Awhile back, I posited the idea of a historical Monsters & Mercenaries set, a faction that could be used as mercenaries in any army. History is full of mercenaries from the Thracians and Saka, to Hannibal's Gauls, to the late-medieval Condottas and German Free Companies. Heck, the Greeks were the itinerants of the Mediterranean, and they showed up in Persia, Egypt, Italy, and North Africa.
One little foot note that I discovered when I started playing historicals was the Catalan Company of the East. This band of tribal hill warriors and Spanish knights became embroiled in conflict with the rump of the Byzantine Empire, inflicting such serious damage that supposedly to this day the words Catalan and Almughavar has the same connotation to Greeks that the word Vandal has to Western Europeans and their cultural descendents.
I tracked down The Catalan Vengeance
, an out-of-print book from which most historical games draw their conclusions. I did this because I didn't really like the way Field of Glory represented them (the game has some serious flaws), and I thought the BGFW would do a more elegant job of it. I pitched the idea to Chad, and while I appreciated my enthusiasm, he felt they were far too much of a historical footnote to sell on their own (and he was leery of packaging them with another, more popular, faction like was done with the other Historical sets).
So my loss is the community's gain! I figured I'd throw the faction up to the community, well, just because. I haven't gotten Chad's approval to put up approximate costs, so the units currently won't have them. If he does, I'll amend it.
But first, some history:
In 1282, the War of the Sicilian Vespers broke out. It was a struggle between the Spanish king of Aragon and the French Angevin king of Sicily for the island. The Aragonese king raised a company of mercenaries composed of among other things the fierce warriors known as Almughavars.
The Almughavars hailed from the northern regions of Spain, including Catalonia, Aragon, and Navarre. These folks withstood the Muslim invasions of Spain in the 7th and 8th century by heading higher into the hills and fighting raider warfare in the time honored tradition of guerrillas everywhere. They were remarkable in that they were both fierce and disciplined in combat (outside combat, not so much). They could move fast through very rugged terrain, attack a Muslim settlement, and then flee before reinforcements arrived. Although they could stand against heavy cavalry, they proved very effective troops in running down the lighter Berber-style horsemen of the Iberian Muslim kingdoms.
The average Almughavar wore little to no armor, growing his hair and beards long. He carried a spear, 2 heavy javelins (called azconas), and short stabbing sword. They were the literal descendents of the Iberians that followed Hannibal into Rome, their weapons unchanged since the Romans copied them (naming them Pila and Gladius Hispaniensis).
Despite their barbarian appearance (and make no mistake, these were the hillbillies of the middle ages), the Alughavar understood two very modern principles of warfare: 1) there are no rules, and 2) defeat an enemy mentally first. Almughavars routinely held their own against European heavy cavalry because they engaged in unchivalrous tactics like aiming for a man's horse. And before a battle, Almughavars would strike their blades against against stones, causing them to spark in the pre-dawn gloom while they chanted "Aur! Aur! Desperta Ferro!
" ("Listen! Listen! Iron, Awaken!").
These fierce warriors accompanied the Aragonese king to Sicily and fought until the very end of the Sicilian Vespers, 20 years later. However at the conclusion of the war, no one wanted these mercenaries around, as mercenaries without a steady paycheck become bandits with a quickness.
Enter Roger de Flor. This man was a D&D adventurer in every sense of the word. Starting as a galleyman, he joined the Knights Templar as a captain of a galley. During the Siege of Acre, instead of helping all escape, he began auctioning off seats on his ship to the highest bidder. He was expelled from the order and began engaging in piracy against Christian and Muslim alike, until he was excommunicated. A true mercenary, he signed up with the Catalan Company during the Vespers, and at its conclusion contacted the Byzantine Emperor, offering the services of his company.
The Byzantine Empire at this point was just recovering from its sack and dismemberment during the 4th Crusade. It had recaptured Northern Greece, but regions of Attica, the Peloponnese, Epirus, and the Aegean Islands were still ruled by foreigners (French dukes in the former three, Venetians in the last). Worse, the Seljuk Turks had pushed west and conquered large parts of Anatolia (western Turkey), a very wealthy region, and were threatening Constantinople.
A quick map: http://www.westpoint.edu/history/SiteAssets/SitePages/Ancient%20Warfare/45CatalanCompany.gif
The Catalan Company sailed east in 1303 with 1,500 knights, 1,000 conventional infantry, and 4,000 Alughavars. They were received with fanfare in Constantinople, with de Flor being named Grand Duke and married to the Emperor's niece. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse almost immediately. In Constantinople, a riot broke out Almughavars and Genoese. After the Catalan Company shipped out, but before engaging with the enemy, they fought with a contingent of Alan allies resulting in all but 1,000 Alans departing from the army.
Against the Turks, the Catalan Company won resounding victories. At Cyzicus they surprised them with a night raid and butchered an entire besieging force in their camp. After that they marched 120 miles into central Turkey, including an incredible forced march of 80 miles in a 24 hour period. Perhaps more impressive is the Almughavars brought their wives and children on campaign with them, and they kept pace. Outside Philadelphia, the Catalan Company defeated an army of 20,000 Turks, butchering all but 1500 infantry and cavalry. From there, they subjugated the Anatolian cities of Sardis, Magnesia, and Ephesus. They had done all this in barely 18 months of campaigning.
Unfortunately, the Catalan Company had done very little to earn good will among the Greeks. Beyond the outright battles they fought with allies and rivals, the Almughavars treated the formerly Byzantine regions as conquered territory. The Greeks had expected to be liberated, and they found themselves occupied by barbarians more savage than the Turks. The Turks were creating a new empire and so made token attempts at integrating the Greeks into it. The Almughavars pillaged openly, operating under a "we bought it, so we can break it" mentality.
After these conquests, the Catalan Company returned to Gallipoli for the winter, with the intention of venturing further East into Turkey come the spring. Their numbers now included 3,000 Turk and Turcopole mercenary cavalry. However, the Byzantine Emperor had decided that the Catalan Company was more trouble than it was worth. He also feared that de Flor intended to establish an independent Anatolian kingdom (a not-unfounded fear).
de Flor was summoned to Constantinople with 300 knights and 1,000 Almughavars. At a dinner with the Emperor's son, de Flor and his men were murdered by the same Alans that had fought with the Catalans earlier. The Byzantines then sent out an army to destroy the leaderless remnant of the Company at Gallipoli, numbering 200 knights and 1200 infantry. Despite their numerical superiority, the Greeks were defeated.
Thus began the Catalan Vengeance. For two years, the Catalan Company raided and ravaged the Thracian countryside. They sacked Rodosto, brutally hacking apart every man, woman, and child in revenge for what was done to their brothers and their leader. Although they had no siege works and so could not sack the walled cities, no Greek army could stand against them. The emperor was forced to watch as the Catalans burnt the undefended outskirts of Constantinople. So thorough was their domination that the two year pillage of Thrace ended not because they were forced out, but because there simply was not enough places that they could pillage for food.
One fascinating episode during the vengeance was the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1306, the Catalan Company left their camp in Gallipoli and pursued the Alan force that had murdered their leader. The 9,000 Alani were fleeing north-west to their homelands. The Catalans caught up with them and butchered all but 300 in perhaps their most difficult battle.
Meanwhile, a contingent of Genoese mercenaries, at the Byzantine Emperor's behest, attacked the poorly defended camp at Gallipoli. The Company's quartermaster, Ramon Muntaner, had at his command 7 horsemen, 133 infantry (mostly sailors and wounded Almughavars), and all the wives of the Catalan Company. So he equipped the women and had them defend the walls under relentless Genoese crossbow barrages. One wife refused to leave her post despite being wounded five times(!) in the face(!). She stated that she would not surrender the honor of fighting in her husband's place, except in death.
Finally the Genoese had run out of arrows, and the general berated them for being turned back in their assault of the walls by women. Muntaner ordered his 6 remaining horsemen and 100 infantry to prepare to assault! He had them discard their heavy armor now that the enemy had run out of ammunition, and opened the gates. The surprising ferocity of their attack sent the Genoese reeling. Their general was cut down in the first attack, and the will of the attackers was broken. They fled and would have been cut down by the exhausted Catalans of Muntaner's garrison were it not for a small company of Genoese reserves.
When the main body of the Catalan Company heard of the attack on their camp, they raced back and secured it. But now the Company was at an impasse. They had exacted what revenge they could, and the countryside was barren. Worse, despite receiving reinforcements Spain and Sicily, the lords of these reinforcements clashed with the leaders of the Company. The Catalan Company had begun to consume itself. This growing rivalry persisted as the Catalan Company decided to head west, into Thessaly and down into Greece. These struggles ended in bloodshed, and the expulsions/departure of some of the lords (including the famed Muntaner, who left more of disgust).
Once in Greece, the Catalan Company was hired by the French Duke of Athens, Walter de Brienne. The Catalan Company captured 30 castles in Greece, turning de Brienne into the undisputed master of central Greece. But in an astounding example of not-paying-attention-to-what-happened-next-door, de Brienne chose to not pay the Catalan Company for their efforts.
When the Catalan Company openly revolted and began ravaging the countryside, de Brienne gathered nearly every Frankish lord in his dominion (almost 6,500 heavy cavalry) as well as 24,000 infantry (of varying quality) to crush the 7,000-man Catalan Company at the Battle of Halmyros.
Sadly the battle wasn't much of one. The Catalans anchored their flank with forest and a lake, then diverted a river onto the field, flooding it, but the water was concealed by the high grasses. When the heavy cavalry charged, they quickly became bogged down into the newly created swamp. The nimble Alughavars picked apart the knights with their heavy javelins and spears. In one battle, the collected pride of French chivalry and rulers of Greece were wiped out.
The Catalan Company now found itself in control of that territory. So they settled down, creating the Duchy of Neopatria, which was nominally a vassal of the King of Aragon. The duchy lasted until ~1390, when it was overthrown by another mercenary company of Navarrese.