The Ottoman Fleet of Selim II

de Valette’s and the Knights of the Order of St John’s victory at the Siege of Malta essentially put a cork in the central Mediterranean and prevented Ottoman expansion westward. The elderly Sultan Sulieman the Magnificent, convinced by the Siege that only he could lead his armies victoriously, lashed out at Protestant Hungary but died of dysentery during the campaign. In 1566, he was succeeded by his son Selim II.

Selim was not the same man as his father whom was the greatest of the Ottoman sultans. He had much more interest in leisurely pursuits such as wine and the pleasures of the flesh. After concluding peace with Hungary and a disastrous campaign against the Tsardom of Russia, Selim, aware that he was being compared to his father, decided to seize an easier target closer to home, the Venetian island of Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage.

In response, the newly elected St Pius V, (one of the Catholicism’s greatest Popes) called for a crusade and a league of nations to oppose the Turk’s invasion of Christian Cyprus. On 7 Mar 1571, the Holy League was formed of most Catholic states on the Mediterranean (except France which habitually opposed Hapsburg Spain and Austria, despite the consequences). However, before a force could be assembled to relieve the besieged Cyprus, the Venetians defending the port of Nicosia capitulated on 1 August 1791.

With the fall of Cyprus, Selim was no longer drunk on wine but on the sweet taste of victory. He vowed to crush Venice for Islam. But first he had to blockade the merchant city and to do that he needed to control the Adriatic. On 13 August 1571, 230 galleys under his grand admiral Ali Pasha with the prized possession of the Ottoman Empire, The Banner of the Caliphs, arrived at a bustling trade port at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth:

Lepanto

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