March the 15th, 1311. 700 years ago 1, 2. It’s early in the morning and the fog is still here, where the Francs’ heavy armours shine under the light. In a plain which used to be a lake, now dried up and surrounded by hills, two armies are facing each other. 20,000 Franks with their 200 best knights. The opponents are few, only 5,000 Catalans, half-hidden at the end of the plain, by the hills. The Duke of the Franks casts a brief look at the area. He impatiently nods to one of his officers. He seems sure of his victory. He looks far away at the enemy flags. He remembers the last words he exchanged yesterday with those who went to the enemy side.
Sire, we’d better die with our brethren than fight against them.
He ponders at how generous his answer has been:
You’re allowed to go die with them.
Before the battle, some men from both sides have made their vows, while others, like the Duke, a testament. Some others, one can imagine, have just said their prayers. He raises his hand, then suddenly puts it down and orders them to attack. In the middle of the plain the horses run and the shout of the Duke is multiplied by his knights and cavalry. Their voices get louder, they look like a black cloud on the green landscape.
The grand Duke’s horse is ahead and among the best of the Frankish knights and local sires. The country hasn’t often seen these fearsome riders in a battle, with the Brienne flag in front of them.
No sooner are they in the middle of the plain when they discover that under the safe looking grass, lies a dangerous swamp. Too late to back away. The impetus of the attack, their heavy armours and the weight of their horses made the knights go down in the mud. From a distance they could hear the Catalans triumphantly shout “Aragon! Aragon!” Τheir arrows were falling upon them like heavy rain. Some horses went down taking their riders with them. Some others seemed glued with mud and stood motionless like statues.
The Franks fought to a man, for their “homeland”, an area they had conquered more than a hundred years ago. According to Catalan sources, at least 20,000 soldiers and 700 Frankish knights were lost that day.
It may sound strange, but the battle described above, didn’t take place at some plain of Northern Europe but in Greece, somewhere near Almyros, near the city of Volos, or according to an older source, in Copais of Boeotia. The Frankish Duke was called Gauier de Brienne, sire of Athens and Thebes, whereas on the other side was the Catalan Company with Roger de Flor. The Franks who were the rulers of the area, had asked the Catalan mercenaries to leave Greece, as they considered them a threat to the area. They refused to do so and a battle took place which would be the end of the best French knights. Thus, the dynasty from Burgundy was replaced by Catalan mercenaries for the next 70 years.
In reality the surviving Frankish knights were six and that’s how I crossed paths with one of them and with his history:
A while ago I went to Akraifnion, a village of Boeotia near the Athens-Lamia National Road, in order to work at the restoration of the byzantine church of St.George. The church was built by one of the Frankish knights who survived that terrible battle, allegedly as fullfillment of his vow taken during the battle. He was of Flemish descent and was called Antoine le Flamenc or Antonio da Flamma or «most pious rider messer Antoni de Flamma» according to the inscription. Today, at the darkest place of the church, behind the more recent episcopal throne, one can see two painted angels. These are almost the only murals remaining from the original ones done upon request from de Flamma; the interior of the church was painted twice more in the following centuries. The angels painted by the unknown artist are those who guard the knight’s grave, remaining there so many centuries later, as a small testimony of a lost era.