón Palmer
Scripta Mediterranea, Vol.18 (1997)
Introduction: The Life and Conduct of Our Holy and God-Bearing Father St. Sabas the Younger [henceforth, Life of St. Sabas the Younger or Life, written by Philotheos Kokkinos, patriarch of Constantinople (1353-1354/5; 1364-1376), is a piece of Byzantine hagiography from the fourteenth century which, in spite of its religious character, is a valuable source for the history of the Catalan Grand Company, Roger de Flor’s famous band of Spanish mercenaries hired by the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) to fight the Turks in Anatolia. However, this aspect of the Life has usually been neglected by historians who have studied the Catalan presence in Byzantium and Greece during the fourteenth century. A remarkable exception is Angeliki E. Laiou, who uses this testimony for her study of the Catalan campaigns against Mount Athos (in the Chalkidike peninsula) and Thessaloniki in a book which is the standard reference for Andronikos Il’s period. Nevertheless, being the Byzantine emperor’s foreign policy – and not the adventures of the Catalan Company – the aim of her research, she does not fully exploit the evidence found in the Life. This is also the case of Mirjana Zhivojinovic’ in her study on the life of Archbishop Daniel II, abbot of the Serbian monastery of Chilandar in Athos during the Catalan campaigns of 1307-1309. As for Antoni Rubio i Lluch and R. M. Dawkins, they seem to ignore the existence of Philotheos Kokkinos’ work. A revision of the Life of St. Sabas the Younger as a source for the history of the Catalan Grand Company is therefore necessary.
St. Sabas, born in Thessaloniki around 1283, entered the Holy Mountain of Athas, which from the late tenth century had been the most important center of Eastern monasticism, approximately at the age of 18. Seven years later, his life changed because of the “Italians who had come from Sicily”, as the Life calls the soldiers of the Catalan Company because they had been fighting until the Peace of Caltabellotta (1302) for Frederick III of Sicily against Charles II of Anjou.
After the assassination of their leader Roger de Flor near Adrianople in 1305, the Catalans, who laid the blame for this murder on the Byzantines, raided the surrounding countryside of the Kallipolis peninsula – their base of operations – for two years (1305-1307). In 1307 they moved west and, as the Life says, “they destroyed Thrace without mercy, like a hurricane”. After this, the Catalans “hurried up to overrun immediately the Macedonians, having Thessaly itself already in their minds”.
As A. Laiou remarks, “the Catalan campaign in Macedonia had two related main objectives: the conquest of Thessaloniki and the creation of a kingdom of Macedonia, with its capital at Thessaloniki. At the same time, the Catalans planned to attack and plunder the monasteries of Mount Athas, which were famous for their wealth”. They occupied Kassandreia, in Chalkidike, at the neck of the Kassandra peninsula, and put their operational base there. I From this city they made incursions into the west on Thessaloniki and into the east on the Holy Mountain. Their first attack on a monastery in Athas – the Serbian cloister of Chilandar – took place in the early summer of 1307.