The Ottoman Turks have been plagued by their conquests of Europe since the 14th century, when they managed to penetrate the Balkans, and from there they attempted to expand into Central Europe in the following centuries. In the 16th century, they occupied a large part of Hungary and reached Vienna. At the same time, they made forays into the Mediterranean. Their pirates hijacked the ships of European merchants, kidnapped the inhabitants of the coast and dragged them into Turkish slavery.
Under pressure from the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire reached its greatest prosperity in the first half of the sixteenth century during the reign of Suleiman the Great, the mighty warrior and statesman. When he died in 1566, his son Selim II assumed the Ottoman throne. He was far from being an ace, actually being ruled by a bunch of bone chests, but he was still trying to maintain a huge empire. To free his hands, he made peace with the Austrian Emperor Mamilian II. He turned his attention to the Mediterranean. He gradually occupied the islands in the Aegean and hired Arab pirates, which effectively stopped the sea trade of Christian countries – especially to the detriment of the Venetian Republic.
In 1570, the countries of the Mediterranean clearly realized that the time had come for joint action, and the Islamic enemy was dangerously close to the Apennine Peninsula. Then the Ottomans invaded the Venetian colonies in Cyprus, gradually conquering them all, extricating the Venetian commander alive and harboring them.
United Christians: The Holy League is leaving
Meanwhile, under the patronage of Pope Pius V, the Holy League was formed: an alliance of Spain, the Papal State, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa and other smaller states, as well as several knightly orders. The league gathered a huge fleet of more than two hundred galleys, many galleys – pioneers galleons and other ships. The ships carried about 13,000 soldiers and about 30,000 sailors. The fleet was led by Juan Dastria, the illegitimate young son of Emperor Charles V, and was accompanied by his cousin Rudolf, who later became Emperor Rudolf II.
In the fall of 1571, the ships of the League set out for the Gulf of Corinth. Here, on October 6, 1571, they encountered a large Turkish fleet. The Turks had more soldiers and ships, and the Holy League had many weapons. Moreover, more modern and charged with brush bullets, which had a much more destructive effect than the balls fired from outdated Turkish cannons. This turned out to be crucial in the end.
Prayers and overwhelming victory
On October 7, near the port of Lepanto (today’s Nafpaktos in western Greece), the troops joined forces. A very difficult battle broke out. Among the brave soldiers was Miguel de Cervantes – the author of Don Quixote, who lost his hand here. But the whole battle was great for the army of the Holy League: the Turks were defeated on the head. They lost over 25,000 men and 180 galleys. In addition, League warriors freed 12,000 European slaves from their ships. Enthusiasm prevailed throughout Christianity. The day of the battle was declared the feast of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary, because it was believed that the prayer of the Rosary to the Virgin Mary helped to victory. The best painters created beautiful paintings in memory of the battle.
Unfortunately, instead of taking advantage of the enemy’s weakness, the Holy League plunged into conflicts and disintegrated. Venice was forced to reconcile with the Ottomans, cede Cyprus, and still pays reparations. The Ottomans stumbled and once again tried to put Europe on a grasshopper across Central Europe. The withdrawal to the Balkans and gradually to the Bosphorus began more than a hundred years later, after the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
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