Roger de Flor was a swashbuckling military adventurer and condottiere (mercenary) leader of the Catalan Company. He was born in the city of Brindisi, Italy, which at the time of his birth was a part of the Kingdom of Sicily. He was the youngest son of Richard von Blum (Blum in German means flower), a German falconer who served Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and an Italian mother was the daughter of an honorable and wealthy man (possibly a patrician) from Brindisi. Roger also had an older brother by the name of Jacob.
Not long after Roger’s birth, the Kingdom of Sicily was embroiled in a war between Charles of Anjou, the youngest son of King Louis VIII of France, and King Conradin (Conrad) of Sicily in late summer of 1268. It was during this war that Roger’s father, Richard, joined to aid in the defense of Sicily. According to the Ramon Muntaner Chronicle, Richard was “a man expert in arms and wished to fight in the battle.” On 23 August 1268, the supporters of Conradin and the army of Charles of Anjou meet at Scurcola Marsicana province of L’Aquila, present-day Italy, in what is known as the Battle of Tagliacozzo. Conradin’s forces consisted of Italian, Spanish, Roman, Arab and German troops, while Charles forces were primarily consisted of French and Italian troops. Conradin’s forces initially had the upper hand during the battle. However, the overconfidence of his men got the best of them, for they soon became preoccupied with plunder. Charles took advantage of the situation and defeated the forces of Conradin to become the new king of Sicily. It was during this battle that Roger, who was not even a year old and Jacob, who was only four, would lose their father during the battle. With Sicily now under his control, Charles took it upon himself to enjoy the spoils of war:
And King Charles, when he had seized the Kingdom, took for himself everything belonging to all who had been in the battle, and what had belonged to the family of the Emperor or of King Manfred. There remained no more to those boys than what their mother had brought as her marriage portion, for, of the rest, they were disinherited.
Whatever Richard had accumulated for his children, was now in the hands of the king.
To suggest that Roger grew up poor would be a stretch, since his grandfather was a patrician. Because of this, it is safe to assume that Roger and his older brother partook in their grandfather’s business and learned a great deal in finance since lived in a port city dealing in trade. And, at that time, the ships of commercial houses touched at Brindisi, and those of Apulia, who wished to take pilgrims and provisions from the Kingdom, came there to spend the winter. The commercial houses all had, and have still, great establishments at Brindisi and in an Apulia and in all the Kingdom. And so the ships which winter there begin to load up in the spring to go to Acre, and take pilgrims and oil and wine and all kinds of grain of wheat. And, assuredly, it is the best fitted out place for the passage beyond sea of any belonging to Christians, and in the most abundant and fertile land, and it is very near Rome; and it has the best harbour of the world, so that there are houses right down to the sea.
And, at that time, the ships of commercial houses touched at Brindisi, and those of Apulia, who wished to take pilgrims and provisions from the Kingdom, came there to spend the winter. The commercial houses all had, and have still, great establishments at Brindisi and in an Apulia and in all the Kingdom. And so the ships which winter there begin to load up in the spring to go to Acre, and take pilgrims and oil and wine and all kinds of grain of wheat. And, assuredly, it is the best fitted out place for the passage beyond sea of any belonging to Christians, and in the most abundant and fertile land, and it is very near Rome; and it has the best harbour of the world, so that there are houses right down to the sea.
Given the location and job occupation of his mother’s family, Roger would have been familiar with ships and may have gone on a few voyages himself with his grandfather. Reason for this, is that Roger was caught to playing on a ship in port when he was eight. This moment would change Roger’s life forever.
A notable of the Templars, a brother sergeant, called Frey Vassayll. And whilst he was having the ship repaired, the boy Roger ran about the ship and the rigging as lightly as if he were a monkey, and all day he was with the sailors, because the house of his mother was near to where the ship was taking in ballast. And the notable, Frey Vassayll, took a liking to the boy Roger.
Vassayll took to liking the boy “and he asked his mother for him and said that, if she gave him up to him, he would do all in his power to get him a good post with the Templars. And the mother, as he seemed to her a man of importance, gave the boy up to him willingly, and he received him.” However, this seems unlikely. While it is possible that Roger’s mother handed him over to Vassayll, it seems plausible that a deal had been struck a long time ago given the families occupation in business. Roger’s mother could provide little and giving him over to those who could offer her son a much better education was far more lucrative. Roger turned out to be a quick learner:
And the boy turned out the most expert boy at sea; he performed marvels of climbing and of all things. When he was fifteen he was considered one of the best mariners of the world, and when he was twenty he was an accomplished mariner in theory and in practice, so that the worthy Frey Vassayll let him do entirely as he liked with the ship. And the Master of the Templars, seeing him so zealous and expert, gave him the mantle and made him brother sergeant and a short time after he had been made a brother, the Templars bought a great ship from the Genoese, the greatest that had been built at that time, and it was called the Falcon, and they gave it to this Frey Roger de Flor. And in this ship he sailed a long time, showing great knowledge and great valour. He found himself at Acre in this ship and the Templars did so well with this ship that they liked none so well as this one. This Frey Roger was the most generous man ever born; he can only be compared to the young King. And all he gained he divided and gave to the principal Templars and to many friends he knew how to make.
In 1291, Roger was 24 years old when the city of Acre had come under siege by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil. Seeing that the city could not be saved, Roger rescued and “brought away ladies and damsels and great treasure and many important people.” Once away from the city he brought the people to the city of Montpelgrin. Roger would soon meet with the Master Templar who was pleased. However, there were those who were jealous, and made accusations that Roger was holding onto more treasure hidden away in Acre from the Templar order. To make matters worse, his supposed crimes were brought forth to the pope where he was denounced as a thief and apostate. Soon after Roger was expelled and fled to Genoa away from the Templar order. Once in Genoa, Roger would barrow money from friends, particularly Ticino Doria, and used those funds to purchase a new ship from which his career in piracy would soon flourish.
Roger would take his ship and crew in search of work. His first stop was at Catania to meet the Duke where he offered his services, but the Duke knew of Roger the accusations against him and decided not to hire him. Roger sailed south to Messina where he offered his services to King Fadrique (Frederick III, king of Sicily). King Fadrique liked what he heard and made Roger a member of his house and allowed his men to rest eight days before setting off. After the eight day, it was time to go to work. Roger and crew made their way to the city of Apulia, Italy, which at the time was under the Kingdom of Naples. The area would have been a lucrative trading hub. The first ship Roger took was one owned by King Charles. What makes this capture interesting is that the ship was heading to the Duke in Catania, the very same man who turned down his services. After the ship had been captured, Roger gave his men their share and the rest was brought back loaded with many valuables to King Fadrique. As for the captured ship, Roger “manned it with some of his company, and those of the ship he put in the galley, and sent the ship, which was three-decked and loaded with grain and other provisions, to Syracuse.”
Roger’s piracy would have a great impact on the moral of King Fadrique’s troops. Roger made so much money that he was able to pay the soldiers at Syracuse, Agosta, Lentini, among many other places a sum of six months pay. Many soldiers took the coin while many others took victuals. Because of this, Roger was able not only to revive the men’s purses but also their spirits that made them better soldiers. This would not end, as Roger would continue to seize ships, particularly the rich laden ships of King Charles from which he would pay his men and the wages of the King’s men for six months or more considering the amount o wealth flowing into the King Fadrique’s coffers:
And he came to Messina and sent to the Lord King, who was going about Sicily, a thousand onzas in fine carlinos, and paid also, for six months, the soldiers who were with count de Squilace, and at Calana and La Mota and at the castle of Santa Agata and at Pentedatilo and Amandolea and Gerace; namely in money and in victuals.
Which makes one wonder — who was really the king, Roger or Fadrique?
Besides crewing ships to search for loot, he also began to hire and equip land forces, for “he bought full fifty mounts, all of good quality, and mounted Catalan and Aragonese squires which he received in his company, and he took five Catalan and Aragonese knights into his house.” Afterwards, Roger brought to the king at Piazza and to “Don Blasco and En G. Galceran and En Berenguer de Entenza” a thousand or more in coin. While there is no questioning that Roger’s great gift, like the many gifts given, were political, for he knew that he needed more than just the king as his ally and like any generous gift, it went over well. Roger now had acquired not only the security of the king but the nobles as well. The gifts kept on coming in as Roger showered everyone he came across with wealth:
There was no rich hom or knight who did not accept his presents and, in all the castles to which he came, he paid the soldiers for six months. So did he strengthen the Lord King and refresh his followers that one of them was worth as much as two had been before. And the Lord King, seeing his worth, made him vice-admiral of Sicily and a member of his council, and gave him the castles of Tripi and Alicata and the revenues of Malta.
Roger’s new promotion to vice-admiral and given the castles was a tremendous gift that needed to be repaid in his mind. Roger decided to double up his efforts and made his way to Messina where he would equip five galleys “and proceeded to scour all the Principality and the Roman shore, and the strand of Pisa and Genoa and of Provence and of Catalonia and Spain and Barbary. And all he found, belonging to friend or foe, in coin or valuable goods, which he could put on board the galleys, he took.” Roger made sure that any wealth taken from his friends would be repaid once the war was over. Roger also went out of his way sparing the lives and ships of his enemies. When Roger returned to Sicily with gold and grain, “all the soldiers, horse and foot, were awaiting him as the Jews do the Messiah.” Roger’s plundering along the Italian coasts would soon end, as King Fadrique made peace with Charles II. King Fadrique was able to keep Sicily, thus ending the war between Aragonese kings of Aragon and the French kings of Naples over the control of Sicily on 31 August 1302 in what became known as the Peace of Caltabellotta. Because of this, Roger and his men were out of job. With no money flowing to Roger’s coffers, the king unwillingly and understandably had no use for the mercenaries. Therefore, Roger sought employment elsewhere and found it in Byzantium.
The Grand Company (or Catalan Company)
Roger had a few dilemmas after the Peace of Caltabellotta. The first being that his men were soon to if not already ran out of money. However this was the least of his worries at the moment. His biggest concern was the peace. While peace cuts the flow of money it also allows those who had issue with Roger to take up arms against him, even though one would think that all sins were forgiven after the war. One can assume this only applies to those who are nobles and their men. Because of this, Roger felt that if he were to stay in Sicily, the king would possible hand him over to King Charles, the Duke, or perhaps the Master of the Templars who would turn him over to the Pope. Therefore, Roger decided to head east.
Roger decided to contact Emperor Andronicus II of Byzantium and offer his services against the threat of the Ottoman Turks led by Osman I who was at this time pushing slowly pushing westward gobbling up the Byzantine lands of Anatolia (Turkey). Roger decides to show his intentions by sending a small force in his discussion with King Fadrique:
I shall send two knights with an armed galley to the Emperor of Constantinople, and shall let him know that I am ready to go to him with as great a company of horse and foot, all Catalans and Aragonese, as he wishes, and that he should give us pay and all necessaries; that I know he greatly needs these succours, for the Turks have taken from him land of the extent of thirty journeys; and he could not do as much with any people as with Catalans and Aragonese, and especially with those who have carried on this war against King Charles.
Afterwards, King Fadrique said to Roger, “you know more in these matters than We do; nevertheless, it seems to Us that your idea is good, and so ordain what you please, We shall be well satisfied with what you ordain.” Roger soon after kissed the King’s hand and left. The next day Roger sent a galley with troops led by two knights with a message that outlined his intentions. Roger especially desired to obtain the niece of Emperor Andronicus II as his wife “and also that he be made Grand Duke of the Empire; and again, that the Emperor give pay for four months to all those he would bring, at the rate of four onzas a month to each armed horseman and one onza a month to each man afoot. And that he keep them at this pay all the time they wished to remain, and that they find the pay at Monemvasia.” Roger was playing it smart. He knew, like many adventures seeking glory that the Byzantine Empire was vastly rich in land and titles, and would be offered to those especially involved in martial affairs, such as mercenaries. Roger went so far to not only ensure his place among the elites through marriage and title, which Andronicus II granted him both along with paying his men. After all had been agreed to, Roger began his journey towards Constantinople with a large following:
when they had embarked, there were, between galleys and lenys and ships and terides, thirty-six sails; and there were one thousand five hundred horsemen, according as it was written down, fitted out with everything except horses. And there were full four thousand almugavars and full a thousand men afoot without the galley-slaves and seamen who belonged to the shipping. And all these were Catalans and Aragonese and the greater part brought their wives or their.mistresses and their children. And so they took leave of the Lord King and departed from Messina at a suitable hour with great cheer and content.
Once Grand Duke Roger and his men entered Constanople a fight soon broke out between his troops and the Genoese in which three thousand Genoese were killed. Reason for this quarrel is understandable from a trade point of view as they saw Roger muscling in on their business, which in turn caused a bit of rift among the elite in the Byzantine royal circle.
After the debacle with the Genoese, the Emperor soon after transported Roger and his Catalonians to Anatolia to lift the siege of Philadelphia by attacking the Turks. Roger and his Hispano-Byzantine troops were able to free the city. With such great success, the people of Constantinople found favor in the use of western mercenaries and felt that the Turkish menace was gone forever, how wrong they were. But the events soon after made many believe that the Turks were going to be pushed back as Roger and his troops continued to have many victories. However, these victories came with costs. On one hand, Roger had been extorting the people through Asia Minor along with arbitrary cruelties commented by his men. This in turn did not go over well with the Emperor for the cities, towns, and villages brought back within the Byzantine fold were now citizens and any abuse caused by Roger and his troops would not be forgotten thus causing a strain in relations between the Emperor and his own people. In other words, many of the atrocities committed by Roger were bad for public relations throughout the empire. Furthermore, the Emperor saw through Roger and notice that his new Grand Duke sought to established a principality of his own. This would not have been an issue had not Roger strained the relations between the people of Asia Minor and the Emperor, for if the Emperor were to grant Roger a dominion of his own, it might incite rebellion.
Therefore, the Emperor called Roger back:
But the Grand Duke was greatly displeased at having to abandon, at that time, the Kingdom of Anatolia which he had conquered completely and delivered out of its troubles and out of the hands of the Turks. And after he had received the message and the pressing entreaties of the Emperor, he assembled a council and told all the Company the message he had received, and that he begged them to advise him as to what he should do. And finally, they gave him the advice that, by all means, he should go and succour the Emperor in his need and then, in the spring, they would return to Anatolia.
Once back in Constantinople, the Emperor gave Roger a new title and mission thus allowing the situation simmer down in Asia Minor. Once back in Constantinople, the Emperor bestowed the title of Caesar to Roger, which had never been granted to a foreigner. Reason for this title was to curtail Roger’s obviously over ambitions prospects by granting Roger additional powers. Roger’s new mission was to take care of business by taking the fortress of on the straits of Gallipoli from which he would march and take the entire peninsula of Gallipoli. After this had been accomplished, the Emperor sought to give Roger a new mission in Asia Minor. However, before Roger left for new adventures, the Emperor’s eldest son named Michael IX, who happened to be the co-emperor of the empire, invited Roger to a festival. Once Roger and his small band arrived to celebrate, the slaughter began:
And so, by his journeys, he came to the city of Adrianople, and the son of the Emperor, Skyr Miqueli, issued forth to meet him and received him with great honours; and this the wicked man did in order to see with what company he was coming. And when he had entered Adrianople, the son of the Emperor stayed with him, amidst great joy and Muntaner cheer which the Caesar made for him, and Skyr Miqueli made the same for him. And when he had stayed with him six days, on the seventh, Skyr Miqueli made the same for him. And when he had stayed with him six days, on the seventh, Skyr Miqueli summoned Gircon to Adrianople, the chief of the Alans, and Melech, chief of the Turcopoles, so that they were altogether nine thousand horsemen. And on that day he invited the Caesar to a banquet. And when they had eaten, this Gircon, chief of the Alans, entered the palace in which Skyr Miqueli and his wife and the Caesar were; and they drew their swords and massacred the Caesar and all who were with him shortly after Michael had Roger and his men killed.
Roger, the great mercenary was now dead but his company was not. Soon after Catalan Company received word, that Roger was dead they went on a rampage throughout Macedonia and Thrace plundering the landscape. Even though Roger was dead, the Catalan Company did not fold and stayed in the service of the Byzantine Empire. Overall, the life of Roger de Flor was not so bad in some aspects, not so bad for an eight year old boy to becoming a Templar, to being banished into a life surviving as an outlaw, who sought employment wherever there is a need, Roger de Flor was indeed the Caesar of Mercenaries.
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