1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lepanto, Battle of

LEPANTO,[1] BATTLE OF, fought on the 7th of October 1571. The conquest of Cyprus by the Turks, and their aggressions on the Christian powers, frightened the states of the Mediterranean into forming a holy league for their common defence. The main promoter of the league was Pope Pius V., but the bulk of the forces was supplied by the republic of Venice and Philip II. of Spain, who was peculiarly interested in checking the Turks both because of the Moorish element in the population of Spain, and because he was also sovereign of Naples and Sicily. In compliment to King Philip, the general command of the league’s fleet was given to his natural brother, Don John of Austria. It included, however, only twenty-four Spanish ships. The great majority of the two hundred galleys and eight galeasses, of which the fleet was composed, came from Venice, under the command of the proveditore Barbarigo; from Genoa, which was in close alliance with Spain, under Gianandrea Doria; and from the Pope whose squadron was commanded by Marc Antonio Colonna. The Sicilian and Neapolitan contingents were commanded by the marquess of Santa Cruz, and Cardona, Spanish officers. Eight thousand Spanish soldiers were embarked. The allied fleet was collected slowly at Messina, from whence it advanced by the passage between Ithaca and Cephalonia to Cape Marathia near Dragonera. The Turkish fleet which had come up from Cyprus and Crete anchored in the Gulf of Patras. It consisted in all of 273 galleys which were of lighter build than the Christians’, and less well supplied with cannon or small arms. The Turks still relied mainly on the bow and arrow. Ali, the capitan pasha, was commander-in-chief, and he had with him Chulouk Bey of Alexandria, commonly called Scirocco, and Uluch Ali, dey of Algiers. On the 7th of October the Christian fleet advanced to the neighbourhood of Cape Scropha. It was formed in the traditional order of the galleys—a long line abreast, subdivided into the centre or “battle” commanded by Don John in person, the left wing under the proveditore Barbarigo, and the right under Gianandrea Doria. But a reserve squadron was placed behind the centre under the marquess of Santa Cruz, and the eight lumbering galeasses were stationed at intervals in front of the line to break the formation of the Turks. The capitan pasha left his anchorage in the Gulf of Patras with his fleet in a single line, without reserve or advance-guard. He was himself in the centre, with Scirocco on his right and Uluch Ali on his left. The two fleets met south of Cape Scropha, both drawn up from north to south, the land being close to the left flank of the Christians, and the right of the Turks. To the left of the Turks and the right of the Christians, there was open sea. Ali Pasha’s greater numbers enabled him to outflank his enemy. The Turks charged through the intervals between the galeasses, which proved to be of no value. On their right Scirocco outflanked the Venetians of Barbarigo, but the better build of the galleys of Saint Mark and the admirable discipline of their crews gave them the victory. The Turks were almost all sunk or driven on shore. Scirocco and Barbarigo both lost their lives. On the centre Don John and the capitan pasha met prow to prow—the Christians reserving the fire of their bow guns (called di cursia) till the moment of impact, and then boarding. Ali Pasha was slain and his galley taken. Everywhere on the centre the Christians gained the upper hand, but their victory was almost turned into a defeat by the mistaken manœuvres of Doria. In fear lest he should be outflanked by Uluch Ali, he stood out to sea, leaving a gap between himself and the centre. The dey of Algiers, who saw the opening, reversed the order of his squadron, and fell on the right of the centre. The galleys of the Order of Malta, which were stationed at this point, suffered severely, and their flagship was taken with great slaughter. A disaster was averted by the marquess of Santa Cruz, who brought up the reserve. Uluch Ali then retreated with sail and oar, bringing most of his division off in good order.

The loss of life in the battle was enormous, being put at 20,000 for the Turks and 8000 for the Christians. The battle of Lepanto was of immense political importance. It gave the naval power of the Turks a blow from which it never recovered, and put a stop to their aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean. Historically the battle is interesting because it was the last example of an encounter on a great scale between fleets of galleys and also because it was the last crusade. The Christian powers of the Mediterranean did really combine to avert the ruin of Christendom. Hardly a noble house of Spain or Italy was not represented in the fleet, and the princes headed the boarders. Volunteers came from all parts of Europe, and it is said that among them was Sir Richard Grenville, afterwards famous for his fight in the “Revenge” off Flores in the Azores. Cervantes was undoubtedly present, and had his left hand shattered by a Turkish bullet.

For full accounts of the battle, with copious references to authorities and to ancient controversies, mostly arising out of the conduct of Doria, see Sir W. Stirling Maxwell, Don John of Austria (1883); and Jurien de la Gravière, La Guerre de Chypre et la bataille de Lepanto (1888).  (D. H.) 

  1. For Lepanto see Naupactus.