At one time, the great philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said that "the battle of Lepanto saved Italy and, perhaps, the whole of Europe from the flood of barbarians." Although, in fact, the battle of Lepanto was only one of the episodes of the Turkish-Venetian war of 1570-1573, but Europe had not yet seen such a major naval battle.
The reason for the armed conflict between Turkey and Venice was the Ottoman Empire’s invasive plans for the island of Cyprus. In 1489, the last Queen of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Katerina Cornaro, transferred the rights to the island to the Republic of Venice. Thus, Cyprus officially became considered a Venetian possession. However, the Ottoman Sultan Selim II, who decided to seize the island, did not agree with this. For this, he even concluded an eight-year truce with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II Hapsburg. Therefore, when the Venetian leadership turned to Maximilian for help, hoping for his intercession in the conflict, the emperor refused, citing a truce with the Turks. France and Portugal refused to help.
- Pope Pius V (1504-1572) - the ideologue and inspirer of the Holy League
The only European rulers who promised to help Venice were Pope Pius V and King Philip II of Spain. On July 1, 1570, Ottoman ships appeared off the coast of Cyprus fleetcommanded by Kapudan Pasha Muezinzade Ali Pasha with an assistant - the former Kapudan Pasha of the fleet Piyale Pasha. The Turks devastated the city of Limassol, then landed the land forces under the command of Lal Kara Mustafa Pasha (1500-1580) - a seventy-year-old Ottoman military leader of Bosnian origin. The troops of Lal Mustafa Pasha besieged Nicosia on July 24. On September 9, Nicosia fell, after which only one stronghold of Venetian resistance remained - the Famagusta fortress. The heroic defense of Famagusta lasted almost a year, only on August 1, 1571 the city hung a white flag. However, the Ottomans, promising the defenders of the fortress the opportunity to choose whether to leave Cyprus without hindrance or to live with security guarantees, in fact, having taken possession of the city, staged a massacre of the Christian population.
The seizure of Cyprus was a great geopolitical defeat of the Republic of Venice and a direct challenge to the formed coalition of Christian states of the Mediterranean, which was headed by Pope Pius V himself. Analyzing the situation, he became convinced of the need to create a new Holy League, which could oppose the Ottoman Empire. This required attracting Spain, since only the Papal State and Venice were unable to defeat the Turks. 25 May 1571, when the siege of Famagusta was still in Cyprus, the treaty on the creation of the new Holy League was officially announced at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The Holy League included: the Papal States, Spain (which then also included the Neapolitan Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sicily, also under the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs), the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Italian Duchy of Tuscany, Parma, Savoy and the Order of Malta. League members pledged to form a fleet of 200 galleys, 100 transport ships, to mobilize 50 thousands of infantry soldiers and 4500 cavalrymen, to provide artillery, ammunition, necessary equipment and food. Such forces to fight the Ottoman Empire, the Holy League was to gather annually.
In early August, 1571, the fleet of the Holy League was assembled. It was the largest fleet of all time in European history. It was possible to collect about 300 various vessels. According to historian A.B. Snisarenko, these were: the 81 Spanish galley and the 12 Spanish warships, commanded by the Genoese admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria; 12 galleys of the Papal States under the command of Admiral Marcantonio Colonna; 108 galleys, 6 Galeas and 2 battleships of the Republic of Venice under the command of Admiral Sebastiano Venier; 3 galleys of the Order of Malta; 3 galleys of the Duke of Savoy; a number of other ships. The number of crews was 84 thousands of people. The boarding teams numbered 12 thousands of Italians, 5 thousands of Spaniards, 3 thousands of Germans and 3 thousands of volunteers of various nationalities - from the Portuguese to the British.
The Spanish fleet, in one of the boarding teams, included the future famous writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the world famous novel "The Cunning Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha", and his brother Rodrigo, who served in the regiment of the Spanish marines in Naples. Miguel Cervantes served on board the Marquis galleys, which were part of the Spanish fleet. In the upcoming battle, by the way, he showed great courage, was wounded three times by enemy fire - in the chest and forearm, but continued to fight even when his left hand hung helplessly.
- Don Juan of Austria
The overall command of the fleet of the Holy League was carried out by a twenty-four-year-old don Juan of Austria (1547-1578) - the Spanish commander, an illegitimate son of the late King Charles V and his mistress Barbara Blumenberg - the bourgeois daughter from Regensburg. Juan Austrian was a young and ambitious commander. In 1568, he commanded a Spanish squadron patrolling the Mediterranean in order to fight pirates and won several victories over ships of North African corsairs. Then he led the suppression of the uprising of the Moriscos (baptized Moors) in Granada. Juan Austrian was helped by several more adult and skilled naval commanders.
The right wing of the fleet was commanded by the Genoese Giovanni Andrea Doria (1539-1606) who was in the Spanish service - 32 is the summer representative of one of the most powerful clans of the Genoa Republic. The papal fleet was commanded by Admiral Prince Marcantonio II Colonna (1535-1584) - 36-year-old representative of the noble Roman family of Colonna di Paliano. Venetian ships were under the command of the third "big admiral" - Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578). In the past, a lawyer, although without a legal education, Sebastiano Venier (in the portrait of Tintoretto) was the oldest commander of the fleet of the Sacred League. In 1571, he was already 75 years old, but he maintained good spirits, a sober mind and physical strength.
Against the Holy League, the Ottoman Empire opposed a fleet of 210 galleys and 66 Galiots. The total number of teams of galleys and boarding infantry reached 88 thousand people, including 16 thousand people - directly in boarding teams. That is, the forces of the parties were approximately equal. The Ottoman fleet was commanded by Ali Pasha Muezzinzade’s Kapudan Pasha, the same one who led the attack on Cyprus a year ago. However, contemporaries themselves described Ali Pasha as a profane in the maritime business: they didn’t even fly a simple boat before becoming commander of the fleet. The right wing of the Turkish fleet was commanded by Mehmet Cirocco (1525-1571) - Ottoman governor of Alexandria, a Greek by origin. Under his command were the 53 galleys and the 3 haliota. The center of the fleet, which included the 91 galley and 5 Galiots, was commanded by the Mudzinzade Kapan Pasha himself.
The commander of the left wing of 61 galleys and 32 galliots provided Ottoman Algerian corsairs, was Uludzh Ali (1519-1587) - Pasha of Tripoli (Libya), a former Algerian pirate origin - Italian from Calabria (in his youth he was called Giovanni Dionigi Galeni) captured and enslaved, and then converted to Islam and made a career, first from the Algerian pirates, and then in the Ottoman service.
The fleet of the Holy League blocked the Gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea, where the ships of the Turkish fleet were located. An interesting misunderstanding occurred: the Turkish command believed that the fleet of the Sacred League was in the region of Kefalonia, and the command of the Holy League — that the Ottoman ships were in Lepanto. On the morning of October 7 1571, an unexpected meeting of the Ottoman and European fleets took place in 60 km. from the city of Lepanto. The first Turkish ships saw the Spaniards, who had time to prepare.
The ships of the Holy League lined up in battle order. The central squadron of the 62 gallery was driven by don Juan of Austria himself. The right wing of the 58 gallery was commanded by Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria. The left wing of the 53 galleys was led by Venetian general Agostino Barbarigo - a representative of one of the most distinguished families of Venice. In addition, a backup group of 30 galleys was created under the command of the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The ships of the parties moved towards each other. The command of the fleet of the Holy League has decided to push forward the heavy galeasy, and after them to put the main part of the galleys. The Turkish command did not calculate this nuance and moved with one line, which led to the backlog of heavy haliots from light galleys. However, the Turkish galleys managed to push the left flank of the Sacred League from the main forces and press the ships of the left flank to the shore. The commander of the left flank, Barbarigo, gave the order to start a boarding battle. This was a salvation for the left flank, since on each gallery of the Holy League there were no less than 150 soldiers of the boarding team, whereas the Ottoman courts had no more than 30-40 soldiers on each. Threefold numerical advantage in hand-to-hand combat has done its job.
The left flank, under the command of Barbarigo, defeated the Ottomans who had attacked it. Meanwhile, in the center of the battle, the Ottoman galleys attacked Don Juan of Austria, the flagship Real, and the Holy League galleys, the Ottoman flagship, Ali Pasha Muezzinzade, Sultana. As a result of the ensuing clash in a shootout, the commander of the Ottoman fleet, Ali Pasha Muzedzinzade, was killed. They cut off his head and raised it at the peak of the Europeans, which led to panic among the Ottomans. The central group of Turkish galleys began to retreat. Meanwhile, the ships of Uluj Ali, who commanded the left flank of the Ottoman fleet, hit the side of the galleys of Juan of Austria. At this time, the ships entered the battle Marquis Santa Cruz. The Allied right flank under the command of Admiral Doria hurried to the aid of the center. Uluj Ali, realizing all the danger of the situation, began to retreat, but managed to capture the flagship galera squadron of the Order of Malta.
Thus, in the battle of Lepanto, the Ottoman Empire suffered a complete and crushing defeat. The fleet of Ali Pasha Muezzinzade lost 224 ship. Of these, 117 ships were captured by the forces of the Sacred League. Since the Turkish galleys were used as rowers, captive Christians captured and enslaved, more than 12 thousands of Turkish rowers were released. The losses of the Turkish personnel are estimated at 15 of thousands of soldiers and sailors and 10 of thousands of rowers who drowned with the ships. From several hundred to several thousand (according to various sources) Ottoman soldiers and sailors were captured. The victory at Lepanto showed the Europeans that the Ottoman Empire is no longer an invincible power. She instilled confidence in her forces, although for a long time the Ottoman Empire remained a very active and dangerous rival of European states in the struggle for influence in the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless, the battle of Lepanto, brilliantly won by the forces of the Holy League, had almost no effect on the overall course of the Turkish-Venetian war. The Holy League did not “finish off” the Ottomans in the Mediterranean, although it had all the possibilities for that. After the victory at Lepanto, the fleet of the Sacred League split up for winter parking in European ports. While the European ships were in the roads all winter, the Ottoman Empire was able to build a new fleet. After 1 died on May 1572, Pope Pius V died, the Holy League lost its main ideologue, uniting such diverse members into a single union. Spain for a long time refrained from joint actions with the Republic of Venice, while the latter did not decide again to attack the Turks.
A squadron of the Papal State under the command of Admiral Marcantonio Colonna (in the portrait) came to the aid of the Venetians, after which the Spanish ships were brought up. In the Modon region, Turkish and European ships met, but exactly on the anniversary of the battle of Lepanto, don Juan of Austria decided to withdraw from the Ionian Sea. Admiral Colonna also decided to lead his squadron. Attempts by the Venetian leadership to convince the Spanish king of the need to continue the war against the Ottoman Empire did not succeed, after which the Republic of Venice, not having the resources to fight the Ottomans on its own, 3 March 1573 signed a peace treaty. The Turkish-Venetian war ended, thus, with the victory of the Ottoman Empire, which Venice conceded to the island of Cyprus. The following year, the Ottoman Empire seized Tunisia, which also hit Spain’s strategic interests.
For Europe at the end of the 16th century, the battle of Lepanto was of tremendous importance. It went down in history as an example of the first large-scale victory of the united forces of European states over the Ottoman Empire in a sea battle. She was sung by European poets, captured by European artists. Perhaps the most famous member of this battle outside the circle of historians is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It is known that he was very proud of his participation in this epoch-making battle for Europe. For the rest of his life he stayed with Miguel Cervantes and the trail from participating in boarding battles - his left hand did not work, in which the writer was wounded during a fight. By the way, the misadventures of Cervantes did not end there - returning home, he and his brother were captured by Algerian pirates and spent a long time in captivity in North Africa. Only in 1580, did the family manage to buy Miguel de Cervantes.