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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

The external policy of Byzantium during the reigns of the Andronicoi 


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The Spanish (Catalan) companies in the East. Andronicus could not master the situation without foreign aid, and he got such aid from the Spanish mercenary bands, the so-called Catalan companies, or almughavars. Mercenary bands of various nationalities, under the name of companies, which lived only for war and would fight for pay for anyone against anyone, were very well known in the latter half of the Middle Ages. The Catalan companies, which consisted not only of Catalans, but also of the inhabitants of Aragon, Navarre, the island of Majorca, and other places, fought as mercenaries on the side of Peter of Aragon during the war which burst out after the Sicilian Vespers. When at the very beginning of the fourteenth century a peace was concluded between Sicily and Naples, the Catalans were out of work. Such allies, accustomed to war, pillage, and violence, became in time of peace dangerous to those who had invited them, and who now tried to get rid of them. Moreover, the companies themselves, finding no satisfaction in peaceful living conditions, sought new opportunities for activity. The Catalans chose for leader Roger de Flor, a German by origin, whose father's surname, Blum (i.e. a flower), was translated into Spanish as Flor.

With the consent of his companions Roger, who spoke Greek fluently, offered his services to Andronicus II for his struggle with the Seljuq and Ottoman Turks and extorted from the hard pressed Emperor unheard-of conditions: the insolent adventurer demanded the consent of Andronicus to his marriage with the Emperor's niece, the granting of the title of megadukas (admiral), and a large sum of money for his company. Andronicus was compelled to yield, and the Spanish companies took ship and sailed for Constantinople.

The participation of the Spaniards in the destinies of Byzantium is narrated in detail both in the Spanish (Catalan) sources and in the Greek. But while a participant of the expedition, the Catalan chronicler Muntaner described Roger and his companions as courageous and noble fighters for a right cause, a credit to their country, Greek historians consider the Catalans pillagers and insolent ruffians, and one of them exclaimed: Would that Constantinople had never seen the Latin Roger! Historians of the nineteenth century devoted much attention to the Catalan expedition. A Spanish investigator of the problem compared their deeds with those of the famous Spanish conquerors of Mexico and Peru in the sixteenth century, Cortez and Pizarro; he does not know what other people may plume themselves on such a historical event as our glorious expedition to the East, and he considered the expedition an eternal testimony to the glory of the Spanish race. The German historian Hopf declared that the Catalan expedition is the most attractive episode in the history of the Empire of the Palaeologi, especially on account of its dramatic interest. Finlay wrote that the Catalans guided by a sovereign like Leo III or like Basil II, might have conquered the Seljuq Turks, strangled the Ottoman power in its cradle, and carried the double-headed eagle of Byzantium victorious to the foot of Mount Taurus and to the banks of the Danube. Elsewhere the same historian remarked: The expedition of the Catalans in the East is a wonderful instance of the success which sometimes attends a career of rapacity and crime, in opposition to all the ordinary maxims of human prudence. The Spanish archives still afford much new information on this expedition.

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