Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
Byzantine military events in the early fourteenth century have captured the imagination of Western scholars for well over a century, thanks to the participation of Spanish mercenaries in the Catalan Company led by the flamboyant Roger de Flor. The important contribution to this military adventure made by another company of mercenaries composed entirely of Alans has been grossly underestimated when not totally ignored by both Western and Russian historians. Since the Alans were implicated in the disastrous defeat of the Byzantines in Anatolia as well as the first historical success of the Turkish leader Osman, eponymous founder of the Ottoman state, examining the specific role of these warriors may shed light on the military debacle that the Byzantines suffered at the hands of the Turks and Catalans in the first decade of the fourteenth century. Despite its importance, the military effectiveness of this company while contributing to the defense of the empire has never been examined in detail, so that the question remains: why did a Mongol-trained division of considerable military potential fail so spectacularly?
The appearance of the Alans in Byzantine service first attracted attention because scholars in Western Europe, especially Spain, have long been fascinated by the adventures of the Catalan Company, comparing its exploits in the East with those of Cortez and Pizarro in the Americas. Although composed of Aragonese, Calabrians, and Sicilians, it is usually referred to as the Catalan Company since most of the officers and men were from Catalonia.