On this day was born the Admiral of the Catalan Army Roger de Llúria who was never been equaled, not even by Horatio Nelson

Roger de Llúria (17.1.1250-19.1,1305), was Catalan Admiral from Italian origin. The term “admiral” was used for the first time by King Roger II, in its Latin form “amiratus amiratorum” in 1133, to designate his adviser George of Antioch as the “commander of commanders”, a role that can be considered as analogous to the modern “prime minister”. At that time the honorific was not related to the command of the naval fleet. Indeed, only in 1177 was this title, given by William II of Sicily to Walter of Moac, related to the command of the royal fleet. Since then, many people have had the honor of receiving this title, but of them Roger of Lauria has always been considered as the most valiant and important admiral of Middle Ages.

The life of Roger of Llúria, whose invincibility, with over twenty years of naval combat activity and no defeats at sea (the only one was the Battle of Catanzaro in 1297, due to the inadequacy of the Angevins), has never been equaled, not even by the great Horatio Nelson. Despite his victories and the efficiency of his naval strategies, Roger of Lauria’s fame hasn’t reached further because, according to John Pryor, many medievalists were more interested to the Hundred Years War.

Roger’s origins are not clear. His surname is perhaps related to Lauria, a small town in the province of Potenza, in Basilicata, where there are still the ruins of the fortress belonging to his family, but the historian Ramon Muntaner, who personally knew him, refers to Roger of Lauria as a Calabrian, probably from Scalea. The same halo of mystery regards the origin of Roger’s father, while his mother is identified as Donna Bella (“Lady Bella”), who was the nursemaid of Constance II of Sicily, Manfred’s daughter, and through which was related to the Hohenstaufen family.

In 1262 Roger moved to the court of Aragon with his mother and Constance II, the future Queen of Aragon, who was married to Peter of Aragon, the son of James I the Conqueror. Since then, his life has been always linked with the fate or Aragon and later of Sicily, where he made his strategic genius available for the protection of the island.

Roger’s military activity started in the late 1260s, and after having repressed the Saracen rebellion in Valencia he was appointed admiral of the royal fleet in 1278. After the death of James I of Aragon, the expansionist aims of his son, Peter III of Aragon, were directed to the conquest of Sicily, that was assigned to Charles I of Anjou by the Holy See after the death of Conrad I, the eldest son of the Emperor Fredrick II.

Both Roger and Peter’s life were strictly connected to the fate of the Regno (Southern Italy and Sicily). The first according to the tradition lost his father, Richard (who would have been at King’s Manfred side at the final moments of his life), at the Battle of Benevento in 1266. The second was betrothed to Constance, Manfred’s daughter and heir of the Regno.

The insurrection that triggered the War of Sicilian Vespers occurred in Palermo in 1282 and was the perfect opportunity for Peter to establish the influence of the Aragon Kingdom over Sicily, historically considered as the most strategic point in the Mediterranean Sea.

The role of Roger of Lauria was to establish the supremacy of the Catalan-Sicilian fleet over the Angevins, due to his incredible strategic ability and to the quality of his fleet, compound by almugavars (devastators in Arabic) and by the Catalans crossbowmen, considered the most feared in all Europe.

The first opportunity for Roger to show his qualities, after having been appointed Admiral of the Kingdom of Catalonia, Valencia and Sicily in 1283, was the Battle of Malta on the 8th of June. The strategic intelligence of Roger of Lauria allowed his fleet, that consisted of less vessels than the flotilla commanded by Prince Charles of Salerno, to block the Angevin ships at the Grand Harbour in Malta. A peculiar strategy adopted by Roger was to bridle his vessels together in an open alignment, using iron cables, called flanella.

After the defeat of the Angevins in Malta, the fleet commanded by Roger of Lauria was able to inflict other sound defeats on the Angevins, drastically reducing their aspiration of dominating the Southern Italy.

The first of these victories was the Battle of Naples in 1284 and that allowed the Aragonese to take as hostage Charles the Lame (the Prince of Salerno), the son of Charles of Anjou. The use of iron cables to bridle the Aragonese ships was fundamental also in this battle to catch a big part of the Angevin fleet. In this battle, Roger of Lauria turned the fact of having less vessels than the Angevin flotilla to his advantage. Roger understood that the confusion of the battle could compromise the communication between his ships and that the only solution “… was a well-devised but simple battle plan, easily executed in the heat of the combat”.

Roger’s assaults on Nicotera and on the cities of both Tyrrhenian and Ionian Calabria, contributed to distract Charles of Anjou from attempting to invade Sicily, and consequently, the defeat inflicted on the French fleet at Les Formigues in 1285 made Roger of Lauria the most feared admiral by the enemies of the Kingdom of Aragon.

After the death of Peter III of Aragon, Roger of Lauria found himself to serving two masters: King Alfonso, heir to the crown, and James, appointed King of Sicily. Roger of Lauria showed again his strength at the Battle of the Counts, fought in the Gulf of Naples in 1287.

After James I agreed in 1295 to the Treaty of Anagni, that provided the concession of Sicily to the Angevins in change of their renunciation to invade the Kingdom of Aragon, the position of Roger of Lauria became more problematic, and between the loyalty to the King James I and the link with Sicily, he chose to stay at the side of Frederick of Sicily in order to defend the island from Charles of Artois.

The relationship between Frederick of Sicily and Roger soon showed signs of strain and after two years Roger of Lauria found himself to fight on the side of the Aragonese-Angevin army against the Sicilians, defeating their fleet at Capo D’Orlando, which was followed by the Angevin’s defeats at the Battle of Falconaria, near Trapani in 1299, and at the Battle of Gagliano in 1300. The Battle of Ponza represented Roger’s last victory, before the Treaty of Caltabellotta ended the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1302.

To know more:

Roger of Lauria (c.1250-1305): "Admiral of Admirals"

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