Skip to comments.Remember Lepanto!
Posted on 10/06/2004 7:49:18 PM PDT by Land of the Irish
The year is 1565. On the island of Malta, 600 Knights of St. John, commanding a force of some 8000 men, prepare to defend their island fortress from attack.
These same Catholic Knights had been driven from their previous stronghold, the Isle of Rhodes, in 1522, by the Ottoman Turks. Under Suleyman the Magnificent, the Moslems were pressing hard across Arabia, Syria, Iraq, into Egypt and northern Africa, and had established a strong foothold on the north coast of the Black Sea, the gateway to all of Europe itself. In 1526, the Hungarians had been defeated at the Battle of Mohacs, and only the Austrian Habsburgs now stood in the way of the Moslem advance. Vienna came under attack in 1529, but the Moslems were unable to take the capital, and their over-extended campaign failed.
Now, the Turks had raised a fleet of 181 ships, carrying some 30,000 soldiers, and Malta was the prize they sought. Their goal was to plunder and sweep all the ships of Christian Europe from the Mediterranean. Then, in control of the sea lanes and trade routes, with their naval and economic power supreme, all of Europe would be set to fall before them.
The Turkish fleet appeared off the coast of Malta, and laid siege to the island. All through the summer of 1565 the contest for Malta raged. In the end, the Knights of St. John (Knights of Malta) were victorious, and the Turks were forced to withdraw in defeat. It did not, however, end the threat from the Ottoman Turks.
In 1566, Pius V ascended to the Chair of St. Peter in Rome. Pius V was a Dominican Monk with a reputation for piety and austerity. A teacher of philosophy and theology for 16 years, unlike some previous Popes, he was a humble man who continued to lead the ascetic life of a simple monk even after becoming Pope.
Pius V was also very serious about defending Christendom against the Ottoman Turks. He knew they were not just going to go away and leave Europe in peace. Vienna and the eastern borders continued to be threatened by Moslem military power and incursions, and the Papal States themselves could soon be at risk. Cyprus came under attack again in 1570. Seeing the increasing danger to Christendom, Pius V called on "The Holy League," consisting of the Papal States, Spain, Genoa, Venice, and the Knights of Malta, to address the Moslem threat.
Don Juan of Austria, Chief Commander of the Holy League's fleet, inflicted the largest naval defeat on the Muslims in History.
A Christian naval fleet was assembled under the overall command of Admiral Don John of Austria. Although young (in his twenties), Don John was a capable naval commander. The Spaniards were led by Santa Cruz, the Genoese by Andrea Doria, and the Venetians commanded by Agostin Barbarigo and Sebastian Veniero. The fleet under Don John's command was some 300 ships strong, with over 100 ships and 30,000 men being supplied by Philip II of Spain alone. The Pope personally outfitted and supplied 12 Papal galleys, and provided funding for many of the others as well. The Venetian contingent was around 100 ships, manned in part by additional Spanish soldiers. In the Venetian fleet were six galleasses. Heavier, broader, and much slower than conventional galleys, they were nonetheless technologically advanced - the heavy gun platforms and battleships of their day. All total, over 50,000 men served the fleet as rowers, and another 30,000 were fighting soldiers.
In September of 1571, Don John moved the Catholic fleet east to intercept the Turks at Corfu, but the Turks had already landed, terrorized the population, and then moved on. While anchored off the coast of Cephalonia, news reached Don John that the Christian stronghold at Famagusta on Cyprus had fallen to the Turks, with all prisoners being tortured and then executed by the Moslems.
Don John then pulled up anchor and moved to engage the Turkish fleet in the Gulf of Lepanto, off the southern coast of Greece. The Turkish fleet, some 330 ships strong, under the command of Ali Pasha, had been reinforced by Uluch Ali, the Bey of Algiers, and head of the notorious band of Moslem corsairs (pirates) that had long terrorized Catholic ships in the Mediterranean.
Don Juan of Austria in battle, at the bow of the ship painted by Juan Luna y Novicio.
On the night of October 6, with a favorable wind behind him, Ali Pasha moved his fleet westward toward the mouth of the Gulf of Patras to intercept the approaching ships of the Holy League. The clash that was to come would be the largest naval engagement since the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C.
At dawn, on October 7, 1571, the two fleets met. Don Juan split his fleet into three sections: on the left (north), the Venetians under Agostin Barbarigo; on the right (south), Andrea Doria led the Genoese and Papal galleys; in the center, Don John commanded his flagship and galleys. Santa Cruz, with a force of 35 Spanish and Venetian ships, was held in reserve. He ordered his captains not to fire until close enough to be splattered with Moslem blood. The iron rams were removed from the Christian ships, as the plan was for boarding and close quarter fighting. Two of the large Venetian galleasses were towed into position in front of each of the three Christian divisions.
Ali Pasha's fleet approached in a giant crescent formation, and seeing the opposing fleet, he also ordered his fleet split into three divisions. Ali Pasha himself took up the middle position opposite Don John, and charged forward to engage Don John's ships. The Venetian galleasses opened fire, and almost immediately eight Moslem ships were hit and began to sink. The Catholic galleys, their decks filled with soldiers, opened fire with arquebuses (1) and crossbows as the Moslem ships drew alongside. Ali Pasha's men attempted to board the Catholic ships, but the Spanish soldiers were experienced and well disciplined. Attack after attack was beaten back with deadly shots from their crossbows and arquebuses. 1. An "arquebus" is a primitive smoothbore firearm, the forerunner of the musket and modern rifle.
Fresco of the Lepanto battle plan by Antonio Danti in the Vatican Museums.
Don John ordered the ship of Ali Pasha to be boarded and taken. Two times the boarding attack of the Spanish soldiers was beaten back, but on the third attempt they swarmed over the deck, now awash in blood, and took the ship. Ali Pasha was captured and beheaded on the spot (against the wishes of Don John), and the Battle Flag of the Ottoman Fleet came down off the mainmast. The head of the Turkish admiral was spitted on a long pike and raised on high for all the enemy ships to see. The Turkish attack in the center collapsed, and Don John sent his ships in pursuit of the retreating Turks, and also turned to aid in the battles raging on his flanks.
On the Catholic right, Uluch Ali and his pirates had broken through Doria's lines and managed to capture the flagship of the Knights of St. John. Santa Cruz, seeing what had happened, came up to the rescue, and Uluch Ali was forced to abandon his prize. The Genoese were in a fight for their lives with the remainder of Uluch Ali's ships, but after Don John had broken the enemy fleet in the center, he turned and came to the aid of the Genoese. The Algerian corsairs were finally overcome, and fled for their lives in full retreat.
Admiral Mahomet Sirocco, commanding the Turkish right (on the Catholic left), sailed close to the rocks and shallows on the northern shore of the gulf and was able to outflank Barbarigo's Venetian galleys. Barbarigo's flagship was surrounded by eight enemy galleys, and the Catholic Admiral fell dead from Turkish arrows. His flagship was taken for a time, but aid finally arrived, and Sirocco's flagship galley was sunk. The Turkish admiral was yanked out of the water, and, like Ali Pasha, killed right on the spot.
The engagement lasted, all total, around four to five hours. When it was all over, 8,000 men who had sailed with Don John were dead and another 16,000 wounded. The Turks and Uluch Ali's corsairs had over 25,000 dead, and untold thousands more wounded and captured. Over 12,000 Catholic galley slaves had also been rescued from the Moslems. The Venetian galleasses had taken a heavy toll on the Turkish fleet. It was a major victory for the Holy League and Christendom.
Heaven participates in the battle. Saints Peter, Roch, Justine and Mark ask Our Lady to help the Catholic fleet. Painting by Paolo Veronese.
At dawn, on October 7, 1571, as recorded in the Vatican Archives, Pope Pius V, accompanied by a group of the faithful, entered the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to pray the Rosary and ask Our Lady to intercede for a Catholic victory. The prayers continued in Rome as the Catholic and Moslem fleets battled far away in the Gulf of Lepanto. Later in the day, the Pope is said to have suddenly interrupted his business with some Cardinals, and looking up, cried out, "A truce to business! Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given the Catholic army." The Pope, of course, had no way of knowing that the battle was taking place and being decided on that very day. (No cell phones in 1571!)
When news of the victory finally reached Europe, church bells rang out in cities all across the continent. The Battle of Lepanto was a decisive victory, with only 40 of the over 300 Moslem ships surviving the engagement. The Turkish force of some 75,000 men was in ruins.
The battle, although a great victory for Catholic Europe, did not end the threat of invasion, or completely break the power of the Ottoman Turks. More naval and land battles would follow in the years to come, and Vienna itself would come under attack again, and yet again.
Today, the long clash between Christendom and Islam is still evident in the political and ethnic geography of Europe, Africa, Byzantium, and north into Russia. The battle also extends, in varying degrees, throughout the Near and Far East, and the Islands of the Pacific as well.
Many Christian knights, soldiers, and sailors have died defending Christendom against the onslaughts of Islam down through the centuries. Today, the borders of many European countries, Canada, and the United States are practically wide open, and the old enemy is invited to come in and make himself at home. And many 'Christians' in the West are just too busy enjoying their material prosperity to be bothered with unpleasant history.
But the enemy has not forgotten history. He remembers it all too well, and he is still deadly serious about his religion. His goal over the years has not changed in the slightest, and he is very patient. The enemy within is now smiling, just biding his time.
And long dead Christian knights, our ancestors in the Faith, are probably turning over in their graves right about now, trying desperately to shout out a warning. The final chapter, it seems, has yet to be written....
The Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571
In hoc signo vinces
Pius V messed up big time. he should have known that Islam was "a religion of peace" and he should have had to "pass a global test" before he went into battle.
Past threads on Lepanto:
The Battle of Lepanto (thread from 2001, containing text of G.K. Chesterton poem on Lepanto)
The Naval Battle of Lepanto (2001 thread on the history of the battle)
The Miracle at Lepanto (2002 thread on the religious aspect to the Battle)
Chesterton's Lepanto (2003 thread on the poem)
The Battle of Lepanto (2003 thread, same article as 2001 article on history of the battle, different thread participants)
On This Day In History, The Battle of Lepanto (2003 thread on the history of the battle, from Alex's Military History)
The Battle of Lepanto (2004 thread, article written by Joe Palmwer)
Ping to post #5.
bumpus ad summum
In addendum to the story of Lepanto.
The pope subsequently designated October 7 as the feast of Our Lady of Victory, later renamed the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary, to honor the Blessed Mother in her role as intercessor in Lepanto.
Excellent post. I watched a show about this a couple months ago on EWTN.
It is tragic that Europe has abandoned everything that once made it great.
Lepanto ended the dominance of Islam for 400 years. We need another Lepanto NOW. After Iraq on to Iran.
Death to Islam. Conversion to the Muslims.
Impressive list of FR threads.
"ahem. Or ended it until 1683."
Huh? Before Lepanto the West lived in constant fear of Islamic invasion. The Moslems had promised to "turn the Vatican into a horse stable". The shattering Catholic victory over the Moslem fleet at Lepanto ended Islamic military and naval supremecy forever. The Ottoman Empire continued on, but Islam was never again the threat it was to the West prior to Lepanto.
This doesn't relate directly to the great battle of Lepanto, but it does give some more information on the Holy Crusades (and in particular the First Holy Crusade under Blessed Pope Urban the 2nd)...
Compare the approach of our forefathers in the Faith with the modernist pacifist, UN-supporters now in control.
I'm arguing that the Moslem military - particularly naval - superiority over Christendom was forever diminished after Lepanto, and it never regained its former capabilities and military supremacy.
According the great historian Hillaire Belloc, "whenever the Turks went on the march, all of Western Europe shuddered". Prior to Lepanto the Turks ruled the seas, and Moslem corsairs terrorized Catholic ships along the Mediterranean. The Turkish fleet had just crushed the Christian fortress in Cypress. They then threatened to enter Western Europe and 'turn the Vatican into a horse stable'. If Lepanto had been lost to the Turks, what would have stopped them from carrying out their threat? Probably nothing!
The Christian fleet at Lepanto sank or damaged nearly the entire Turkish fleet, and the rout came at a relatively small cost to Don Juan's armada. It was, in fact, considered to be a miracle. The Turks never re-established their pre-Lepanto naval supremacy. You're correct in saying the victory at Lepanto didn't end the Ottoman Empire, they remained a power on the land and did eventually rebuild their navy. They also attacked Vienna several more times. But had the Ottomans been victorious at Lepanto, (and they believed it would be easy for them), it would have made them supreme in the Mediterranean and placed them in a great position to attack all of Europe.
There were 80,000 Christian fighters and rowers on the Christian fleet, supposedly the best of the best. Also, when they routed the Turkish fleet they rescued more than 10,000 Christian slaves, (some of them soldiers), who had been forced to row the Turkish fleet. That's a total of 95,000 Christian fighters and rowers who would have been lost had the battle gone the other way, and the Christian fleet would have been lost as well.
I know that there were several more naval battles after Lepanto, and that Viena came under attack several times. It took several more centuries after Lepanto before the final demise of the Ottoman Empire, but from the perspective of the threat they were before Lepanto, the Ottomans were no longer considered invincible, and they no longer had the power or confidence to take Western Europe. Lepanto was the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.
The obligatory poem:
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain--hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth _ha_!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle
They veil the plume graved lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)