In a warfare of twenty years a ship or a camp was become their country; arms were their sole profession and property; valour was the only virtue which they knew; their women had imbibed the fearless temper of their lovers and husbands; it was reported that with a stroke of their broad-sword the Catalans could cleave a horseman and a horse; and the report itself was a powerful weapon.
Gibbon (on the Catalans), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter LXII
The Emperor Andronicus II returned to Constantinople with one thought uppermost in his mind: to abrogate the Union of Lyon and to proclaim once again the full independence of the Orthodox Church. Although as co-Emperor he had been obliged to support his father's policies, in his heart he had always hated them. Deeply devout by nature and imbued with the traditional Byzantine passion for theology - his constant preoccupation with ecclesiastical affairs was to be one of his chief weaknesses as a ruler - he could never forget that his father had died under the ban of the Church and was consequently doomed, as he believed, to eternal damnation. He himself was determined not to suffer the same fate; and no sooner was he back in the capital than he made formal recantation of his earlier oaths of loyalty to Rome. The Patriarch John Beccus, who had been the principal champion of unity after the late Emperor himself, was stripped of his office and confined to a monastic cell; meanwhile the former Patriarch Joseph, now an old man in the last stages of decrepitude, was brought back to the Patriarchate on a stretcher and ceremonially reinstalled. Those -monks and laymen alike - whom Michael had imprisoned and mutilated for their faith were paraded through the streets and hailed as martyrs. In St Sophia there was a special service of purification and rededication, just as there had been after the departure of the Latins twenty-one years before.
All too soon, however, the mood of celebration changed to one of anger: calls were heard for revenge, for the trial and conviction of those who had betrayed their Church. Of these, the loudest and most insistent came from a group of schismatics known as the Arsenites. They took their name from the former Patriarch Arsenius who, having excommunicated Michael VIII for his treatment of John Lascaris, had been finally deposed in 1267. Though Arsenius himself had by now been many years in his grave, they had steadfastly refused to recognize his later successors Joseph and John Beccus. Indeed, in the eyes of the more extreme members of the sect, Lascaris was still the rightful Emperor. Michael had been a usurper under the ban of the Church, and his son, having been crowned by Joseph, had no better claim.
Andronicus did his best to placate the Arsenites, giving them a special church in Constantinople and even going so far as to appoint one of them, the Bishop of Sardis, as his personal confessor. When, however, on the death of Patriarch Joseph early in 1283, there was chosen to succeed him a scholarly layman from Cyprus - who took the name of Gregory II - rather than one of their own number as they had expected, Arsenite tempers flared up again; and it was in a further effort to assuage them that Gregory immediately convened a synod in the church of Blachernae. Here two of his fellow-Patriarchs, those of Alexandria and Antioch, were called upon to make formal recantation of their past pro-unionist statements — the latter actually resigned and fled to Syria -while from Michael's widow, the Empress Theodora, was required a profession of her Greek faith and a solemn undertaking that she would never request for her husband a proper Christian burial.
These measures did much to mollify the Orthodox; but they cut little ice with the Arsenites. In 1284 therefore we find the Emperor actually permitting the body of Arsenius, who had died in exile, to be returned to the capital, where it was buried in a specially-constructed shrine in the monastery of St Andrew. Six years later in 1290 he was to make a still more memorable gesture, when he personally paid a visit to the blind John Lascaris, in the prison at Dakibyze on the Marmara where he had languished for the past twenty-nine years. George Pachymeres' account of their interview is tantalizingly short, mentioning only that the Emperor begged John's forgiveness for Michael's ill-treatment of him, inquired whether there was anything he could do to make his life more comfortable, and finally asked for his recognition as the rightful Emperor of Byzantium. Perhaps wisely in the circumstances, Pachymeres does not record the prisoner's reply.
By this time Patriarch Gregory had been tried for heresy and obliged to resign, and after a longish interregnum Andronicus had managed to secure the election of a former hermit from Mount Athos named Athanasius. To the pious Emperor, the new Patriarch's undoubted asceticism seemed just what was needed to divert the Church from the undesirable political issues that had occupied it for so long; to his ecclesiastics, on the other hand, the man was little more than an unwashed fanatic who went about in a hair shirt and sandals and devoted his time to castigating them for their worldliness and wealth. When he began to institute measures to deprive the richer churches and monasteries of their valuables, they made no secret of their hostility: Athanasius was attacked and even occasionally stoned in the street, to the point where he never ventured forth without a bodyguard. In the summer of 1293 the Emperor returned from several months in Asia Minor -where he had been looking into the administration and defences of the rapidly dwindling Byzantine territories - to be met by a delegation of leading churchmen demanding the Patriarch's removal. He resisted it as best he could; but the opposition was too strong, and in October Athanasius resigned in his turn - though not before drawing up a patriarchal bull in his own handwriting, in which he anathematized his enemies and all those who had been involved in the conspiracy against him. This document he characteristically concealed in the capital of a column in the north gallery of St Sophia. It was discovered only some years later - when, it need hardly be said, it caused a considerable commotion.
Meanwhile, the political situation of the Empire was growing ever more desperate. There had admittedly been a bright spot in 1284, when the widowed Emperor* had taken as his second wife the eleven-year-old Yolanda, daughter of William V, Marquis of Montferrat. William still styled himself 'King of Thessalonica', a title that dated back to the Fourth Crusade; this claim he now surrendered to his new son-in-law, ostensibly as part of Yolanda's dowry. It had not been pressed for a number of years, but Andronicus - who in fact had paid him handsomely for it - clearly considered it important that there should be no ambiguity about the position of the second city in the Empire. He knew moreover
1 Andronicus's first wife Anne, the daughter of Stephen V of Hungary, had died in 1281, the year before his accession.
that if by any chance Thessalonica were attacked, he would find it hard indeed to come to its rescue; for he had already decided, in view of the state of the imperial finances, to pare his armed forces to the bone.
Economies were indeed necessary, in the military field as everywhere else; and yet, even with his Asiatic dominions shrinking almost daily, it seems hard to believe that the Emperor could have acted as irresponsibly as he did. The loss of Anatolia had long since deprived Byzantium of its traditional source of manpower; for many years already it had had to rely on foreign mercenaries. Andronicus's mistake was not only to reduce the numbers of these to almost suicidally low levels; it was also to disband the seasoned mercenary regiments, taking on instead motley groups of footloose wanderers and refugees whose comparative cheapness was no substitute for discipline or experience. As for the navy, he abolished it altogether - to the obvious delight of the Genoese, who could now demand a far higher price for their support and could meanwhile devote their energies to developing their own interests in Constantinople, the Black Sea and the Aegean without interference from Byzantium. They benefited too - as did the Turks, who having at last reached the shores of the Mediterranean, had begun to establish a navy of their own and welcomed the expert guidance in shipbuilding and seamanship which they received from the thousands of penniless sailors who now in desperation applied to them for employment.
The Turks were no longer the unified fighting force that they had been during the heyday of the Seljuk Sultanate. The Sultan's defeat by the Mongols at Kosedag in 1243 had effectively put an end to his power in Anatolia; and since Hulagu's capture of Baghdad in 1258 and the consequent destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate, the Seljuks had been no more than Mongol vassals. Meanwhile a number of Turkish tribes -together with countless families of Turkoman nomads from Persia and Mesopotamia - having fled westward before the Mongol advance, had finally settled in the no man's land along the Byzantine frontier; and with the collapse of the Sultanate they had taken to making regular destructive incursions into imperial territory — incursions which the Empire, whose position in Asia Minor had never recovered from the restoration of 1261, was virtually powerless to resist. These raids they soon began to consider - and indeed to justify - as a branch of the traditional Islamic jihad, or Holy War against the infidel; and from there it was but a short step to see themselves as Ghazis, or Warriors for the Faith. All through the second half of the thirteenth century their numbers had steadily increased. By the first years of the fourteenth only a few major strongholds - Nicaea and Nicomedia, Sardis and Brusa, Philadelphia, Lopadium1 and Magnesia - and a few isolated ports like Ania (now Ku§adasi) and Heraclea on the Black Sea still held out; apart from these beleaguered enclaves, all Anatolia had been engulfed in the Turkish tide.
In the West, too, the situation was deteriorating fast. There had been some rejoicing in Constantinople when Charles of Anjou had died in 1285, leaving his throne to his son Charles II, who was at that time a prisoner of Peter of Aragon; but the young King was freed four years later, and soon showed himself just as hostile to Byzantium - and just as dangerous — as his father had been before him. In 1291 - the year of the fall of Acre, the last Crusader Kingdom of Outremer - he proposed an alliance with Nicephorus, Despot of Epirus, to be cemented by the marriage of the latter's daughter Thamar with his own son Philip.2 For once Andronicus was quick to react, sending what was left of his army, supported by the Genoese fleet, to attack the Epirot capital of Arta. The expedition at first proved surprisingly successful,, regaining not only Ioannina but also Durazzo before it was forced to withdraw; but it could not prevent the projected alliance. On Philip's marriage in 1294 he was made overlord of all his father's Greek possessions, with the title of Prince of Taranto. Henceforth Epirus was to be held as a fief of Naples. This second Angevin threat to Constantinople was still no bigger than a man's hand, but it was already unmistakable.
Meanwhile in Serbia a new ruler, Stephen Miliutin, had come to the throne in 1282-3 under the name of Stephen Urosh II, and before the year was out had declared his support for Charles of Anjou, allied himself with Epirus, declared war on the Empire and captured Skoplje, which he made his capital. Here, for Andronicus, was another anxiety. Skoplje was a strategic strong-point on the Axius river, commanding the road south to Thessalonica and northern Greece. Moreover, Miliutin was known to have gone through a form of marriage with a daughter of John Ducas of Thessaly. A Serbian—Thessalian alliance would constitute
1 Now Ulubad.
2 This marriage would have been the more galling for the Emperor in that Thamar had been formerly proposed by her parents as a bride for his son Michael, the later co-Emperor: an arrangement that would have brought Epirus back into the Empire. Alas, the Patriarch had objected to the marriage on canonical grounds and the opportunity had been lost.
3 His reigning elder brother, Stephen Dragutin (Stephen Urosh I), had been injured in that year after a fall from his horse and had decided to divide the Kingdom with Miliutin. Technically the two were co-rulers until Dragutin's death in 1316, but from 1282 Miliutin was effectively in control.
a serious threat not only to Thessalonica itself but to the whole westward route across the Balkan peninsula to the Adriatic.
At length in 1297 Andronicus, all too conscious of his military weakness, decided on a diplomatic solution. Hearing that Miliutin's only legal wife (though he kept two full-time concubines, to say nothing of the Thessalian princess) had recently died, he proposed that she should be replaced by his own sister Eudocia, the widow of John II of Trebizond. To a Serbian ruler the prospect of being brother-in-law to the Emperor of Byzantium was irresistible, and Miliutin accepted with delight; difficulties arose only when Andronicus broached the matter with Eudocia, who would have none of it. If, she objected, her brother thought that she would be prepared to go and live with a lecherous barbarian who had at least one wife already, he was very much mistaken; besides, it was common knowledge that her intended husband was now involved in a torrid relationship with his sister-in-law - who was, incidentally, a nun.
The Emperor knew his sister too well to think that he could persuade her; at the same time he could not lose face with Miliutin. There was only one solution: Simonis, his daughter by Yolanda-Irene. True, she was five years old, and her husband-to-be about forty; none the less, she must be sacrificed. At Easter 1299 he personally escorted Simonis to Thessalonica, where her bridegroom was waiting; and there, in his presence, the wedding took place, the Archbishop of Ochrid officiating. Miliutin, we are told, was enchanted with his bride - particularly since she brought as her dowry all the Macedonian territory that he had already conquered; he agreed, however, that she should remain in the Serbian royal nursery for a few more years, until she was old enough to live with him as his wife. In Constantinople, the Patriarch John XII resigned in protest; but even he could not find anything strictly uncanonical about the marriage, and after a few months' indecision he was finally persuaded to resume his office.
In Constantinople itself, the end of the thirteenth century was a time of unrelieved trouble, the beginning of the fourteenth if anything worse. Michael Palaeologus, for all his unpopularity, had at least been a strong and decisive Emperor; his son, quite apart from his morbid religiosity, was proving himself ever weaker and more feckless, incapable of halting the Empire's accelerating decline. As early as 1292, while he was in Asia Minor, a conspiracy had been discovered, the ringleader of which proved to be his own brother Constantine. The rebel prince was thrown into prison, where he was to remain until his death twelve years later; but the plots continued, and in the autumn of 1295 the Empire's foremost general, Alexius Philanthropenus - hero of the battle of Demetrias twenty years before - emboldened by a series of victories against the Turks, rose in open revolt. It too came to nothing: betrayed by certain of his soldiers, he was captured and blinded. But the Emperor, who had liked and trusted him, had been deeply shaken by his treachery and never entirely regained his nerve.
Moreover, as if Constantinople did not have enough troubles of its own, it had also become one of the principal battlefields on which Genoa and Venice settled their differences. In July 1296 - a few weeks after the column erected by Michael VIII had been ominously toppled by an earthquake - a fleet of seventy-five Venetian ships sailed up to the mouth of the Bosphorus and launched a vicious attack on the Genoese colony at Galata, setting fire to the harbour buildings and warehouses along the shore. The imperial garrison hastened to the rescue, whereupon the Venetians turned their fire on the city itself, burning all the Greek houses within range as they passed by the sea walls along the Marmara. Andronicus immediately sent ambassadors to Venice with a strong protest; but the Genoese of Galata had no time for diplomatic niceties. In December they launched their own counter-attack, destroyed the principal Venetian buildings and massacred all the leading Venetians in the city.
Now it was Venice's turn. The following summer another fleet appeared, bearing a personal dispatch from the Doge. In it he accused the Emperor of having encouraged the Genoese in their behaviour, held him responsible for the damage done and demanded full compensation. Given time, Andronicus would probably have paid up, to prevent any further incident; but before he could do so - and apparently before the great chain could be raised to bar their way - the Venetians swept into the Golden Horn and, dropping anchor beneath the Palace of Blachernae, set fire to one of the Emperor's galleys beached on the shore. They then returned, with a host of Genoese prisoners, to Venice. At about the same time yet another Venetian fleet burst through the Genoese blockade of the Bosphorus and into the Black Sea, where it seized the Crimean port of Caffa - now Feodosia — and held it against furious attack from the local Tartars until, with the coming of winter, it was forced to withdraw.
In 1299, to the fury of the Byzantines, Venice and Genoa signed a separate peace; the Venetians, however, were still insisting on their compensation and in the summer of 1302 raided Constantinople for the third time in seven years. Once again they made their way into the Golden Horn; once again they set fire to such Byzantine buildings as were in range; once again the Emperor, bereft of his navy, was unable to stop them. This time, however, when they had done all the damage they could, they occupied the island of Prinkipo - now Biiyiikada - in the Marmara. It was then being used as a vast refugee camp for Anatolian Greeks rendered homeless by the Turkish advance; and these refugees the Venetians now threatened to massacre or to carry off into slavery if the Emperor did not pay them what he owed. Powerless against such barefaced blackmail, Andronicus gave in - agreeing also to a ten-year treaty by which Venice was confirmed in all her privileges in Constantinople.
The year 1302 was, in many respects, an annus horribilis for Byzantium. In the early spring the Emperor's son Michael IX - he had for the past eight years been co-Emperor with his father - suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Turks near Magnesia1 in Caria. Deserting what was left of his army (most of whom, it is only fair to state, had already slipped away themselves) he narrowly escaped with his life. Next there had been the Venetian raid; and then, only a few weeks later on 27 July, a Byzantine force - largely composed of Alan tribesmen who had fled to the Empire, as the Cumans had done before them, when the Mongols overran the Danube valley - encountered just outside the city of Nicomedia a Turkish army more than twice its size, commanded by a local Ghazi Emir named Othman. The battle that followed was not particularly bloody; most of the retreating Greeks and Alans managed to make their way back into Nicomedia. But Othman's way was now clear, his advance irresistible. He and his men surged southwestward along the southern shore of the Marmara, laying waste virtually the entire province of Bithynia, sweeping through the Troad and continuing until they reached the Aegean coast at Adramyttium. They did not waste time at the great fortified cities of Nicomedia, Nicaea, Brusa and Lopadium; these remained intact, and provided a refuge for much of the local peasantry whose lands had been devastated. Pachymeres paints a tragic -and nowadays all-too-familiar - picture of the scene:
1 Not Magnesia ad Sipylum, the modern town of Manisa near Izmir, but Magnesia on the Meander, some thirty kilometres cast of Kusadasi. Apart from the ruins of the temple to Artemis, little remains today of what was once the seventh city of the Roman Province of Asia.
The road was covered with men and animals, running confusedly hither and thither, like ants. Not a soul was there, in that vast crowd, who did not mourn the loss of at least one of his parents. Here was a woman who wept for her husband, here a mother who grieved for her daughter, here a brother who sought his brother, everywhere men and women bereft of those who were dearest to them. It was pitiful to see among that teeming multitude some who had taken refuge within the walls, some still outside, others dragging behind them the miserable remnants of their lives and possessions. No one, however callous he might be, could listen without tears to the tales of the sickly children, the despairing women, the old and the crippled, strung out along the roads . . . The violence of these horrors can be ascribed to no other cause than the wrath of heaven, their cessation to its mercy.
Such is the first appearance in history of the name of Othman who, having begun his career at the end of the thirteenth century as ruler of one of the smallest of all the Ghazi Emirates of Anatolia, lived to establish that extraordinary dynasty which was to give its name to the Ottoman Empire.
And it was in that same year of 1302 that Andronicus Palaeologus received a communication from Roger de Flor, leader of the Grand Company of Catalans.
The Grand Company was, in essence, a band of professional Spanish mercenaries - most but by no means all of them from Catalonia - who had been recruited in 1281 by King Peter of Aragon for use in his campaigns in North Africa and Sicily. More recently they had been fighting for Peter's son Frederick against his brother, King James of Aragon,1 and Charles II of Anjou; but on 31 August 1302 Frederick and Charles signed a peace treaty at Caltabellotta in Sicily, by which the island's independence was finally recognized; and the Catalans, unable to return to Spain - where King James understandably looked upon them as traitors - had to find new employment for their swords.
Roger de Flor was an adventurer cast in the Guiscard mould - one of those figures, distinctly larger than life, around whom legends tend all too easily to grow up. He is said to have been the son of Richard von der Blume, the outstandingly handsome German falconer of Frederick
1 When King Peter III died in 1285 he was succeeded in Aragon by his eldest son Alfonso and in Sicily by his second son James. On Alfonso's death in 1291 James also took over the throne of Aragon, but under pressure from the Pope agreed to cede Sicily to Charles II in exchange for Corsica and Sardinia; the Sicilians, however, refused outright to return to Angevin rule and invited a third brother, Frederick, to be their King.
II, who after the Emperor's death had given faithful service both to his son Manfred and his grandson Conradin. Richard, however, had been killed in 1268 at Tagliacozzo,1 after which the victorious Charles of Anjou had not only had Conradin beheaded but had confiscated the possessions of all who had supported him; and Richard's widow had been left destitute in Palermo. Somehow she found a ship to take her and her two young sons to Brindisi, where - so the story goes - their hunger was such that she fainted outside a brothel. The girls took her in and fed her; and soon afterwards - perhaps as much out of gratitude as anything else - she joined the staff.
Of the elder of her sons we know nothing; the younger, though still only eight years old, managed to get himself taken on the strength of a Templar galley. When we next hear of him in 1291, after nearly twenty years' sailing the Mediterranean and fighting the Barbary pirates, he had latinized his name from Rutger von der Blume to Roger de Flor and was master of a ship of his own, named - appropriately enough - the Falcon. In that year, however, the city of Acre - the last bastion of the Crusader states of Outremer - faced its final siege by the Mamelukes.2 Roger, as a Serving Brother of the Temple, at first fought valiantly in its defence; then, when he saw the situation to be hopeless, he returned to his ship -to find himself surrounded by a crowd of panic-stricken women and children, all desperate to escape the unsavoury fate that awaited them were they to fall into infidel hands. To them Roger represented last-minute salvation; but with so many clamouring to be taken on board he could afford to be selective. He accepted only those who had managed to bring their gold and jewels with them; and even then he drove a hard bargain. The Falcon was quickly filled to capacity; by the time its captain had landed his passengers in Cyprus and set sail for his home port of Marseille he was a rich man.
Retribution, however, quickly followed. When news of his conduct reached the Grand Master of the Temple, Roger was expelled from the Order and denounced to Pope Boniface VIII as a thief and an apostate. Fleeing by land to Genoa, he persuaded the Doria family to fit him out with a new vessel, the Olivetta, and embarked on a career of out-and-out
1See p. 225.
2The Mamelukes were a dynasty of Sultans that reigned over Egypt and Syria from the middle of the thirteenth to the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. Originally the Turkish slave bodyguard of the last Ayoubid Sultan in Cairo, they murdered him in 1250 and seized control; ten years later, their leader Baibars defeated the invading Mongols under Hulagu at Ain Jalut near Nazareth, and extended their rule over Palestine and Syria.
piracy - which, in the space of the next few years, was to multiply his wealth many times over. Only then did he offer his services to Frederick of Sicily, who immediately appointed him admiral. Roger soon proved as courageous a fighter on land as at sea, and quickly acquired a loyal following. So the Catalan Company was born.
Such was the man who, towards the end of 1302, sent two envoys to Andronicus Palaeologus, offering his Company's services for nine months. Despite the obvious advantages of such an engagement to him personally - putting him as it did effectively out of reach of both the Templars and the Pope, neither of whom had forgotten his treachery - he demanded, as usual, a high price. His men were to be given four months' wages in advance, at double the rate normally payable by the Empire to its mercenaries; he himself was to be granted the rank of megas dux -at that time fifth in the whole hierarchy of Byzantium - and to receive the hand in marriage of the Emperor's niece Maria, the daughter of his sister Irene and her husband, John III Asen of Bulgaria. To his chief of staff, Corberan d'Alet, would go the title of Seneschal of the Empire.
Andronicus, knowing full well that he had his back to the wall, accepted these conditions without demur; and in September 1302 a fleet of thirty-nine galleys and transports sailed into the Golden Horn, carrying not only some two and a half thousand fighting men - more than half of them cavalry — but also (to the Emperor's mild consternation) their wives, mistresses and children: a total of some six and a half thousand. Shortly afterwards, with full Byzantine ceremony, Roger married his bride in Constantinople; his men, however, behaved with less decorum. Fighting broke out between them and the local Genoese; and on the wedding night itself - if the Spanish chroniclers are to be believed - Roger was obliged to leave the bed of his sixteen-year-old bride to restore order in the streets. An estimate from the same source of three thousand Genoese dead is clearly an exaggeration; but enough damage had been done for the Emperor to insist on the Catalans' early departure from the capital. A few days later the entire Company, together with its womenfolk, crossed the Marmara to Cyzicus, at that very moment under siege by the Turks.
Now at last the Catalans proved their worth. Thanks to them, by the spring of 1303 the Turkish army was everywhere in retreat. On the other hand, Andronicus began to realize that he had unleashed forces which he could not begin to control. Hitherto all imperial mercenaries had been under Greek command, subject to the orders of the Emperor or one of his generals. The Catalans, by contrast, showed scant respect for their Byzantine employers. They took their own decisions and followed their own battle-plans; when there was any plunder to be taken, they kept it for themselves. Moreover their overbearing arrogance caused constant disaffection among their allies, and it was not long before the five hundred Alan mercenaries who were theoretically fighting at their side discovered that every Catalan was receiving double pay. The result was mutiny, followed by mass desertions; and by the time the Catalans reached the headquarters of the co-Emperor Michael IX at Pegae they had aroused such hostility among the Greeks that he closed the gates against them. But for Pegae they cared little; their eyes were on Philadelphia.
Philadelphia - now the relatively insignificant town of Alasehir, but then an important frontier city and military base - was also under siege, not by the Ottoman Turks but by another tribe, the Karamans, who were at that time and in that area more powerful still. After their arrival the Catalans lost no time. Despite a forced march of some 120 miles, they attacked at dawn on the following day. The Turks fought hard, but their arrows had next to no effect on the mail-clad Europeans. By noon, according to the Spanish chroniclers, some eighteen thousand of them lay dead on the field; the remainder, including the Emir himself, had fled. For Roger de Flor this was the perfect opportunity to follow up his victory. By pursuing his enemy, driving deep into Karaman territory, he might have inflicted upon the Emir a still more decisive defeat and opened the way for the Byzantine reconquest of Anatolia; but he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he led his men back to the coast to make contact with his fleet - which, he was pleased to discover, had filled in the time by occupying Chios, Lemnos and Lesbos.
In less than two years the former pirate had become a member of the imperial family, had scored decisive victories over both the Ottoman and the Karaman Turks and had secured much of south-western Asia Minor. After such triumphs there was little thought in his mind - if indeed there ever had been - of fighting selflessly for Byzantium. He was of course delighted to go on taking the Emperor's money; but the experience of the past few months had awoken new hopes - hopes of an independent Kingdom of his own in Anatolia where the country was fertile, the climate as benign as anywhere on earth, the only enemies weak and disunited. Henceforth, wherever he went, he exerted absolute authority — even going so far as to punish (if necessary by death) any Byzantines, civil, military or monastic, who offended him.
At the beginning of 1304 Roger de Flor embarked on an ambitious expedition to the East. Why he did so is not altogether clear, since he must have known full well that he would thus be allowing both the Ottomans and the Karamans to regroup and rearm as best they might; but he and his Company set out in the early spring, and by the middle of August they had reached the 'Iron Gates' of the Taurus. A pass so narrow that the pack-mules had to be unloaded before they could be taken through it in single file, there could have been no more perfect place for an ambush; and Roger wisely decided to send out mounted scouts to reconnoitre. It was as well for him that he did, for there indeed a Turkish army lay waiting for him. Another desperate battle followed; once again the Catalans carried all before them. There, however, they halted. Several of Roger's junior commanders urged a further advance, across the Euphrates into Syria; but their leader would have none of it and gave the order to return.
Why did he do so? According to the chronicler Ramon Muntaner — who was with him on the campaign - messengers had arrived from the Emperor, recalling him to the West. By now Roger de Flor had long passed the stage at which imperial orders were to be unquestioningly obeyed. What concerned him was the fact that the expedition was taking him further and further out of touch: if there were a crisis in Constantinople, he must be in a position to take advantage of it. Besides, he had left vast quantities of treasure at Magnesia and was beginning to worry about its safety. And what about pay, for himself and his men? Despite their behaviour and their overbearing attitude to the Byzantines, they were still technically mercenaries and the Emperor now owed them nearly a year's wages. Finally, unprincipled adventurer as he was, Roger never liked unnecessary risks: again and again during this period of his career we find him taking the side of caution, restraining his more impulsive followers from their daredevil plans. On the high Anatolian plateau across which they would have to march, he explained, the onset of winter was only a few weeks away. They must retrace their steps while it was still safe to do so.
And so they did - but only to find that in their absence a Greek knight named Attaliotes had seized Magnesia, and with it all their accumulated treasure. At once they put the town under siege; but before it could be taken another, more urgent message reached them from the Emperor: that Theodore Svetoslav, the usurper who had driven the Mongols from Bulgaria and united most of it - including the Byzantine ports on the Black Sea - under his rule, had invaded Thrace and was already threatening Constantinople. Alone, Andronicus could do nothing; only with Catalan assistance could he hope to save his capital. Here was an appeal that could not be ignored: Roger immediately saw that Theodore presented a dangerous new complication, and that if not effectively dealt with he might prove a grave obstacle to his own long-term plans. Magnesia — which was stoutly defended — must be left till later. Marching through the Troad to the Hellespont, he led his men across the straits and pitched his camp in Gallipoli.
At this point the precise chronology becomes uncertain: Greek and Spanish sources give conflicting - and extremely one-sided - accounts of what took place, and it is impossible to reconcile them altogether. It seems, however, that some time during the winter of1304—5 word came from the co-Emperor Michael that the services of Roger de Flor and his men would not after all be necessary; and soon afterwards Roger learned that Michael had promulgated an edict to the Byzantine forces that the Grand Duke was no longer to be obeyed. No explanation was offered, no indication of how the Bulgar crisis had been settled so suddenly and with such apparent ease. Could it have been - one cannot help wondering - that there had in fact been no Bulgar crisis at all, that the whole thing had been nothing more than a fabrication designed to bring Roger and his men back from the East to where the Byzantines could keep a proper eye on them?
However that may be, it was fortunate for Roger de Flor that he should have been within reach of Constantinople when, early in 1305, a fleet of nine Spanish galleys appeared in the Golden Horn, commanded by a certain Berenguer d'Entenca, an old comrade-in-arms from the Sicilian campaign whom James II of Aragon had now appointed his special envoy to the Emperor. The purpose of Berenguer's visit, apart from the bringing of reinforcements - which had not been asked for, though they were none the less welcome for that - remains something of a mystery: the rumour, assiduously spread by the Genoese, that he was connected with a secret conspiracy to restore the Latin Empire was not to be borne out by subsequent events, while Gregoras's claim that he had been invited by Andronicus in the hopes of playing him off against Roger seems little short of absurd. At all events the envoy was received with every honour and was soon afterwards himself awarded the title of megas dux, Roger being simultaneously promoted to the rank of Caesar.
This latter honour was admittedly in some degree deserved: the Catalan Company had fought at least three decisive battles against the Turks in Anatolia, to say nothing of innumerable minor skirmishes from which they had almost always emerged victorious. But it was also intended as a palliative. Michael doubtless realized that his action at the time of the Bulgar scare had antagonized Roger both dangerously and unnecessarily. Moreover the Company had by now been a full year without pay, and its two commanders, in their heated negotiations with the Emperor, were adopting an increasingly threatening tone. Unfortunately there was little - as usual - that Andronicus could do. The imperial coffers were empty. Recently he had been obliged to debase the coinage yet again: the gold content of the hyperpyron - the name, ironically enough, meant 'highly refined' - was now down to less than twenty per cent, and Roger angrily refused to be fobbed off with what he understandably described as base metal. Berenguer d'Entenga showed his indignation more forcibly still: he returned the gold and silver dinner service on which his meals had been provided - although, if Pachymeres is to be believed, not before he had put them to the most ignoble uses -boarded his flagship and set sail for the Company's camp at Gallipoli. As he left Blachernae, he ostentatiously hurled his ducal regalia overboard in full sight of the palace.
At last agreement was reached - though only after Andronicus had granted Roger's demand for the whole of Byzantine Anatolia in fief; and in the spring of 1305 the Catalans began their return to Asia. Before leaving for his new domains, however, Roger decided to make a formal visit to Michael IX, whom he had never met and who was then at Adrianople. The co-Emperor, he knew, had no love for himself and his men, whom he mistrusted even more than did his father; Roger's real purpose may well have been to try to improve relations between them, or at least to reach some sort of understanding - as he had so signally failed to achieve with Andronicus.1 His pregnant wife Maria and her mother both implored him not to venture among his openly avowed enemies, but he ignored them both and on 23 March 1305 set off, with an escort of three hundred cavalry and a thousand infantry, for Michael's headquarters.
Roger was received in Adrianople with full honours and remained there over a week - a clear enough sign, surely, that he saw this as something more than a courtesy visit. Was Michael deliberately playing
1 Of the several theories that have been put forward as to Roger's real reason for his visit to Michael IX, the most interesting is that of Alfonso Lowe, in The Catalan Vengeance, who speculates that he was deliberately lured to his death by Andronicus and Michael together, on the pretext of discussing the elimination of Theodore Svetoslav and his replacement by the rightful ruler of Bulgaria, Roger's own brother-in-law. But it is only speculation; we shall never know.
for time, so as to summon enough reinforcements to deal with the Catalans as necessary? Perhaps he was. All we can say for certain is that on 5 April, the eve of his departure for Gallipoli, Roger de Flor was assassinated. Pachymeres - who was over a hundred miles away in Constantinople - identifies the assassin as George Gircon, the Alan chieftain whose son had been killed by the Catalans at Cyzicus and who had long nurtured a particular hatred for their leader; he goes on to report that the murder took place on the threshold of the private apartments of the co-Empress, Rita-Maria of Armenia, though precisely what Roger was doing there he does not explain. Western sources on the other hand - which may in the circumstances be more reliable - while also attributing the crime to Gircon, claim that the scene was a farewell banquet, given by Michael in his honour. Towards the end of the feast the latter withdrew according to normal custom, leaving his guests to continue their drinking at their leisure; then, suddenly, the doors were flung open and a fully-armed company of Alan mercenaries burst into the hall. The Catalans - surrounded, outnumbered and almost certainly drunk - stood no chance. Roger was killed with the rest.
No longer was there any question of an alliance between the Greeks and the Catalan Company. Henceforth it was open war.
As soon as the news reached the Catalan camp at Gallipoli, the move to Asia stopped; those who had already crossed the straits were summoned back, and the peninsula on which the town stood was declared Spanish territory. The Company then drove across Thrace taking, as it marched, a terrible vengeance. It had of course been seriously depleted at Adrianople; but an active programme of recruitment had attracted companies of Turks and Bulgars and before long it was as numerous as ever. Michael IX, now seriously alarmed by a turn of events for which he had been at least partially responsible, did his utmost to halt its advance; but his army was smashed by the Catalans near the castle of Aprus near Rhaedestum (Tekirdag) and he himself, after fighting with conspicuous courage, narrowly escaped with his life.
The province of Thrace, lying as it did across the direct road to Constantinople from the West, had suffered much hardship over the centuries. It had been ravaged by Avars and Huns, by Gepids and Bulgars, by Scythians and Slavs and Christian Crusaders. But the Catalans were the worst. So savage were their massacres, so unspeakable their atrocities, that it sometimes seemed as though they were determined to leave no single Thracian alive. Farms and villages - sometimes whole towns were abandoned, as thousands of panic-stricken refugees streamed into Constantinople, leaving their cornfields ablaze behind them. Adrianople and Didymotichum remained impregnable, but their garrisons no longer dared to take any initiative. Once one of the richest and most fertile territories of the Byzantine Empire, Thrace was now a desert.
But deserts are little more rewarding to their conquerors than to their inhabitants, and in the summer of 1308 the Catalans turned west towards Thessalonica. They failed to capture the city, but they destroyed several smaller towns and plundered and pillaged the monasteries of Mount Athos before descending first into Thessaly and then, in 1310, yet further south into Boeotia where they took service with Walter of Brienne, the French Duke of Athens and Thebes. Walter had long had his eye on Thessaly, and with Catalan help he effortlessly brought the young and ailing John II Ducas1 to his knees. Before long, however, Walter discovered in his turn that the Catalans were dangerous employees, easier to hire than to dismiss. On 15 March 1311 they annihilated his army on the banks of the Cephissus river; he himself was killed, together with most of his knights. The victors then advanced to Athens, where they set up their own Duchy. It was to last another seventy-seven years.
And so the Catalans pass out of our story. In less than a single decade they had inflicted almost as much damage on the Byzantine Empire as the Turks had done in a century. And they had been paid by the Emperor to do it. In order to find their wages, Andronicus Palaeologus had been obliged to debase his coinage and to impose still heavier taxes on his already desperate subjects. The damage they had done in Thrace was to take generations to repair; the flood of refugees they had driven from their homes was to create near-famine in Constantinople. Had they kept to the terms of their agreement with Andronicus, concentrating on pushing back the Turks and renouncing all territorial ambitions for themselves, they might have turned back the Islamic tide and the whole future history of the Levant might have been changed. Alas, they did not; instead, almost exacdy a century after the Fourth Crusade, they dealt the Empire that they had come to save yet another paralysing blow, from which it would not recover.
1 Grandson of John I Ducas through his son Constantino.