The fire and the precipice

The following curious passage brought back memories of a quiet Tuesday several years ago:

The sixty Catalans imprisoned in Adrianople, after the murder of Caesar [German adventurer, Roger de Flor, leader of the Pyrenean mercenaries known as the Almogávares], on hearing the rumour of the defeat of the young emperor [Michael Palaeologos, who had Roger de Flor killed in Adrianople in 1305], which had spread everywhere, made a break for freedom, and after breaking their chains, climbed to the highest part of the tower, from where they threw down a great quantity of stones to drive away those who could prevent them descending. But all their efforts were in vain, because the inhabitants came to the aid of the garrison’s soldiers. Most of the prisoners were forced to give themselves up, and only a small number preferred to die than fall into the hands of their enemies. Then the inhabitants brought a great quantity of wood to burn the tower and those inside, but the violence of the flames only served to double the firmness of their valour. Suddenly they threw their clothes to put out the fire, but on seeing that this made no difference, they embraced to say their last goodbye, strengthened themselves with the sign of the cross, and threw themselves right into the flames. Two brothers, present more in spirit than in flesh, hugged each other tightly and threw themselves down, and died as a consequence of the fall; but having seen before they jumped a young man who appeared petrified by fear of the fire and the precipice and prepared rather to submit to shameful servitude than suffer a death so terrible, they threw him into the middle of the blaze, and believed in losing him to have saved him. Desperation drove them to such a cruel extreme.

The original source–De Michaele et Andronico Paloelogis, Libre tredecim by the Byzantine historian Geórgios Paquimeres–was cited in Chroniques étrangères relatives aux expéditions françaises (Paris, 1841) and then in Antoni Rubió i Lluch’s L’expedició catalana a l’Orient vista pels grecs (Barcelona, 2004, translation into Catalan of 1883 Spanish original) (see also this post).

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