The Almogavars of James I and Peter III of Catalonia-Aragon
Paul N. Morris
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). Who were these Almogavars, who were able to defeat these heavily-armed and highly-trained knights? Why were they consistently effective against all who came before them? How were they utilized by James I the Conqueror (1213-1276) and his son, Peter III the Great (1276-1285), count-kings of Catalonia-Aragon, to further the interests of their realm? These are the questions that this paper will attempt to answer.
Much of our information on the Almogavar is derived from the Chronicle of Ramon Muntaner (1265-1336), an adventurous courtier who lived and fought with the Almogavars, second only to James I's autobiographical Book of the Deeds (Llibre dels feyts) and the Chronicle of court official Bernat Desclot (d. ca.1390). It is Desclot, who, although providing little information about himself, gives us the best contemporary description of the Almogavars. It deserves to be quoted at length: "Now these soldiers that are called Almogavars are men who live for naught save only warfare, and they dwell not in towns nor in cities but in mountains and in the forests. And they fight continually with the Saracens and make forays within their land for a day or two, pillaging and taking many Saracens captive, and likewise their goods whereby they live. And they suffer many hardships such as other men could scarce endure...And these men are exceeding[ly] strong and are swift to flee or to pursue" (Desclot, 28-9).
They were thus men perfectly adapted to the recurring border warfare that characterizes, above all, the relationship between the Christian and Muslim states of medieval Spain. It is in this context that they first appear in the historical record. Later on, in a continuation of this combat between Christianity and Islam, James I would utilize them against the Muslim states of Valencia and Murcia, which are considered to be his greatest conquests. Under his son, the closing of an Aragonese-Muslim frontier would force the Almogavars to lose their original function as frontiersmen. However, their transfer to various theaters throughout the Mediterranean would ensure that they would obtain their notoriety.
Given their substantial impact on the history of Catalonia-Aragon, the origins of the Almogavars are remarkably elusive, in keeping with their itinerant character. In fact, it is only the source of their name that seems to exist in any certainty: from the Arabic al-mogàuar ("raider, devastator"), which was used to describe groups of men who periodically engaged in incursions into Muslim territory, plundering, sacking and kidnapping. These intermittent inroads were of course never the exclusive activity of any one group. Until the last days of the Reconquest, Muslims as well as Christians periodically engaged in forays into each other's territory, each doing as much damage as they could. Nor can we accept the rather antiquated theories associating these activities with one particular race of men, sometimes mountainous Visigoths recovering their ancient Germanic vigor, sometimes not named at all. More conclusive studies have replaced these unfounded arguments. José M. Moreno Echevarría has argued convincingly for a purely Aragonese origin for the Almogavars. Given the rapid expansion of the Aragonese kingdom from a small, rugged Pyrenean community in the eleventh century to an important Peninsular state reaching the borders of Muslim Valencia in the thirteenth, the frontiers of such a state would be constantly fluctuating and unstable. Poor and sparsely depopulated, Aragon was never able to field large bodies of regular troops. Enter the Almogavars, tough shepherds and mountainmen from the Pyrenees, free raiders penetrating the enemy lands in search of booty, forsaking castles and towns in favor of mountains and forests so as not to be under any type of vassalage. The Almogavars always found the open frontier more attractive. There they could wage war on their volition, as opposed to being despised foot soldiers in the feudal levies, where the knights and lords took all of the profits and glory (Echevarría, 17). The dress of the mountainman of the Pyrenees corresponds, in any case, to that of the Almogavar: the zamarra of undressed sheep-skins (replaced by a tunic in hotter climates) and the abarca, a piece of coarse leather tied on the soles of the feet, ideal protection against thorns, rocks, and thickets, worn since time immemorial.
Though their origins were Aragonese, the Almogavars by no means closed their ranks to outsiders. From the start, Catalans, Navarrese, and Basques, whose overlords shared close political connections with the Aragonese rulers, filled their ranks, as well as dissatisfied Mozarabs (Christians who had lived under Muslim rule) who had been brought into Aragon by "liberating" expeditions into Muslim territory, such as that undertaken by Alfonso I the Battler (1104-1134) in the early 1100's. The Almogavars also included their share of Muslim runaway slaves. These formed a large percentage of the population of the rapidly conquered Aragonese lands, and naturally enough, the freewheeling life of the Almogavar must have compared favorably to the life of a slave to the more daring ones (Echevarría, 19). In subsequent Eastern campaigns, their ranks would remain open to Turks and Greeks. In short, the Almogavars were far from being a distinct race of mysterious wild-men preserving their primordial characteristics.
The organization of the Almogavars could not have been simpler: almogàver, almogaten, and adalil, comparable to the ranks of private, sergeant, and captain, respectively. Usually organized into small groups of five to fifteen men, the Almogavars relied on almogatens and adalils (from the Arabic words for "captain" and "guide," respectively) for leadership. These were highly capable men chosen from the ranks, constituting what seems to have truly been a military democracy, or at least a meritocracy. Such simple organization and the possibility for advancement seems to have truly worked in the Almogavars' favor, creating the camaraderie and effectiveness that made them feared by their enemies. Thus, in 1283, we find, in the course of Peter II's Sicilian campaign, a brave almogaten from Tarragona springing off his galley to aid one of his men and quickly impaling his first assailant. Nineteen more knights were needed to bring him down, four of whom suffered grisly deaths in the process. While the skull of one unfortunate knight was skewered by the lance of the fearless almogaten, the neck of another knight was so deeply cut by the almogaten's thrusts that all of his veins were severed.
In times of war or when contracted as mercenaries, when their numbers would swell, they would sometimes be placed under the command of a knight or a nobleman. The Almogavars seem to have been willing enough to entrust the task of leading them to others, even knights such as Roger Deslaur, to whom they gave the leadership of the Duchy of Athens, which had been left empty at the death of the hapless Gautier de Brienne. Deslaur was Catalan, but he also happened to be in the latter's service, and was one of several knights taken captive at the Battle of the Cephissus. But it is unlikely that they did not think themselves capable of exercising command. The command of a knight guaranteed a veneer of respectability and legitimacy. Despite their pronounced dislike of knights, Almogavars often exercised the standard chivalric courtesies of war. Thus we find them offering peace and terms prior to the fateful Battle of the Cephissus, in the manner of gentlemen, a gesture arrogantly rejected by de Brienne. During their expedition to the East, the Almogavars felt it necessary to declare war officially on the Byzantine Empire, a gesture that resulted in the assassination of their envoys. When the time came to fight, however, such civilities disappeared. If the Almogavars were never able to find themselves considered equals by their opponents of the gentry, they could prove themselves to be more than equal on the battlefield.
Both almogatens and adalils usually fought on horseback, though they seem to have preferred to fight on foot with their comrades, despite the great number of fine horses that formed part of their regular plunder. When on foot, they were truly formidable. Muntaner, who had occasion to see Almogavars in action, to command them competently in Asia Minor, and earn their trust and confidence (and consequently receive a generous share of their booty), never loses his sense of wonder: "...ask me not how nor in what fashion; never did people attack more vigorously than they did" (Muntaner, 155). Vigor was in fact combined with tactical cunning, ability to maneuver on high, rough ground and extreme alacrity and agility of movement. They thus became experts at fighting a successful battle; their genius lay in the surprise attack and the ambush. Unencumbered by the ubiquitous heavy plate arms and armor that characterize warfare of the later Middle Ages, the Almogavars excelled in the use of light projectile weapons, such as the azcona, a short, light lance, and they usually carried three or four javelins, which they would fling with enough force to pierce through the best armor of the age. They also carried a coutel or colltell, a long, cruel-looking dagger whose potency was also noted by Muntaner: "And of the Almogavars I can tell you the deed of one called Porcell, who was afterwards of my company in Romania. He gave such a cut with his coutel to a French knight that the greaves with the leg came off in one piece and besides it entered half a palm into the horse's flank" (Muntaner, 463). Against superior weaponry and shielding, they could not afford to miss. A single mistake could be fatal. Thus, they utilized their weapons to their fullest advantage and were constantly refining their technique. In time, Almogavars found that by flinging a javelin at the knight's horse, they could considerably diminish the potency of the knight, who once being flung on the ground by the wounded or dead horse, was rendered virtually helpless in his heavy armor. On the rare occasions when an Almogavar was mounted, he would place the azcona in his stirrup, bracing it with one foot, thus piercing, on the first charge, the chest of his adversary's horse (Swift, 191). At the Battle of Gagliano (Sicily) against the three hundred handpicked French knights ironically calling themselves the Knights of Death, more than a hundred of them fell victim to these tactics. The Almogavars "went about amongst them as if they were walking in a garden" (Muntaner, 458).
Almogavars also made considerable use of psychological warfare. Prior to every battle, they would cry "Desperta ferres!" ("Awake the iron!") and bang their lances and darts against stones, striking great sparks. This strange routine struck terror in the hearts of the enemy. "Ah, God," exclaimed one French warrior at witnessing the Desperta ferres, "What is this? We have met devils! Those who awake iron, it seems, mean to attack..." (Muntaner, 457). In time, it only became necessary for a body of Almogavars to advance into an area for an enemy to capitulate. In an age when the proud knight roundly despised all types of infantry, Almogavars were truly revolutionary. They represented flexibility, agility and precision in an age when impact and weightiness was the aim of massed cavalry charges (Echevarría, 23). They are thus the forerunners of those Flemish pikemen who were to defeat the chivalry of France under the walls of Courtrai in 1302, the English longbowmen whose deadly arrows alike felled the massed French charges at Crécy in 1346 and at Poitiers ten years later.
Tactics ensured the Almogavar's superiority in battle. Logistics (or the lack thereof) ensured their rapid advance over varying terrain. By completely repudiating all heavy baggage and supplies, they maintained their high mobility, living off the country or carrying with them a minimum of nourishment. Such food included a simple loaf of bread, which was supplemented by wild fruits and herbs. Whatever food could be captured or obtained on various expeditions further supplemented this frugal diet. Thus we find the King of Sicily offering the Almogavars who had served him biscuits, cheeses, salted meat, garlic and onions. After sacking the North African city of Alcoll (Collo), both Almogavar and knight in the army of Peter III happily feasted on returning to Sicily. Curiously enough, despite their fierce nature, they always observed religious fasts and abstinence from meat, even when meat was available (Soldevila, 29). This taboo ensured that the Almogavars kept lean, but their avoidance may also suggest some religious feeling. So suggests the practice observed by twenty Almogavars from the Catalan town of Segorbe on Christmas Eve ca. 1287. Lodged in the portico of a church, they provided themselves with cabbages, fish, and fruit, save for one irreverent fellow, who, ignoring the disapproval of his fellow Almogavars, "...took a quarter of a sheep...and put it on the spit" (Muntaner, 411). On his first bite, he was immediately and miraculously struck down and remained so until the day of Epiphany (January 6), until six priests set him straight. Whether a miracle occurred or not is immaterial. What is important to note is the Almogavars' voiced disapproval towards their wayward companion and his own purported feelings of grief.
The story reveals the contradictory nature of the typical Almogavar. Merciless on the battlefield, he could also be reverent and charitable. We find the Almogavars contracted as mercenaries by the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (r.1282-1328), for example, sharing their food with the starving refugees of Constantinople. Disdainful of knights and lords, he could also be scrupulous about chivalric courtesies. Fiercely independent, he was almost childishly attached to the Aragonese crown. This was a phenomenon beginning in the times of James I and enduring in the reign of his son, Peter III, both of whom provided their Almogavars, through their constant campaigning, with ample opportunities for plunder and glory. But it was an attachment that precluded ceremony or docility.
Affection for the crown, however, did not make the Almogavars any less impulsive and violent, especially if they were actively encouraged. Around March 1239, for example, a knight named Guillem d'Alagó (or d'Aguiló) was able to stir up a force of knights, foot soldiers, and Almogavars against the Muslims of James' new conquest of Valencia. James, whose passionate protection of his Muslim subjects is well known, was quite willing to punish those who did them harm. He thus summoned d'Alagó, though he was unable to do much else except deliver him a reprimand.
The question remains whether these were isolated events caused by troublesome knights or characteristic behavior of the Almogavars. The evidence leans heavily towards the latter view. Around 1242, an adalil named Berto Squierdo stabbed a man in James' presence, and ran into the empty tent of one Don Garcia Romeu. "I sprang after him," writes James, "as he was going into the tent, seized him by the hair, and dragged him out" (James, 439). Such individual behavior seems only to have worsened when displayed collectively, with or without the benefit of inflammatory leaders. In 1283, the year in which a French invasion was repulsed by James' son and successor, four thousand Almogavars, angered that others would benefit from the prospective spoils taken from the French, decided to rectify the situation. Soon, the friendly town of Peralada was ablaze, and the Almogavars proceeded to plunder everything.
The Almogavars went away unpunished, for "...the times were such that nothing could be done" (Muntaner, 315). The compelling question remains whether Peter and his predecessor truly wanted their Almogavars punished. James offers us this reason for not being able to punish those Almogavars who had plundered the Muslims under the knight d'Alagó: "I sent for them; they would not come to me, but took flight, and went, some to the King of Castile, some to Aragon, some here and there" (James, 419).
Given the Almogavars' ability to "travel far and wide," it is quite possible that James was simply unable to castigate the culprits, but there is a half-hearted ring to his statement, as if he were excusing himself for his failure. His characteristic vigor disappears; he does not attempt to give them chase, or take any action at all. James, as we have seen, was quite capable of punishing transgressors, even disciplining them himself if he had to, but he was also quite aware of his dependence on the Almogavars.
Muntaner himself, despite the fact that the Almogavars had burned his home in Peralada, had no qualms later in his life about fighting by their side, and subsequently glorifying their deeds. James, in spite of his desire to record only matters which were "great and good" (grans e bons), for fear that his book grow too long, nevertheless finds the space to commend two Almogavars from the Murcian town of Lorca. With characteristic impertinence, they had banged at his gate near midnight, alerting him to the passing of a valuable baggage train guarded by several thousand Muslims.
Neither James nor Peter could afford to alienate the Almogavars, who were truly the backbone of the Aragonese army. Both monarchs recognized their inherent value. Their many martial virtues made them perfect for performing many auxiliary functions. Cunning made them effective spies; vigilance made them alert sentries and guards in watchtowers; swiftness made them perfect escorts and messengers. It is not true that the "military organization of the kingdom did not differ materially from that of any other medieval state" (Chaytor, 121). James and Peter fielded Almogavars precisely because the undeveloped economy of Catalonia-Aragon could scarcely afford the highly costly expense of fielding knights and squires. 1,300 knights and squires seems to be the highest number mentioned on any occasion (Hillgarth, 241). In addition to lacking a large monetary reserve, there existed considerable political limitations that the nobility placed upon the king (which was almost unique in medieval Europe). Who was to lead the military forces and which troops were to be placed under an individual's command were issues decided, for example, by the nobles, not the king.
It is hardly surprising, then, that James I and his son utilized Almogavars, who, as a body of raider-mercenaries, largely paid for themselves, and were consequently unrestricted by feudal punctilios. As the best infantry of the age, they were considered to be the best weapon against the Muslim enemy. Under James I, the Almogavars played an important part in the conquest of the Muslim state of Valencia. The Almogavars helped fulfill the ambitions of James' forefathers with the dramatic expansion of his ancestral realms (Bisson, 67). From 1232 to 1245, James' forces had fought with singular stubbornness to subjugate the prosperous and productive Valencian realm. The important fortresses of Burriana and Peñíscola had fallen in 1233, but operations against the city of Valencia itself did not begin until 1237, when James had a garrison installed at the Puig de Cebolla ("Onion Hill"). In 1238, James would bolster this garrison, hard-pressed by a vigorous Muslim counter-attack, with 200 knights and 1,000 foot. The 150 Almogavars (apparently mounted) accompanying these reinforcements would soon play a critical if not entirely heroic role in the capture of the city by occupying the Ruzafa, a suburb of Valencia. James was obliged to advance to their support. His troops, newly sustained by foreign contingents of crusading knights, were soon battering the walls with the war-engines at their disposal. "[The Muslim envoy] told me," writes James, "that the King of Valencia...had considered the thing, and that he knew that the town could not hold out in the end" (James, 392). Valencia thus surrendered on September 28, 1238. Only the capture of Játiva was needed to essentially complete the annexation of the Valencian realm. The opportunity came six years later when a group of Muslims fell on a body of Almogavars returning from a raid under one Don Rodrigo Liçana. James could not have been happier; the Játivan ruler had broken their accord.
The Almogavars had consequently provided James with an eagerly awaited opportunity for taking Játiva, which subsequently fell into his hands in 1244 after much coercion, diplomatic wrangling, and an attempt at siege. If anything, the Almogavars were perfect for goading both James and the Muslim leaders into attacking. Throughout James' drawn-out Peninsular campaigns of the 1240's, 50's and 60's, one catches glimpses of Almogavars in action: outside the town of Villena with the Commander of the powerful Order of Calatrava, or in the town of Alcocer, where despite the presence of Muslim troops, they brought away much plunder. James relates the pivotal role played by one Almogavar in the capture of the city of Murcia in January 1266: "We were thus formed outside the town, when lo! an Almogavar came and said, `My lord, a gift for my good news!' I said, `What are they?' `Behold! The Moors are coming!' I said to him, `Friend, let us first win the fight, and then I will give you your reward'" (James, 548-9).
In short, Almogavars were present at every strategic juncture of James' contribution to the Spanish Reconquest. By the time of James' death on July 27, 1276, an era had ended. The next year saw the Almogavars completing the pacification of Valencia under his son, but their role as warriors of the Spanish frontier was essentially over. Catalonia-Aragon had reached its fullest extent on the Iberian Peninsula; there was now, with a stretch of Castilian territory lying in the way, no common frontier between it and Islamic Spain (Hillgarth, 10).
With the closing of this chapter of Aragonese history, another one opened: the formation of a Catalan-Aragonese "Empire" in the Mediterranean. Foreign adventures (such as those undertaken in Tunisia) and rivalry between other Christian powers provided a perfect outlet for the dangerously idle Almogavars. It is they who spearheaded the creation of Aragonese supremacy in the Mediterranean. It would be wrong to assume, however, that the Almogavars were utilized as part of some deftly woven grand design. Indeed, the acquisition of Sicily, Sardinia, and Latin Greece can only be described as haphazard or accidental, the combination of unplanned circumstances that resulted in the moving of these areas into a Catalan sphere of influence. The only common bond these areas shared, besides their rather weak ties to the Aragonese crown, were their conquest by the Almogavars.
It would be beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the events that led to the acquisition of these Mediterranean lands. It is important to note, however, the indelible impression produced by these uncultivated and successful fighters upon their inhabitants. In Sicily, the claim of Peter III to its crown (through his wife Costanza, daughter of the Sicilian King Manfred of Hohenstaufen) led to Aragonese involvement in the twenty years of warfare that were sparked on March 30, 1282, by the general uprising against the hated Angevin King of Sicily, Charles I, and all of the French on the island, known as the Sicilian Vespers. The Sicilians, who had received Peter amidst great jubilation, were nevertheless disappointed with the Almogavars that formed part of his expedition: "Ah, God, how we have wasted our joy! And what people are these who go naked and stripped, who wear nothing but a shirt and carry neither adarga [an oval leather shield] nor buckler? We cannot reckon on much succor if all the King of Aragon's followers are like these" (Muntaner, 141).
Remarks such as these did not faze the Almogavars. They immediately attacked the French forces encamped around Messina, killing and plundering more than two thousand men. The skeptical Messinans immediately took heart, reckoning each Almogavar to be worth more than two knights. The Almogavars were to prove their worth more than once in Sicily. The French, despite their consistently frightful casualties, never learned how to counter such potency. They regarded the Almogavars as a curiosity or a rabble to be bought off with silver coins until it was too late. For once, the quality and quantity of the spoils was more than satisfactory to the Almogavars. They could not be paid off. The condescension and ignorance of the French, however, remained. One French prince, fascinated with the captured Almogavar brought into his presence in 1283, remarked: "I know not what goodness may be in thee nor what valour, albeit thy people must surely be wretched and poor and barbarians if they be all like to thee" (Desclot, 104). The Almogavar replied that he would gladly do battle with any of the Prince's knights, an offer that intrigued the prince. The duel was a foregone conclusion. The Almogavar soon had one of the prince's knights at his mercy. After preventing the decapitation of the hapless knight by the Almogavar, the prince set the warrior free. Subsequently, the victorious Almogavar presented himself to Peter III, who gratefully released ten French prisoners.
Unlike the French, the Byzantines would look less naïvely upon Peter's "valiant soldiers." And unlike the French, they were quite aware of the Almogavars' military capability. It is precisely Andronicus II's recruitment of the Almogavars, who had been left ominously inactive in Sicily at the conclusion of peace in 1302, that brought them to Byzantine lands for the purpose of combating the ever-present Turkish menace. Under their leader Roger de Flor, the "Grand Company" proved no less effective against the Turks than against the French, to the point where Andronicus felt threatened by their growing power. Matters soon came to a head over pay, with the murder of the Catalan leaders in a banquet held by Andronicus' heir Michael on April 4, 1305 by no means improving the situation. The Almogavars' vengeance for the death of their leaders was the methodical destruction of the Byzantine Empire (Soldevila, 62).
Not surprisingly, Byzantine opinion became embittered against the amogavaroi ("Almogavars"), who indeed ravaged large parts of the Empire, roving from the Anatolian plains to the heights of the Acropolis. "O that it need not have been!" laments George Pachymeres (d.1310), the Byzantine historian, who despite his show of impartiality in writing about the unpopular Latins, remained very prejudiced against the Catalans (Setton, 3n). His compatriot, Nicephorus Gregoras, wondered whether the depredations of the Almogavars had left intact any of the ancient memorials at Athens and Thebes (Setton, 263). Of the excesses engaged in by the Almogavars (and subsequent Catalan pirates) in Byzantium there can be no doubt. The imprint upon the memories of the Byzantines and their descendants is evidence enough. Well into the nineteenth century, "You're a Catalan" (Katalanos eisai) was a gross insult; old Athenian wives would often answer an injury with the reproach, "What a Catalan!"; and the word Katallán-i came to mean "monster" or "vampire" in one Albanian district (Setton, 247-8).
The death of Peter III in 1285 ushered in a new age, which would be characterized more by internal disputes and foreign wars than the astounding successes made possible by the Almogavars in his reign and that of his father. The always-adaptable Almogavars nevertheless accustomed themselves to this new era. The argument for their complete disappearance in the fourteenth century, once thought to have been caused by the Black Death, which struck their Pyrenean homeland in 1348, has been based upon the scarcity of references to Almogavars in fourteenth century chronicles. The archival work of Maria Teresa Ferrer i Mallol offers us a different picture of the Almogavar in the fourteenth century. Far from fading into obscurity, Almogavars, as mercenaries hiring themselves out to the highest bidder, remained critical players in various theaters: Italy, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and in civil and general wars in the Iberian Peninsula.
With the passing of the Middle Ages and the advent of gunpowder, the
Almogavars gradually disappeared as a distinct group. However, with
characteristic resoluteness, they have remained in the consciousness of
Europeans. Far from being demonized as they have by the Greeks, the Almogavars
have been transformed into democratic and romantic heroes of popular literature
since the late fifteenth century. In 1886, Serafín Estebanez Calderón's
prologue to La Campana de Huesca, the novel by Antonio Cánovas del
Castillo, would declare that the "...deeds of the Almogavars...could
deserve the same honors as those accomplished by the Argonauts, the heroes of
Troy, and the companions of Godfrey of Bouillon" (Cánovas del Castillo,
xiv). Antonio García Gutiérrez's play Venganza Catalana (The Catalan
Vengeance) obtained considerable success in 1864. In it, Roger de Flor acquires
the status of a martyr, his Byzantine wife Maria the role of the tragic lover,
and the Almogavars that of fearsome but guiltless warriors. During their heyday,
the Almogavars were of course far from being irreproachable, but their
contribution to the expansion of the Aragonese realm under James I and Peter III
cannot be disregarded.
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