Catalan Revenge (Venjança Catalana) is the name given to the wars that took place between the Companyia Catalana d’Orient against the Greek people during the Bizantium Imperium from 1305 to 1307. It seems the horror caused in the Greek population during this war, was printed so deep in their souls that even nowadays, after more than 700 years there still are popular Greek sayings and phrases related to it: in Albanian katala means monster and they use it to scare children; and the Greeks still say something like: “Be careful that you won’t get the Catalan revenge”.
Many have written in Catalan, Spanish and English about the battles and wars of the Catalan Almogàvers and their legendary call “Desperta ferro!”; they used to cry it loud while hitting their swords against their shields and scaring their enemies with that peculiar sound of swords before they would start any battle. However, few writers along history have accurately explained the details of Almogàvers, but Ramon Muntaner, the renown medieval Catalan historian that worked for the Catalan king’s court most of his life.
For the lucky ones, like me, who were born after Franco died, we had the privilege to study the real Catalan history at schools, and we studied Ramon Muntaner’s chronicles. There, we learned by heart the history of Almogàvers and its main general Roger de Flor and all the wars and battles they were involved in. And of course, we learned all the details of the Catalan revenge wars happened in Greece. The story I have learned is more or less so:
“In 1302, the army of the Almogàvers had just finished important war in the Catalan kingdom of Sicily, and they were called to help the Bizantium emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos against the Turkish invasion. In exchange of their help, the Catalan army would obtain a valuable amount of gold and its general, Roger de Flor, would become duke of the Western Roman Empire by marrying the king’s niece.
They accepted, so in September 1303 they arrived to Constantinople and were truly welcome by the Greeks. Soon, Andronikos asked the Catalan army to go for a special mission to Atarki, where the Turkish troops were resting. In less than 8 days, Roger de Flor and his army destroyed the Turkish site and left nobody alive older than 10 years old. In the next 3 years the Catalans cleaned Greece from Turkish presence and Andronic was celebrating he had recovered full power on his territory.
Michael IX Palaiologos, son of Andronikos II, took over the Bizantium empire at his father death too young, so Roger the flor was concerned his lack of character and experience would cause the Turkish to be back to Greece; thus, he claim to become Ceasar of Bizantium to be able to protect the Cristian territory from the Otomans. But the new emperor did not like it, he was fearful and envious of the power of the Almogàvers: due to the victories and successes along the years, the Greek population started to praise Roger de Flor, now duke of Bizantium, so the young emperor felt threaten by the Catalan general popularity, as they were heroes who had freed them from the Turkish. So he planned to betray the Catalans.
Before leaving for a new campaign in the region of Anatolia, Roger de flor and some of his best men were invited to the court for a farewell dinner. There they were brutally assassinated: the Greek emperor had contracted Albanese assassins to kill them. At the same time, he gave instructions to attack by surprise Catalan pacific merchants and Almogàvers families. The few Catalan survivors sheltered in Galipoli. Berenguer d’Entença the only best men from Roger de Flor trust circle that was still alive, regrouped the survivors and started planning the Catalan revenge: they completely exterminated villages and cities as they moved towards Athens, spreading horror everywhere, as their thirst for revenge was unsatisfied.
When Berenguer d’Entença was put in prison in Genova, a new leader was chosen for the Almogàvers: Bernat de Rocafort, who decided to stay in Greece and finish the revenge at all costs. They even sank their own ships to resist the temptation to go back home, since the Greek army was 10 times bigger than theirs. But in a strategic offensive, the Catalan army defeated the Bizantium one, and Almogàvers became so insane in their victory that they took full blood revenge for the loss of their loved ones. Many Greeks and Macedonians feared the Catalans so much that they preferred to kill their own families before the Catalans would arrive to their towns, as that would mean the worst death ever.”
These historical facts explain very well how Catalan people feel and react on a betrayal. It is not “eye for an eye”, it means much more for us. They say the Sicilian families that were the core of the “Italian mafia” roots, got the same way of revenge as they are genetically descendants of Almogàvers (they occupied the island for more than 3 centuries).
For Catalans, betrayal is totally unacceptable. It is something so much against our moral and basic family values that our over reaction is sometimes unstoppable… Like the Almogàvers… desperta ferro! We’re coming for settling of scores!