The Almogavars - Spain's elite medieval shock infantry

Jul 2013
1,003
America
#1
I thought a thread on the almogavars would be fairly interesting, they were notorious warriors who fought numerous campaigns amassing an envious battle record during the high Middle Ages. What made them so feared and effective in battle? And how did their tactics and weaponry evolve as time went on?

Desperta Ferro!!!
 
Likes: walkman

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,531
#2
Almogavars of the Catalan Company were the high point and really it appears they did not use much equipment relying on speed, accuracy, and ferocity as well long experience in high intensity border operations/raids/ambushes.

Also it should be mentioned that a large portions of the Catalan Company and other mercenary companies were not from Spain after some years of acting as mercenaries. Most of the new recruits adopted the core mentality and most of the equipment if they were fighting as infantry but supposedly a good portion of Almogavars were riding horses when fighting in Anatolia and the Catalan Company had dedicated specialist roles even if most original Almogavars were infantry firstly even before joining mercenary companies it is mentioned they rode horses on particularly long raids or chases and there were all sorts of border tricks such as false trails, straw horseshoes, informants, night movement, and any conceivable trickery.

Initially the warring territories in Spain were the birthing grounds of people who grew to depend on raiding for their livelihood and there were both Muslim and Christian Almogavars and they were but one facet of multiple classes of warriors in this era where there were regular town militias, religious orders, crusaders, knights, freebooters, mercenaries, slave soldiers, and random volunteers from the various classes of society hoping to earn some money with a successful venture.

Almogavars did not have recognized military value as a class for a long time because it took awhile for the traditions to develop in large enough group of people as the various kingdoms in Spain fought, grew, and changed hands. Starting as the lowest class of free men Almogavars adopted basic equipment because that was all they had access to and worked well in the environment they were in. Eventually the Almogavars military potential was recognized and officially appointed leaders were recorded throughout Aragon.

Classic raiders not so dissimilar to nomads of the steppes boys grew into men going on regular raids to steal sheep, rob 'enemies' and sometimes even take hostages or capture small forts and guard posts. The most notable raiders the Almogavars fought against were the jenet horsemen most famously of Granada but in fact another slightly better off class of fighters in Spain during roughly the same period and sharing many characteristics though the ranks of jenets were smaller and less inclined to relying on war completely for livelihood as the Almogavars did.

Almogavars are most famous for fighting against Muslims but in fact they raided fellow Christians quite often and were often considered only a bare step above brigands and bandits by the higher classes because they responded to calls to arms and acted to secure the borders against raiders (quite often other Almogavars of neighbouring regions).

There are even some reports of Almogavars acting as paid bounty hunters for wanted criminals (often a fellow Almogavar who failed to respect the law too openly).

As the wars in Spain waged increasingly successful for the Christian kingdoms the Almogavars become more concentrated on the borders with Muslim states and frequently recruited from villages and towns raided by Muslims where revenge was a common motivation similar to many of the later Muslim corsairs of North Africa who were expelled forcefully from Spain but still knew the terrain and the systems of patrols and watches.

The Angevin and Aragon conflict over Sicily also drew the French into Spain and Almogavars were well established as a social class by this point in the last 13th century and able to contribute large numbers of experienced warriors for Peter of Aragon's wars in Italy.

There remained Almogavars on the border with Granada and even for some period after the fall of Granada but they had declined in importance and are rarely mentioned after the integration of Granadan territories.
 
Likes: walkman

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,118
Portugal
#4
I know that when we talk about the “Almogavars” the first connection that most of the people make is with the “Catalan Company”, and with the Aragonese in general. But even if the Aragonese in general and the Catalan Company in particular raised the fame of those troops, the term is used in all the Iberian Peninsula, and it was first documented in Portugal at least since the XII century, according to the small article from José Garcia Domingues, in the “Enciclopedia Luso-Brasileira de Cultura”.

I think that Polynikes did well to raise this thread, but in some way it is a spin-off from the talk that we had here: http://historum.com/medieval-byzant...re-normans-who-conquered-italy-sicily-12.html

The fame of the Aragonese Almogavars in their adventure in the Mediterraenas Sea is mostly due to the facts that we have several good and detailed primary sources:

For the Almugavars (Almogàvers) one of the best primary sources is the “Chronicle of Ramón Muntaner”. It is online in English, translated by Lady Goodenough, but some of her comments may be outdated: http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/muntaner_goodenough.pdf
Tht together with the biography of Jaime I (Jaume) of Aragon, the “Llibre dels feyts” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llibre_dels_fets), the chronicle by Bernard Desclot
(Resultados de búsqueda - Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (BDH) Biblioteca Digital Hispánica), and the one known as “Crònica de Pere el Cerimoniós”/ Chronicle of Pedro IV of Aragon (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crónica_de_Pedro_el_Ceremonioso), form a set known as the four Catalan Grand Chronicles and give as a good picture of the expansion of Aragon and the importance and height of the Almogavars in it.

In the mentioned thread I already had the opportunity to mention a 7 pages short article that can be a good introduction to the Aragonese almogavars:

https://uccshes.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/of-arms-and-men.pdf

And we can have a picture of the Aragonese almugavars written by Lady Goodenough:

The almugavar, according to Desclot, was clothed in a sort of loosecoat and breeches made of hides; he wore rough leather sandals and protected his legs with antiparas [half-gaiters for the front of the leg] also made of ides, as was the knapsack or bag in which he carried his daily meal. On his head he wore the “dedicilla” (perhaps the “rociolo” of the Goths) with which he bound his hair (Moncada says it was made of steel). Attached to his belt was a leather strap from which hung a bag or pouch for his flint and tinder and, with it, a knife or dagger. His hair was long, like the of the barbarians of old, as ne never cut it, nor did he shave. His weapons consisted of a short spear or lance, easy to throw, and of three or four darts which he carried slung on his shoulder, as reserve ammunition. In attack, the almugavars shouting their war-cry “Desperta ferres”… (end note, page 22, from the mentioned book by Lady Goodenough)

About the Catalan Company in Greece, I already posted in the other thread an interesting article (for those who can read in Spanish), that I will also post here: http://diposit.ub.edu/dspace/bitstream/2445/49740/1/TFG_Vazquez_Granados.pdf

And another one in English

http://images.library.wisc.edu/Hist...01/0003/reference/history.crusthree.i0018.pdf

And a link to a short summary in English, which has a good bibliography:

ANISTORITON: Viewpoints

“A History of Aragon and Catalonia” by Henry John Chaytor at LIBRO (The Library of Iberian Resources Online) (https://libro.uca.edu/chaytor/achistory.htm) can give us a wider perspective, but lately I have been some problems accessing some of the works available at LIBRO’s.

This is a theme that usually interests me, and it would be good to see more information here.
 
Likes: walkman

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,118
Portugal
#5
Classic raiders not so dissimilar to nomads of the steppes boys grew into men going on regular raids to steal sheep, rob 'enemies' and sometimes even take hostages or capture small forts and guard posts. The most notable raiders the Almogavars fought against were the jenet horsemen most famously of Granada but in fact another slightly better off class of fighters in Spain during roughly the same period and sharing many characteristics though the ranks of jenets were smaller and less inclined to relying on war completely for livelihood as the Almogavars did.
The ginete/jinete/genet (Portuguese/Castilian/Catalan) was the designation given to the light cavalry, without much armor, that fought with disperse order and throwing javelins/spears. Their designation comes from the fact that they mounted the horses with short stirrup, with the knees bended, which allowed them to rise on the horse to better throw the javelin/spear, as opposed to the long stirrups that the heavy knights mounted (“the French way”). It is not totally clear if this tradition in the Iberian Peninsula is original or has a link with similar Berber and Arab influences. They were not seen as a class or social group as the Almogavars in Aragon were seen.

For instance, around 1449 there was in Portugal a Captain-major of the Ginetes and Jaime I of Aragon in the second half of the 13th century ordered his knights to reduce the armor, before a fight to his knights, with the exception of 100 that kept their full amour, and maintained as reserve. It was not uncommon that even kings and nobles mounted “à gineta”/“in the ginete way”. Even a Portuguese king (D. Duarte) wrote about it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bem_cavalgar

Back to the almogavars, still in the 16th century, in the Portuguese “Algarve d'Além Mar” (Portuguese fortress in Morocco and their nearby territory), the Portuguese and allied raids in the lands of the “Moors” were known as “almogaverias” (literally raids conducted by almogavars), even if the men were not known as almogavars anymore.
 
Likes: walkman
Sep 2012
947
Tarkington, Texas
#6
From these descriptions, I don't see much difference between Almogavars and the Iberian Light Infantry of Roman times. Perhaps they were the descendants of the type? They would certainly be easy to raise. Use them in hit and run Guerilla tactics and they would be like the old Light Infantry.

Pruitt
 
Likes: walkman
Jul 2013
1,003
America
#7
Almogavars of the Catalan Company were the high point and really it appears they did not use much equipment relying on speed, accuracy, and ferocity as well long experience in high intensity border operations/raids/ambushes.

Also it should be mentioned that a large portions of the Catalan Company and other mercenary companies were not from Spain after some years of acting as mercenaries. Most of the new recruits adopted the core mentality and most of the equipment if they were fighting as infantry but supposedly a good portion of Almogavars were riding horses when fighting in Anatolia and the Catalan Company had dedicated specialist roles even if most original Almogavars were infantry firstly even before joining mercenary companies it is mentioned they rode horses on particularly long raids or chases and there were all sorts of border tricks such as false trails, straw horseshoes, informants, night movement, and any conceivable trickery.

Initially the warring territories in Spain were the birthing grounds of people who grew to depend on raiding for their livelihood and there were both Muslim and Christian Almogavars and they were but one facet of multiple classes of warriors in this era where there were regular town militias, religious orders, crusaders, knights, freebooters, mercenaries, slave soldiers, and random volunteers from the various classes of society hoping to earn some money with a successful venture.

Almogavars did not have recognized military value as a class for a long time because it took awhile for the traditions to develop in large enough group of people as the various kingdoms in Spain fought, grew, and changed hands. Starting as the lowest class of free men Almogavars adopted basic equipment because that was all they had access to and worked well in the environment they were in. Eventually the Almogavars military potential was recognized and officially appointed leaders were recorded throughout Aragon.

Classic raiders not so dissimilar to nomads of the steppes boys grew into men going on regular raids to steal sheep, rob 'enemies' and sometimes even take hostages or capture small forts and guard posts. The most notable raiders the Almogavars fought against were the jenet horsemen most famously of Granada but in fact another slightly better off class of fighters in Spain during roughly the same period and sharing many characteristics though the ranks of jenets were smaller and less inclined to relying on war completely for livelihood as the Almogavars did.

Almogavars are most famous for fighting against Muslims but in fact they raided fellow Christians quite often and were often considered only a bare step above brigands and bandits by the higher classes because they responded to calls to arms and acted to secure the borders against raiders (quite often other Almogavars of neighbouring regions).

There are even some reports of Almogavars acting as paid bounty hunters for wanted criminals (often a fellow Almogavar who failed to respect the law too openly).

As the wars in Spain waged increasingly successful for the Christian kingdoms the Almogavars become more concentrated on the borders with Muslim states and frequently recruited from villages and towns raided by Muslims where revenge was a common motivation similar to many of the later Muslim corsairs of North Africa who were expelled forcefully from Spain but still knew the terrain and the systems of patrols and watches.

The Angevin and Aragon conflict over Sicily also drew the French into Spain and Almogavars were well established as a social class by this point in the last 13th century and able to contribute large numbers of experienced warriors for Peter of Aragon's wars in Italy.

There remained Almogavars on the border with Granada and even for some period after the fall of Granada but they had declined in importance and are rarely mentioned after the integration of Granadan territories.
So where did they primarily recruit from if not Spain? Were most of the grand company men not Aragonese in origin?

Additionally, can you describe the change in armament and tactics as the Catalan company evolved? What exactly happened?

Lastly, do you know anything of Almogavars or Spanish soldiers retiring to Sicily following the War of the vespers and the Italian wars?
 
Likes: walkman

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,118
Portugal
#8
From these descriptions, I don't see much difference between Almogavars and the Iberian Light Infantry of Roman times. Perhaps they were the descendants of the type? They would certainly be easy to raise. Use them in hit and run Guerilla tactics and they would be like the old Light Infantry.

Pruitt
Yes, more than 1000 years apart and we can still see some similarities:

“At any rate, the Lusitanians, it is said, are given to laying ambush, given to spying out, are quick, nimble, and good at deploying troops. They have a small shield two feet in diameter, concave in front, and suspended from the shoulder by means of thongs (for it has neither arm-rings nor handles). Besides these shields they have a dirk or a butcher's-knife. Most of them wear linen cuirasses; a few wear chain-wrought cuirasses and helmets with three crests, but the rest wear helmets made of sinews. The foot-soldiers wear greaves also, and each soldier has several javelins; and some also make use of spears, and the spears have bronze heads.”

Strabo, Geography (III, 3, 6)

By the way, a weapon much forgotten but widely used, for the Ancient period, but even more for the Medieval is the sling. Many times the chronicles don’t tell us directly that the warriors used slings, but then they are narrating a small event and a sling or a small stone appears.

So where did they primarily recruit from if not Spain? Were most of the grand company men not Aragonese in origin?
The Catalan Company was initially formed by Aragonese, veterans from the Sicilian campaign of Pedro III of Aragon. The almogavars were an important part of the company but there were also knights and crossbowmen, and as in any other army, a bunch of followers. Since any campaign leads to casualties, the ranks could be refilled with local recruitment, either from Sicilians, Neapolitans, Greeks, Turks, or any other available mercenaries fighting in the East, and I wouldn't discard even French, from Sicily or Athens (they took French/Burgundian wives in Athens). For instance, Roger de Flor was Sicilian.

At the time of their departure from Massina there were 1500 knights/horsemen, 4000 almogavars, and 1000 other footsoldiers (this initial force must be all considered from the Crown of Aragon). They were later reinforces by 300 knights/horsemen and 1000 almogavars. When Roger de Flor was murdered the Bizantines probably killed many that only 3307 men remained in the company. After a battle with the Genoese only remained 206 horsemen and 1256 on foot. Later, before leaving Gallipoli they were reinforced by Turkish, 800 horsemen and 2000 on foot and some Aragonese.

Most of the numbers were extracted from the already mentioned Chronicle of Ramón Muntaner, but taken from the page 169 of the “History of the Crusades”, edited by Setton, as reference: http://images.library.wisc.edu/Hist...01/0003/reference/history.crusthree.i0018.pdf

Additionally, can you describe the change in armament and tactics as the Catalan company evolved? What exactly happened?

Lastly, do you know anything of Almogavars or Spanish soldiers retiring to Sicily following the War of the vespers and the Italian wars?
About these two questions I don’t know/don’t recall reading about it. But with the number of Turkish reinforcements mentioned it is natural that the armament and tactics adapted.
 
Last edited:
Likes: walkman

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,531
#10
The ginete/jinete/genet (Portuguese/Castilian/Catalan) was the designation given to the light cavalry, without much armor, that fought with disperse order and throwing javelins/spears. Their designation comes from the fact that they mounted the horses with short stirrup, with the knees bended, which allowed them to rise on the horse to better throw the javelin/spear, as opposed to the long stirrups that the heavy knights mounted (“the French way”). It is not totally clear if this tradition in the Iberian Peninsula is original or has a link with similar Berber and Arab influences. They were not seen as a class or social group as the Almogavars in Aragon were seen.

For instance, around 1449 there was in Portugal a Captain-major of the Ginetes and Jaime I of Aragon in the second half of the 13th century ordered his knights to reduce the armor, before a fight to his knights, with the exception of 100 that kept their full amour, and maintained as reserve. It was not uncommon that even kings and nobles mounted “à gineta”/“in the ginete way”. Even a Portuguese king (D. Duarte) wrote about it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bem_cavalgar

Back to the almogavars, still in the 16th century, in the Portuguese “Algarve d'Além Mar” (Portuguese fortress in Morocco and their nearby territory), the Portuguese and allied raids in the lands of the “Moors” were known as “almogaverias” (literally raids conducted by almogavars), even if the men were not known as almogavars anymore.
Wasn't trying to get into history of jenets as I find that fairly interesting as well but it was quite common for men going on raids to ride jenet style and the North Africans and Grenadines were particularly known for this. Also it is mentioned in several chronicles that some men from town militias would gather some horses and go off raiding jenete style which I think was even adopted as a term for raiding similar to the “almogaverias” you mention but I am pretty weak in reading Spanish so I might have misunderstood that part.

Jenets weren't a social class as Almogavars did develop into but not all men who fought as infantry skirmishers were Almogavars and many men with the wealth to own a horse but not formally of higher classes fought as jenetes for lack of other options so while not its own social class jenetes tended to be concentrated with men from certain classes that were not regular villagers and while knights could and did fight in this style it was more common for upper townsfolk.

So where did they primarily recruit from if not Spain? Were most of the grand company men not Aragonese in origin?

Additionally, can you describe the change in armament and tactics as the Catalan company evolved? What exactly happened?

Lastly, do you know anything of Almogavars or Spanish soldiers retiring to Sicily following the War of the vespers and the Italian wars?

Peter of Aragon's expedition to Sicily had few thousand Almogavars along with Aragonese knights, some mercenaries, and other people which was the basis of the Catalan Company but they did use other mercenaries and recruited locally though I think the distinction with the Catalan Company is they kept the formal induction ceremony where a new recruit had to be recommended by several already established Almogavars and prove they were capable and being an Almogavar was more than a title or fighting style but its own society with its own rules.

Tulius already mentioned most of what is known about types of soldiers also in the Catalan Company with Almogavars so not much to add there.

The most famous figure associated with Almogavars that tried to settle in Sicily was Roger of Lauria who led many campaigns that featured Almogavars as a primary fighting force. He was Sicilian though and I've read somewhere that many Almogavars that fought in Italy were also Sardinian and Sicilian who adopted the fighting style of Almogavars and several were accepted into the societies.
 
Last edited:
Likes: walkman