Sunday, 30 August 2009

Awake the Iron! - the Almughavars

A notable feature of the Aragonese and, to some extent, the other Iberian armies was their use of the almughavars (or almogavars). These were infantry who, despite a lack of armour, soon gained a reputation for their fighting ability. They formed part of the armies used in the conquest of Valencia and were a major component of the Aragonese forces in Sicily. After the treaty of Caltabellota, a large number left Sicily and became the Catalan Company, working for various employers in and around Greece. Eventually they carved out their own state. Not all almughavars joined the Company though - some, for example, seem to have been part of della Ratta's mercenaries in Florence. These were paid for by their old enemy, the Angevin king in Naples.
 The 13th century chronicles have a great deal of detail about the Almughavars, especially Muntaner's Chronicle.
A pretty modern good summary of their career is here, with many sources listed. There is also a more general review of Spanish tactics which includes the almughavars here.

In wargaming terms they are difficult to portray since their lack of armour would make them very vunerable in many sets of rules. Sometimes they are categorised as if they were more protected to give them a chance of standing up to knights as they did on occasion such as the Battle of Falconaria. The circumstances in which they fought may also have helped, so it makes for much discussion.
As I write this, the DBMM lists which covers the Sicilians and the Catalan Company are being looked at before the publication later this year.. In the armies with Almughavars which have been published they have been categorised as superior auxilia. There has been discussion about them being fast blades in the new list, which may mean a change to the Book 3 almughavars.
In 15mm, the companies which make almughavars that I know of are Essex, Eureka, Irregular and Touller. I only have the first two - there are various pics of the Touller ones around such as here.
This is a comparison shot of my Essex (on the left) and Eureka figures. There are, I think, 3 variations in the Essex range and an impressive 18 or so in the Eureka range. The Essex ones are perfectly decent but are a bit two-dimensional. Some of my figures have had arms bent so that the upright spears in particular are at more varied angles.
Some of the Eureka figures are a bit taller than the others but nothing which can't be explained by normal height differences.
Both ranges have the cap as the dominant headgear, as in the Heath books. This is mentioned in a description by Desclot as being leather, possibly red despite my painting. Other descriptions mention a sort of net for the hair which may have been metal. Some of the Eureka figures have this.

 The flags carried by the Catalan Company are described in Muntaner (p.409 in the edition linked to above). He mentions that the foot carried 'pennons' of the King of Aragon and King Fadrique - i.e. the King of Sicily. I haven't looked to see what the original Catalan word translated as pennons was, but it is likely pendon which had a pretty broad meaning rather than just the small triangular flags.


Donogh said...

Are you planning to do the Sicilian Vespers?

Swampster said...

I'm well on the way to being able to field Angevin and Aragonese-Sicilian forces.
As a campaign, the war is largely naval and siege based with few decent sized land battles. I may try playing Falconaria some time.

Salvador said...

@ Swampster (sorry for the long comment):
Nice blog, but you have several things utterly wrong. I'll refer to the posts which appeared linked from the TMP page, those with the label "Aragon" (you should add the label Catalonia, you'll see why):
First, when you refer to the medieval Iberian Peninsula, you should not name it as "Spain", because plainly it did not exist. There were Castile, Navarra, Aragon, Catalonia, etc.
Second, although official historiography uses the term "Aragon" or "Crown of Aragon", there was no such state but a loose confederation of states which all had the Count of Barcelona and King of Aragon and Valencia as their head of state-ruler. So no Aragonese term for the almughavars, who were in all respect to reality a Catalan army, hence why they adopted the name of Catalan Grand Company. In fact Catalans were not Aragonese by any means, and definitely not Spanish. There were lots of non catalans in the almughavars of course, but Catalans were the most numerous. Catalonia was, demographically, politically and economically the main player in the Catalanoaragonese Confederation (a denomination much more in accord with reality as it was an association of two cultures from which originated the inhabitants of the territories, each with its own language and institutions). The almughavars used several war cries, being "Desperta Ferro!" (Awake Iron!) by far most common, but "Catalunya!" (Catalonia!) and "Aragó!" (Aragon!)" being common too. Note they used the Catalan language in their cries (a good clue on their main procedence and the preeminence of Catalans in the Company and the army in general). And so it should be at most a Catalanoaragonese-Sicilian force if not a Catalan-Sicilian one (by strength in its composition).
Third, the kings ruled the Confederation in virtue of their title as Counts of Barcelona. Even if they listed "king" first by hierarchical precedence, they were kings because they were counts and not the other way. So their right naming should be Peter II, III of Aragon... For example.
Fourth, pictures with Catalan or Aragonese people should not be labelled as Spanish. For example, you have one such example where several Catalan nobles can be seen: the Montcada (red background with yellow balls, forgive my lack of knowledge about heraldry) or the Cabrera or Cervelló (a black/dark goat/derr on yellow background). They should not be identified with the Spanish (Castilian really), against whom they fought.
Fifth and last, just for your information, your efforts are kindly appreciated; I'm just making such remarks as Catalan history has been willingly overshadowed and infravalorated to enhance the "Spanish" component but this only hurts the truth. Modern historians have rediscovered the vast wealth of documents the Catalan institutions generated (being almost a parliamentary monarchy, there was the tendency to record everything) and reality surfaces inevitably. I find it's a bit of a duty for conscious, history loving Catalans to help uncover the truth and spread fairness wherever we can. And so I make this comment, for the sake of completeness so you can investigate a little further and make precise statements. Respect for a culture, even if it's from a little nation, is always welcome and a sign of benevolence and justice. At your disposition.
P.S.: I leave two links: (for a much simplified; you should go to the next one and put it into the Google translator Catalan-English) (or just click on the Catalan version of the page in English)

Swampster said...

Hi Salvador,
I understand that various terms can have modern political connotations as well as various different meanings in the past. My use of Aragonese as a shorthand for the armies of the King of Aragon, including Catalans and others, could have been better, though I feel the use of Catalano-aragonese confederation would have been rather anachronistic. Muntaner certainly makes the point that the Catalans are different from the Aragonese, though he also list a number of other countries where there are a multitude of languages spoken in lands ruled by a single king, including Castile and England.

I have tried, I think, to use 'Spain' or 'Spanish' as a geographical term similar to 'Iberia' and 'Iberian'. To say that Spain did not exist in Dante's time is true in a political sense but is not true geographically - he refers to Spain on four occasions but does not name the various kingdoms as far as I can find. Muntaner also refers to Spain at various points, using it to refer to the whole peninsula. As you know, he was writing in Catalan and was a participant in these affairs. The Chronicle of James the Conqueror also uses 'Spain' on numerous occasions - "My father was the most bounteous king there ever was in Spain" (though unlike with Muntaner I haven't checked the Catalan).

The equivalent is Dante's references to Italy which was even more fragmented and perhaps to Germany which although largely equivalent to the Empire was still more of a geographical term than a political reality.

I appreciate that for foreigners to use terms which are inexact must be exasperating for you. In the UK we have the opposite problem with outsiders (and many natives) using 'England' to refer to the whole of Britain and/or the UK.

Anonymous said...

@Salvador. The concept of Spain (Hispania) exist during the visgoth (read Isidoro de Sevilla)and after the arrive of the arabs with the consequence of the division of the Peninsula in differents kingdoms and counties (one real fact: if there hadn´t be a arab invasion, Catalonia wouldn't had exist), many kings (mostly castilians) were declared Rex Imperatore Hispaniae with the visigothic idea to united the Peninsula, being example the marriages as happen between the Petronila of Aragó (Aragon) and Ramon Berenguer IV of Catalonia, or between the Chatholic Kings Isabel and Fernando.
In the chronicles of Muntaner or Desclot, the almogavares never shout before the battles Catalunya!.
They also shout Matem, Matem! (we kill, we kill) as Desperta ferro! or Aragó. Aragó!
Another thing we can say that the the almogavares speak Aragonese because both language comes from the same root as the catalan.
The land of Catalonia wasn't rich, it was mainly agricultural and very very poor(and it went poorer with the climatic change that started in 16th century), there is many reference about this, and the commerce activity only took about 150 years (and only few had its benefits). If you had read the Divina ·Commedia", Dante writes: “E se mio Frate questo antivedesse, / la avara povertà di Catalogna / bellota Fugger, perché non le offendesse“, 300 before of the that Quevedo is accussed by the catalan nationalists (as you are as you writes) of catalanophobia.

Good work Swampster.