The entrance of Roger de Flor, founder of the Catalan Company, in Constantinople (1303); the emperor sitting on his throne, is Andronicus II Palæologus.
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Catalan Company mercenaries vs. Ottoman forces invading the Byzantine Empire; the Catalan Company vs. the Byzantine Empire
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Primarily Anatolia, Byzantine Nicaea, Thrace, and the Athens region
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Byzantine Empire hired Catalan Company mercenaries to repel an invasion by the Ottoman Turks; later, claiming nonpayment, the Catalan Company raided Byzantine territory and attacked Constantinople.
OUTCOME: The Catalan Company raided throughout the Byzantine Empire and ultimately seized control of Athens.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Catalan Company, 6,500; Alans, 1,000; Turkic cavalry, 3,000. These opposed varying numbers of Ottoman and Byzantine troops.
The Catalan Company of Spanish mercenaries was originally raised in 1281 in the War of the SICILIAN VESPERS. At the end of this two-decade-long conflict, the Catalan Company consisted of about 6,500 mercenaries led by Rutger von Blum (d. 1305), better known as Roger de Flor, a colorful soldier of fortune who had been a Templar sergeant, a smuggler of fugitives, and a pirate. With the conclusion of the Sicilian Vespers in 1302, de Flor sold the services of the Catalan Company to the Byzantine emperor, Andronikos II Palaeologus (1260-1332), who needed mercenaries to fight invading Ottoman Turks under Osman I (1258-1326). Previously, Andronikos had greatly reduced the empire’s standing army in an effort to reduce ruinous expenses.
De Flor and the Catalan Company arrived at Constantinople in September 1303 and were soon transported to Anatolia to reinforce Philadelphia, a Byzantine city that had been invested by Turkish forces for years. Accompanying the Catalan Company was an Alan cavalry force. A violent dispute between the Catalans and the Alans resulted in some 300 Alan casualties. All but 1,000 of the Alans left after the skirmish. Those who remained assisted the Catalans in their raiding campaign against the Turks who occupied Byzantine Nicaea. The Catalan-Alan force landed at Cyzicus in 1303, then struck south to Philadelphia, passing through Sardis, Magnesia, and Ephesus before recrossing the Bosporus to land at Neapolis in Gallipoli. At this point de Flor had recruited nearly 3,000 Turkish cavalry to augment his ranks. These were not disciplined mercenaries but outlaws and freebooters, whose presence on Byzantine territory greatly disturbed Andronikos. Indeed, de Flor himself seems to have succumbed to overweening ambition. His military successes led him to marry into the imperial family and to plan the establishment of an empire of his own within Anatolia. In 1304, claiming that his Catalan Company had not been properly paid, he led an attack on Constantinople but was repulsed. In 1305, after leaving Adrianople, where he was trying to ingratiate himself with his imperial kin, de Flor was ambushed by Alan warriors and assassinated, certainly at the behest of the Byzantine emperor. Byzantine troops then attacked and killed as many of the Catalan Company as they could reach.
Following the murder of de Flor, command of the Catalan Company fell to Ramon Muntaner (1265-1336). He led his men in losing battles with the Genoese, but, soon after this, the Catalan Company was joined by Aragonese reinforcements and a number of disaffected Turkish and Turkopouli deserters from the Byzantine army. Thus augmented, the Catalan Company raided widely and brutally throughout the Byzantine Empire. Andronikos sent an army after them but was defeated in the 1305 Battle of Apros when the Alans deserted the Byzantine forces in the field. After this victory the Catalans advanced to Rhaidestos, which became a center of operations for an ineffectual blockade of Constantinople and renewed raiding throughout Thrace during 1306-07.
Sometime in 1308 internal dissension within the Catalan Company ranks, as well as dogged Byzantine resistance to their raids, forced the Catalans to move from Rhaidestos in Gallipoli to Salonica in Thessaly, northern Greece. From Salonica they raided northern Greece and robbed the rich Eastern Orthodox monasteries at Mt. Athos. Then, in 1310 Walter de Brienne (d. 1353), duke of Athens and one of the leaders of the Romanian Frankish “Latin Empire,” hired the Catalan Company to expand his holdings. In service to Walter, the Catalans captured more than 30 castles. At the end of their service, however, in 1311 Walter attempted to dismiss them without pay. In response the Catalans turned against him. At Kephissos the Catalan troops arrayed themselves for battle behind a freshly flooded field. Walter led his Frankish knights in a charge that was soon mired in mud, transforming moving targets into stationary ones. The Catalans slaughtered Walter and many of his knights. This left the Catalan Company in control of the Latin Empire. The mercenaries asked the royal House of Catalonia-Aragon to provide them with a duke to serve as a figurehead ruler. Over the next 80 years the Catalan Company, nominally ruled by a succession of eight absentee dukes, held sway over Athens and the surrounding region.
Further reading: David M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, vol. 3 (New York: Knopf, 1996); John H. Rosser, Historical Dictionary of Byzantium (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001); Warren T. Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081 (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995); Warren T. Treadgold, Concise History of Byzantium (Houndsmills, Basingate, U. K.: Palgrave, 2001).