June 17, 1462: The Battle of the Blood Drinkers
Like flaming demons, Wallachians rushed out of the night and into the Turkish camp, striking terror in an army of terrorists. Leading the charge was a gore-spattered chieftain—hewing and hacking a path to the central tents where the Sultan huddled in fear. On he came, Vlad Dracul, raining down slaughter and raging for Mehmed’s blood.
On June 17, 1462, outside Targoviste, Romania, the world was given a rare instance of how the good can be accomplished though the grotesque—for God can deploy His enemies as allies. Vlad Dracul III, Prince of Wallachia, can hardly be considered a warrior of faith; but he was certainly a warrior for the Faith.
When Constantinople fell in 1453, 21 year-old Sultan Mehmed II boasted that finally Trojans were given vengeance over Greeks, and that he should be known as the Caesar of the Caliphs. He was more widely known, however, as the Blood Drinker. Mehmed enjoyed torture and execution for its own sake, making him a terrifying conqueror whose ambition was bent on the Christian West.
Mehmed launched his conquest of Eastern Europe, but was repelled at the Siege of Belgrade by John Hunyadi of Hungary in 1456. The retreating Ottomans regarded Wallachia (present day southern Romania) as a buffer between them and Hungary, and so, for a yearly jizyah (tax for non-Muslims), they left Wallachia alone—though both Hungary and the Turks vied to make Wallachia their vassal.
At that time Vlad III, a savage and sadistic prince of the Dragon Order, ruled in Romania. Vlad, like Mehmed, was also known for the pleasure he took in murdering people through excruciating procedures. Impaling was his trademark method, and it is said that in his lifetime Vlad the Impaler impaled in the tens of thousands.
Also at that time Pope Pius II, a saintly and savvy prince of the Church, ruled in Rome. Pope Pius called for a crusade against Islam in 1459, appointing the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, with the task of organizing a Catholic military resistance to the Moslem threat that loomed on the eastern horizon.
Seeing an opportunity to maintain independence from Mehmed, Prince Vlad allied himself with the Hungarians in 1461. Later that year, when envoys from Mehmed arrived at Vlad’s capital of Targoviste to collect the annual tribute, Vlad refused to pay—suggesting instead that the emissaries remove their turbans in the presence of a prince. When this demand was in turn refused, Vlad ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.
In response, Mehmed sent a punitive troop to Wallachia under pretense of making peace but intending an ambush to crush the insubordinate prince. Spies brought Vlad intelligence of this treachery, however, and he ambushed the Ottoman soldiers himself. Any who were not killed by Vlad’s cannons, were captured and impaled. Then Vlad Dracul marched his army across the frozen Danube and utterly devastated the Turkish outposts in Bulgaria, leaving twenty-four thousand dead behind him. Furious, Mehmed sent his own Grand Vizier with an army of eighteen thousand to end the routing. The router marched out to meet them, and not eight thousand Turks survived.
By March 1462, Vlad III found himself the keenest participant in the Pope’s crusade—though his motivation was hatred for the Turk rather than love for the Church. When reports of his violent victories over the Ottoman Empire spread throughout Europe, however, Te Deum was sung and Catholics rejoiced with Pius II at these campaigns that continued to drive Mehmed’s forces further from Rome.
It was then that Mehmed abandoned his siege of Corinth and determined to go after Vlad personally. He assembled a force of nearly one hundred thousand, and set forth to conquer Wallachia, which would put Vienna within his grasp—the doorstep to Rome.
Vlad III, whose peasant infantrymen and boyar cavalry only numbered thirty thousand, could not prevent Mehmed from crossing the Danube into his country. The Turks began their march toward Targoviste, while Vlad’s army lurked just beyond their reach, employing sudden guerilla strikes and scorched earth tactics. Hidden archers shot down janissaries. Scores fell into pits covered with brush and lined with stakes. Waters were poisoned. Livestock was slain. The Wallachian prince even paid people with leprosy or the bubonic plague to mingle with the Turks and infect them. Mehmed’s militia was severely impaired by these strategies as they dragged heavy artillery through disease-ridden marshes, sustaining great loss from Vlad’s hit-and-run maneuvers.
Finally, Mehmed trapped his enemy in a mountain pass and set up siege, determined to wait till Vlad and his followers starved or surrendered. Recognizing his peril, the Wallachian prince determined to meet death in a manner befitting the temper of his blood. He laid his plans on that June evening, and waited till nightfall.
The Ottoman camp lay in silence. Suddenly, a trumpet blast brayed out. The rumble of rushing feet and roaring voices swelled over the tents as Vlad III lead a surprise attack in the dead of night, blades gleaming in the torchlight. The prince threshed a path toward Mehmed’s tent, spreading chaos and carnage with the ferocity of his invasion. The panicked Turks reeled beneath the blow, until the Janissaries rallied themselves. Encircling the Sultan, they drove the Wallachians back into the gloom—only after fifteen thousand Turks had been butchered.
This famous skirmish of June 17, 1462, allegedly left Mehmed II petrified. With his forces in tatters and demoralized, he abandoned the chase of Vlad Dracul, allowing the Wallachians to return to Targoviste. Soon afterwards, however, Mehmed repented pulling away and marched on the capital after Vlad. Another surprise awaited him there. The gates of the city stood open. No resistance was offered.
And twenty thousand dead Turks surrounded the city, impaled on stakes.
The Sultan beheld this masterpiece of horror and knew that here was a match for Turkish terrors—a man who knew his enemy well enough to give them a taste of their own brutality. Though Mehmed shrank from the sight, something like admiration burnt in his eye. He wheeled his army southward, and retreated. Barbarism put the barbarians to flight, the Moslem Moon waned in the east, and a shadow was lifted from Vienna.
It is common and commendable that Christians defend the truths and beauties of heathen things. History, however, provides moments of mystery when it is heathens that defend Christian things. The overawing of Mehmed II by Vlad III is one of those moments. Though Vlad Dracul is—and for good reason—the historical basis for the blood-drinking Dracula, he is still the prince who waged war against the Ottoman Blood Drinker. The story surrounding the 1462 Night Raid is both terrible and triumphant, featuring an unholy hero for the Faith who bore the Standard of Christ without really intending to. There are realities here that are worth wrestling with: God can inspire the ungodly to save His Church; many who fight for the Faith are not among the faithful.
It can be argued that the attitude of bold and brutal attack against the infidel that the bloodthirsty Vlad Dracul exhibited was embraced and ennobled a century later by Don John at the Battle of Lepanto, and a century after that by Jan Sobieski at the Siege of Vienna. Each of these victories was pivotal in keeping the Cross over Rome instead of the Crescent—and even savages like Vlad the Impaler should be given credit where credit is due.
Just as sending a thief to catch a thief is sometimes advisable, so too, perhaps, is sending a devil to conquer a devil.
By Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.
thing less than the future of Christendom was at stake, raged this week in June some four-and-a-half centuries ago. Indeed, the sacrificial lamb, Fort Saint Elmo, fell on June 23.
But because it did, the Island of Malta held out.
At great cost was purchased the time for the princes of the Catholic West to set aside their jealousies and build the fleets sufficient to confront the troublesome Turk, bound and determined to make Saint Peter’s Basilica a mosque, just as he had done to the Hagia Sophia a century before.
Christendom delivered the coup de grace at Lepanto in 1571 under the 24-year-old Don John of Austria, but the sea battle that saved the West would never have been fought, much less won, had it not been for the heroic leadership of a much older man six years before.
The 71-year-old warrior who—alone and against impossible odds—led his soldier monks in the defense of Malta in 1565 was Jean Parisot de la Valette.
If ever a man took Luke 9:61-62 to heart it was this descendant of the crusading counts of Toulouse. At 20 he joined the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem. He never returned home.
Born in 1494, he matured into the fullness of a type forged four centuries prior in the crucible of the Crusades, something that was then altogether new: the monk of war, a cleric whose vocation it was to lead a life of prayer and work centered on the Divine Office and the Rule of Saint Benedict, in a cloister apart from the world, but also to train for war and to shed the blood of the enemies of Jesus Christ on the battlefield.
By the late 16th Century, of the three Military Orders, only the Knights of Saint John survived, but in the heart of Grand Master Jean de la Valette burned the same fervor and singularity of purpose that fired the hearts of the soldier monks who had manned the ramparts of Acre and had fallen on the the fields at Hattin.
His fellow warrior the Abbé de Brantôme described La Valette as “tall, calm, unemotional, and handsome.” Another admirer said he was “capable of converting a Protestant or governing a kingdom.” A master of languages, he spoke French, Latin, Italian, Greek, Arabic, and Turkish. He had more than paid his dues. Already a seasoned veteran at 47, he sustained a severe wound in action against the Barbary Corsairs, the outcome of which battle sentenced La Valette to a year pulling a Turkish galley oar.
More glorious, though doubtless no less demanding, were the abundant posts he had held throughout the Order, including Governor of Tripoli and General of the Fleet, the first Frenchman to hold a post traditionally given to Italians. Under La Valette, the Galleys of the Knights of Saint John sailed forth from Malta’s magnificent natural harbor and practiced, if you will, a kind of Christian piracy, boarding and seizing Turkish merchantmen carrying goods from France or Venice to be hawked in the markets of Constantinople. For this reason, the matrons of the Sultan’s harem hated the Knights of Malta, for these ladies accumulated great wealth speculating in glass and other Venetian luxuries.
Soleiman the Magnificent, however, was a strategic thinker. He knew that Malta’s harbor, unequalled in the Mediterranean, would afford him a forward base from which to continue his raids on the coast of Italy. With the greater control of the sea that Malta would afford him, he could at last bring Venice to heel. An invasion of Sicily would not be out of the question, nor would aid to the Moriscos in Spain.
The Sultan’s greatest dream, however, the dream of all Turks, was the conquest of the “Red Apple.”
Malta was a stepping stone to Rome.
Soleiman had crossed swords with the Knights of Saint John early in his reign. La Valette had been there. In 1522, a Turkish force, of, in the end, some 200,000, besieged the Knights’ stronghold on the Island of Rhodes. For six months, 700 Knights and 6000 local auxiliaries, held out against the Turks. The holy Knights exacted casualties from Soleiman equaling half his force, but when their supplies and ammunition were exhausted, and their own force inadequate to man the walls, Soleiman agreed to allow the garrison to surrender on terms. Rhodes was evacuated and the Knights, after a sojourn in Siracusa, set up a new fortress on the Island of Malta.
The Christian West had known for years that Malta was the object of Turkish desire, but when the Knights’ extensive Mediterranean intelligence network noted an aggressive galley-building effort in Constantinople in the fall and winter of 1564, La Valette accelerated the construction of his defenses and called all the Knights of the Order home to stand and fight.
On May 18, 1565 the Ottoman fleet was spotted offshore. That night, the Grand Master led his warriors into their chapel where they confessed and then assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island,” he told them. “These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”
To be sure, La Valette knew how many of his Knights would fall. The plan he had devised was to hold Fort St. Elmo as long as he could until a relief force from Spanish Sicily could be mustered.
Fort St. Elmo, poorly designed, and poorly constructed, indeed, not even completed, commanded the northeasternmost point of the mountain peninsula that bisected the island’s four-mile, deepwater harbor. As long as the fort stood, the Turks could not take the harbor, and if they could not take the harbor by autumn, the Ottoman fleet would be wrecked in the gales of October.
From his headquarters across on the south side of the harbor at Fort St. Angelo, La Valette saw to the defenses of the rest of the island, and to the carefully measured defense of St. Elmo.
Slowly buying time with human lives, the lives of his fellow Knights, La Valette kept St. Elmo manned by shuttles across the harbor, sparing no more than were absolutely needed. The Brethren manning St. Elmo rained liquid fire, rocks, boiling oil, fire hoops, and musket ball down on the attacking Turks. Writing daily to Spain’s Viceroy in Sicily, La Valette underscored what both sides knew: the island’s necessity to Christendom. But Spain dragged her feet, and La Valette continued to send willing men to the walls of Saint Elmo. Over eight thousand Turks were slaughtered in the siege, and many of La Valette’s 700 knights and their men-at-arms did consummate the sacrifice to which he had called them in May, but when the fortress at last fell after 31 days on 23 June, the Knights of Saint John had so depleted the Turkish ranks, that a Turkish conquest of Malta was now in doubt. Indeed, Mustafa, the Turkish commander, cried aloud, “Allah! We have paid so dearly for the son! What shall we pay for the father?”
Enraged by the price they paid for Saint Elmo, the Turks cut out the hearts of the fort’s dead defenders, nailed their corpses to crucifixes and sent them floating across the harbor toward La Valette. His response is not easy to approve, but easy enough to understand. Decapitating Turkish prisoners taken in fighting on the opposite side of the harbor, he fired their heads from his cannons back at the Turks now occupying St. Elmo.
The conduct of the battle for the island did not improve from there, but La Valette, concealing his increasing certainty that relief was unlikely never allowed his men to waiver. The day following the fall of St. Elmo was the Feast of Jean Baptiste. La Valette addressed his men: “What could be more fitting for a member of the Order of Saint John than to lay down his life in defense of the Faith? The defenders of Saint Elmo have earned a martyr’s crown and will reap a martyr’s reward!”
The Turks, now infested with disease from bad water, offered terms.
La Valette refused.
For the next two months the Turks threw themselves at the island’s remaining strongholds, Fort Saint Angelo and Fort Saint Michael. Throughout the fighting, La Valette was ever to the fore of the defenses, inspiring courage in his men and fear in the Turks, who quickly spread the belief that they had seen demons at sides defending him.
Angels must have stood by his side, for Europe did not. While the kings of Christendom stood idly by expecting the island fortress to fall, La Valette and his Knights held their island against an Ottoman army of nearly 60,000, including 6500 of the Sultan’s elite Janissaries. Three quarters of the Turkish army were killed over the four-month siege, and, on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, as the Ottoman survivors turned and straggled back to Constantinople, the heart of Christian Europe began to beat again for the defense of the Faith.
The man who had given the heart of Europe some much-needed resuscitation was Jean Parisot de la Valette.
For a recorded lecture by Christopher Check on the Battle of Lepanto please visit Catholic Answers
ly standing next to the Franciscan basilica in Kraków. (Photo courtesy of the author)
On September 12, 1683, the Christian Coalition led by King John III Sobieski defeated the Turks at the gates of Vienna, thus saving Christendom. Venimus, vidimus, Deus vincit, the Polish monarch wrote in a letter to Pope Innocent XI. “We came, we saw, God conquered.” While equestrian statues of Sobieski can be found throughout Poland, there is not one in the Austrian capital. For years, this conscious omission was the result of the chauvinistic attitude of many Austrians. Today, opposition to commemorating this Catholic savior of Western civilization results from downright silly notions of political correctness.
John III Sobieski was born into an aristocratic family in 1629. In the seventeenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was devastated, first by a series of corrosive wars with Sweden and later by the bloody uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, against the Polish Crown, a period that has been depicted in Nobel Prize-winning writer Henryk Sienkiewicz’s classic trilogy of adventure novels: With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Pan Michael.
In the 1660s and 1670s, Sobieski gained a reputation as an able commander in Polish struggles against the Swedes and Cossacks. From 1667 to 1674, he served as Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, or the nation’s second highest-ranking military commander after the king. On November 11, 1673, troops under Sobieski’s command defeated the Turks at the Battle of Khotyn, a fortress in present-day Ukraine. As a result of military defeats in the years leading up to Khotyn, Poland-Lithuania had to pay a tribute to the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to Sobieski’s military leadership, Poland no longer was in a submissive position with respect to the Turks.
The victory at Khotyn took place one day after the death of the unpopular and militarily inept King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki. After the Jagiellonian dynasty had died out in 1596, Polish kings were elected. All the nobles (who made up about 8-10 percent of the country’s population; by contrast, the first and second estates in pre-Revolutionary France constituted just 2 percent of French society) had the right to vote. Most of Poland’s elected kings were foreigners: a Frenchman, a Hungarian, Swedes, and Germans (Saxons). The Sejm, or outdoor parliament, of nobles was held in the fields outside Warsaw. Riding high on the success of Khotyn, Sobieski was elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1674.
During his reign, Sobieski became known as a one of the most learned and cultured European leaders of his time. He built a beautiful residence for himself in Warsaw’s green Wilanów district, modeled after Versailles and among Europe’s loveliest Baroque palaces. Sobieski patronized the Gdansk astronomer Johannes Hevelius, known for his pioneering studies of the topography of the moon and discovery of ten constellations (one of which he named “Sobieski’s Shield”) as well as four comets.
However, it was his military skill that catapulted Sobieski to international fame. In the summer of 1683, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I and Sobieski signed a treaty of mutual assistance in the face of the Turkish threat. Shortly thereafter, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha’s Turks entered Vienna, killing and raping Christians, pillaging, and destroying churches, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Leopold called on the help of Sobieski, who became the supreme commander of the Christian Coalition composed of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Kingdom of Hungary.
The battle took place at Kahlenberg, a hill on the outskirts of Vienna which today offers some of the best views of the majestic Austrian capital. Sobieski led the largest cavalry charge in history against the enemies of Christendom. Sobieski’s men were winged hussars: cavalrymen with eagle and turkey feathers assembled in artificial wings attached to their armor. The purpose of these wings was probably to spook the enemy’s horses during cavalry charges: they made a loud rustling sound as the horseback Poles stormed through the wind. Although the Turks outnumbered the soldiers of the Christian coalition by a ratio of three to two, they were soon defeated.
After the Polish-led victory in Vienna, Pope Innocent XI created a Holy League, whose members included Poland-Lithuania, the Holy Roman Empire, the Papal States, Venice, and, eventually Russia; its purpose was to protect Christian Europe from the Turks.
Sobieski was a devout Catholic. As he left Krakow for Vienna in 1683, a gorget bearing the likeness of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, the most sacred icon to Polish Catholics, was hung around his neck. Before the Battle of Vienna, a Mass was celebrated for the Christian troops by the Italian Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano (later beatified by Pope St. John Paul II), Emperor Leopold’s religious advisor. However, Sobieski, like other Polish kings, championed religious toleration, granting legal protections to the Jews, for instance.
More than three centuries after the Siege of Vienna, there are several monuments related to the battle in the Austrian capital, but not one depicting Sobieski (there are plaques bearing the king’s likeness on the façades of two Viennese churches, one belonging to the city’s Polish community). For a long time, this was the result of the chauvinistic attitude of many Austrians towards the Poles. Some Austrian historians have even questioned that Sobieski was the supreme commander of the Christian Coalition, although no non-Austrian scholars have expressed similar doubts.
Austrian feelings of superiority to the Poles are deep-rooted in history. A century after the winged hussars’ charge, Austria, Russia, and Prussia took part in the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. While Poles under Austrian rule were given more liberties than their compatriots under Russian and German control, Austria nonetheless stifled the Polish struggle for independence.
During World War II, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex was established in Upper Austria. Thirty-five thousand Poles were killed in the camp, making up 40 percent of its fatal victims. For a long time, Austrian authorities failed to properly commemorate the camp and its victims. After the war, the area of the former concentration camp was devastated and residential buildings were built over it; currently, a private villa stands at the main camp gate. Mauthausen-Gusen was added to the registry of protected historical sites only in 2016 after the intervention of the Polish minister of culture.
Tellingly, the initiative to build a monument to Sobieski in Vienna came not from the Austrian side, but from Poland; the idea was put forth by the Krakow Archers’ Fraternity with the support of the mayor of Krakow and the Polish prime minister.
In the summer of 2018, there were plans for a ceremony during which a monument to King John III Sobieski would be unveiled at Kahlenberg, the site of the 1683 battle. Just weeks before the planned event, however, a new mayor of Vienna, Social Democrat Michael Ludwig, was installed. He decided to scrap the plan to tribute to Sobieski, as he feared it would be considered “anti-Turkish” (many Turkish immigrants live in Vienna) and, bizarrely, because 2018 was not the appropriate time to build military monuments.
Ironically, Sobieski was not an anti-Turkish bigot. In the seventeenth century, the Polish nobility believed in an odd myth that, unlike the serfs, they were the Sarmatians, a distinct race descended from the Persians. Sobieski and other Polish nobles had a strong affinity for oriental dress and furniture. This love for the Turks was not entirely unrequited: impressed by Sobieski’s army’s skill, the Ottomans took on great respect for the Poles and never recognized the partitions of Poland. In the eighteenth century, after the Polish state had been annihilated by its neighbors, the sultan would often ask where the ambassador from Lechistan (the traditional Turkish name for Poland; currently, it is Polonya) was during meetings with diplomats.
In recent weeks, the Sobieski monument has been displayed in Polish cities with which the king had been affiliated. The first stop was Krakow, and the monument was situated on the square in front of the Franciscan basilica across from the “papal window” in the Krakow curia, where during his visits to Poland Pope John Paul II (and, later, Benedict XVI and Francis) would give impromptu addresses to Cracovians. The monument is on a platform trailer, which symbolizes that it is on its way to Vienna, its final destination.
Realistically, many years will probably pass before Sobieski is properly commemorated in the Austrian capital. That political correctness rather than the passionate pursuit of historical truth and giving due respect to a heroic defender of Western civilizations has been the deciding factor is scandalous.
Filip Mazurczak is a journalist, translator, and historian. His writing has appeared in the National Catholic Register, First Things, Tygodnik Powszechny, and other publications.
Some of the comments
Alter und Weiser.DECEMBER 16, 2019 AT 3:23 PMFilipWell done. The story of King Sobieski and how he saved Europe from dhimmitude is well known to me (proudly of Polish heritage) but not well known to the descendants of Western Europe and the Americas. The battle of Vienna (12 Sept 1683) was as pivotal a the battle of Tours in 732 AD where Charles Martel saved Christendom from an earlier Islamic invasion. Unlike Sobieski, Leopold evacuated Vienna and retired to Passau to await the outcome of the siege. Undoubtedly, the Austrians are embarrassed that the Austrian Emperor fled while the Pole rushed to the defense of Christian Europe.
Sto Lat! mój brat.
Dave SmithDECEMBER 17, 2019 AT 11:54 AMSobieski and the Holy Roman Empire commander independently decided to conduct the great cavalry attack – at the same moment! Also, the Pope appealed to Louis XIV to help relieve the siege. He refused; I guess German Austria was distant and of no import to France.
You can put Sobieski up there with Charles Martel and the fleet commanders at Lepanto with respect to saving Christendom and western civilization. Marian intervention all three times, if you ask me.
r centuries-old enemy. Why? They were themselves absorbed with war in Persia. Moreover, they were beset by a turbulent period of harem intrigue and governed—or not—by a string of ineffectual and self-indulgent sultans, one of whom was deposed and two of whom were murdered. The last of these was Ibrahim I. He was deposed and murdered.
Known as “the Debauched,” Ibrahim was famous for his vigorous appetite for well-upholstered women, and he is remembered for drowning his entire harem—280 ladies in all—in the Bosporus upon learning that he was not the only man enjoying their affections. A liaison one night, however, with a Russian concubine produced the son that would reverse Ottoman fortunes.
Mehmed IV was what we would call today, an “outdoorsman.” He preferred hunting to war, but unlike his recent predecessors, he made decisions and stuck by them. Indeed, history remembers Mehmed for two decisions in particular. The first was to give control of the empire to the Koprulu family, which produced a series of Grand Viziers who restored internal order to the empire, recaptured many of the Aegean Islands from Venice, and extended the boundaries of the empire northward through battlefield victories in Transylvania and Poland.
Best known and last of these Grand Viziers was Kara Mustafa Pasha. Kara Mustafa Pasha was the source of Mehmed’s other famous decision: in the summer of 1682 the Grand Vizier persuaded his Sultan to violate the Peace of Vasvár and lay siege to Vienna.
A century-and-a-half had passed since Suleiman the Magnificent had tried and failed to take the fortress city on the Danube. Mehmed was determined not to fail, and more than that, he was convinced, like all Sultans before him, that the Ottomans were, as conquerors of Constantinople, the true heirs of the patrimony of the Roman Empire. The Hapsburgs in Vienna were impostors who needed to submit to the rule of Islam.
By the autumn of 1682 the Ottoman Army had crossed the Bosporus and proceeded to Adrianople. There the sultan wintered his army, and as they trained for war, he read and reread the abundant accounts of earlier Turkish campaigns into Eastern Europe. Along the road-of-march to Belgrade (in Ottoman hands since 1521) bridges and roads were repaired. A draft or “ban” was proclaimed for auxiliaries throughout the empire and Arabs, Bosnians, Bulgars, Greeks, Macedonians, and Serbs poured into the White City to await the arrival of Mehmed’s force, led by his 12,000 janissaries. Among the sultan’s army were Protestant soldiers loyal to the Magyar Lutheran Imre Thököly who looked to the Islamic east to back his dubious claim to the throne of Hungary.
Less detestable than Protestants allying themselves with Islam against Catholic Hapsburg rule, but considerably more savage and fearsome, were the Sultan’s mobile shock-action cavalry: the Tatars. Descendants of the bloody convergence of Sarmatians, Scythians, and Mongols, these natural horsemen were the stuff of nightmare. Like the African corsairs who raided the coastal fishing villages of Italy in the 16th century, the Tatars were the frontline of the Ottoman slave trade. Rape, pillage, plunder, and arson composed their modus operandi, tales of which made their way as far as France and England. To the villagers on the Christian Ottoman border in Hungary and Poland, however, the Tatars were no mere story to frighten ill-behaved children. They were a terrifying reality. To the Polish, Lithuanian, and Austrian soldiers who had faced them in battle, they were extraordinary archers capable of a rapid rate of fire and deadly accuracy from their short bows and all from the saddle of a galloping pony.
In March of 1683, as the army left Adrianople amidst great fanfare, a sudden squall blew the Sultan’s turban from his head. All his men, from the highest-ranking officer to the lowliest conscript, recognized the bad omen. Superstitions aside, spring storms swelled rivers and the usual fords required pontoon bridges to cross. At Belgrade, Sultan Mehmed handed the Flag of the Prophet (a facsimile because the original had been captured by the Venetians at Lepanto a century before) to his Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa and with it command of the Ottoman host.
Mehmed remained in Belgrade to hunt and play. The real ruler of the Ottoman Empire pressed north for Buda, sending his siege cannons on barges up the Danube. Buda had endured Turkish occupation since 1541—another conquest of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Church of Our Lady there to this day bears in one alcove the decorations of the building’s days as a mosque. Was it a misguided ecumenical gesture, or is it a reminder of what may come again to a West grown soft and inattentive?
By the second half of June the Turkish army, now greater than 150,000 strong, had arrived in Buda. There the Grand Vizier announced to his war council his plan to take Vienna. “It is for thee to command and for us to serve,” answered the Governor of Damascus. Following the Danube west the Turks pressed on for Vienna, raiding and burning along the way.
Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor could no longer deny that Vienna was the Ottoman objective. The man who had guided his country through the Thirty Years War ruled an empire pinched between a France under the Sun King determined to expand eastward and the Ottoman Empire resurgent. The condition called for a less vacillating character than the emperor, who permitted himself to be talked into abandoning Vienna.
Two men of sterner stuff he left behind: Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg to command the garrison in Vienna and Charles Sixte, Duke of Lorraine to command the Imperial Army in the field. It bears noting that the heroic figure for whom the Siege of Vienna is most remembered, John Sobieski, arrived in the eleventh hour. Both Starhemberg and Lorraine, severely outnumbered, acquitted themselves well throughout the two-month siege, masterfully resisting the Turk and prudently delaying a decisive engagement until the Polish and Saxon reinforcements could muster.
The Turks arrived at the walls of Vienna on the 12th of July. On the 13th an emissary from the Grand Vizier rode to the city’s walls with an invitation to surrender the city and submit to Islamic rule.
On the 14th the Turks began to bombard the city’s walls. The walls of Vienna had been much improved since the medieval days when they were first constructed, paid for by Richard Lionheart’s ransom. By the 17th century, the city’s defenses included all the designs developed in Italy during the Renaissance: mutually supporting bastions and ravelins, scarp and counterscarp, glacis and curtain wall. Tightly packed earth faced with brick and gently sloped both absorbed and deflected the rounds from the Turkish bombards. But the walls were not everywhere strong, and the Turks located on the south side Vienna’s weak spot between two bastions that fronted the Imperial palace. Toward this point in the wall they began a process at which they were very good: the steady digging of parallel trenches to close on the city’s defenses followed by mining, the digging of underground galleries to be packed with explosives to tumble the walls from beneath.
By August, the combination of mining and artillery fire had taken its toll of the city’s outer wall and seriously damaged the palace bastion. Musketball-to-arrow, pike-to-cutlass, and hand-to-hand encounters in the ditch and on the ramparts grew more frequent and more fierce. Viennese counterminers clashed with Turkish sappers in torchlit underground tunnels. Flamboyant and fearless, Starhemberg, a pistol in each hand, was ever in the thick of these contests, yet he knew that without relief the fighting would soon be street-to-street and house-to-house.
In the plains and woods surrounding Vienna, Charles Sixte, with his small force of 10,000 horse and no infantry (critical for seizing and holding terrain) did his best to limit the depredations of the merciless Tatar raiders. Dozens of villages south of the Danube were put to the torch, their women raped and their men slaughtered.
As grim as events appeared, hope was within sight. Four days after the start of the Turkish bombardment, John III Sobieski, King of Poland marshaled his army of nearly 40,000 in Warsaw and began the 435-mile march southwest toward Vienna. A similar force under John George III Elector of Saxony came southeast from Dresden. A third force came straight east from Munich under Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. They united near Krems, some forty miles upriver from Vienna.
The Holy League, under command of Sobieski now began its difficult passage through the Wienerwald, known to us as the Vienna Woods, the 30-miles-long and 20-miles-wide expanse of thickly wooded foothills that dominate the terrain southwest of Vienna. Moving the artillery over steep slopes and rugged ground cut with ravines was particularly difficult, but by the 11th of September the Christian force had reached the Kahlenberg ridge. Looking down on the plain below they saw the countless brightly colored tents of the Ottoman host stretching north toward the city walls.
Sobieski also saw that the south slope of the ridge was of the same difficult terrain as the rest of the Wienerwald and was crisscrossed with the high, stone walls of vineyards and farms. The descent to the plain below would be as painstaking as the climb, but also under attack from Janissary skirmishers.
Before dawn, Sobieski assisted at Mass in the ruined Church of the Camaldolites, offered by Blessed Marco D’Viano. Gathering his force he commended their mission and their souls to the care of the Blessed Virgin.
The descent began.
As the sun rose on the morning of 12 September, the Ottomans saw, according their own account, “a flood of black pitch flowing down the hill, smothering and incinerating everything that lay in its way.”
Taking one ridge at a time, the Christians fought their way down the hill. Little could the commanders do but exhort their forces to press ahead in the confusion. The Saxons on the left of the Holy League line were the first to engage the forward deployed Ottomans, but by ten a.m. the whole Turkish army was arrayed for counterattack. For several hours the battle traded advantage, the Holy League ever closing on the city.
By late afternoon, Sobieski’s army had reached the plain, and he was now positioned to exploit his greatest asset, the famed Winged Hussars. Drawing up these courageous cavalrymen, their feathered plumes streaming off their backs, he led them himself, lances couched in a full-tilt charge at the center of the Ottoman line. Shouting “Jezus Maria ratuj!” they charged and reformed, charged and reformed, charged and reformed. The Polish horsemen followed their intrepid king deeper and deeper into the army of Islam, smashing what remained of their resistance, setting the followers of Muhammad to flight, relieving the siege, and carrying the day.
“We came, we saw, God conquered.” Sobieski wrote to Innocent XI.
The Polish king—taking a privilege that ought to have gone to Emperor Leopold—entered the city feted with parade and feast. Writing to his wife, Sobieski described Vienna’s gratitude, “All the common people kissed my hands, my feet, my clothes, saying: ‘Ah, let us kiss so valiant a hand!’”
The event was the last great Ottoman effort. Their borders receded. Within three years Buda was back in Christian hands.
One year after Sobieski’s victory, Pope Innocent XI—also dearly remembered for his explicit condemnations of usury and of “mental reservation”—extended the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the Universal Calendar of the Roman Rite to honor the great victory that Our Lady granted the Christian West. When it fell out fashion three centuries later in 1969 to recall the heroics of Christian soldiers against the enemies of Jesus Christ, the feast was removed from the Liturgical Calendar. In 2002, however, Blessed John Paul II restored the Feast to the Universal Calendar. It is hard not to imagine that the Trade Tower attacks of the preceding year were to the fore of his thoughts when he did, but that we do not know.
We do know, however, that Islam is an age-old enemy of the Christian West, and that the West, the United States included, emptied of Christianity is also emptied of meaning. Catholics today have a duty and a privilege to honor Our Lady, and to honor the heroic Polish King and his warriors under the walls of Vienna at least by not pretending that the Crescent is not again resurgent and intent on trampling the Cross.
Tagged as: John III Sobieski, Ottoman Empire, Vienna
The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.
Scandlen MARCH 4, 2015
In light of President Obama’s recent remarks comparing the brutality of the Islamic State to the Crusades, it might be time to take a fresh look at those events. Were they really the one-sided Dark Ages barbarism we have been taught? Were they an early manifestation of Western imperialism and global conquest?
In his landmark book, “God’s Battalions” (HarperOne 2009), Baylor University social sciences professor Rodney Stark suggests otherwise. It is a well-researched chronicle, including 639 footnotes and a bibliography of about 300 other works, yet reads like an adventure story full of military strategy and political intrigue.
What Prompted the Crusades
He begins in the final years of Mohammed and describes how a newly united Arab people swept through (Zoroastrian) Persia and the (Orthodox Christian) Byzantine- controlled areas of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. (Byzantine refers to the Greek-speaking eastern remainder of the Roman Empire.) Eventually Arabs took over control of the Mediterranean islands, most of Spain, and the southern part of Italy, and even reached as far as 150 miles outside of Paris before being turned back by the Franks, or early French.
The Muslims were brutal in their conquered territories.
The Muslims were brutal in their conquered territories. They gave pagans a choice of converting to Islam or being killed or enslaved. Jews and Christians (other People of the Book) were usually but not always treated somewhat better, and allowed to retain their beliefs but under conditions of Sharia subjugation.
But the Muslim-held territories were not monolithic. Stark writes:
Perhaps the single most remarkable feature of the Islamic territories was the almost ceaseless internal conflict; the intricate plots, assassinations, and betrayals form a lethal soap opera. North Africa was frequently torn by rebellions and intra-Islamic wars and conquests. Spain was a patchwork of constantly feuding Muslim regimes that often allied themselves with Christians against one another.
Not surprisingly, there was intense Christian resistance and determination to take back lost territories. Especially effective were the Normans and the Franks in Spain and Italy.
The Golden Middle Ages Belonged to Europeans
Western scholars have often characterized this clash of cultures as an Islamic Golden Age versus a European Dark Age, but Stark demolishes this as a myth. He says the best of the Islamic culture was appropriated from the people Muslims conquered—the Greeks, Jews, Persians, Hindus, and even from heretical Christian sects such as the Copts and Nestorians. He quotes E.D. Hunt as writing, “the earliest scientific book in the language of Islam [was a] treatise on medicine by a Syrian Christian priest in Alexandria translated into Arabic by a Persian Jewish physician.” Stark writes that Muslim naval fleets were built by Egyptian shipwrights, manned by Christian crews, and often captained by Italians. When Baghdad was built, the caliph “entrusted the design of the city to a Zoroastrian and a Jew.” Even the “Arabic” numbering system was Hindu in origin.
And, while it is true that the Arabs embraced the writings of Plato and Aristotle, Stark comments,
However, rather than treat these works as attempts by Greek scholars to answer various questions, Muslin intellectuals quickly read them in the same way they read the Qur’an – as settled truths to be understood without question or contradiction…. Attitudes such as these prevented Islam from taking up where the Greeks had left off in their pursuit of knowledge.
Meanwhile, back in Europe was an explosion of technology that made ordinary people far richer than any people had ever been. It began with the development of collars and harnesses that allowed horses to pull plows and wagons rather than oxen, doubling the speed at which people could till fields. Plows were improved, iron horseshoes invented, wagons given brakes and swivel axels, and larger draft horses were bred. All this along with the new idea of crop rotation led to a massive improvement in agricultural productivity that in turn led to a much healthier, larger, and stronger population.
Technology was also improving warfare with the invention of the crossbow and chain mail. Crossbows were far more accurate and deadly than conventional archery, and could be fired with very little training. Chain mail was almost impervious to the kind of arrows in use throughout the world. Mounted knights were fitted with high-back saddles and stirrups that enabled them to use more force in charging an opponent, and much larger horses were bred as chargers, giving the knights a height advantage over enemies. Better military tactics made European armies much more lethal. Stark writes:
It is axiomatic in military science that cavalry cannot succeed against well-armed and well-disciplined infantry formations unless they greatly outnumber them…. When determined infantry hold their ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder to present a wall of shields from which they project a thicket of long spears butted in the ground, cavalry charges are easily turned away; the horses often rear out of control and refuse to meet the spears.
In contrast, Muslim warriors were almost exclusively light cavalry, riding faster but lighter horses bareback with little armor, few shields, and using swords and axes. Their biggest advantage was their use of camels, which made them much more mobile than foot soldiers and gave them the ability to swoop in and out of the desert areas to attack poorly defended cities.
Muslims Slaughter, Rape, and Pillage
These differences provided Crusader armies with huge advantages, but what would prompt hundreds of thousand Europeans to leave their homes and travel 2,500 miles to engage an enemy is a desert kingdom—especially after the Muslim conquest of Europe had been turned back?
In 638 Jerusalem surrendered to Muslim invaders, and mass murders of Christian pilgrims and monks became commonplace. There had been long-festering concern about the fate of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. After his conversion to Christianity in the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of what was believed to be Jesus’ tomb, and other churches in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives. These sites prompted a growing number of European pilgrims to visit the Holy Land, including Saint Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem for the last 32 years of his life as he translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. By the late fifth century, Stark reports, more than 300 hostels and monasteries offered lodging to pilgrims in Jerusalem alone.
But in 638 Jerusalem surrendered to Muslim invaders, and mass murders of Christian pilgrims and monks became commonplace. Stark includes a list of select atrocities in the eight and ninth centuries, but none worse than the some 5,000 German Christians slaughtered by Bedouin robbers in the tenth century.
Throughout this period, control of Palestine was contested by several conflicting Muslim groups. Stark writes, “In 878 a new dynasty was established in Egypt and seized control of the Holy Land from the caliph in Baghdad.” One hundred years later, Tariqu al-Hakim became the sixth caliph of Egypt and initiated an unprecedented reign of terror, not just against Christians but against his own people as well. He burned or pillaged some 30,000 churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb beneath it.
Soon enough, newly converted Turkish tribes came out of the north to seize Persia and Baghdad (by 1045) and press on to Armenia, overrunning the city of Ardzen in 1048, where they murdered all the men, raped the women, and enslaved the children. Next they attacked the Egyptians, in part because the Turks were Orthodox Sunnis and the Egyptians were heretical Shiites. While the Turks did not succeed in overthrowing the Egyptians, they did conquer Palestine, entering Jerusalem in 1071. The Turks promised safety to the residents of Jerusalem if they surrendered the city, but broke this promise and slaughtered the population. They did the same in Ramla, Gaza, Tyre, and Jaffa.
Emperor Alexius Pleads for Help
Finally, they threatened Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Alexius Comnenus wrote to Pope Urban II in 1095, begging for help to turn back the Turks. This was remarkable given the intense hostility between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Perhaps the pope saw an opportunity to unite or at least reduce tensions between the two Christian churches, but he responded with a call to create an army that would go to the Middle East.
Without ongoing support from Europe, the Crusaders could not survive constant attacks from the Muslims.
I am not going to regurgitate all the battles of the Crusades themselves. It is a fascinating history well worth studying in part for its parallels and lessons for today. Let’s just say that the Crusaders were extremely effective militarily, often defeating far larger Muslim armies, despite having traveled some 2,500 miles into an alien desert climate. Their biggest enemies were disease, starvation, and political betrayal. Plus, the Crusades were expensive and home countries grew weary of paying the taxes needed to support them (sound familiar?)
The Crusaders ended up establishing their own kingdoms in the Holy Land, which lasted for about 200 years or, as Stark notes, almost as long as the United States has existed; but without ongoing support from Europe they could not survive constant attacks from the Muslims.
How the Crusades Were Different from Military Action of the Day
So, what to make of all this?
The current idea that Jews in Israel are usurping the rights of indigenous people is nonsense. This has always been a hotly contested area. In the Old Testament, the Jews wrested control from the Canaanites, then were overrun by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans. The Romans of Jesus’ time were displaced by the Greek Byzantine Empire, then replaced by the Arabs, then the Egyptians, then the Turks, and finally by the British. For most of human history the wealth of a society was created by conquest and plunder. It is hardly unique to Christians, and certainly not to Jews.
The Crusaders were unique in that they did not seek to plunder or enslave.
Actually, the Crusaders were unique in that they did not seek to plunder or enslave. They didn’t even try to forcibly convert anyone to Christianity. Their sole interest was to protect the pilgrims and Christian holy sites. They sometimes sacked cities that refused to provide food to a hungry army, but they didn’t take riches back to Europe. There were few riches to be found. Rather than exploiting indigenous resources to benefit Europe, Europe sent money and resources to the Middle East. Pilgrims were quite lucrative for host countries, just as tourism is today.
War was a nasty and brutal business at the time, and had been for all of recorded history. Cities fortified themselves as protection against invading armies. A siege of a city meant surrounding the area and cutting off supplies until the population surrendered, often by starving. In the Bible, II Kings 6:24-33 relates the story of the siege of Samaria, in which two starving women agree to kill and eat their sons.
The rule of war at the time was that, if a city surrendered, the population would be spared, but if it resisted and the invading army had to take it by force all the inhabitants would be killed or enslaved. But Stark notes that Muslim armies often violated even this rule—promising sanctuary, then slaughtering the population that surrendered. (Before we get too smug and condescending about the savagery of these ancients, let’s not forget the rocket bombing of London, the firebombing of Dresden, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a mere 70 years ago.)
Muslim armies often promised sanctuary, then slaughtered the population that surrendered. One way in which Muslim fighters today have advanced over their forebears is that during the Crusades they did not adopt new tactics to counter the technological advantage of the Europeans. They never used crossbows or shielded infantry, even after several hundred years of fighting. Today, Muslim warriors quickly evolve to make the most of Western technology, although they still never seem to develop anything of their own.
An Enduring Clash Between Inquiry and Submission
One final thought on this. As Stark indicates above, there is in too many Muslim countries a sense of obedience that precludes robust debate or new ideas, let alone technological innovation. In his classic, “The World is Flat,” Thomas Friedman quotes Osama bin Laden as saying,
It is enough to know that the economy of all Arab countries is weaker than the economy of one country that had been part of our (Islamic) world when we used to truly adhere to Islam. That country is the lost Andalusia. Spain is an infidel country, but its economy is stronger that our economy because the ruler there is accountable. In our countries, there is no accountability or punishment, but there is only obedience to the rulers and prayers of long life for them. (pp. 400-401)
Friedman confirms that this is based on a 2002 report, the first Arab Human Development Report. This report, written by Arabs, found that Spain had a larger gross domestic product than all 22 Arab states combined!
I think Stark is closer to the mark than bin Laden. The problem is a cultural way of thinking that starts with the Qur’an and the Prophet and emphasizes unquestioning obedience. The very name of the religion, Islam, means “submission.” The thinking of bin Laden that emphasizes punishing poor rulers is a complete misunderstanding how progress is made. European cultures place a high value on questioning everything, even the divinity of Jesus Christ. Certainly there have been exceptions to this, but in the sweep of history it is an unmistakable trait.
So we have perhaps the starkest conflict of worldviews imaginable: on one hand, a robust and virtually unlimited spirit of inquiry, and on the other a fervent dedication to universal obedience and submission. How this plays out is the story of our times.
Greg Scandlen is the founder of Consumers for Health Care Choices, as well as an accomplished writer, researcher, and public speaker. He is considered one of the nation's experts on health care financing, insurance regulation, and employee benefits. He blogs at http://gmscan.wordpress.com/
ll just outside the city of Otranto, in southern Italy. Eight hundred of the city’s male inhabitants were taken to a place called the Hill of the Minerva, and, one by one, beheaded in full view of their fellow prisoners. The spot forever after became known as the Hill of the Martyrs.
In medieval warfare, the bloody execution of a city’s population was commonplace, but what happened at Otranto was unique. The victims on the Hill of the Minerva were put to death not because they were political enemies of a conquering army, nor even because they refused to surrender their city. They died because they refused to convert to Islam. The 800 men of Otranto were martyrs, the first victims of what was fully expected to be the relentless conquest of Italy and then all of Christendom by the armies of the Ottoman Empire. Because of their sacrifice, however, the Ottoman invasion was slowed and Rome was spared the same fate that had befallen Constantinople only 27 years before.
Mehmet the Conqueror
On May 29, 1453, the venerable city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire since its founding by Constantine the Great in the fourth century, fell to an army of 250,000 Ottoman Turks under the personal command of the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmet II. Earning his title, el-Fatih ("the Conqueror"), Mehmet completed the centuries’ old war against the Byzantines and made the once-great Christian city the new capital of his Islamic empire and the launching point for his grand plans of dominion over the West.
Ottoman armies were soon once more on the march, this time headed straight for the heart of Europe. Mehmet laid siege to the city of Belgrade, but his troops were repulsed by the Hungarians. Even so, the campaign ended with the Ottoman occupation of Serbia and a strategically strong position to push into the rest of the Balkans, including Wallachia (Romania) and Moldavia. Mehmet was relentless in his next efforts. Defeated in 1475 by Stephen the Great of Moldavia at the Battle of Vaslui, the Sultan merely waited until the next year to launch yet another army into the field. This time he crushed the Moldavians at the Battle of Valea Alba. More progress would have been made had Mehmet not been checked in the mountains of Wallachia by a foe even more determined and just as merciless: the Wallachian prince and one-time vassal of Mehmet, Vlad III Tepes, known to history as Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula.
Rebuffed for the moment in the Balkans, Mehmet turned to completing a task he had set himself back in 1453. After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmet claimed one other title alongside that of el-Fatih. He called himself Kayser-i Rûm ("Caesar of Rome") on the basis that he was successor to the throne of the Byzantine Empire and also a descendant of Theodora Kantakouzenos (daughter of the Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos) who had been married to Sultan Orhan I (r. 1326-1359). Mehmet announced his intention to invade Italy, capture Rome, and bring together both halves of the Roman Empire. The campaign would also mark the final defeat of the Christian cause in Europe by the conversion of the city of the popes. St. Peter’s Basilica would serve as a stable for the Ottoman cavalry.
The Sultan Aims for Italy
Mehmet halted the ongoing siege of Rhodes—brilliantly defended by the Knights of Rhodes—and ordered large elements of the Turkish army and navy there to set sail for the Italian peninsula. The fleet comprised at least 90 galleys, 15 heavily armed galleasses, and 48 lighter galliots carrying over 18,000 soldiers. Their initial target was the Italian port city of Brindisi, in Puglia (or Apulia), the southeastern corner of the peninsula along the Adriatic Sea. The city was an ideal choice as it offered a large harbor for the ships. The commander of the Ottoman force, Pasha Ahmet, was one of the most formidable of Mehmet’s generals. He intended to capture the port and then advance immediately north toward Rome while Ottoman reinforcements arrived to consolidate the seized territory.
The movement of the fleet was aided considerably by the absence of resistance by the maritime power of Venice. The Venetians and the Ottoman Empire had been fighting each other off and on for dominance in the eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic since 1423. Much to Mehmet’s pleasure, the two powers signed a peace treaty in 1479 that ended hostilities, at least temporarily. The Sultan thus attacked Rhodes and then launched his campaign on Italy without fear of the Christian state of Venice blocking the progress of his armies.
The Adriatic’s weather did not cooperate, however, and the famous winds forced the fleet to land not in Brinidisi but some 50 miles to the south, at Roca, near the city of Otranto. The city is located on the eastern shore of the sub-peninsula of Salento, the small bit of land that juts out from the larger Italian peninsula and that has been described as the "heel" of the Italian "boot." In 1480, the area was Neapolitan/Aragonese, meaning it was under the control of the united kingdoms of Naples and Aragon. Otranto’s cathedral dated to the late 11th century and had been the scene, ironically, of the enthusiastic blessing of some 12,000 Crusaders under the leadership of Bohemond of Taranto just before they set sail to take part in the First Crusade (1095-1099).
The city’s walls afforded a wonderful view of the Adriatic, but on the morning of July 29, an ominous sight appeared on the horizon: The Ottoman fleet had landed nearby. Thousands of soldiers and sailors began marching toward Otranto, where the garrison of soldiers numbered only around 400. Messengers were sent north to alert the rest of the peninsula of the danger that had arrived from the sea.
The castle had no cannons, and the garrison commander, Count Francesco Largo, was aware of the limited supplies and water. Medieval warfare, even after the emergence of cannons, was predicated on stark and often grim choices on the part of the defenders of any city or castle under siege. The defenders could either hope to hold out (especially if a relief army was on the way), or they could negotiate a surrender. Surrender was an option to be considered as early as possible, for the longer a siege went on the harsher the terms might become. Should a city or castle fight to the last and have its walls breached, staggering violence usually followed as the conquering force pillaged, vented its pent-up frustration, and searched for loot and treasure.
Surrender or Die
For the citizens of Otranto, the siege of Constantinople was still well-known. When that city fell, Ottoman troops were allowed to pillage parts of the city, but the key moment came when they reached the famed church of the Hagia Sophia. After breaking down the church’s bronze gates, the Turkish troops found inside a huge throng of Byzantines who had taken refuge and who were praying that the city might be delivered by some miracle. The Christians were seized and separated according to age and gender. The infants and elderly were brutally murdered; the men—including some of the city’s most prominent senators—were carted off to the slave markets; and the women and girls were taken by soldiers or sent into a life of slavery.
At Otranto, the terms of the Pasha were ostensibly generous. If the town surrendered, the defenders would be permitted to live. Otranto was forfeit. The answer to the Pasha’s demands was firm: The Christians would not surrender. When a second messenger was sent to the walls to repeat the demands, he was met with arrows from the walls. To settle the issue, the leaders of the castle defense climbed to the top of the tower and threw the keys of the city into the sea. When the determined defenders awoke in the morning, however, some of the soldiers had fled by climbing down the walls and running for their lives.
The few hundred inhabitants of Otranto now faced 18,000 fierce Ottomans with barely 50 Neapolitan soldiers. The siege engines and Ottoman cannons brought down a relentless torrent of stones, and waves of Ottoman soldiers crashed against the walls and tried to climb up to get at the frantic defenders. The people of the town boiled oil and water to pour down upon the enemy while others hurled rocks, statues, and furniture.
The struggle went for nearly two harrowing weeks until, in the early morning of August 12, the Ottomans breached a part of the wall with their cannons. A spirited defense was waged amid the rubble of the broken wall, but the people of Otranto were hopelessly overmatched, lacking any training in vicious hand-to-hand combat, and exhausted by the ordeal of the siege.
Slaughter, Sacrilege, and Slavery
Turkish troops slaughtered the stalwart defenders and then rushed through the city killing anyone in their path. They made their way to the cathedral. As in the Hagia Sophia, the invaders found the church filled with people praying with Archbishop Stefano Agricoli, Bishop Stephen Pendinelli, and Count Largo. The Ottomans commanded the archbishop to throw away his crucifix, abjure the Christian faith, and embrace Islam. When he refused, his head was cut off before the weeping congregation. Bishop Pendinelli and Count Largo likewise would not convert and were also put to death, reportedly by being slowly sawed in half. As was the custom, the priests were murdered and the cathedral was stripped of all Christian symbols and turned into a stable for the horses. The Ottomans then gathered up the surviving people of Otranto and took them as captives. Their ultimate fate was in the hands of Pasha Ahmed.
The people of Otranto faced the same end as the Christians of Constantinople. All of the men over the age of 50 were slaughtered; the women and children under the age of 15 were either slain or sent away to Albania to be slaves. According to some contemporary sources, the total number of dead was as high as 12,000, with another 5,000 pressed into slavery. (These numbers are almost certainly an exaggeration as Otranto did not likely have a population that high.) Nevertheless, worse was still to come.
Death before Apostasy
The Pasha Ahmet ordered the men of Otranto, 800 exhausted, beaten, and starved survivors of the battle, to be brought before him. The Pasha informed them that they had one chance to convert to Islam or die. To convince them, he instructed an Italian apostate priest named Giovanni to preach. The former priest called on the men of Otranto to abandon the Christian faith, spurn the Church, and become Muslims. In return, they would be honored by the Pasha and receive many benefits.
One of the men of Otranto, a tailor named Antonio Primaldi (he is also named Antonio Pezzulla in some sources), came forward to speak to the survivors. He called out that he was ready to die for Christ a thousand times. He then added, according to the chronicler Giovanni Laggetto in the Historia della guerra di Otranto del 1480:
My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our country, to save our lives, and for our lords; now it is time that we fight to save our souls for our Lord, so that having died on the cross for us, it is good that we should die for him, standing firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we shall win eternal life and the glory of martyrs. [author translation]
At this, the men of Otranto cried out with one voice that they too were willing to die a thousand times for Christ. The angry Pasha Ahmed pronounced his sentence: death.
The next morning, August 14, the 800 prisoners were bound together with ropes and led out of the still-smoking battleground of Otranto and up the Hill of Minerva. The victims repeated their pledge to be faithful to Christ, and the Ottomans chose the courageous Antonio Primaldo as the first to be executed.
The old tailor gave one final exhortation to his fellow prisoners and knelt before the executioner. The blade fell and decapitated him, but then, as the chronicler Saverio de Marco claimed in the Compendiosa istoria degli ottocento martiri otrantini ("The Brief History of the 800 Martyrs of Otranto"), the headless corpse stood back upright. The body supposedly proved unmovable, so it remained standing for the entire duration of the gruesome executions. Stunned by this apparent miracle, one of the executioners converted on the spot and was immediately killed. The executioners then returned to their horrendous business. The bodies were placed into a mass grave, and the Turks prepared to begin their march up the peninsula toward Rome. Otranto was in ruins, its population gone, its men dead and thrown into a pit, seemingly to be forgotten.
The Second Seige of Otranto
All of Italy was by now in a state of alarm. Pope Sixtus IV was reportedly so concerned for the safety of the Eternal City that he renewed the call first made in 1471 for a crusade against the Turks. Hungary, France, and a number of Italian city-states answered the plea. Not surprisingly, Venice refused, still bound by its treaty. The pope also made plans to evacuate Rome should the Turks arrive near the gates of the city.
Time was now of crucial importance to the safety of the Italian peninsula, and the king of Naples, Ferdinand I, quickly gathered his available forces and charged his son Alfonso, duke of Calabria, with the campaign. The two weeks that were purchased through the sacrifice of the people of Otranto became the key to organizing an effective response to the invasion, for the Neapolitan forces now had the chance to bottle up the Turks in Apulia rather than battling them across Italy.
Toward the end of August, Pasha Ahmed sent 70 ships of the Ottoman fleet to attack the city of Vieste. Turkish troops pushed on and destroyed the small church of Santa Maria di Merino and in early September set fire to the Monastery of San Nicholas di Casole. The monastery’s famed library was reduced to ashes.
In October, the Pasha attacked the cities of Lecce, Taranto, and Brindisi. He left behind a garrison at Otranto of 800 infantry and 500 cavalry. But time and the weather were now against the Turks. Ahmed had lost his chance to strike northwest, and he was finding supplies and food difficult to find in Apulia. He was also aware of the impending advance of the Neapolitan forces. He therefore decided to set sail from Italy before the winter storms in the Adriatic cut him off completely from all communication with Constantinople. The garrison at Otranto would remain, and the Pasha intended to return after the winter with an even larger army.
Duke Alfonso led his army into Apulia in the early spring of 1481. He was assisted by a force of Hungarian troops that had been dispatched by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, a longtime foe of the Turks and a monarch eager to deliver them a defeat in Italy. Like the people of Otranto a year before, the Turkish troops retreated to the rebuilt defenses of the city as the Christian army arrived at the gates on May 1. The city was thoroughly invested. The siege of Otranto continued apace for several months, culminating in two large assaults, in August and then September 1481. The city fell with the second attack, but the last vestiges of Otranto were destroyed in the vicious fighting. None of the Ottoman troops were left alive.
The Sacrifice That Saved Italy
While the siege engines of the Neapolitans rained down on the Ottoman defenders, across the Adriatic on May 3, 1481, Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror died suddenly at the age of 49 at his military headquarters at Gebze, while planning his next war. It was believed that he had been poisoned, perhaps by the Venetians.
Any thought of a relief force sailing from the Ottoman Empire for Italy died with Mehmet, for his heir, Bayezid II, was forced to engage in a bitter struggle with his brother Cem for the throne. Pasha Ahmed fell out of favor at the court and was recalled to Constantinople by Bayezid and imprisoned. On November 18, 1482, the one-time great general was executed at Adrianople.
The Ottoman ambitions in Italy were ended. Had Otranto surrendered to the Turks, the history of Italy might have been very different. But the heroism of the people of Otranto was more than a strategically decisive stand. What made the sacrifice of Otranto so remarkable was the willingness to die for the faith rather than reject Christ.
The martyrs of Otranto were not forgotten by the people who returned to Apulia after the fighting was over. The bones of the martyrs were gathered up, placed in reliquaries, and installed in a chapel just off the main altar in the restored cathedral. Some of the relics were also sent to the church of Santa Caterina in Formello at Naples.
On October 5, 1980, Pope John Paul II visited Otranto and said Mass in honor of the martyrs in the cathedral. Twenty-six years later, in July 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave his formal approval for the promulgation of a decree by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that the Martyrs of Otranto were killed out of "hatred for the faith" (in odium fidei) in Otranto on August 14, 1480. This was the formal recognition that they were martyrs.
In speaking of the sufferings of the martyrs of Otranto, Pope John Paul II touched upon the challenges of martyrdom for Christ, but he also stressed the example of the 800 to modern Christians, especially those enduring hardships and sufferings in hostile lands where persecutions and even death are commonplace. He declared,
Many confessors and disciples of Christ have passed through this test in the course of history. The Martyrs of Otranto passed through it 500 years ago. The martyrs of this century have passed and are passing through it today, martyrs who are unappreciated, otherwise little known, and who are found in places far away from us. [author translation…
nce the starting of this forum to gather together these ideas and continue this discussion.
Comment by Kinana on Monday 27 October 2014
"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
John Adams, Founding Father & 2nd U.S. President
Comment by Danny Jeffrey on Monday
I wish that Adams had left 'and religious' out of that statement as moral and religious are not necessarily synonymous.
Comment by Kinana on Monday
John Adams i think was refering to the Christian religion with its various teachings that had helped fashion Western Civilisation up until that time. I think that him and the rest of the Founding Fathers were also making this assumption when fashioning the Constitution so they did not have to start from scratch in fashioning a morality and a set of ethics about how people should treat each other.
Comment by Philip Smeeton on Monday
Morality and ethics are man made and can apply to anyone that can understand them and agree with them. Religion is an unnecessary factor in human activity.
The followers of Islam will never understand the principle of freedom. one word says it all Islam=submission.
Most of it is variations on the golden rule. But the Muslims have their own take on that one too.
Comment by Alan Lake on Tuesday
I think we should be wary and circumspect about ditching our history and ideological inheritance. You don't have to be a Christian or a Deist to acknowledge that, in the mindset of the time, the Founding Fathers thinking was inextricably mixed up with, and derived from, the Judeo-Christian tradition.
There is a temptation to think that, like scientists, we can ditch all our current thinking and start again from scratch, repeating all the experiments and data acquisition. Well, just as its not realistic for scientists to do that, its not realistic for ideologists or philosophers to do that. What is practical though, is, if in doubt, to go back and verify an inherited result. So, its not necessary to accept all the Christian beliefs; but equally well, its dangerous to throw them all out on the basis that you can construct a perfectly good new ideology from scratch. The Secular Humanists did that, and I think the result was flawed.
By way of further explanation, I should say that I regret the scrapping of the Gods of Greek mythology by (later) Romans. I don't think it did their civilisation any good, I suspect that it weakened it. They just needed to accept that those Gods didn't physically exist, but acted as archetypes with which to understand the physical and mental things around us. And as for us today, I believe we are all poorer for our lack of knowledge of the Greek pantheon.
I am quite happy to accept that I will always be stumbling around with a mixture of freshly researched, derived and proven beliefs, together with some old legacy ones I've inherited from past traditions. I will never have the perfect master system. My ideology will always be in a state of change, with my beliefs only partially completed, but at least they will be the best so far.
Actually, altho I first found this world of partially developed and incomplete ideology disturbing, I now find it reassuring. If I ever thought that I had found the perfect system, as the Secular Humanists do, perfectly formed and consistent, without any of its ideas needing to borrow from and lean upon unsubstantiated legacy ideas - then I would be worried!
I am not a Muslim. I don't need a complete, perfect system which answers all my questions on life and even tells me how to wipe my arse. I am able to live in the world comfortably, cheek by jowl with unresolved areas, with minor inconsistencies (which I will try resolve some day), and with both known unknowns and unknown unknowns. It doesn't bother me to have large areas of unknown space. Having large areas of the unknown and of incompleteness is what being a human being is all about. I am also suspicious of converts to, say, Islam, that their desire for a "complete system that answers all life's questions", is a sign of a feeble mind.
Just as science is always incomplete and constantly being updated, I am happy that now my ideology is always incomplete and constantly being updated. Plus it also means that I will never run out of things to do :-))
Comment by Danny Jeffrey on Tuesday
What I like most, and least, about the Judeo-Christian heritage is the Golden Rule. I cannot help but believe that it is the greatest factor that led to today's western civilization, and the benevolence that civilization has added to the world agenda. I find fault, not with the Golden Rule, but from its advocates who fail to realize that Rule was not meant for time of war in which we find ourselves. To that end (Many Christians will damn me for this) I have had the unmitigated gall to rewrite that sacred doctrine...
1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
2. Then do unto others as they are doing unto you.
3. If they do not unto you at all then do unto them nevermore.
4. If they mean you harm then crush them.
5. Go to Golden Rule, Part One.
The Golden Rule is a civilizing doctrine but not at all suited for war. In times such at these it should be placed with care on a shelf and guarded until the danger is past, then once again brought into the light of day. There can only be one outcome if our society continues practicing the Golden Rule while Islam engages in Jihad. I do not look forward to such an outcome.
Comment by Alan Lake on Tuesday
Yes, I think the Golden Rule is formulated in a somewhat misleading way. Its also called the principle of reciprocity, but even that's not right. Maybe theprinciple of equality is more like it, that you treat all people as having equal human rights to each other and yourself. That highlights Islam as the bogey man of the 21st century, still holding out that the Muslim is superior, and demanding special rights for its master race.
The original definition can be made to work with a bit of a fudge. So, if some crazed Napoleon took control of the UK and started to conquer Europe, I would want the nations of Europe to counter-attack and bomb us. Or if I became psychotic and started a mass killing spree, I would want the state to stop me. So it is still constantly true that I would do unto others as I would want to be treated myself, if I am considering the situation when I am in a sane and rational state.
BTW, the Golden Rule is a big part of Bill Warner's (Political Islam) critique of Islam.
Comment by Philip Smeeton on Tuesday
It is not a question of ditching our culture and beginning anew Alan. It is about not getting sidetracked into defending Christianity. It is about defending free secular democracy against the totalitarian ideology of Islam. Christianity is irrelevant, we must define and defend our hard won democratic principles. Before this crisis with Islam, Christianity was already in the process of becoming redundant.
We are not starting from scratch all of these ethical moral principles are in place and correspond to reason. We build on what is already there, exactly the way that religions have done. Our laws are a human convenience and invention designed to enable society to function. Everything evolves, it is possible to evolve beyond religion. There is no perfect system, we make it up as we go along. Life, knowledge is "incomplete and constantly being updated" it's called evolution and that's the way it is. There is much we do not know, will never know, but there is never an excuse for making up answers the way that religions do.
As the laws on justifiable homicide tell us Danny, we have the right to defend ourselves and well, why should we love our enemies? If some bastard's trying to shoot you, shoot back- do unto others what they are doing to you. It is up to them to stop. You are actually obliged to defend your kin and country.
Comment by Kinana on Tuesday
Danny Jeffery, nothing you say is contrary to Christianity as expressed in history and i think was expressed authentically. Just do a search on this website in the search box. type in 'qfightback'
Think Lepanto, Gates of Vienna, Tours, the re-conquest in Spain, etc.
Western Civilisation was defended and nurtured in very practical ways by the Christian people of the West, acting as Christians. It is a history we need to appreciate and reclaim.
11 C.E., the Muslim chieftain Emir Musa’s dream was to invade further by marching across the Pyrenees ranges into France and meet the Muslims marauding from the east through Byzantium, so that Islam could surround the Mediterranean Sea which would then become a Muslim Lake.
But Musa also secretly harbored ambitions to be an Emir of Europe independent of the Caliph for which he embezzled a disproportionate part of the ill gotten wealth from the looting during the Spanish campaign. This raised the Caliph's suspicions about Musa. So Emir Musa was banished by the Caliph and he could not fulfill his aggressive dream. Consequently, the Muslim aggression against France was taken up by another Jihadi marauder named Abd-ur-Rahman.
Today, we might not realize the significance of the victory of the Franks (Ferrenghis – as the Muslims called them) over the Arabs, a few miles south of Paris in 732. Had it not been for this victory, the whole of Europe might have been Muslim today, and the history of Europe and perhaps that of the entire world would have been far more bloodied and darker as is that of the Middle East today.
Jihad against France
The Muslims' insatiable appetite for land, together with a burning desire to put end of Christianity had received a fillip after the conquest of Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain. They dreamt of overrunning the whole of Western and Northern Europe. Thus began the Muslim invasion of France under the leadership of Abd-ur Rahman, who had then been appointed the chieftain of the Muslim occupiers of Spain by the Caliph.
When the Muslims burst upon France, the country was ruled by the Franks. The Franks were a Gothic (Germanic) tribe who eventually became the French as we know the French people today. It was another related Gothic clan – the Ostrogoths, who had been ruling Spain when the Muslims attacked Spain. The tales of mindless Muslim cruelty, savage torture, subterfuge deception and bloodchilling ruthlessness that the Ostrogoths who fled Muslim occupied Spain told their Frankish clansmen, had contributed to further stiffen the Frankish resolve to defeat the Muslim invaders.
The ferocity with which Charles (Karl) Martel fought against the invading Arabs, and his personal weapon of a hammerlike axe that he used, earned him the title of "Karl the Hammer".
Abd-ur-Rahman was an Arab soldier and emir of Spain, at a time when Islam as a military force was the most aggressive, violent and cruel in the world. He had become the Governor of Spain in 721. And in 722, and with the normal Muslim avarice to conquer more lands and convert the subjugated population to Islam, he set his greedy eyes on France. With this avarice in mind, he led an army across the Pyrenees Mountains into the dominions of the Franks, in the year 722.
For more information on Abd-ur-Rahman refer to the Encarta 2001.
Abd-ur-Rahman crossed the Pyrenees at the head of an immense army and advanced as far as the Loire River, pillaging and burning as he went. David W. Koeller in his article The Battle of Tours, says, " (The) Moslem army, in a wild search for land and the end of Christianity, after the conquest of Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, began to invade Western Europe under the leadership of Abd-ur-Rahman." The Muslim army had between 600,000 to 400,000 soldiers, and "an over whelming number of horsemen." (Encyclopedia.com, Battle of Tours). In October 732 AD, exactly one hundred years after Muhammad’s death, in 622 an army led by Abd-ur-Rahman… made contact with the Frankish army… along the road between Poitiers and Tours, [a city which was reputed to contain vast riches.] (Discovering World History Essay).
Abd-ur Rahman led his infantry across the Western Pyrenees and toward the Loire River. A Muslim commander named Al-Semak led the first invasion across the Pyrenees in 721, establishing a base at Norbonne. He was followed by Abd-ur Rahman with fresh contingents, who moved up the Rhône as far as Lyons and Dijon destroying churches and monasteries, following Muhammad's creed of especially targeting non-Muslim places of worship, before moving on to Bordeaux.
Abd-ur Rahman the Muslim general who invaded France destroyed palaces, burned churches, and imagined he could pillage the basilica of St. Martin of Tours. It is then that he found himself face to face with the lord of Austrasia, Charles, a mighty warrior from his youth, and trained in all the occasions of arms.
Abd-ur Rahman had crossed the Pyrenees, with a larger army and traversed the defiles [in the mountains] and the plains, so that he could penetrate deeper into the lands of the Franks with his ravaging and slaying campaigns. He gave battle to Duke Eudes (of Aquitaine) beyond the Garonne and the Dordogne, and put him to flight---so utterly was he beaten, and a large number of his compatriots were slain and wounded.
After this Abd-ur Rahman set in pursuit of Eudes; he destroyed palaces, burned churches, and imagined he could pillage the basilica of St. Martin of Tours. It is then that he found himself face to face with the lord of Austrasia, Charles, a mighty warrior from his youth, and trained in all the occasions of arms.
Between Poitiers and Tours, there was a clash between Abd-er Rahman, and the army of Charles Martel. After some spectacular victories, The Saracens (as the Franks called the Muslims) were met just outside the city of Tours by Charles Martel, known as the Hammer, and the Frankish Army.
The Battle of Tours
October 10, 732 AD marks the conclusion of the Battle of Tours, arguably one of the most decisive battles in all of history. Martel gathered his forces directly in the path of the oncoming Moslem army and prepared to defend themselves by using a phalanx style of combat. The invading Moslems rushed forward, relying on the slashing tactics and overwhelming number of horsemen that had brought them victories in the past.
At Poitiers, the Franks outmatched the Muslims in all departments of the game – subterfuge, cruelty, ruthlessness, and so were victorious, giving the Muslims their first decisive defeat. Before the battle was joined, for almost seven days the two armies watched one another, waiting anxiously the moment for joining the struggle. Finally they met in combat when the Franks suddenly advanced on the Arabs after nightfall on the seventh day. And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like North a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts [of the foe].
The Franks were the only ones to learn that the terror of the Arab Muslims can be neutralized only by a greater counter-terror. This counter terror has to be a mega-terror or a super-terror to strike fear in the hearts of Muslims that they give up their aggressive mentality on the pain of death
However, the French Army, composed of foot soldiers armed only with swords, shields, axes, javelins, and daggers, was well trained. Despite the effectiveness of the Moslem army in previous battles, the terrain caused them a disadvantage. Their strength lay in their cavalry, armed with large swords and lances, which along with their baggage mules, limited their mobility. The French army displayed great ardency in withstanding the ferocious attack.
It was one of the rare times in the Middle Ages when infantry held its ground against a mounted attack. The exact length of the battle is undetermined; Arab sources claim that it was a two day battle whereas Christian sources hold that the fighting clamored on for seven days. In either case, the battle ended when the French captured and killed Abd-ur Rahman.
Being more Smartly Sneaky with the Sneaky Muslims, secured the Franks a victory at Poitiers.
For the Muslims, the scale of their slaughter at the hands of the Franks and the death of their leader caused a sharp setback and they had no choice but to retreat back across the Pyrenees. The defeat and slaughter of the Muslims was so complete and ruthless that the Arab-Muslims were never to return again to France till the 20th century as immigrants from North Africa.
Not only did this prove to be an extremely decisive battle for the Christians, but the Battle of Tours is considered the high water mark of the Moslem invasion of Western Europe.
The Arabs marching through France had acquired a lot of loot, and this too worked in the favor of the Franks, who were not weighed down with the task of guarding their treasure, nor did they posses baggage trains of any kind. This drives home an important fact. The Arabs were there to loot, rape and covert the French to Islam at the point of the sword. The Franks were defending their nation. This apart, in tactics and ruthlessness too the Franks could match the Arabs and led to the massacre of the invaders.
Franks outmatch the Muslims in all departments of the game – subterfuge, cruelty, ruthlessness, and so are victorious, giving the Muslims their first decisive defeat
At Tours before the battle was joined, for almost seven days the two armies watched one another, waiting anxiously the moment for joining the struggle. Finally they met in combat when the Franks suddenly advanced on the Arabs after nightfall on the seventh day. And in the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like North a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts [of the foe].
At last late in to the night, the combatants. The Franks with misgivings lowered their blades, and beholding the numberless tents of the Arabs, prepared themselves for another battle another day.
The Muslims had initially planned to go to Tours to destroy the Church of St. Martin, the city, and the whole surrounding countryside. They never expected any serious battle with the Frankish leader Charles Martel, since till then the resistance had been weak and fragmented.
But Charles was different from other leaders. He drew up his host, and fought as fiercely as the hungry wolf falls upon the stag. He wrought a great slaughter upon his enemies that he slew in that battle 300,000 men, which included the commander of the Saracens Abd-ur-rehman.
From then on was Charles called "Martel," for as a hammer of iron, of steel, and of every other metal, even so he dashed: and smote in the battle all his enemies. And what was the greatest marvel of all, he only lost in that battle of Tours only 1500 men.
The tents and harness [of the enemy] were taken; and whatever else they possessed became a prey to him and his followers. Eudes, Duke of Aquitaine, being now reconciled with Prince Charles Martel, later slew as many of the Saracens as he could find who had escaped from the battle.
The outcome of the Battle of Tours saved future Civilization from becoming extinct in 732
The Battle of Tours was a very significant battle in the spread of Islam and in the survival of Christianity. The Battle of Tours decided history much more than one might imagine. The more powerful Muslims and the spread of Islam were knocking on Europe’s door. The battle of Tours changed all that. And Europe was safe for the next 700 years till the Muslims breached the Eastern Gateway when they overran Constantinople in 1453.
The defeat at Poitiers was the first Muslim defeat at the hands of the Christians. This was to be followed by the Reconquista in Spain (910 – 1492) and the Crusades (1096-1297), in addition to the Christian victories at Palermo, Lepanto and Vienna. But the final Christian victory against the challenge of Islam, called terrorism in our times, is yet to be delivered and this should happen in the next decade or two by 2025.
The spread of Islam was stopped along the road between the towns of Tours and Poitiers, France, with just its head in Europe. (Payne, Robert. 142) Islam spread rapidly through the Middle East and North Africa, due to the help of the influence of Islamic disciples and armies. But they were stopped dead at Tours. Was it the tactics of the Muslims that lost the battle for the Muslims or was it the loss of their great leader, Abd-er-Rahman? Or was it the leadership of the great Frankish leader Charles Martel?
Charles Martel, "The Hammer" who was till then just a Frankish General, then became the undisputed ruler of all the Franks. He became the ruler after defeating Austria in a war. He also engaged in wars against Alamanni, Bavarians, and Saxons, which were small tribes in and around France. But his greatest achievement was against the Muslims from Spain, who invaded France in 732. It was in this battle at Tours, it is said, that gave Charles his name, Martel "The Hammer", because of the merciless way in which he smote the enemy.
The Arab commander did not know that a trap had been set for him…. [Abd-ur-Rahman was in hot pursuit of another Frankish commander, when he came upon Charles Mantels army at Poitiers.] Abd-ur-Rahman called for a halt. He wanted to discover the strength of the enemy, and he hoped the Franks, if not too numerous, would attack.
What frightened that “brave” Muslim general Ab-ur-Rehman most of all was the possibility of losing his army among the forests and the streams. (Payne, 142-143). For seven days Charles [Martel] remained on the edge of the forest, waiting for the attack. It was bitterly cold weather, with Arabs still dressed for their summer campaigns.
The wolf pelts (furs) of the Franks helped them in the icy cold in addition to their nightly ravages of the huge Arab host arrayed against them. The Arabs were unfamiliar with the topography of the land, while the Franks knew it like the back of their palm. At last tired of the nightly ravages of the Franks in the morning of the seventh day Abd-ur-Rahman decided to launch a full-scale attack.
Charles and his army held firm, forming a hollow square to take the main charge of the Arabs while dispatching raiders along infrequently used forest paths to attack the Arabs from the rear. The Arabs, once guerrilla warriors, had a reverted to classical mode of warfare, and were no match for the Franks, who numbered many more well equipped soldiers than the Arabs spies indicated. Also the Franks were fighting with the Loire river at their back, and could not retreat even if they wanted to.
What frightened that “brave” Muslim general Ab-ur-Rehman most of all was the possibility of losing his army among the forests and the streams. (Payne, 142-143). For seven days Charles [Martel] remained on the edge of the forest, waiting for the attack. It was bitterly cold weather, with Arabs still dressed for their summer campaigns. The wolf pelts (furs) of the Franks helped them in the icy cold in addition to their nightly ravages of the huge Arab host arrayed against them. The Arabs were unfamiliar with the topography of the land, while the Franks knew it like the back of their palm. At last tire of the nightly ravages of the Franks in the morning of the seventh day Abd-ur-Rahman decided to launch a full-scale attack.
Charles and his army held firm, forming a hollow square to take the main charge of the Arabs while dispatching raiders along infrequently used forest paths to attack the Arabs from the rear. The Arabs, once guerrilla warriors, had a reverted to classical mode of warfare, and were no match for the Franks, who numbered many more well equipped soldiers than the Arabs spies indicated. Also the Franks were fighting with the Loire river at their back, and could not have retreated even if they had wanted to.
Being more Smartly Sneaky with the Sneaky Muslims, secured the Franks a victory
The Arabs marching through France had acquired a lot of loot, and this too worked in the favor of the Franks, who were not weighed down with the task of guarding their treasure, nor did they posses baggage trains of any kind. Most of them were simple foot soldiers, but there were some companies of cavalry. (Payne, 142-143) As the battle progressed, the Franks began to waver…. Behind their coats of mail, and their pointed helmets, their horses clothed in chain mail, the Arabs were almost impregnable. They were on the verge of victory when the Franks fought their way toward the treasure carts. Instead of fighting in column, the Arabs flew in defense of the treasure, and panicked when they saw the carts being driven away by the enemies.
Here the Muslim defeat at the Battle of Uhud in Arabia during the early days of Islam had repeated itself.
His Majesty Charles Martel (Karl the Hammer)
The Battle of Poiters was one of the fiercest in human history, where neither side gave the other any quarter. The Muslims for the first time met their match in the Franks in terms of ferocity. Once the Frankish army got the upper hand in the battle, they did not allow a single Arab soldier to return from the battlefield, neither did they take any prisoners. All the Arabs were slaughtered at Poitiers. And for a few decades after that a heap of Arab-Muslim bones marked the field of this seminal battle as the franks had not bothered to give the vanquished Arabs a decent burial as they were infidels.
who put up a stiff resistance to the Islamic Jihad and never surrendered before it, ultimately defeating it. One reason for this could be that the Jihad was brought to the Bulgaria by people who belonged to the same ethnic stock as the Bulgars. The Bulgars, as many do not know, are of Turkish descent. And had settled in Bulgaria in the 8th century onwards. The Bulgars were late converts to Christianity, and had been adversaries of the Byzantine empire, both before and after their conversion. Modern day Bulgarians are a mix of the pre-Islamic Turks (Bulgars), the Avars, Huns and Slavs who settled in Bulgaria over the first millennium. __________________________________
The Battle of Nicopolis (Nikopol) is looked upon as the last crusade where Europe put on a combined resistance to throw the Ottoman Turks out of Bulgaria and stem further Muslim incursions into Europe. __________________________________ The Bulgars even retained the title “Khan” even after their conversion to Christianity. In fact the word Bulgar is derived from a Turkish root work “bulgha”, which means to mix. It was ironical that one of the first people that the Ottoman Turks would have to cross swords in Europe were to be the Christianized Turkic Bulgars. By the late 14th Century the Bulgars were involved in a desperate struggle against the Ottoman Turks who presented a very real danger of invading Europe. In 1393, Turnovo, the capital of Bulgaria fell and the last medieval Bulgarian king Ivan Shishman was besieged by Islamic invaders in Nicopolis (the Bulgarian fortress on the Danube River). On 3 July 1395, King Ivan was killed while defending the fortress of Nicopolis. To the south of Bulgaria, the once mighty Byzantine Empire had been reduced to a little more than the city of Constantinople itself and Sultan Beyazid I "the Lightning" had besieged the city. __________________________________ In the famous Battle of Nicopolis, a Christian army of French, English, Germans, Italians and Knights Hospitallers under the leadership of John of Nevers, son of the Duke of Burgundy, the Bulgarian infantry and the Hungarian army under King Sigismund of Hungary gave a heroic combat against the Islamic army of Ottomans and its Arab allies. __________________________________ Beyazid’s father, sultan Murat had created the infantry of Janissaries that was composed of Christian children robbed from their families and converted by force to Islam. They were raised in the Islamic religion in order to create elite troops. The Janissaries played a role of paramount importance in the military and political spheres of the Ottoman dynasty. In response to the occupation of Bulgaria, a crusade was preached by Pope Boniface IX and a Christian army of 10,000 under the leadership of John of Nevers, son of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, marched to the relief of the Christians who were savagely oppressed by the soldiers of Islam. The Battle of Nicopolis (Nikopol) on the Danube River opened the gates of Eastern Europe to the Muslims In the famous Battle of Nicopolis, a Christian army of French, English, Germans, Italians and Knights Hospitallers under the leadership of John of Nevers, son of the Duke of Burgundy, the Bulgarian infantry and the Hungarian army under King Sigismund of Hungary gave a heroic combat against the Islamic army of Ottomans and its Arab allies. In the late 14th century the worried eyes of Western Europe began to turn to the east as the old enemy began to reassert himself - the Turks. With a fervor that had not been seen for decades, the chivalry of western Europe responded by marching east to their greatest ever disaster. John of Nevers, son of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy leaded an army of 10000 Frenchmen eastward to Danube. He was joined by 2000 German Knights under the command of Friedrich, prince of Hohenzollern, 1000 Englishmen under the Lord of Lancaster, Polish, Austrian, Lombard, Croatian soldiers and Knights Hospitalers from Rhodes also joined in. The Venetian admiral Tomanice Nico commanded the fleet of 44 galleries equipped by Venice and Genoa and joined later on by ships from Rhodes. They joined a 30,000 army under King Sigismund of Hungary marching along the Danube. The objective of Sigismund was to retake the strong fortresses of Nicopolis and Dorostolum and using them as strongholds to chase the Islam invaders out of Europe. __________________________________
At the Battle of Nicopolis, the Ottomans feigned to negotiate a surrender and slaughtered the Christians with guile. Sensing the determination and the fanaticism of the knights, the Ottoman king Beyezid decided to use subterfuge. He offered to open negotiations with the Bulgarians and invited their leader for talks, while agreeing to hand over the fortress of Nicopolis to the French Knights. Beyezid declared that he only intended to fight the Hungarians. This ploy did not divide the Christian allies in their determination to fight the Turks, but created fissures on how to best fight the Turks. __________________________________ The King of Vidin Kingdom (remnant of the Second Bulgarian empire), Ivan Sratzimir joined the Christian army. The fortress of Vidin was the strongest defense in the North-West Bulgaria and the action of Bulgarian King providing significant resources and cavalry troops greatly facilitated the Crusading army. Afterwards he was besieged and overwhelmed by Ottomans, and sent imprisoned in Anatolia. The Christian army continued eastwards capturing Bulgarian towns with the help of Christian population, and advanced deep into Bulgarian territory. But the Crusaders had brought no siege equipment, trusting on their courage to defeat the Turks. Instead, Turks held the fortress of Nicopolis for over two weeks, waiting for reinforcements. The Ottoman sultan, Beyazid, did not rush into reaction, and waited for his entire army to muster before responding. He gathered an enormous army - some 200 000 Islamic Jihadi warriors, according to the crusader chronicles and some ottoman chroniclers. With the Crusaders stalled at Nicopolis, the Ottoman sultan saw his chance and marched to the town's rescue, choosing a defensive position straddling the road to the city with his flanks protected by ravines. Ottoman army formed up some four miles south from the Crusader camp, and invited attack. At the military council before the battle, Sigismund advised a cautious approach and proposed to use his own horse-archers as the first attack, with the Crusader cavalry in reserve to deliver the decisive blow against the Ottoman lines. The French crusaders refused any role that denied them the first attack and declared “If God dropped the sky on our heads, we would maintain it with the tops of our lances!”. At the Battle of Nicopolis, the Ottomans feigned to negotiate a surrender and slaughtered the Christians with guile Sensing the determination and the fanaticism of the knights, the Ottoman king Beyezid decided to use subterfuge. He offered to open negotiations with the Bulgarians and invited their leader for talks, while agreeing to hand over the fortress of Nicopolis to the French Knights. Beyezid declared that he only intended to fight the Hungarians. This ploy did not divide the Christian allies in their determination to fight the Turks, but created fissures on how to best fight the Turks. Against the advice of the Hungarian king and leaving the Hungarian army behind, the Franks entered the Ottoman lines to take charge of the fortress that Beyazid was offering to hand over to the Franks. Once they had crossed the ottoman lines, the Ottomans closed ranks behind the Franks and trapped them. On realizing that they had been betrayed by the wily Ottomans the Franks rushed to break through the enemy ranks. The French Knights charged the centre of the Ottoman lines, where they could see that the Ottomans had placed a cavalry force to attack the trapped Franks. And once the French knights came within range, the first Ottoman line made of horse-archers moved aside to make way for the French cavalry to rush straight into a trap, of well dug-in archers behinds rows and rows of sharpened wooden stakes planted in the ground. The ottoman arrows rained down on the Franks causing huge casualties and the chronicler wrote “… no rain neither hail can flow so densely from the sky“. So, the crusaders were forced to dismount their horses and fight on foot from an unfavorable position. __________________________________
At the Battle of Nicopolis, it almost looked like the Christian army might win the day until the Jannisaries and the Arab contingents emerged from an ambush and charged the Hungarians. This attack broke the Hungarians, and when Sigismund's banner was cast down, the entire Hungarian army dissolved. The imprudent behavior of the French knights of falling into the Ottoman lure of taking over the fortress of Nicopolis which the Ottomans pretended to surrender to them was the major cause of the disaster at the Battle of Nicopolis. The Christian army was divided into independent troops that were defeated and massacred one by one. This was unlike the unity seen among the Muslims, be they Ottoman, Arab or Malaysian, all of them stood united in one single purpose – to massacre the Christians and took orders from one man, The Yazid the Ottoman Bey or Beyazid. This is a lesson in strategic unity for us in fighting today’s War on Terror against the same Jihadist enemy. __________________________________ But even on the ground, the French knights fought a terrifying battle against the Janissaries and succeeded to break their lines killing more than 10,000 of the Jihadis. Despite taking heavy casualties, crusaders broke through to third Ottoman line, and were also able to hold off an attack by Ottoman cavalry. When they reached the top of the hill, where the sultan quarter was, they discovered the Ottoman cavalry and Anatolian sipahis (soldiers) kept in the rear as reserve. But as they were cut off from the main part of Christian army, the Crusaders began to retreat. Attacked from all sides by Islamic fanatics and their allies, the Christian army was defeated and massacred, and finally many of them were captured. Meanwhile, far to the rear, the Hungarian royal army was moving towards the battle. Sigismund preferred to slaughter the disorganized ottoman infantry instead of rushing to help the encircled French knights. Having defeated and massacred the Western crusaders, Bayezid committed his main forces against the Christian army. Sigismund, leading his royal bodyguards, also entered into the dreadful battle. Bayezid was wounded and his horse killed but nevertheless he continued the ferocious fighting. The Hungarians attack began to take its tool on the Ottoman invaders and many of them fell victims to the crusader swords. For a while it almost looked like the Christian army might win the day until the Jannisaries and the Arab contingents emerged from an ambush and charged the Hungarians. This attack broke the Hungarians, and when Sigismund's banner was cast down, the entire Hungarian army dissolved into a disorganized. The imprudent behavior of the French knights in falling into the Ottoman lure of surrendering the fortress to them was the major cause of the disaster. The Christian army was divided into independent troops that were defeated and massacred one by one. This was unlike the unity seen among the Muslims, be they Ottoman, Arab or Malaysian, all of them stood united in one single purpose – to massacre the Christians. This is a lesson for us in strategic unity when we are fighting the same Jihadist enemy in today’s War on Terror. __________________________________
His Majesty Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor was infused with a crusading spirit to free Europe from its infidel (Muslim) occupiers. He did his utmost during his reign from 1410 to 1437 to fight the Ottomans. The bitter experiences of his youth in the battle of Nicopolis in 1396 shaped his attitude towards the Muslims which remained an overriding element of his efforts throughout his life and reign. __________________________________ Nicopolis was a devastating loss for Europe. The French took severe casualties, including Philip, Count of Bar, and Jean de Vienne, the Venetian Admiral Tomanice Nico and many others. Many more were captured. Sigismund escaped by ship, but John was captured and later ransomed. John's ransoming was the exception; Bayezid, enraged by the heavy losses (around 60,000 Islamic Jihadi warriors perished according to several authors and estimates), slaughtered most of the Christian prisoners the next day organizing the horrendous massacre ceremony that has been immortalized by the painting of Jean Froissart. The dark shadow of Islam looming over Europe in the 14th century was frighteningly real This massacre and dismemberment of Christian prisoners the sufferings and misery and of the Christians was an eye-opener to the Europeans who believed that Islamic soldiers like any other enemy they had faced, respect the military customs of not slaughtering soldiers who had laid down their weapons and had surrendered. The massacre of captured Christian soldiers by the Ottomans after the Battle of Nicopolis proved the Europeans to have been sadly mistaken about the beastly nature of the Islamic threat. The question is “Is our assessment of today about the same enemy who beheads civilian captives and blows up buses of school kids any different?” __________________________________
The traditional costume of a Bulgarian lady shows the Turkic origins of the Bulgars. There are philological affinities between the Bulgarian and Turkic languages even today. The pre-Christian Bulgars referred to god as Tanri or Tangri. The Ottoman Turks also used the same pre-Islamic term for god. Variations of the term include; Tengri (Uyghur, Mongolian), Tanri (Turkish), Tangri (Kazan Tatar, Azeri, Turkmen), Tangara (Yakut or Sakha), all of which refer to divinity. The Bulgars however, came under increasing Slavic influences and are today looked upon as a Slavic people, but they still show lingering traces of their Turkic ethnic origins. __________________________________ At Nicopolis, the French survivors returning with accounts of the disaster sent a chill thru France and the defeat sent a wave of fear across Europe. Powerless against the well organized and hugely backed Islamic invasion in East Europe, the Western monarchs and Italian republics tried to find a new way to resist the impending doom coming in the form of a Saracen invasion. For three centuries the Ottoman empire cast a shadow of doom on the French, Italian and German monarchs and republics who watched with increasing fear the Ottoman attempts to overpower the Christian kingdoms of Eastern Europe. Only in late 17th century the Western powers found an ally formidable enough to roll back the Islamic threat, - the Polish king Jan Sobeiski and later the Russian empire under Katerina (Catherine) and Peter the Great. Lessons from the Battle of Nicopolis At Nicopolis, the Turks used techniques of hoodwinking the Bulgarians and the French Knights into feigned negotiations, luring them into a trap and then slaughtering them mercilessly. These are techniques that are still used by the Jihadis in waving white flags and then gunning down the American marines in Iraq, or of using women and children as human shields to act as cover for the suicide bombers in Israel. We need to realize that it is the Instruction Manual of Hate and Murder (Quran) brainwashes Muslims to use foul means which they used against the French Knights at Nicopolis. The knights, drawn from all over Europe, had gone into battle assuming that they faced a fierce, but honorable enemy. But with the massacre of the prisoners of war, the Europeans were reminded in 1396 at Nicopolis that they could henceforth expect no mercy if captured by the invading Muslims. At Nicopolis thousands of Christian soldiers who had laid down their weapons were slaughtered in a bloodthirsty orgy lasting several hours after the battle had ended. In the next three centuries thousands of European soldiers were to meet their end in this brutal way. In normal warfare, the opening of negotiations was normally used to end hostilities or to stop hostilities from taking place. But with the subterfuge used at Nicopolis, with devastating effect, taught the Europeans that the Muslims were never to be trusted. The Battle of Nicopolis reinforced the reality that the Muslims by instinct were (and are) a dishonorable people. The Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting Muslim invasion of European soil ever. Lasting from the beginning of the 13th Century right to the start of the 20th, this group of mixed race Middle Eastern Turks, driven by a fanaticism molded by their Muslim religion, occupied vast stretches of central and southern Europe. They were turned back twice at the very gates of Vienna in their attempts to seize all of Europe. The impact and legacy of the Ottomans upon central and southern Europe is therefore vast, and crucial to any understanding of the racial and cultural mix which has made south-eastern Europe (Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo)the volatile place that it is today. As we saw, the defeat at Nicopolis in 1396 followed by Varna in 1444, blew away the last hope of Bulgarian people for delivery from Muslim tyranny. Thus, 1396 is considered as the year when Bulgaria plunged into the Dark Ages under the oppressive Islam domination for almost 5 centuries. So after passing through many hands during the course of history, by the middle of the second Christian millennium, Bulgaria was in the hands of the Ottomans. After their surreptitious victory at Nicopolis, the Ottomans led by Murad's successors kept on pressing further and further into Europe, meeting feeble resistance all along the way. In 1439, Serbia was formally annexed to the Ottoman Empire and in 1440, the city of Belgrade was besieged, although it was not seized by the Ottomans at that time. In 1444, a renewed Christian assault on the Ottomans was again defeated at the battle of Varna in Bulgaria. The Battle of Varna After Nicopolis the Christian states of the Balkans continued to struggle desperately against the tyrannical Ottoman dynasty. The Ottomans were determined on invading deeper into Europe, and devastating the Balkans under the banner of Islam was only the first step. For the Christian states in Balkans, their final tryst with a cruel destiny arrived with the second disaster of the Battle of Varna in 1444. With this defeat faded away the last hope of Bulgarian and other Christians for delivery and ended, for centuries, any serious attempts to prevent the Muslim invasion of Eastern Europe by the Ottomans. __________________________________ One of the more remarkable ways in which the Ottomans kept their fighting strength up was through a unit of soldiers known as the Janissaries. The Janissaries were the Ottoman's elite forces - and they were also originally European Christian Children taken by force from their families. One of the Ottoman leaders, Emir Orkhan (1326 - 1359), who was the first to occupy European continental soil, issued an edict to the conquered Europeans in the Balkans that they must hand over to the Ottomans 1,000 male babies "with faces white and shining" each and every year. These babies were brought up as Muslims and grew to adulthood, oblivious of their Christian parentage. On attaining youth, they were presented to the Ottoman sultan, and the best of them - in terms of physique, intelligence, and other qualities - were selected for education in the palace school. There they were made well versed in the Islamic religion and its culture, learned Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and were compelled to serve the Ottomans. With their origins being concealed from them, they became the best and most trusted armed unit within the Ottoman Empire. But some of them retained a faint memory of their origins. The most illustrious among them was Mustapha Kemal Pasha or Ataturk, who on seizing power after the end of WW1, did his level best to roll back Islamic influences from Turkey and forcibly Westernized the Turks - a supreme act of irony that Turkey was Westernized by a descendant of ones who had been forcibly Islamized by the Ottomans. __________________________________ The battle of Varna was vividly described in a letter from Aenas Sylvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, to Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, written immediately after the battle. "Our men did not shrink from joining battle, which began on the feast of St. Martin itself, 11 November 1444. So fierce and savage was the fighting that rarely could such a battle had ever been fought between mortal men! For a long time its outcome was uncertain; it was contested with equal force by both sides. As long as our men fought for Christ our Lord and Savior and our opponents for Mahomet the Infidel, enthusiasm for battle was such that fifteen thousand were wounded on each side. "So long as the battle was equal, neither side wished to stop. The more blood that was spilled, the keener the hand-to-hand fighting. Those who escaped from the field say that no battle as bloody has been fought anywhere in Europe within the memory of our fathers. They also say that no fewer Turks than Hungarians fell, and, if the record is correct, eighty thousand men died in this battle." The Janissaries: the "stolen European children" became the ottoman elite One of the more remarkable ways in which the Ottomans kept their fighting strength up was through a unit of soldiers known as the Janissaries. The Janissaries were the Ottoman's elite forces - and they were also originally European Christian Children taken by force from their families. One of the Ottoman leaders, Emir Orkhan (1326 - 1359), who was the first to occupy European continental soil, issued an edict to the conquered Europeans in the Balkans that they must hand over to the Ottomans 1,000 male babies "with faces white and shining" each and every year. These babies were brought up as Muslims and grew to adulthood, oblivious of their Christian parentage. On attaining youth, they were presented to the Ottoman sultan, and the best of them - in terms of physique, intelligence, and other qualities - were selected for education in the palace school. There they were made well versed in the Islamic religion and its culture, learned Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and were compelled to serve the Ottomans. With their origins being concealed from them, they became the best and most trusted armed unit within the Ottoman Empire. But some of them retained a faint memory of their origins. The most illustrious among them was Mustapha Kemal Pasha or Ataturk, who on seizing power after the end of WW1, did his level best to roll back Islamic influences from Turkey and forcibly Westernized the Turks - a supreme act of irony that Turkey was Westernized by a descendant of ones who had been forcibly Islamized by the Ottomans. This yearly tribute of collecting European babies - reminiscent of the demand by the Moors for White virgins from the unfortunate Goths in Spain - was continued for an astonishing 300 years until 1648, during which time not only were 300,000 formerly Christian European babies absorbed into the Ottoman hierarchy (and for the greatest part also into the Turkish elite's bloodstream) but the Janissaries also became known as one of the most efficient army of soldiers in the world. It is no exaggeration to say that the Janissaries sustained the Ottoman Empire in Europe for much of its existence, playing a not inconsiderable role in many of the great victories of that Empire. __________________________________
The fall of Bulgaria opened the gates for the fall of Constantinople The city of Constantinople had managed to hold grimly on through all these Ottoman advances in the Balkans that were taking place far behind the walls of Constantinople. As the Muslim front line struck deeper into Europe, the city grew weaker and weaker, as it was now besieged by the Muslims from all sides. Finally, in 1453, the Ottoman army launched a mighty effort to break the city. After bombarding the city walls with cannon fire for months, a determined overnight attack, saw the city fall at last - the official end of the Eastern Roman Empire, defended only by 7,000 Byzantine, Frankish and other European knights from all over Europe against a Turkish army numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Constantinople was made the new Ottoman Muslim capital and renamed Istanbul, a name by which it is still known. __________________________________ The Turks delusion about themselves being Europeans and their false case for admission into the EU There is European blood among the Turks. This is so as every year, one thousand European male babies were taken by the Ottomans for indoctrination into Islam. In Asia Minor (Turkey) the Europeans were raised to serve the Muslim empire, as soldiers or administrators. In this way hundreds of thousands of Europeans entered the modern Turkish gene pool - and contributed to the European blood stream among the Turks. The belief of the Turks today that they are Europeans, comes from this forced abduction of European children their forced conversion to Islam and their conscription into the Ottoman army as Janissaries. On this falsehood also rests Turkey’s case for admission into the EU (European Union). The Janissaries were only finally disbanded in 1826 after a large rebellion against their Ottoman Muslim masters saw many thousands of the Ottomans killed. __________________________________
By 1500, European explorers had discovered a sea route to the East, and after this year Portuguese fleets began to attack Arab ships in the Indian ocean, seriously affecting the Ottoman's trading routes to the east. An Ottoman sea fleet was built especially to destroy the Portuguese fleets - several engagements followed, some successful for the Portuguese, others successful for the Turks. It was only in 1571, that an alliance of European nations, inspired by Pope Pius V with the aid of the Spanish and the Venetians, destroyed Turkish sea power in the Mediterranean at the Battle of Lepanto. __________________________________ In 1574, the Janissaries had 20,000 men in their ranks - by 1826 the unit numbered some 135,000. The overtly racial make-up of the Janissaries always created problems of its own. Every now and then, these soldiers of European descent would rebel against their Turkish masters - numerous Janissary rebellions are recorded, each being suppressed, until a famous rebellion in 1826 saw the unit finally disbanded. The fall of Bulgaria opened the gates for the fall of Constantinople The city of Constantinople had managed to hold grimly on through all these Ottoman advances in the Balkans that were taking place far behind the walls of Constantinople. As the Muslim front line struck deeper into Europe, the city grew weaker and weaker, as it was now besieged by the Muslims from all sides. Finally, in 1453, the Ottoman army launched a mighty effort to break the city. After bombarding the city walls with cannon fire for months, a determined overnight attack, saw the city fall at last - the official end of the Eastern Roman Empire, defended only by 7,000 Byzantine, Frankish and other European knights from all over Europe against a Turkish army numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Constantinople was made the new Ottoman Muslim capital and renamed Istanbul, a name by which it is still known. Spurred on by this great victory, the Ottomans proceeded swiftly to seize all of Greece, Albania and Bosnia. A plan to invade Italy was only aborted after the Ottoman emperor of the time died half way through the planning. War at sea – The Portuguese Spanish and Italians confront and defeat the Turks at Lepanto By 1500, European explorers had discovered a sea route to the East, and after this year Portuguese fleets began to attack Arab ships in the Indian ocean, seriously affecting the Ottoman's trading routes to the East. An Ottoman sea fleet was built especially to destroy the Portuguese fleets - several engagements followed, some successful for the Portuguese, others successful for the Turks. It was only in 1571, that an alliance of European nations, inspired by Pope Pius V with the aid of the Spanish and the Venetians, destroyed Turkish sea power in the Mediterranean at the Battle of Lepanto in that same year. The Battle of Lepanto saw the two fleets - together comprising at least 500 ships and about 100,000 men - engage each other for a whole day, ending with a great European victory - about 80 Turkish ships were sunk and a further 130 captured. __________________________________…
the blindness of those who wish such clashes away; but they are the hinges, the turning points of history. In the latter half of the 16th century, Muslim war drums sounded and the mufti of the Ottoman sultan proclaimed jihad, but only the pope fully appreciated the threat. As Brandon Rogers notes in the Ignatius Press edition of G. K. Chesterton's poem "Lepanto": Pope Pius V "understood the tremendous importance of resisting the aggressive expansion of the Turks better than any of his contemporaries appear to have. He understood that the real battle being fought was spiritual; a clash of creeds was at hand, and the stakes were the very existence of the Christian West." But then, as now, the unity of Christendom was shattered; and in the aftermath of the Protestant revolt, Islam saw its opportunity.
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."
But the House of War was a house divided against itself. The Habsburg Empire was Europe's bulwark against Islamic jihad, but its timbers were being eaten away by the Protestants who diverted Catholic armies and even cheered on the Mussulmen, whom they saw as fellow enemies of the pope in Rome.
In 1568, the emperor Maximilian, of the Austrian half of the Habsburg Empire, had agreed to a peace treaty with the Turk; and the Danube was reasonably, temporarily, quiet.
In Spain, the other great pillar of the Habsburg Empire was Philip II. And for him, things were not quiet at all. We think of Philip II as dark and brooding, and so he was -- to the degree that it is surprising to remember that he was blue-eyed and fair-haired. But the lasting image, especially to those of English (even Catholic English) blood, is Chesterton's sketch; as King Philip is in his "closet with the Fleece about his neck":
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in . . . .
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day . . . .
As a ruler, Philip was harsh, saturnine, and austere. He embodied a scrupulousness that went beyond a personal failing to become a public vice, where there was no room for charity and far too much room for plottings and calculations, which, though they always had the protection of the Faith as their goal, were too admixed with lesser, baser metals than the gold of the monstrance.
Philip's knights had ranged into the New World and were carving out a vast empire, its extent virtually beyond imagining, whence came gold and other treasures. That, Philip knew, was the future. But to his immediate north was the menace.
Philip was no friend of the Mohammedan, and the Mussulmen remained a persistent threat to Spain's possession of Naples and Sicily. Spanish vessels clashed throughout the Mediterranean with Barbary corsairs. At that very moment, Spanish infantry were suppressing the Morisco revolt of apparently unconverted Moors. But Philip trusted that Spain was well equipped to defeat the Mussulmen. That was old hat.
But Protestantism was something relatively new. It was treason and heresy. And, though Philip would not have been so eloquent, it was worse:
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee . . . .
Where the Austrian Habsburgs hoped against hope for conciliation with their own violent, Teutonic Protestants, Philip II trusted to his renowned Spanish infantry. They had the answer that Protestantism deserved.
The pope had no sympathy for Protestants either, but for him, as for previous popes, Islam remained the real threat. The pope felt he had many urgent tasks to attend to, but the vital one was confronting the Islamic challenge.
Pope Pius V, like Philip, was no exemplar of rubicund, jovial Christianity such as the Italians preferred. He thought the Church had seen too much of that, with the concomitant slackness in Renaissance morals and an excessive generosity to Protestant error. He had never known the high life. He was a former shepherd, an ascetic, a Dominican, and an inquisitor. Though much of a mind with Philip, he had a finer balanced spiritual core that kept him from Philip's failings. As a pope, he was a reformer, and brought a monastic purity to the organization and administration of the Church, to a review of the religious orders, to educating the faithful, to evangelizing, and to caring for the poor (which he did personally).
If Christendom was split asunder -- with even Philip disputing papal control of the Church in Spain -- the pope nevertheless had the spiritual and temporal authority, the presence of a future saint, to assemble a Holy League, a fighting force that included Catholic knights not only from the papal states and the Knights of Malta, but from Italy, Germany, and Spain; and even from England, Scotland, and Scandinavia, Catholics and freebooters, gentleman adventurers and convicts condemned to row the galleys.
France, la belle France, would be present in the Knights, but not as a party itself. The great period of the fleur de lis had passed away with the end of the Crusader kingdoms. Now the king of France could support no venture in league with the Habsburgs, whose dominions surrounded him. Worse, he was quite willing to cut deals with the Mohammedans in order to turn Muslim corsairs against Genoese and Spaniards and away from Frenchmen (unless they were Knights of Malta, where Frenchmen of the old school continued to thrive). So the French king, from the line of Valois, Charles IX, pleaded exhaustion from having to fight the Huguenots. Even less willing to cooperate with the pope was Protestant England, whose Virgin Queen was establishing a cult around herself and a church subordinate to her will. The sad result of French realpolitik and English apostasy was that the sons of Richard Coeur-de-Lion sat this one out:
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass . . . .
A Rude Awakening for Venice
Others, who might also occasionally yawn at Mass, nevertheless were enthusiasts for a crusade against the Turk -- this was most especially true of the merchant Republic of Venice. It is one of the many commonly accepted myths of history that Protestants invented capitalism, but Venice is proof that Catholic states were exercising their capitalist muscles centuries before Luther burped into his tankard or Calvin had his first glint of his predestined salvation and others' predestined damnation.
The Venetians were prime exponents of the capitalist art. They were, in fact, something like the entrepreneurs of modern Hong Kong, to the extent that their city was built in a lagoon, the buildings actually resting on logs; and the Venetians enjoyed great economic success despite having no natural resources to speak of, save the sea.
No one knows exactly when Venice was founded, but it was during the Roman Empire, perhaps in the fifth century. By the early Middle Ages it was an established city-state and had carved out a commercial and territorial empire -- the territory necessary to protect and extend Venetian commerce.
As with all men of commerce, the Venetians' preferred mode of interaction was trade: They wanted to make money, not war. But they realized that, as the similarly minded Thomas Jefferson realized half a millennium later, "Our commerce on the ocean . . . must be paid for by frequent war." Still, given the choice, just as Churchill thought "to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war," the Venetians thought ka-ching–ka-ching was better than war-war.
As such, crusades called by the pope merely for the sake of repelling the Mussulmen had no appeal to them. The Mohammedan was a customer, after all -- and the customer is always (at least up to the point of heresy) publicly right, even if the merchant secretly despises him.
The Venetians, however, had been forced to come to some sober conclusions about Islamic aggression in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1565, the Ottomans had laid siege to the island of Malta, which was defended by the Knights Hospitallers (also known as the Knights of St. John; or, given their new home, the Knights of Malta). For four months the gallant Knights threw back the besieging Turks, inflicting massive losses on the enemy, who finally called it quits after the Knights were reinforced by Spain.
The Ottomans hated the Knights, but reckoned that Venetian-held Cyprus was easier pickings, and five years later it was Cyprus that was besieged. Now Venice, which had ignored previous papal calls to defend the Mediterranean against Mohammedan raiders, was itself in the firing line. As was good business practice, the Venetians were not caught unprepared. Their insurance policy was the Venetian Arsenal, which built and held the merchant republic's mighty naval forces. The arsenal, however, had caught fire in late 1569; and in February 1570 the Ottoman mufti Ebn Said, on behalf of Sultan Selim II, declared a jihad against the Christians on Cyprus. Selim was known as "the Sot" for his rather un-Islamic drinking habits. He also had the distinction of having blond hair. Despite his heavy drinking, he, like Philip II, was not a blond who had more fun. With his harem, free-flowing alcohol, and access to all the pleasures that the devout expected only to find in paradise, he tramped his palace in depression and rage against the infidel and Western decadence. While no soldier or sailor himself, he lent his full support to every corsair who would attack Western shipping, to every expansion of the Ottoman navy, and to the siege of Cyprus.
The Muslim Onslaught
The Turks came on with 70,000 men, including their shock troops, the praetorian guard of the sultan, the Janissaries -- Christian youths taken as taxation from their families, trained up in the art of war, converted to Islam, and given the power of the sword and the possibility of advancement.
The Catholic defenders of Cyprus were frightfully outnumbered -- by about 7 to 1 -- but then again, the Knights of Malta had faced even stiffer odds. The two key points in Cyprus were Nicosia and Famagusta. The city of Nicosia held out for nearly seven weeks. Finally, reduced to 500 soldiers, it surrendered, expecting the civilians to be spared, even as the Christian troops were enslaved. Instead, the Muslim attackers butchered every Christian they could find -- 20,000 victims, murdered regardless of rank, sex, or age, save perhaps for 1,000 women and children who would be sold as slaves. The Mussulmen knew something about commerce, too, and those with an eye for harem-flesh tried to spare the most valuable Europeans.
That left the former Crusader fortress of Famagusta as the only defensible point on the island. Inspired by the Turks' display of severed Venetian heads from Nicosia, the Christian soldiers put up a stiff defense and were at one point resupplied by gallant Venetian sailors.
But the man most devoted to the relief of Famagusta was Pope Pius V. It was his incessant diplomacy that finally brought together the forces of the papal states, the Knights of Malta, Venice, its smaller rival Genoa, the Savoyards, and, most important, Spain and its possessions Naples and Sicily to form the Holy League. The pope did not punish Venice for its failure to support previous papal calls to combat. He was above such pettiness. He only wanted to restore Christendom. He knew, however, that there were national and personal rivalries and hatreds aplenty within his League, and it would take enormous tact to hold the League together and lead it to victory against the Turk and to the relief of Cyprus.
For the brave defenders of Famagusta, it was too late. In August 1571, after ten months of resistance, the Venetian commander Marco Antonio Bragadino gave in to civilian pressure and opened negotiations with the Turks. Terms were agreed: The garrison would be exiled, the people spared. The troops were disarmed and boarded transports -- and then they and their commanders were slaughtered. But for Marco Antonio, the Mohammedans reserved a special torture. He was not killed immediately. Instead, his nose and ears were severed, and, as T. C. F. Hopkins has it in Confrontation at Lepanto:
He was pilloried in Famagusta and dragged around the Ottoman camp in nothing but a loincloth and a donkey's saddle and made to kiss the ground in front of Lala Mustapha's tent. The Ottoman soldiers were encouraged to throw garbage and excrement on him, and to mock his misery, and to pull hairs from his beard . . . . Lala Mustapha himself came out to spit on the Venetian and to empty his chamber pot over the old man's head . . . .
And even that was not the end of it. Marco Antonio -- still, for the moment, alive -- was flayed, skinned like a trophy, and then his corpse was stuffed and sent to the sultan, who had the prize stored in a warehouse of other human trophies -- a slave prison.
Don Juan Takes to the Sea
But for this outrage, the pope had an answer, and he had found the man to deliver it. Among all the courageous, experienced, jostling commanders in his unruly Holy League, he chose a handsome 24-year-old. The young man, raised on tales of chivalry, was a student of war and an experienced commander, with a track record of victory against the Moriscos. He was also the bastard son of the late, great Charles V, which gave him good bloodlines as bastards go. He was Don Juan of Austria.
Don Juan was also the half-brother of Philip II, who treated him with the cold, brooding calculation one might expect, and an apparent jealousy that one might not. Philip was pleased that Don Juan's elevation affirmed Spain's leading role in the Holy League. But he did everything he could to tie Don Juan's authority to his other Spanish commanders and thus to himself. When the decks were readied for action, however, such constraints had of necessity fallen away, and Don Juan the swashbuckler took full command.
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half-attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
His first victory was keeping the Venetians, the Genoese, and the Spaniards from killing each other. His second was more important: Against urgings of caution from some of his commanders -- most especially the Genoese Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria -- Don Juan of Austria pressed his fleet forward to the attack.
Andrea Doria had reason to fear. If defeating the Turkish fleet required the united naval force of Christendom, what chance had this cobbled-together coalition of fractious rivals commanded by a 24-year-old who, though he had fought corsairs, had sought instruction in commanding so huge a fleet from Don Garcia de Toledo? Don Garcia had once been renowned as a tough old naval warrior, but having run afoul of Philip II, he had been forced into retirement, his reputation blackened. Don Juan, however, trusted him, and believed his advice would be unsullied by Spanish politicking. And Don Juan, fortunately, was right, for in the words of Jack Beeching in The Galleys at Lepanto, he "had the fate of the civilized world placed in his hands."
The Battle Begins
The Turks had an estimated 328 ships, of which 208 were galleys, the rest being smaller supporting craft. Aboard them were nearly 77,000 men, including 10,000 Janissaries, but also 50,000 oarsmen, many of them Christian slaves. At Don Juan's command were 206 galleys, along with 40,000 oarsmen and sailors, and more than 28,000 soldiers, knights, and gentleman adventurers. He also had the blessings of the pope and the papal banner; the ministrations of Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Capuchins who accompanied the fleet; the prayers of the faithful; and the rosaries that were pressed into the hands of every Christian oarsman.
The Catholic armada had been spotted by Muslim spy ships (painted entirely black so that they cruised through the night unnoticed). They reported that the Christians would be no match for the Ottoman fleet. On October 7, 1571, Don Juan's lookouts raised the alarm as the Christian ships entered the Gulf of Patras. The Ottomans, from their naval base at Lepanto in the adjacent Gulf of Corinth, had formed a battle line, its front arrayed in three "battles," as were the Christians (though the battle had started before Andrea Doria, commanding the Catholic right flank, could bring his ships fully in line). Ahead of Don Juan's three battles was a wedge of galleasses -- slower, less maneuverable gunships that made up for their lack of mobility with their unrivaled firepower.
The battle was met, the galleasses drawing first blood, splintering Turkish decks and Turkish men. But the Ottomans sailed around them; the goal, to grapple with the Catholic ships and turn the battle into a floating melee of Muslim scimitars, bows, and muskets against Catholic swords, pikes, and arquebuses.
Cannons erupted, arrows rained on the Christians, and arquebuses spat back balls of lead. When the ships closed, grappling hooks threw them together; the Christians hurled nets to repel boarders and followed up with gunfire. Still, the fighting closed to hand-to-hand aboard decks. Catholics turned swivel guns on the enemy ships, and the Turkish bowmen fired dark volleys of arrows that claimed the life of Agostini Barbarigo, commander of the Catholic left wing, whose eye was pierced when he raised his visor to issue orders.
Ottoman ships tried to turn the left flank of the Christian line, and while they appeared to succeed, the Catholic ships responded -- amid a blinding hail of cannon blasts, arrows, grenades, and gunfire -- in pinning the Muslim ships against Scropha Point. There, against the shoals, the Muslim vessels were trapped -- and, at first, the Mohammedans fought with the ferocity of trapped animals. But more Catholic ships joined the battle, and what had been the right of the Ottoman line began to splinter, the Christian slaves on the Ottoman ships revolted, and Ottoman captains and crews, sensing disaster, beached their ships, hoping to escape to shore. By early afternoon, the Catholic left had emerged victorious.
At the head of the Catholic center was Don Juan aboard the flagship Real. For him, and for the Muslim commander Ali Pasha, the battle was a joust. They fired shots to announce their presence one to the other, and then drove to the clash, using their galleys as steeds. The ships crashed together, Don Juan in the lead, and everywhere the line erupted with explosions of cannons, bombs, gunfire, and the clash of swords and battle axes, while silent-flying deadly arrows thudded into timber and men.
It appeared that in this violent shipyard scrum, Don Juan's ship and men were getting the worst of it -- despite the handsome hero's pet monkey hurling Ottoman grenades back at the enemy -- until Marco Antonio Colonna, commander of the papal galleys, rammed his own flagship into Ali Pasha's. The surging Catholic forces, in what had become an infantry battle fought across ships' decks, swept the Muslims aside. Ali Pasha himself was killed and beheaded, and when Don Juan waved away the present of the severed head, it was tossed overboard. The Holy League's banner was raised aloft the captured Ottoman flagship, and Ali Pasha's banner -- the sultan's own undefeated standard made of green silk and with the prophet's name threaded through it 28,900 times in gold -- was Don Juan's.
On the right flank, Andrea Doria was engaged in a battle of maneuver that was anti-climactic to the battles on the Catholic left and center, save for the fact that in being drawn away from guarding the center battle's right flank, he allowed the Turks to pour through the gap. Some Catholic ships -- without orders -- pulled out of Andrea Doria's battle to plug the gap. But they were too few, and were forced to such desperate heroics as firing their own powder magazines. The Muslim lunge was then directed at the flagship of the Knights of Malta, who, like so many of their brave fellows before, fought to the death against overwhelming odds. (There were, perhaps, six survivors. The sources vary; six is a high guess. The one certain survivor was the Knights' commander, Pietro Giustiniani, though five times wounded by arrows and twice by scimitars.) Andrea Doria, having hardly distinguished himself thus far, wheeled around and chased away the remaining Ottoman raiders who were commanded by Uluch Ali Pasha, an Italian turned Barbary corsair. Uluch Ali had his prize -- the Knights of Malta's banner -- and he knew how to skedaddle when necessary. A realist, he knew the bigger battle was lost.
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.
Don Juan, a hero to the last, gave his portion of the captured booty to the Catholic wounded who had not been able to pillage for themselves, and redoubled his generosity by adding to their treasure the 30,000 ducats awarded him by the city of Messina. He also made gifts of two captured banners: The imperial Ottoman banner went to the pope; the fabulous green silk banner went to Philip II, along with his after-action report. He gave credit to everyone else and little to himself, though he had been wounded in the hand-to-hand fighting. Don Juan was everything a parfait gentil knight should be -- and, alas, as is often the case of the good and noble, died young, felled by fever; a romantic hero, a devoted and faithful Catholic and soldier (but one appalled at his half-brother's brutality in the Netherlands), in love with the charming Marguerite de Valois, whose blood was royal but whose character was far less admirable than his own. Still, Don Juan showed that chivalry could indeed live and breathe, even in the thinner air of a Europe no longer unified by the Catholic ideals that gave birth to chivalry.
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade . . . .
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
Today, Christendom is even more divided, and certainly more deracinated and less confident, than it was in Don Juan's time, but there are still fighting men, the valiant core of that civilization, who even now patrol the dusty villages of Afghanistan and the dirty streets of Mesopotamia. The enemy smiles as "suicide bombers" smile, but our fighting men -- some holding rosaries (the very same as I have, made by a Marine Corps mom) -- smile with thoughts of sweethearts, wives, and children; of football and cold beers by warm fires; and of Christmas. They are the inheritors of the men who saved Europe at Lepanto; and they are the men who will, with God's grace, save the West again. So in honor of Don Juan, of Lepanto, of who we are as Catholics, let us pray for them, for their safety and for their victory. St. George, St. Michael, Our Lady, pray for them -- and for us. This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Crisis Magazine.
Just fill in the box below on any 4F page to be notified when it changes.
Muslim Terrorism Count
Most Western societies are based on Secular Democracy, which itself is based on the concept that the open marketplace of ideas leads to the optimum government. Whilst that model has been very successful, it has defects. The 4 Freedoms address 4 of the principal vulnerabilities, and gives corrections to them.
At the moment, one of the main actors exploiting these defects, is Islam, so this site pays particular attention to that threat.
Islam, operating at the micro and macro levels, is unstoppable by individuals, hence: "It takes a nation to protect the nation". There is not enough time to fight all its attacks, nor to read them nor even to record them. So the members of 4F try to curate a representative subset of these events.
We hope that free nations will wake up to stop the threat, and force the separation of (Islamic) Church and State. This will also allow moderate Muslims to escape from their totalitarian political system.
The 4 Freedoms
These 4 freedoms are designed to close 4 vulnerabilities in Secular Democracy, by making them SP or Self-Protecting (see Hobbes's first law of nature). But Democracy also requires - in addition to the standard divisions of Executive, Legislature & Judiciary - a fourth body, Protector of the Open Society (POS), to monitor all its vulnerabilities (see also Popper). 1. SP Freedom of Speech Any speech is allowed - except that advocating the end of these freedoms 2. SP Freedom of Election Any party is allowed - except one advocating the end of these freedoms 3. SP Freedom from Voter Importation Immigration is allowed -except where that changes the political demography (this is electoral fraud) 4. SP Freedom from Debt
The Central Bank is allowed to create debt - except where that debt burden can pass across a generation (25 years).
An additional Freedom from Religion is deducible if the law is applied equally to everyone:
Religious and cultural activities are exempt from legal oversight except where they intrude into the public sphere (Res Publica)"