7 October 1571: The Battle of Lepanto halts Ottoman expansion

On this day in 1571, the ‘Holy Fleet’ of Pope Pius V defeated the larger but less well armed Ottoman navy, precipitating the decline of the Ottoman empire.

In 1571, Famagusta was surrounded. One by one, the other Venetian colonies on the island of Cyprus had fallen to the conquering Turkish army. But Cyprus was just the latest in a long line of triumphs stretching back almost a century.

The Ottoman Empire had grown wealthy controlling the eastern trade routes. To the west, it had taken advantage of the squabbling kingdoms to overrun Greece and the Balkans. At the same time, its navy had swelled. Now, the empire looked all but unstoppable.

Pope Pius V decided something had to be done. With help from the Spanish, he assembled a large fleet with the Venetians and other Italian and Papal states. John of Austria, the half-brother of the king of Spain, was chosen to lead the Holy League fleet, which left Sicily and headed east.

On 7 October, the two navies clashed in the Gulf of Corinth. It was to be the last major battle fought between galleys rowing ships used since antiquity in the Mediterranean.

Although they were outnumbered, the Venetians had an ace up their sleeves: the galleass. This was a larger version of the galley; but what made it really stand out was its cannon. In addition to this, the Spanish troops were armed with arquebuses, a sort of musket.

Despite relying on their elite Janissaries and composite bowmen, the Ottoman soldiers still made for formidable foes.

After four hours of fighting, the Turkish fleet lay in tatters. But while the defeat came as a shock to the Ottomans, the setback was only temporary. The Ottomans took possession of Cyprus following negotiations with Venice in 1573.

But the psychological impact was longer lasting. The European kingdoms felt emboldened by the decisive victory at sea, and for many historians, the Battle of Lepanto marks the beginning of the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Recommended

21 October 1520: Magellan finds the path to the Pacific
This day in history

21 October 1520: Magellan finds the path to the Pacific

On this day in 1520, a fleet of five ships, led by Ferdinand Magellan in search of a passage to the Pacific, first entered the waterway that now bears…
21 Oct 2020
21 October 1805: the Battle of Trafalgar
This day in history

21 October 1805: the Battle of Trafalgar

On this day in 1805, Britain’s mastery of the seas was assured after the Royal Navy crushed Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.
21 Oct 2020
20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends
This day in history

20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends

Almost exactly a year after setting off, Mao Zedong and his army of communists arrived at the foot of the Great Wall of China on this day in 1935.
20 Oct 2020
19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba
This day in history

19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba

In retaliation for Cuba seizing American property, President Eisenhower banned exports to the island on this day in 1960.
19 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
What would negative interest rates mean for your money?
UK Economy

What would negative interest rates mean for your money?

There has been much talk of the Bank of England introducing negative interest rates. John Stepek explains why they might do that, and what it would me…
15 Oct 2020