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Ottoman-Habsburg Wars: Battle of Lepanto


Battle of Lepanto, October 1571. The fleets of Spain, Venice and the Pope, under the command of Don Juan of Austria, defeated the Turks in the last great sea battle involving galleys. From the National Maritime Museum, London.
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The Battle of Lepanto was a key naval engagement during the Ottoman-Habsburg Wars.


The Holy League defeated the Ottomans at Lepanto on October 7, 1571.

Fleets & Commanders:

Holy League

  • Don John of Austria
  • 206 galleys, 6 gallasses

Ottoman Empire

  • Ali Pasha
  • 230 galleys, 56 galliots

Battle Summary:

In 1571, the Christian powers in the Mediterranean assembled a large fleet to confront the growing menace of the Ottoman Empire. Assembling at Messina, Sicily in July and August, the Christian force was led by Don John of Austria and contained vessels from Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Genoa, Savoy, and Malta. Sailing under the banner of the Holy League, Don John's fleet consisted of 206 galleys and 6 gallasses (large galleys that mounted artillery). Rowing east, they encountered the Ottoman fleet of Ali Pasha off Greece in the Gulf of Patras.

Commanding 230 galleys and 56 galliots (small galleys), Ali Pasha had departed his base at Lepanto and was moving west to intercept the Holy League's fleet. As the fleets sighted each other, they formed for battle. For the Holy League, Don John, aboard the galley Real, divided his force into four divisions, with the Venetians under Agostino Barbarigo on the left, himself in the center, the Genoese under Giovanni Andrea Doria on the right, and a reserve led by Álvaro de Bazán in the rear. In addition, he pushed gallasses out in front of his left and center divisions where they could bombard the Ottoman fleet.

Flying his flag from Sultana, Ali Pasha led the Ottoman center, with Chulouk Bey on the right and Uluj Ali on the left. As the battle opened, the Holy League's gallasses sank two galleys and disrupted the Ottoman formations with their fire. As the fleets neared, Doria saw that Uluj Ali's line extended beyond his own. Shifting south to avoid being flanked, Doria opened a gap between his division and Don John's. Seeing the hole, Uluj Ali turned north and attacked into the gap. Doria responded to this and soon his ships were dueling with Uluj Ali's.

To the north, Chulouk Bey succeeded in turning the Holy League's left flank, but determined resistance from the Venetians, and the timely arrival of a gallass, beat off the attack. Shortly after the battle began, the two flagships found each other and a desperate struggle began between Real and Sultana. Locked together, Spanish troops were twice repulsed when they tried to board the Ottoman galley and reinforcements from other vessels were needed to turn the tide. On the third attempt, with aid from Álvaro de Bazán's galley, Don John's men were able to take Sultana killing Ali Pasha in the process.

Against the wishes of Don John, Ali Pasha was beheaded and his head displayed on a pike. The sight of their commander's head had a severe impact on Ottoman morale and they began withdrawing around 4 PM. Uluj Ali, who had success against Doria and captured the Maltese flagship Capitana, retreated with sixteen galleys and twenty-four galliots.

Aftermath & Impact:

At the Battle of Lepanto, the Holy League lost 50 galleys and suffered approximately 13,000 casualties. This was offset by the freeing of a similar number of Christian slaves from the Ottoman ships. In addition to the death of Ali Pasha, the Ottomans lost 25,000 killed and wounded and an additional 3,500 captured. Their fleet lost 210 ships, of which 130 were captured by the Holy League. Coming at what was seen as a crisis point for Christianity, the victory at Lepanto stemmed Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean and prevented their influence from spreading west.

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