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10 - Friend or Foe? The Catalan Company as Proxy Actors in the Aegean and Asia Minor Vacuum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2017

Mike Carr
Affiliation:
teaching fellow in medieval history at the University of Edinburgh.
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Summary

The term “vacuum” could apply to the Aegean and Asia Minor region at almost any point between the shattering of the Byzantine empire by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. During these years the area was divided amongst a number of competing factions, few of whom – with the exception of the Ottomans in the fifteenth century – dominated for any significant length of time. Despite this instability, the region remained hugely important, especially within the context of trade between Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia. As a consequence it was hotly contested by internal and external powers from a variety of ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. In particular, the region witnessed the growing use of “proxy actors” by external forces, who aligned themselves with local factions in order to gain influence and further their interests in the area. The study of proxy warfare in the Aegean and Asia Minor takes on added significance, given the prevalence of discussions amongst military historians and policy makers around “epochal change theory” and the emergence of a “new Middle Ages” or “neo-Medievalism” in modern military encounters, which it is claimed has led to a rise in irregular warfare against violent non-state actors, for which proxies of various types are regularly employed (e.g. warlords, militias and mercenaries). Thus, when compared to present- day military encounters – not least in regions of the Middle East where a power vacuum has also developed into a crucible of different competing factions and intervening (but indecisive) outside powers – certain parallels can be drawn with the use of proxies in the fourteenth-century Aegean and Asia Minor.

Of particular importance for the discussion ofmedieval proxy actors in this region are the mercenary band known as the Catalan Grand Company, who campaigned in Asia Minor, the Aegean andGreece from1303 to 1311, before conquering the duchy of Athens and ruling it until 1388. The exploits of the Catalan Company are well known and have been the focus of many detailed studies, pioneered by Antonio Rubió y Lluch in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kenneth M. Setton made the Catalans accessible to an English readership in the mid-twentieth century through his studies into their rulership of Athens, many aspects of which have since been expanded and improved by other eastern-Mediterranean specialists.

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Journal of Medieval Military History
Volume XIV
, pp. 163 - 178
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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