The Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571: European States Against the Ottoman Empire

There Battle of Lepantoalso known as the Battle of the Echinades or the Curzolari, was fought on October 7, 1571 between the Ottoman Empire and a coalition of European powers. It was the largest naval battle of the modern age. About 400 ships and more than 100,000 men They faced each other in the Gulf of Corinth, near the town of Lepanto (today a hamlet of Naupatto). The battle was one of the main events of the Fourth Turkish-Venetian Warwhich broke out in 1570 after the Ottoman Empire invaded and conquered the island of Cyprus. Pope Pius V managed to form a anti-Ottoman coalitionwhich included Venice, the Kingdom of Spain and other Catholic states. The coalition clearly defeated the Ottoman fleet, but the victory did not allow the reconquest of the island of Cyprus.

The Causes of the Battle of Lepanto: The Confrontation Between the Ottoman Empire and Venice

The origins of the Battle of Lepanto are to be found in the rise of the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim state that between the 15th and 16th centuries conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul), Anatolia and vast territories in the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkan Peninsula, establishing itself as the main military power of the time. Ottoman expansion challenged the position of the Republic of Venice, which possessed vast territories in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Crete, the Peloponnese and Cyprus.

More generally, the rise of the Ottomans frightened the European statesbut they were unable to form a coalition because they were often at war with each other and were divided, after the Protestant Reformation, also on a religious level.

The Cyprus War

Venice fought three wars against the Ottomans between 1463 and 1540 and was forced to cede some territories, including the entire Peloponnese.

The fourth Turkish-Venetian war broke out in 1570 because the Ottoman Empire, led by the Sultan Selim IIasked the Serenissima to cede the island of Cyprus. Venice refused and Selim’s troops invaded the island. The main clash took place in Famagustain the eastern part of Cyprus: after a siege, the Turks conquered the city, put to death the defenders and flayed alive the commander of the fortress, Mark Anthony Bragadin. All Cyprus fell into the hands of the sultan.

The sides: the Holy League and the Ottomans

In Europe, the Pope Pius V he managed to form an alliance between Venice and Spainwhich went down in history as the Holy League, which other Catholic states also joined. The Pope hoped to promote a crusade against the Ottomans, but the members of the alliance were motivated not so much by religious as by political and military reasons: Spain intended to conquer territories in North Africa and drive away pirates; Venice was interested in reconquering its possessions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Despite the differences, the League managed to form a fleet of 204 galleysthat is, warships armed with cannons and equipped with both oars and sails, supplied mainly by Spain and Venice. To the galleys were added six galleasses Venetians, ships of larger dimensions and equipped with more powerful guns. In total, the coalition ships carried about 28,000 soldiers, 13,000 sailors and 43,000 rowers (partly Muslim slaves). The fleet was under the command of Don John of Austriaa military man and diplomat in the service of the King of Spain.

The Turks opposed a force of 216 galleys and numerous smaller units, under the command of Muezzinza Ali Pasha. The number of soldiers and sailors was however inferior to that of the European coalition.

Arrangement of ships

The course of the battle and who won it

In the’October 1571 the European fleet, having assembled, moved to intercept the Ottoman ships. On October 7, having reached the waters of Lepanto, it lined up before the enemy, ready to give battle.

Don John of Austria divided his ships in three sectors: the left one was under the command of the Venetian Agostino Barbarigo, the center was placed under his direct orders and the right sector was commanded by the Genoese Gian Andrea Doria. Along the entire deployment, the first line was formed by the galleasses, which started the battle by opening fire on the Turkish ships. Since the galleasses, considered floating castles, could not be boarded, Muezzinzade Ali decided to go around them to fall upon the Christian galleys. When the Turks approached, a violent bombardment on both sides, in which the Christian ships managed to inflict greater damage on the enemy. After the cannon shots, the galleys approached each other and a battle took place the boardings: the ships “hooked” the enemy and the soldiers on board fought as if on dry land. The battle raged for about four hoursat the end of which the European fleet gained the upper hand.

The losses were numerous: among the Christians there were 7,500 dead and as many wounded, in addition to the loss of 17 ships; the Turks lost 30,000 men between dead and captured and almost all their ships, which were sunk or captured.

The aftermath of the Battle of Lepanto

The Battle of Lepanto was celebrated throughout Europe as a great victory of Christianity over Islam. In reality, the battle had important consequences not so much on a strategic level, but on a psychologicalbecause he demonstrated that the ottoman empire was not unbeatable. The Christian powers, on the other hand, were not able to exploit the victory, also because of the rivalries that existed between them, and the Ottomans were able retain possession of Cyprus and all other territories in the Mediterranean and Europe.

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