The Naval Battle of Lepanto, 1571

A.) Prehistory

The Ottoman Empire, in the 1560es, pursued a policy of expansion, based on her military power. While the Great Siege of Malta (1565) entered the history book as an Ottoman defeat, it also had tested the will of the christian nations to resist to a limit. In the following year, the Aegaean Islands fell to an Ottoman fleet without resistance; even Venice and Genoa, the owners of these islands, failed to send a fleet.
In 1566, Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent died; he was succeeded by Selim II., who continued his predecessor's expansive policy. King Philip of Spain saw another military clash coming; he feared the only nominally christian Morisco minority living in the territory formerly having formed the Kingdom of Granada might revolt once a Spanish-Ottoman war broke out. So the Spanish authorities provoked the Morisco Revolt (1568-1571).

B.) The Naval Battle of Lepanto

An alliance was concluded between Spain, the Papal State and Venice, with Genoa and Savoy-Piemont contributing three ships each. The combined fleet, under the command of Don Juan d'Austria, half-brother of King Philip II of Spain, crushed the Ottoman fleet off Lepanto on the coast of Greece.

C.) The Legacy

The alliance failed to act upon her victory. An Ottoman force invaded and conquered the hitherto Venetian island of Cyprus (1571), which Venice ceded in a 1573 treaty. Don Juan d'Austria retook Tunis for Spain, but he was recalled and in 1574 the Spanish permitted the city to fall to the Ottoman forces without resistance. Again, as in the case of the Great Siege of Malta, the will of the christian states to hold on to their possessions in the eastern Mediterranean respectively on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, after a victorious battle, was low, another conflict avoided.
A major reason for the reluctance of the Alliance to follpow up on her victory were the costs - in 1574 King Philip II. informed newly elected Pope Gregory XIII., the defense of Malta and the maintenance of the fleet would cost him two million ducats annually.
The Naval Battle of Lepanto was won by the Spanish-Venetian-Papal Alliance; the war was won by the Ottoman Empire

La Battaglia di Lepanto 1571, from Storia Veneta, in Italian
The Naval Battle of Lepanto, from Nafpaktos
REFERENCE Thomas J. Dandelet, Politics and the state system after the Habsburg-Valois Wars, pp.11-30 in : John A. Marino (ed.), Early Modern Italy (Short Oxford History of Italy), Oxford : UP 2002

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 10th 2003, last posted on September 18th 2005

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