battle of Lepanto

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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.


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 .


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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The battle of Lepanto was an engagement fought between the Christian and Turkish fleets on Oct. 7, 1571. It was the last great naval battle under oars. The capture of Constantinople by Mohammed II (143081) in 1453 ended the Eastern Roman Empire and opened the Balkans and Hungary to further conquest. It also established Turkey as the dominant maritime power in the Mediterranean. Turkish galleys raided the coasts of the Italian peninsula; Syria, Egypt, Tripoli, and Tunisia acknowledged the Sultan as overlord; Rhodes, after a valiant defense by the Knights of St. John, was captured in 1522.

Occasion for War. To protect her valuable trade with Eastern ports, Venice had tried to maintain a strategic neutrality in the continual Christian-Turkish warfare, but when Sultan Selim II (156674) demanded the surrender of Cyprus (1570), the Venetian senate appealed to Pope Pius V. The pope succeeded in organizing resistance to the Muslims and assembled a fleet to meet at Messina in 1571 under the command of Don Juan of Austria, half-brother of Philip II of Spain. Spain would pay one-half, Venice one-third, and the pope one-sixth of the total expense of the operation. Of a total of 206 galleys, Venice furnished 108, Naples 29, Genoa 14, Spain 13, the Pope 12, and Malta 3. This was a period of transition in naval weaponry. The larger vessels had guns in their bows, and the fighting men were archers or musketeers, but were provided with swords for the hand-to-hand fighting that usually ended a battle. In the Christian fleet there were also six large galleasses, each mounting 20 guns and a large crew of musketeers. In the plan of Don Juan two of these ships were to move ahead of his three squadrons. In all, there were about 80,000 men under his command. The Turks held a distinct superiority with a

fleet of 220 to 230 galleys, 50 to 60 galeots (smaller, oared vessels), and 120,000 soldiers and rowers; these last were Christians captured at sea or in shore raids. The rowers in the Christian fleet were either captive Muslims, convicted criminals promised freedom after victory, or hired for the campaign. Pius V sent a legate and chaplains to Messina, together with a blue banner for the flagship, showing Christ crucified. After the blessing of the legate, the ships sailed from Messina harbor.

Encounter. Don Juan passed down the Greek coast on the morning of Oct. 7, 1571, and spied the Turks in the Gulf of Lepanto, 20 miles east of the southern tip of Ithaca. The Venetian admiral, Agostino Barbarigo, took position on the northern end of his squadron while the 53 galleys formed a line abreast, heading east. Don Juan visited each of the 62 galleys in his center squadron early in the morning, holding a crucifix aloft. His flagship, the "Reale," with 60 oars, 300 rowers, and 400 fighting men, was placed in the center of the line. The papal admiral, Marco Antonio Colonna, was on Don Juan's right, the Venetian admiral, Sebastian Veniero, the most experienced seaman of the fleet, on his left. Two of the 38 galleys of the reserve squadron under the command of the Spanish Marquis de Santa Cruz were directly astern. The wind, favorable to the Turks at dawn, fell before the battle. The two northern Turkish squadrons advanced abreast, suffering slight damage from the four galleasses. Mohammed Scirocco, Viceroy of Alexandria, attacked the galley of Barbarigo. Other galleys passed through shallow water and attacked the vessel on her side and stern. Opening the visor of his helmet, Barbarigo was struck in the eye by an arrow that pierced his brain. His nephew, Marino Contarini, boarded the ship with reinforcements, drove off the Turks, and was mortally wounded. The Venetian and Spanish fighting men reorganized, swept the deck of the Egyptian flagship with musketry fire, and charged over her bow with pikes and swords, killing Scirocco and capturing the ship.

The Turkish commander-in-chief, Admiral Ali Pasha, led his center squadron with 95 galleys. His flagship, the "Sultana," flying a white flag embroidered with verses from the Quran, carried 100 archers and 300 musketeers. Steering for the "Reale," flagship of Don Juan, it fired three cannon at point-blank range, and striking almost bow on, cut into the Spanish galley. The "Sultana" rode higher in the water, and Turks poured down onto the deck of the "Reale," which would have been captured had not Admiral Colonna maneuvered to ram the "Sultana," and Santa Cruz joined with reinforcements. The "Sultana" was captured and Ali Pasha slain in battle. Meanwhile Giovanni Andrea Doria made an error in handling his 53 galleys of the right squadron. Instead of heading eastward, in line with the other squadrons, Doria turned to the south to prevent envelopment of his seaward flank. Uluch Ali, with 60 galleys and 30 smaller craft, countered and drew Doria farther away from the center squadron. The nearest Christian galleys were overwhelmed, and the flagship of the Knights of St. John was captured. The prompt action of Santa Cruz and Don Juan saved the squadron, and Uluch Ali abandoned his captives and fled with 15 galleys. About 35 other Turkish galleys reached Lepanto, taking with them one captured galley.

Results of the Battle. Aside from those burned, sunk, or wrecked, 117 Muslim galleys, six galeots, 117 large cannon, and 250 smaller ones were divided among the victors. Twelve thousand Christians were released from slavery; nearly 9,000 Christians were killed or died of wounds. Twice this number, including Don Juan, Colonna, Santa Cruz, and Veniero recovered from their wounds. The heroic dead included Venetian Admiral Barbarigo and 16 galley captains, a papal galley captain, 60 Knights of St. John, and many Spanish noblemen. The Turks lost 30,000. The pursuit of Uluch Ali was begun, but the difficulties of preparing the galleys with less than three hours of daylight remaining were too great. The victory though impressive was not decisive, because it was not effectively followed up. Venetian power in the Mediterranean continued to wane in favor of the Turks, when in 1573 Venice sued for peace and abandoned Cyprus. Nevertheless, the Battle of Lepanto was celebrated throughout Europe as a decisive Christian victory and became the subject for artistic and literary invention.

Bibliography: j. p. e. jurien de la graviÈre, La Guerre de Chypre et la bataille de Lépante, 2 v. (Paris 1888). l. coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, tr. a. m. moreton (New York 1912). w. l. rodgers, Naval Warfare Under Oars (Annapolis 1939). r. c. anderson, Naval Wars in the Levant (Princeton 1952). a. macia serrano, Lepanto (Madrid 1971). j. beeching, The Galleys at Lepanto (New York 1982).

[j. b. heffernan]

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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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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 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 (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.