ALMUGHAVAR MERCENARY c. 1302

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2
by Ian Heath



58.      ALMUGHAVAR MERCENARY c. 1302

The original almughavari were Valencian and Murcian mountaineers, but those who entered Byzantine service in the 14th century (called Amogavaroi by the Byzantines) were somewhat more cosmopolitan, including Spaniards of all sorts and even some Frenchmen, though the majority remained Catalans as before. The name Almughavari is probably Arabic in origin, and is best translated as ‘raiders’, ‘skirmishers’ or ‘light troops’.

Their costume comprised tunic, short fur jacket, leather leggings, coarse shoes (scarponi, leather or possibly hempen sandals), and a leather cap, plus a scrip-bag slung across the shoulder containing as many small loaves as the anticipated number of days in an expedition. Complexion was swarthy, hair long and black, and beard wild. Arms consisted of javelins, a stout, broad-bladed spear and a short sword called a coutell catalanesc. The spear was long enough that is needed to be broken short for close-fighting, as Muntanar’s chronicle confirms (see volume 1 for this practice in Western Europe). Normally no shield was carried nor any armour worn, though Francisco de Moncada, an early-17th century historian, refers to ‘an iron network worn on the head like a helmet’, perhaps meaning a mail cap or hood. He also says that ‘usually 3 or 4 throwing darts’ were carried, while other sources speak of just 2. These javelins were called by the name azagaya, a Berber word which via Spanish was to become assegai; they could penetrate mail or helmet at close range and were also sometimes used as stabbing weapons. Moncada says ‘they hurled these darts with such speed and violence that they challenged armoured men and horses’. We see the effectiveness of this combination of weapons in an episode recorded by Muntaner, where a single Almughavar officer discomfitted 5 mounted French men-at-arms. Of these he killed the first with a javelin in the chest; brought down the horse of the second with his spear (pinning down its rider, whose throat he cut with his knife); killed the third with his other javelin; disabled the fourth by breaking his jaw with a well-aimed stone; and brought down the fifth by spearing his horse after first wounding the rider in the thigh.

The Almughavari chiefly fought on foot, but in their successes against the Byzantines in 1305 they captured enough horses to enable many to ride to battle, though Muntaner confirms that ‘when it came to the attack, a great many . . . dismounted from their horses, for they were bolder on foot than on horseback.’



See also Early Almughavari in Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300 by Ian Heath

Next: 59. ITALIAN MERCENARY, 15th CENTURY in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Ian Heath






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