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 (1566–74) 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...
But there are other ways of considering Lepanto. One is to interpret it in terms of a dynamic innovative West pitted against the "stagnant" East. The League won because it used innovative tactics...
The Battle of Lepanto has a major place in the symbolism of the Western-Islamic relationship, and Niccolo Capponi's recently published Victory of the West: The Story of the Battle of Lepanto treats the battle as a major encounter between the Islamic Ottoman empire and the forces of Western Christendom.
Lepanto was the last great battle that could be described as a simple clash between Christendom and Islam. Fought on October 7, 1571, it saw the fleet of the Ottoman empire pitted against an alliance of Spain, Venice and various other minor players to form a Holy League under the leadership of Don Juan of Austria, the illegitimate half-brother of Philip II of Spain.
The battle was the response of the Christian powers to the invasion of the Venetian possession of Cyprus. At stake was control of the Mediterranean...
Setting the Stage
"All through their imperial history," writes Beeching, "the Ottoman Turks had used cruelty as an implement of dominion.... Christian armies too could be despicably cruel.... [B]loody deeds done by nominal Christians went contrary to the utterances of the founder of their religion......
Across the straits from the Turks, a smaller but no less resolute force was arrayed, its ships deployed in the shape of the cross. This navy represented the Christian League, an ad-hoc coalition of Catholic monarchies, ducal kingdoms, and Italian republics under the command of 25-year-old Don John of Austria. While the Turks made merry, the League soldiers, with quiet fortitude, grimly prepared for battle...
Victory at Lepanto
Not only was the battle lost for the Turk, but so were 170 of his galleys and 33,000 men killed, wounded, or captured, as well as 12,000 liberated Christian slaves. Lost was a generation of experienced Ottoman bowmen and seamen; and though a mighty fleet could, and indeed was, rebuilt, and though the sultan was committed to renewing the jihad by sea — or if not by sea, then by land — the threat of the Ottoman Turks dominating the Mediterranean was finished.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Catholic losses were 7,500 dead — though many of these were knights and noblemen — and another 22,000 wounded (including Miguel de Cervantes). Pope Pius V, who had commanded the faithful to pray the rosary for victory, was convinced that it was prayer that had turned the tide. The Battle of Lepanto became the feast day of Our Lady of Victory, later of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The Ottoman Empire, the seat of Islamic power, looked to control the Mediterranean. Corsairs raided from North Africa; the Sultan's massive fleet anchored the eastern Mediterranean; and Islamic armies ranged along the coasts of Africa, the Middle and Near East, and pressed against the Adriatic; Muslim armies threatened the Habsburg Empire through the Balkans.
The Ottoman Turks yearned to bring all Europe within the dar al-Islam, the "House of Submission" — submissive to the sharia law. Europe, as the land of the infidels, was the dar al-Harb, the "House of War."
Aftermath of the battle
The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who lost all but about 50 of their ships. It was one of the most decisive naval defeats in the Mediterranean between the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and the Battle of the Nile (1798).
Despite the massive Turkish defeat, European disunity prevented the allied forces from pressing their victory or achieving a lasting supremacy over the Ottomans at this time. The Ottoman Empire immediately began a massive effort to rebuild their navy, and within 6 months was able to reassert Ottoman naval supremacy. The defeat at Lepanto did not prevent the Ottomans' capture of Cyprus and the forts around Tunis either. However, Ottomans lost their control of the seas, especially in the western part of the Mediterranean.
The Holy League had suffered around 9,000 casualties but freed twice as many Christian prisoners. Turkish casualties were around 30,000.
Prior to the Battle of Lepanto, confrontation between Europe and Islam had existed since the 7th century, and increased with the emergence of the Ottoman Empire, a powerful and well organized state system, at the end of the 13th century. The Ottoman Empire grew, and was able to conquer more countries, and even the once-impenetrable Constantinople. Over these centuries, Europe and England were largely focused on internal problems, such as the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, and the Protestant revolt and resulting schism. These problems and Europe’s preoccupation with them (and therefore somewhat halfhearted interest in the advances of the Ottoman Empire) left them open and vulnerable to attack. While individual countries and cities rose up to try to resist the Ottoman Empire when they arrived on their shores or at their walls, there was not a large, organized effort of all of Europe to match the scale of the ambitious Ottomans.
In the 1560s, the Ottomans began their assault on the Christian Mediterranean and quickly conquered most of the eastern islands. They threatened to next attack Venice and Rome, the result of which could have been the collapse of Christian Europe. Pope St. Pius V saw the impending danger and in 1570 called on the leaders of the West to unite against the force that was a threat to them all. But the request was in vain. Queen Elizabeth in England was too preoccupied with her rivalry with Spain, France was a sometime-ally of the Turks and was at the time under the reign of a sickly and instable Charles IX, and Phillip II of Spain was busy with his new American empire.
Battle of Lepanto, (Oct. 7, 1571), naval engagement between allied Christian forces and the Ottoman Turks during an Ottoman campaign to acquire the Venetian island of Cyprus. Seeking to drive Venice from the eastern Mediterranean, the forces of Sultan Selim II invaded Cyprus in 1570. The Venetians formed an alliance with Pope Pius V and Philip II of Spain (May 25, 1571). Philip sent his half brother, Don John of Austria, to command the allied forces. By the time the allies assembled at Messina, Sicily (Aug. 24, 1571), the Turks had captured Nicosia (Sept. 9, 1570), besieged Famagusta, and entered the Adriatic.
At the Battle of Lepanto, the Holy League lost 50 galleys and suffered approximately 13,000 casualties. This was offset by the freeing of a similar number of Christian slaves from the Ottoman ships. In addition to the death of Ali Pasha, the Ottomans lost 25,000 killed and wounded and an additional 3,500 captured. Their fleet lost 210 ships, of which 130 were captured by the Holy League. Coming at what was seen as a crisis point for Christianity, the victory at Lepanto stemmed Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean and prevented their influence from spreading west.
Commanding 230 galleys and 56 galliots (small galleys), Ali Pasha had departed his base at Lepanto and was moving west to intercept the Holy League's fleet. As the fleets sighted each other, they formed for battle. For the Holy League, Don John, aboard the galley Real, divided his force into four divisions, with the Venetians under Agostino Barbarigo on the left, himself in the center, the Genoese under Giovanni Andrea Doria on the right, and a reserve led by Álvaro de Bazán in the rear. In addition, he pushed gallasses out in front of his left and center divisions where they could bombard the Ottoman fleet.
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...
In 1571, the Christian powers in the Mediterranean assembled a large fleet to confront the growing menace of the Ottoman Empire. Assembling at Messina, Sicily in July and August, the Christian force was led by Don John of Austria and contained vessels from Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Genoa, Savoy, and Malta. Sailing under the banner of the Holy League, Don John's fleet consisted of 206 galleys and 6 gallasses (large galleys that mounted artillery). Rowing east, they encountered the Ottoman fleet of Ali Pasha off Greece in the Gulf of Patras.