Post-classical history

Catalan Company

A company of professional soldiers that established an autonomous state in central Greece after overthrowing the duke of Athens in 1311.

The so-called Catalan Company was founded in Sicily in 1302 by Roger de Flor, a renegade Templar, corsair, and warlord who had fought in the service of Frederick II, the Aragonese king of Sicily (1296-1357). Its members were recruited in Sicily from among the participants in the war against the kingdom of Naples. It was hired in 1303 by Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos of Byzantium to fight against the Turks in Asia Minor. The assassination of its chief in April 1305 pitched the company against the Byzantine Empire. It seized the town of Gallipoli (mod. Gelibolu, Turkey) in Thrace, and in the following six years it moved westward in stages through Byzantine territory. Although the company displayed an allegiance toward the kings of Aragon or Sicily, it maintained its stand as an independent and sovereign body. In the spring of 1311, it vanquished Walter I of Brienne, the Frankish duke of Athens, at the battle of Halmyros in Thessaly and took over his territory. The state founded by the Catalan Company maintained its existence for some seventy years.

Several of the company’s features during its six-year-long odyssey had a decisive impact upon the shaping of the Catalan state in the duchy of Athens. Soon after the conquest the company established municipal institutions based on the customs of Barcelona and Catalonia and a central council composed of the representatives of the communes, which dealt with important matters of policy and enacted laws. It used the Catalan language in its documents. All of this constituted a definite break with the political regime that had existed prior to 1311, when cities were governed by the duke’s officials.

External pressure compelled the company to submit to the Aragonese king Frederick II of Sicily in 1312. It nevertheless maintained its existence as an autonomous corporation under ducal sovereignty throughout the existence of the Catalan state. Effective royal rule began in 1317 with the arrival of the king’s son Alfonso Fadrique, the first duke appointed by the kings of Sicily. His successors were all members of the Aragonese dynasty of Sicily until King Peter IV of Aragon gained the ducal throne between 1377 and 1379. In 1318 or 1319 Alfonso Fadrique conquered and annexed the southern part of the Byzantine state of Thessaly, known thereafter as the duchy of Neopatras. In this territory he exercised direct rule on behalf of his father, without any participation of the company. Its regime thus differed markedly from that of the duchy of Athens, although communes were also established in some of its cities. However, Alfonso Fadrique, who allied himself with the Turks of Asia Minor, failed to conquer the island of Negroponte (Euboia). Venice put an end to Catalan expansion in 1331.

The settlement of noblemen from Catalonia, Aragon, and Sicily from 1317 resulted in the introduction of feudal structures in the Catalan duchies. The challenge of the noblemen to the authority of the ducal governors and the rivalry among themselves created a state of almost permanent crisis from the 1350s, which led to an armed struggle in the 1360s. Ducal power was seriously restricted in the years 1373-1378 by a new conflict between factions of noblemen and prelates, supported by the communes; the duchies were disintegrating. In 1379 the municipal councils jointly appealed to King Peter IV of Aragon to rule over the duchies, but Thebes was occupied by the Navarrese Companies in that year, and other cities shortly afterward.

Soon after conquering the duchy of Athens in 1311, the company devised a series of legal measures in order to maintain its own political ascendancy and enforce social and legal segregation between Latins and the local Greeks of the Orthodox faith. Religious affiliation became a criterion of basic social status and a convenient means of social identification, whether individual or collective. The company established legal barriers that prevented the upward social mobility of the Greeks, and this restrictive legislation was extended to the duchy of Neopatras after its conquest in 1318 or 1319. Greeks were barred from marrying Latin women and acquiring various types of real estate, unless they obtained official authorization. Between 1362 and 1380, the dukes granted wide privileges ensuring full social integration among the Franks to a small number of high-ranking Greeks.

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