Today we look at the weak, fragmented, corrupt, and thoroughly benighted Islamic world with contempt… and a small amount of fear. That was not always the case.
From the eight century A.D. the Islamic world held the whip hand in what is now the Mediterranean basin, suffering only occasional setbacks, like the Battle of Tours, while conquering the historically Christian populations of North Africa, the Levant, Palestine, the Balkans, and Spain. Those areas we now think of as the Arab World were, in fact, the cradle of Christianity.
The Christian coalition (the Holy League, ed note) had been promoted by Pope Pius V to rescue the Venetian colony of Famagusta, on the island of Cyprus, which was being besieged by the Turks in early 1571 subsequent to the fall of Nicosia and other Venetian possessions in Cyprus in the course of 1570.
The banner for the fleet, blessed by the pope, reached the Kingdom of Naples (then ruled by the King of Spain) on 14 August 1571. There, in the Basilica of Santa Chiara, it was solemnly consigned to John of Austria, who had been named leader of the coalition after long discussions between the allies. The fleet moved to Sicily and leaving Messina reached (after several stops) the port of Viscardo in Cephalonia, where news arrived of the fall of Famagusta and of the torture inflicted by the Turks on the Venetian commander of the fortress, Marco Antonio Bragadin.
On 1 August, the Venetians had surrendered after being reassured that they could leave Cyprus freely. However, the Ottoman commander, Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha, who had lost some 52,000 men in the siege (including his son), broke his word, imprisoning the Venetians. On 17 August, Bragadin was flayed alive and his corpse hung on Mustafa’s galley together with the heads of the Venetian commanders, Astorre Baglioni, Alvise Martinengo and Gianantonio Querini.
Despite bad weather, the Christian ships sailed south and, on 6 October, they reached the port of Sami, Cephalonia (then also called Val d’Alessandria), where they remained for a while. On 7 October, they sailed toward the Gulf of Patras, where they encountered the Ottoman fleet. While neither fleet had immediate strategic resources or objectives in the gulf, both chose to engage. The Ottoman fleet had an express order from the Sultan to fight, and John of Austria found it necessary to attack in order to maintain the integrity of the …read more