Roger di Flor

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Roger di Flor was the second son of a falconer in the service of the emperor Frederick II. His father fell at the battle of Tagliacozzo in 1268, and Roger, at the age of eight years old, was sent to sea in a galley belonging to the Knights Templar.

He entered the order and became commander of a galley. At the siege of Acre by the Saracens in 1291 he was accused and denounced to the pope as a thief and an apostate, was degraded from his rank, and fled to Genoa, where he began to play the pirate.

This was the period of the struggle between the kings of Aragon and the French kings of Naples for the possession of Sicily. Roger entered the service of Frederick, king of Sicily, who gave him the rank of vice-admiral. At the close of the war, in 1302, as Frederick was anxious to free the island from his mercenary troops (called Almagavares), whom he had no longer the means of paying, Roger induced them under his leadership to seek new adventures in the East, in fighting against the Turks, who were ravaging the Byzantine empire.

The emperor Andronicus II. accepted his offer of service; in September 1303 Roger with his fleet and army arrived at Constantinople. He was adopted into the imperial family, was married to a grand-daughter of the emperor, and was made grand duke and commander-in-chief of the army and the fleet. After some weeks lost in dissipation, intrigues and bloody quarrels, Roger and his men were sent into Asia, and after some successful encounters with the Turks they went into winter quarters at Cyzicus. In May 1304 they again took the field, and rendered the important service of relieving Philadelphia, at this time invested and reduced to extremities by the Turks.

However Roger, bent on advancing his own interests rather than those of the emperor, determined to found in the East a principality for himself. He beseiged the city of Magnesia, but his attacks were repulsed, and he was compelled to retire. Being recalled to Europe, he settled his troops in Gallipoli and other towns, and visited Constantinople to demand pay for the Almagavares. Dissatisfied with the small sum granted by the emperor, he plundered the country and carried on intrigues both with and against the emperor, receiving reinforcements all the while from all parts of southern Europe.

Roger was now created Caesar (the last man to be invested with the title), but shortly afterwards the young emperor Michael Palaeologus, not daring to attack the fierce and now augmented bands of adventurers, invited Roger to Adrianople, and there contrived his assassination and the massacre of his Catalan cavalry (April 4, 1306). His death was avenged by his men in a fierce and prolonged war against the Greeks.