Fall of Famagusta 1571 – Ottoman Wars

Fall of Famagusta 1571 – Ottoman Wars. One of the most persistent opponents the Ottomans had met on their quest to take over the Mediterranean was the Republic of Venice, as the two realms fought for centuries vying for naval dominance in the region. Cyprus became one of the most important locations in this rivalry, and the new sultan Selim the Second – already considered weak – faced the Janissary mutiny, they were demanding additional pay and privileges before the new Sultan would even be allowed into Constantinople.

Such salary raises were traditional, but Selim’s inability to bring them to heel was an inauspicious beginning to his reign. It was the powerful Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha who opened the treasury to the Janissary corps and quieted their mutiny. Though the Ottoman Empire army remained the most powerful in Europe, Selim’s weak leadership, and the strong fortifications of northern Hungary, made a continuation of his father’s campaign a near impossibility.

History of Sultan Selim the Second

In the seas, the constant raiding continued as freebooting Muslim and Christian captains sought to make their fortunes by ransom and slavery. Though North African Corsairs like Dragut are the best-known, it was by no means a one-sided affair. They primarily targeted Ottoman Empire shipping but also showed a willingness to prey on their fellow Christians. The Spanish, the French, and the various Italian powers clashed with each other and the North African Corsairs in the Western Mediterranean.

The most critical location of this period was Cyprus, one of the crown jewels of the Venetian maritime empire. Near the Ottoman heartland of Asia Minor and the rich territories of Egypt and Syria, Cyprus was one of the most prominent pirate havens in the entire Mediterranean. The population was predominantly Greek Orthodox, and relations were far from friendly between the Cypriots and their Latin overlords. Cyprus boasted several strong forts, and the Venetians maintained large garrisons in such cities as Famagusta and Nicosia.

The Western Mediterranean

But they had been very lax in maintaining and upgrading these fortifications in comparison to the Hospitallers, who had turned the Ottomans back from Malta in 1565. Though Venice had been paying the Ottomans a hefty annual tribute of 150 thousand ducats to maintain their rulership of Cyprus, it was clear that this state of affairs could not continue forever.

Selim was also slow to react to the rebellion of the Moriscos – recently baptized Christians of Muslim origin in Southern Spain – that started in 1568. The only actions taken against Spain were small conquests in Tunis by Uluch Ali, Beylerbeyi of Algiers, who helped supply the Moriscos, as well as bringing his forces against those of the Spanish puppet Sultan. Uluch acted with near-complete autonomy, however, and Ottoman control over their African vassals was growing weaker.

The Kingdom of Russia’s

Similarly, the Ottomans failed to check the upstart Kingdom of Russia’s expansion through the Don and the Volga rivers. The Ottomans had in the past supported the Grand Principality of Muscovy as a check against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. But now this was coming back to haunt them, and an attempt to link the two rivers by a canal, to strengthen the position of the Ottomans and their Crimean Tatar allies in the region, was turned back by the Russians in 1570.

Selim was quick to blame this failure on Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, temporarily weakening the Vizier’s influence. And with Sokollu Mehmed disgraced by the defeat against Russia, Selim fell under the influence of Joseph Nasi, a wealthy Sephardic Jew of Portuguese origin, whose family had settled in the Ottoman Empire after being forced out of the Iberian Peninsula. His ascension in the Ottoman Empire court had been meteoric.

Ottoman Empire

After Selim’s reign began he was quickly made Duke of Naxos and Count of Andros and Paros, but Joseph dreamed of ruling as a new King of Cyprus under an Ottoman Empire wing. Nasi wished for the Ottomans to seize Cyprus from Venice, and as the Islamic clergy also demanded he stop the piracy, Selim was easily convinced. In February of 1570, Venetian merchants began to note the rapid construction of galleys all over Asia Minor and Syria.

On the 25th of March, Selim’s ultimatum reached Venice, demanding Cyprus be given to the Ottoman Empire. There was more at stake for Venice than just Cyprus, as it also held territory in Dalmatia and Albania, as well as several Greek Islands. The Ottomans were also Venice’s most important trading partner, and a long war would threaten Italian supplies and trade. However, the pro-war party in Venice won the day, and the fateful decision was made to fight rather than surrender Cyprus.

Giovanni Andrea Doria

Knowing that they would be unable to stand up to the Ottomans alone, the Venetian Doge Pietro Loredan immediately set about gathering allies, petitioning Pope Pius V to intercede on their behalf for an alliance with Habsburg Spain. With Cyprus under threat, Piu, Piu opened the coffers of the Papal State, sending 100,000 ducats to support the Venetian war effort. Philip II of Spain was quick to agree as well.

Though they were still more concerned about Uluch Ali’s conquest of Tunis than the affairs of Cyprus, they pledged their fleet to the allied war effort, under the command of Philip II’s bastard half-brother, Don Juan de Austria. Genoa, still stinging from the recent loss of Chios, under the command of Giovanni Andrea Doria. Giovanni had been the commander of the Christian fleet defeated at Djerba a decade earlier, but this new Holy League would give him a fresh opportunity to square off against Piyale Pasha.

The Knights of Malta

Urbino, Parma, Savoy, Tuscany, and the Knights of Malta also joined as minor participants, though none contributed more than five galleys to the allied fleet. As impressive as this new league appeared, its mobilization would be slow, and it would fall on Venice to stem the initial Turkish advance. The Venetian navy, a large set of the Holy League participants, put to sea with a strength of 80 galleys under Captain-General Girolamo Zanne on the 30th of March, but two short weeks later was crippled by a disease outbreak off Zara.

It would be two months before rowers and soldiers could be assembled or press-ganged to get the Venetian force in motion again. While Zanne was immobilized, Piyale Pasha, and the overall commander of the Ottoman fleet, Muezzinzade Ali Pasha, sailed from Constantinople to Finike, then brought their combined fleet of 140 galleys, 30 galliots, and 170 kinds of transport to Cyprus. On those ships were 6,000 elite Janissaries, 12,000 Sipahi cavalry, and 14,000 volunteer soldiers and sailors, the overwhelming first wave for the Cyprus campaign.

Lala Mustafa’s Army

As Uluch Ali’s galliots ambushed and defeated the Maltese contingent, and the stricken Venetian fleet regrouped at Corfu, Ottoman Empire land commander Lala Mustafa made landfall on July 1st, with the siege of Nicosia – the capital and best-defended city in Cyprus – beginning three weeks later on the 22nd. The Holy League had been too late to prevent the Ottoman Empire from landing. Holding Cyprus would now fall to the Venetian and Albanian land forces.

Nicosia was the center of the defense of Cyprus, and boasting the most modern fortifications and largest garrison on the island, it should have been a formidable obstacle for Lala Mustafa’s army. Unfortunately for the Venetians, its defense fell to Niccolo Dandolo, an inexperienced and remarkably talentless commander. Dandolo’s defense was entirely static, with no attempts made to disrupt or delay the Turkish siege works.

Fall of Constantinople

Despite the large contingent of fearsome Albanian Stradiot cavalry under his command, he allowed the Ottomans to disembark their army and siege equipment from their ships to the shore and surround Nicosia without a single sortie launched. The only appreciable defensive preparations Dandolo took were surrounding himself with a bodyguard of pikemen. Having failed to inspire confidence in the Venetian soldiers, with the Ottoman Empire army ever-swelling with reinforcements from Anatolia.

On the 9th of September, the Venetian walls were breached and the city fell shortly after. Dandolo and the rest of the Venetian defenders were put to the sword, and the looting of the rich city began – by some accounts the most profitable plundering since the fall of Constantinople. With Nicosia’s fall, most of the forts of Cyprus surrendered without resistance to the Ottoman Empire, revealing just how weak the Venetian hold on the island was.

Governor Astorre Baglione and General Marco Bragadino

The only remaining holdout was the port of Famagusta, under the command of Governor Astorre Baglione and General Marco Bragadino. In contrast to Dandolo, Baglione had set upon a long-overdue defensive upgrade of Famagusta’s fortifications immediately after his arrival in May. Janissaries abandoned the campaign to return home with their plunder lacked their discipline and training, and were slow to leave the looting of Nicosia to besiege this holdout port upon which all of Venice’s hopes lay.

At sea, the Venetian fleet was showing little more determination than Dandolo’s defense of Nicosia. Some minor raids in the Ottoman Cyclades did help disrupt the Ottoman Empire’s campaign on Cyprus, but the Patrician hierarchy had placed the talentless Barbarigo in command of the navy over the capable Quirini. The combined Holy League was slowly assembling at Crete, and the Venetians naturally advocated for immediate relief of Cyprus, while the Genoese and Spanish felt that to do so would be suicidal folly.

Fall of Famagusta

Thus, when the campaigning season of 1570 came to an end, and both the Christian and Ottoman fleets returned to their ports, the new Holy League had little to show for the year. The Ottomans were faced with some problems of their own: for choosing to return to Constantinople with his treasure instead of pursuing the Christians to Crete, Piyale Pasha – the most experienced Ottoman Empire admiral – was disgraced and his command was revoked.

Famagusta remained besieged throughout the winter, though the Ottoman Empire army had dwindled enough on the off-season to make an assault impossible even against Famagusta’s outdated medieval walls. Towards the end of January, Quirini did manage to bring a relief force of soldiers and supplies to Famagusta from Crete, in the process destroying an Ottoman battery and three galleys, as the Ottoman army celebrated the beginning of Ramadan.

Ottoman Wars

He also captured a pilgrim ship and another carrying reinforcements. The soldiers were towed to Crete where their passengers would become rowing slaves for the undermanned Venetian navy, but he left the pilgrims with Bragadino as hostages, a decision that would have great ima pact later. The campaign began again in earnest in early April. Muezzinade Ali returned to Cyprus with new volunteers, drawn by the vast wealth carried off from Nicosia.

Uluch Ali, ever the freebooter, continued raiding his way through the Ionian Isles from the Strophades to Modon before joining the fleet at Cyprus in May. On the Christian side, military developments were slow. To encourage cooperation between the allies Don Juan was placed in overall command, creating a clearer command structure for the disorganized armada. Meanwhile, in Famagusta, Baglione was ferociously defending with his comparatively small force of 9,000.

The Albanian cavalry

There are several reasons why Famagusta proved so much more costly to take than the more fortified and better-manned Nicosia. First and foremost, Baglione sent out numerous devastating sorties, slaughtering Ottoman gun crews and burning siege works. The Albanian cavalry was used to their full deadly effect, wreaking havoc on the Ottoman Empire besiegers. In addition, Baglione was able to inspire the loyalty of the city’s native Cypriot population, while Dandolo had been seen with nothing but hatred.

Baglione led several attacks himself, in one case being challenged to single combat by an Ottoman Empire officer. Mortally injuring the man, he then had him brought back inside the walls to be paraded before the defenders. However, as heroic as this defense might have been, it was ultimately futile. The hills and gardens to the south of Famagusta gave a commanding position for the main Ottoman camp and a clear line of fire for the punishing batteries of heavy guns.

Struggles of Lala Mustafa

By May 19th Ottoman siege trenches had fully encircled the city. On the 21st and 29th of May huge mines were set off beneath the walls by Ottoman Empire sappers, and though each assault was beaten back with heavy losses, the defenders were dwindling rapidly. Lala Mustafa gave terms for surrender, thinking the siege had all but won. However, against all expectations, the city still held throughout June and into mid-July, by which time the Ottomans were making assaults through the shattered walls almost daily.

On the 9th of July, a section of the southern wall was toppled by a Venetian mine that detonated prematurely, killing Turks and Venetians both as it collapsed amid a fierce Ottoman Empire assault. Finally, on the 1st of August, but remained in command – raised the white flag above Famagusta. Before doing so, however, he made one last spiteful act of resistance, having the pilgrim hostages executed and Famagusta’s stocks of food, ammunition, and valuable cotton burnt to deny their use to the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Army

The Ottoman army had suffered severely in the taking of Famagusta, and as Lala Mustafa’s earlier offers of terms had been refused, tensions were high. However, he still offered fairly favorable terms. The remaining 500 or so Venetians could leave the city under their flag, and the Cypriot inhabitants could either leave immediately or, if they found Ottoman Empire rule harsher than Venetian, within two years of the city’s surrender.

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However, the terms he had offered, and that Bragadino had accepted, required the safe return of the pilgrims that had been so recently slaughtered. When they were not forthcoming, Bragadino himself was summoned to the Ottoman Empire encampment on August 5th. During the short discussions, Bragadino was questioned about the pilgrims and the stores of Famagusta, with Mustafa finally flying into a violent rage when the truth came out.

Some have suggested that this was a ruse, that Mustafa had known of the pilgrims’ fate already and simply sought an excuse to plunder the city. Others record this as genuine shock and rage at Bragadino’s actions. Whatever the motivation, Bragadino’s ears and nose were cut off, he was imprisoned, and then executed. This was accompanied by a general massacre and the uncontrolled plundering of the captured city. Cyprus was now under Ottoman Empire control, but that was hardly the end of the war.

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