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Thread: The brutal and bloody Almogavar warriors

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    Default The brutal and bloody Almogavar warriors

    Almogavar is the name of a class of soldier from many Christian Iberian kingdoms during the 13th and 14th centuries. Almogavars were lightly clad, quick-moving frontiersmen and foot-soldiers. They hailed from Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia, Castile and Portugal. At first these troops were formed by farmers and shepherds originating from the countryside, woods and frontier mountain areas. Later, they were much employed as mercenaries in Italy, Latin Greece and the Levant.[1]



    Origin

    Because of the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula, the wars of the Reconquista and the military campaigns of Al Andalus, the Christian shepherds of the Pyrenean valleys were left unable to use the valleys in winter because they had been occupied. In order to continue to survive, these shepherds had to organize themselves into bands of outlaws and penetrate the enemy domain in search of what their people needed to survive. During these raids, which usually lasted only a few days, the Almogavars could live off the land and sleep in the open. The knowledge required to be able to perform in this struggle was bestowed upon them from their former life as shepherds, since the majority of them had grown up among the wildest mountains, where the harshness of the climate made it so that the land did not provide many resources and they had to take full advantage of the few that were present.

    But after many generations of leading this new kind of life that they had been pushed into by the invaders, it seems clear that a genuine warrior spirit formed in these shepherd communities, so that they ended up not knowing how to live by any other means than making war. In addition, it was much easier to make a living through attacks lasting a few days than by working hard for the whole year. This way of life went on being adopted by the inhabitants of the areas that bordered the Muslim territories as the Christian kingdoms advanced toward the south.



    Description



    "These people who are called Almogavars live for nothing more than the profession of arms. They don't live in the cities or the villages, but rather in the mountains and forests, and fight every day against the Saracens: and enter the Saracens' land for a day or two, pillaging and taking Saracens captive; and that is how they live. And they endure harsh living conditions which others could not endure. They could well spend two days without eating if necessary, eating herbs of the fields with no problem. And the adalids (leaders) who lead them know the country and roads. And they do not wear more than a tunic or shirt, be it summer or winter, and they wear leather breeches on their legs and leather sandals on their feet. And they wear a good knife and a good shoulder strap and a flint steel in their belt. And they each carry a good lance and two spears, as well as a leather shoulder bag, where they carry their food. And they are very strong and very quick, for escape and for pursuit, and they are Catalans and Aragonese and Serranos."




    Historic military signifiance

    The Almogavars were considered one of the best infantries of their era. In an age where the cavalry was the favored weapon of armies and where the model of the chivalric ideal was a continuing myth, the Almogavars used the terrain to their advantage, fought at night and always went on foot without wearing armor, which gave them great mobility.

    They usually fought in small, autonomous groups of five to fifteen men, when they were carrying out border incursions, since they counted on surprise. In times of open warfare, the groups were made more numerous and we find mention of twenty or thirty comrades per group. Also, very rarely, some Almogavars participated in corsary operations.

    It also must be emphasized that they were not exactly an army, but formed a very hard way of life, and they did not usually have any job: they took everything from their raids, so that in times of peace, they were a great nuisance for any leader. The primary activity of these groups was to carry out small raids in enemy territory with the objective of taking livestock and capitves and then selling them. In times of war, these activities were encouraged by the kings and local nobles, who gave up the King's fifth of the booty obtained. They were born during the violence of the frontier between the Islamic and the Christian world, and actually were often the cause of the frontier tensions. The frontier with the Saracen, not very attractive for people who wished for a life of quiet work, was a refuge for adventurers, of people who enjoyed living with risks and who lived by the fist and by looting enemy territory. During the wars, the joined the army, most of the time without a salary, but in exchange for rights on the loot, and being fed.




    Almogavars in the Crown of Aragon


    Reconquista

    The Aragonese, Catalan, and later, Valencian Almogavars played an important role in the advance of the Crown of Aragon against the Islamic States, participating moreover in countless raids, in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), in the crusade against Majorca (1229-1232) and in the conquest of Valencia (1233-1245). In 1232, Almogovar armies took the strategic enclaves of Ares and Morella, opening the doors to the conquest of Valencia.




    War in Sicily against Frenchs


    On 30 March 1282, Peter III of Aragon waged war on Charles of Anjou after the Sicilian Vespers for the possession of Naples and Sicily. The Almogavars formed the most effective element of his army. Their discipline, ferocity and the force with which they hurled their javelins made them formidable against heavy cavalry of the Angevin armies. They fought against cavalry by attacking the enemies' horses instead of the knights themselves. Once a knight was on the ground he was an easy victim of an Almogavar.





    Catalan Company in Anatolia and Thrace



    In 1302, the Peace of Caltabellotta ended the war in southern Italy. 4,000 Almogavars, under the leadership of Roger de Flor ("Roger Blum", a former Knight Templar), formed the Catalan Company in the service of the emperor of the East, Andronicus II Palaeologus. This company was organized to fight against the Turks, defending the Byzantine empire. Both kings of Aragon and Sicily agreed with this strategy as a viable alternative to having the Almogavar standing army unemployed in their realms.

    The Almogavar campaign in Asia Minor took place in 1303 and 1304, and began with a series of great military victories, reaching the Cilician Gates and cornered Turks to the interior Anatolia. When the Almogavars insisted in receiving the agreed payment, the Byzantine Emperor refused. In 1305, Roger de Flor and his lieutenants were assassinated by orders of the Emperor while meeting to discuss terms on their compensation. This assassination was presumably on the instigation of Genoese merchants, who were conspiring to keep their own position of influence and power.

    This betrayal resulted in the surviving Almogavars, who resisted for two years a siege in Gallipolli and concentrated on the region of Thrace, leading off the Catalan Revenge, a war of extermination and systematic looting against the civilian population of the Byzantine Empire between 1305 and 1307 in revenge and retaliation for the murder of Roger de Flor and the attempted annihilation of the Company while it was stationed at Gallipolli.






    Conquest of Athens


    After a period of internal conflict, the Company moved to Greece where was hired by the Duke of Athens, who didn't pay what they agreed to, so the Almogavars marched against the Duchy of Athens, under the rule of the French House of Brienne. In March 1310, Duke Walter V of Brienne and all his knights were defeated and slain by the Almogavars at the Battle of the Cephissus, or Orchomenus in Boeotia. They then divided the wives and possessions of the Frenchmen by lot, and summoned a prince of the house of Aragon to rule over them.

    The culminating achievement of the Almogavars was the foundation of Aragonese rule over the duchy of Athens. Although the duchy eventually fell, even today the King of Spain still holds the title of 'Duke of Athens and Neopatria'.




    Almogavars in the Crown of Castile





    Conquest of Cordoba



    "They arrived in Cordoba on the night of December 23, 1235, with great daring and skill stealth mounted a scale, climbering disguised as Moors seizing the nowadays called Colodro Door. The first to climb the wall was Álvaro Colodro, then following his comrades. Such was the success achieved, other towers that reached up to the Martos door, stayed Ajarquía conquered, until June 29, 1236 Córdoba surrenders to Ferdinand III."


    Argote de Molina

    Border of Granada

    Almogavars had a relevant presence of the border of Granada, where their ranks were make up of neighbors of the border localities and adventurers looking for booty in the kingdom of Granada. Other times, the reason leading them to became Almogavars was the revenge. The brutal raids of Benimerines and Zenetes coming from North Africa, which did affect especially the Western area of the border, caused the destruction of entire towns and the enslavery of its inhabitants, which lead the survivors, without hope and with their lives broken, to join Almogavar groups commanded by Almocadenes, turning their new life into a continuous revenge feeling. This was the case of many of the neighbors of Vejer, Alcala de los Gazules, Medina-Sidonia and Lebrija, whom after an attack in 1293 where the North Africans kidnapped over 200 captives to sell them as slaves, enlisted on the Almogavar ranks.

    Besides the looting, were engaged in other activities. When were detected groups of bandits from Granada going into in Christian territory, Almogavars hide in the roads used by them or in the sources where they provided with water, in order to surprise them as they passed by these places. This activity was very grateful and rewarded by municipalities across the border, such as Murcia or Orihuela.

    When Almogavars deployed throughout the border, it was very difficult for any potential enemy to pass unless it was a large contingent of troops or someone who knew the area very well and passed through nights and fields. In April 1309, when the war between Castile and Granada had already begun and before the Crown of Aragon also declared war on Granada, the roads of the kingdom of Murcia were so full of Almogavares that Pedro López de Ayala, who ruled the kingdom, advised against the move of the ambassadors of the king of Granada whom returned from the court of James II, saying that would be captured for sure, even if they had a guide.

    Almogavars also used to work for the intelligence services and surveillance, which depended on the municipalities or the royal officers, and were vital to the defense of the border with the Saracens. The surveillance of the border was based on two fixed networks lookouts in the mountains with good visibility, in the administration of Orihuela and another in Valencia procurement "beyond the Júcar" on the former border of kingdom of Valencia, i.e., in the area close to the line Busot - Biar. The mission of the Almogavar scouts was to observe possible entries of enemies and warn of this fact by smoke signals during the day and fire by night, these signals were transmitted from surveillance to another, so that, after a little while the whole country could be warned. Other monitoring points were located on the main roads, where the mission of standing guard was to avoid the numerous robberies that occurred against walkers, also in the mountain passes, fords rivers, especially the Cańaveral del Segura ford, near Cieza, where they used to cross the river the guerrilla's or armies.

    Sometimes municipalities required services of Almogavars to track Grenadian robbers, that they knew well how to spot because they knew how in order to be quiet when they entered a Christian land, used to replace iron horseshoes for esparto horseshoes, which left some footprints and often unique pieces of this clothing material.

    Free activities of Almogavars originated numerous diplomatic conflicts with Granada, because they used to not respect the peace signed. Valencian Almogavars were also a source of friction with the Crown of Castile, either because often the Grenadines reprisals after a raid of Valencian Almogavars, exercised against Murcian border populations, either because Almogavars from Valencia or Murcia had caused damage to the neighboring territory.



    Almogavars in Portugal

    There are abundant references to the existence of Almogavars in the Kingdom of Portugal, who played an important role in the African campaigns in which they were immersed in the 15th and 16th centuries, where Almogavars and Almocadenes guarded the borders of the Portuguese possessions in North Africa.[28] Their military rank, exactly the same as their Castilian and Aragonese counterparts, is collected in Alfonsine Ordinances, and the Chronicle of King Manuel is counted as " They sent Almogavars to run (...) to attack the Moors "

    Negative connotation of Almogavars



    Almogavars were also known as "Catalans" in Byzantine Empire territories. The presence of the company left its mark on the folklore and the popular legend of the different regions where they spent, including as far as the Balkans and Greece. Devastation caused by Almogavars troops has created a negative connotation in some places.

    In the regions of Attica and Boeotia, a popular saying included: may the revenge of the Catalans fall on you. In Bulgaria, the expressions "Catalan" and "Son of Catalan" mean "wicked man, soulless, torturer". This negative connotation reached beyond the boundaries of folklore to influence poets such as Ivan M. Vazov in the poem Pirates, first published in 1915. Vazov includes the Catalans with the Turks as the greatest oppressors of the Bulgarian nation. In the region of Parnassus, the following saying is popularised: "I will flee from the Turks to fall into the hands of the Catalans".

    Currently, in Albania the word "Catalan" means "ugly and wicked man." Likewise, "Catalan" or "Katallani" is designated in Albanian folklore as a monster with one eye, reminiscent in many ways the Cyclops Polyphemus. This cyclops is represented by a wild blacksmith who feeds on human flesh. He also has no knees, so he can not bend, and long legs like masts of a ship. He faces a young hero named Dedaliya. This tradition, in various versions, is usually called by the title of Daedalus dhe Katallani, Daedalus and Catalan.

    Almogavar legacy in contemporary culture:



    Recently, in addition to having been rescued from the past to be represented in numerous parades, Almogavars have inspired some works of fiction :

    -In Assassin 's Creed Revelations, a video game produced by Ubisoft, there is a unit called " Byzantine Almogavar " based on Almogavars , although it is an anachronism because this game is set in Ottoman Constantinople (XVI century) , when actually the Almogavars who served there did two centuries ago .Furthermore, the real Almogavars were light troops rather than the heavy axemen depicted in game [34].
    -In Spain , the Paratrooper Brigade VI is called "Almogávares" [35].

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