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Lepanto, Battle of

LEPANTO, BATTLE OF

LEPANTO, BATTLE OF. The Battle of Lepanto took place on 67 October 1571 between the Catholic Holy League fleet led by Don Juan of Austria, a bastard son of Habsburg emperor Charles V, and an Ottoman fleet under Müezzinzade Ali Pasha. It occurred at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras, near where the Peloponnesian peninsula joins the mainland (now in modern Greece). An Ottoman debacle, Lepanto was the last great galley battle in the Mediterranean. The Ottomans sent about 280 ships there, and the Holy League had about the same number. The battle featured the use by the Holy League of a new naval weapon: galleasses. These were Venetian merchant ships outfitted with high cannon superstructures sent in front of the armada to pound the Ottoman fleet as it tried to sweep around them. Debate has persisted about whether it was these new ships with their improved firepower or the Ottoman failure to outflank the Christian force that caused the latter's victory. The battle resulted in about two hundred Ottoman ships being sunk or captured and thirty thousand Ottoman sailors and soldiers killed or captured with only minimal casualties on the Christian side.

A CELEBRATED BUT QUESTIONABLE MILESTONE

This defeat occurred only one month after the shattering Ottoman defeat of Venetian forces defending Cyprus, which the Ottomans then conquered and controlled for the next three centuries. Lepanto was soon celebrated in Europe as a reversal of this defeat and as the end of many years of naval defeats that the Ottomans had inflicted on the Christians. The battle came to be seen as the beginning of subsequent naval decline of the Ottoman Empire. Some modern historians have discounted this view by pointing out that the Ottoman Empire rebuilt virtually the entire fleet that it had lost at Lepanto within a year. Others have pointed out that although the Ottomans did restore their fleet, they suffered a crippling loss of manpower that was particularly harmful for galley warfare. The battle provided a psychological boost for the Catholic world then locked in numerous conflicts across Europe. It was commemorated in Europe through paintings and drawings that depicted it as evidence of a renewed crusading spirit. Miguel de Cervantes, a soldier for Habsburg Spain, was so severely wounded in the hand at Lepanto that he became a writer. G. K. Chesterton memorialized the battle in a poem.

Lepanto proved the last great Christian-Muslim naval battle in the Mediterranean since privateers and corsairs increasingly dominated naval warfare there. Large-scale Christian-Muslim galley warfare ended in the Mediterranean, perhaps because this battle revealed to both sides the difficulties of permanently controlling this sea. The change may simply reflect, however, that the arena of naval combat had shifted to include the Atlantic and more distant oceans and seas. Ottoman, Habsburg, and Venetian acceptance of the inability of any one power to control the whole Mediterranean after Lepanto led to both a rise in piracy and more commercial activity between traditional partners like Genoa, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire, as well as newcomers like the British, the Dutch and the French.

See also Austro-Ottoman Wars ; Cervantes, Miguel de ; Galleys ; Holy Leagues ; Juan de Austria, Don .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Guilmartin, John F., Jr. Galleons and Galleys. London, 2002.

. Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century. London and New York, 1974.

. "The Tactics of the Battle of Lepanto Clarified." In New Aspects of Naval History, edited by Craig L. Symonds, pp. 4165. Annapolis, Md., 1981.

Hess, Andrew. "The Battle of Lepanto and Its Place in Mediterranean History." Past and Present 57 (November 1972): 5373.

Ernest Tucker

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Lepanto, Battle of

Lepanto, Battle of

A momentous naval battle that took place off the western coast of Greece on October 7, 1571, between the Holy Leagueallied Christian forces of Spain, Venice, Genoa, the Papacy, and other statesand the fleet of the Ottoman Empire. Members of the Holy League were determined to end Ottoman dominance of the eastern Mediterranean, and Turkish interference with merchant shipping of Spain, France, and Italy. To that end, the Christians assembled at Messina, Sicily, a fleet of about two hundred ships, most of them large rowed galleys, placing them under the command of John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V. Aboard the ships was a powerful force of thirty thousand infantry, a number that approximated a Turkish war fleet commanded by Ali Pasha.

The two fleets engaged for several hours before the Turks fled the scene with about forty of their ships intact. Several thousand Christian galley slaves were liberated, and the Turks lost eighty ships and about fifteen thousand killed or captured sailors. About seven thousand members of the Holy League were casualties, including the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who suffered a grievous wound to his arm. Although their navy was severely weakened by the defeat, the Turks remained in control of the eastern Mediterranean and soon afterward seized the island of Cyprus from control by Venice.

See Also: Cervantes, Miguel de; Ottoman Empire; Venice

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Lepanto, battle of

battle of Lepanto (lĬpăn´tō), Oct. 7, 1571, naval battle between the Christians and Ottomans fought in the strait between the gulfs of Pátrai and Corinth, off Lepanto (Návpaktos), Greece. The fleet of the Holy League commanded by John of Austria (d. 1578) opposed the Ottoman fleet under Uluç Ali Pasha. The allied fleet (about 200 galleys, not counting smaller ships) consisted mainly of Spanish, Venetian, and papal ships and of vessels sent by a number of Italian states. It carried approximately 30,000 fighting men and was about evenly matched with the Ottoman fleet. The battle ended with the virtual destruction of the Ottoman navy (except 40 galleys, with which Uluç Ali escaped). Approximately 15,000 Turks were slain or captured, some 10,000 Christian galley slaves were liberated, and much booty was taken. The victors, however, lost over 7,000 men. Among the allied wounded was Cervantes, who lost the use of his left arm. Lepanto was the first major Ottoman defeat by the Christian powers, and it ended the myth of Ottoman naval invincibility. It did not, however, affect Ottoman supremacy on the land, and a new Turkish fleet was speedily built by Sokollu, grand vizier of Selim II. Nevertheless, the battle was decisive in the sense that an Ottoman victory probably would have made the Ottoman Empire supreme in the Mediterranean.

See R. Crowley, Empires of the Sea (2008).

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Lepanto, Battle of

Lepanto, Battle of a naval battle fought in 1571 close to the port of Lepanto at the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth. The Christian forces of Rome, Venice, and Spain, under the leadership of Don John of Austria, defeated a large Turkish fleet, ending for the time being Turkish naval domination in the eastern Mediterranean.

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Lepanto, Battle of

Lepanto, Battle of (October 7, 1571) Naval engagement in the Gulf of Patras, off Lepanto, Greece, between Christian and Ottoman fleets. The last great battle between war galleys, it was the first major victory of the Christians over the Turks.

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