Category Archives: Mediterranean

The Arab Awakening in 1915

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2832-2871:

BY THE MIDSUMMER of 1915 on Gallipoli, so many men were dying in such a confined space—in some spots, the opposing trenchlines were less than thirty yards apart—that informal truces began to be called in order to gather up the dead. The arrangements were usually worked out by local commanders, so that at a specified time grave-digging parties from both sides would step out into no-man’s-land and begin their ghastly work.

This certainly appeared to be the intent of the Ottoman lieutenant who, on the morning of August 20, climbed from his army’s forward trench and, under the cover of a white flag, started across no-man’s-land. Instead, upon reaching the British line, the young officer announced to his startled hosts that he wished to surrender.

Following standard procedure, the man was bound and blindfolded and passed down through the Med-Ex trenchworks to regimental headquarters. If standard procedure had continued to be followed, he would have been interrogated there by an intelligence officer, then sent on to the central prisoner-of-war stockade before eventual transfer to a POW camp in Cyprus or Egypt. But there was nothing at all standard about this prisoner. His name was Mohammed al-Faroki, and despite his unassuming appearance—he was just twenty-four and very slight—the story he told was so remarkable that successive British officers felt their superiors needed to hear it.

He claimed to be a member of a secret military society called al-Ahd (the Awakening), comprised largely of Arab officers like himself, that had been waiting in vain for months for the right conditions to stage a revolt against their Turkish overseers. Rumors of shadowy fifth-column networks inside the Ottoman Empire had become rather commonplace by that summer, but what was different about Faroki was that he supplied a list of his alleged al-Ahd coconspirators, most of them high-ranking officers, complete with details on which units they commanded and where they were currently deployed.

Testament to the importance given the lieutenant’s claims, on August 25, General Ian Hamilton, the overall commander of the Gallipoli campaign, fired off a report to War Secretary Kitchener himself. Deciding that the intelligence unit in Cairo was best equipped to judge the truthfulness of the lieutenant’s story, London ordered Faroki put on board a warship bound for Egypt.

At least initially, neither Gilbert Clayton, the overall commander of the British military intelligence unit in Cairo, nor any of his subordinates knew quite what to make of the young man brought to their Savoy Hotel offices on September 10. Their attention was piqued, however, when Faroki suggested the British had squandered a profound military opportunity by not going ashore at Alexandretta in the spring of 1915. According to Faroki, not only had Alexandretta been guarded primarily by Arab-conscript units at the time, with many of their commanders committed al-Ahd members, but these units had even carefully sabotaged the city’s defensive fortifications in anticipation of an imminent British landing force. Those efforts had come to naught, obviously, when the British instead launched their disastrous Gallipoli campaign. That wasn’t the worst of it, however. Once Gallipoli started, Djemal Pasha had swiftly sent the Arab units in Alexandretta to the battlefront; as a result, Faroki explained, many of the would-be conspirators of al-Ahd now lay dead on the Gallipoli hillsides, killed by the very “enemy” they had hoped to join.

Up to this point, much of Faroki’s story was easy enough to verify. The founder of al-Ahd, a man named Abdul Aziz al-Masri, was living in exile in Cairo, and he was brought in to vouch for Faroki’s bona fides. As for his claim that Alexandretta had been guarded by troops anxious to mutiny, this was precisely what Lawrence had ascertained from his interviews with Ottoman prisoners and had stressed in his lobbying for a landing there. But Faroki had more to tell. A lot more.

For some time, he claimed, he had served as a kind of liaison between al-Ahd and another Arab secret society, al-Fatat, in Damascus. From this linking, al-Ahd had learned of the covert negotiations between al-Fatat and Emir Hussein in Mecca toward staging a joint uprising against the Turks. In the process, al-Ahd had also learned of the secret correspondence between Emir Hussein and the British in Cairo. The upshot of all this was that, if armed and supported by Britain, both Arab secret societies, the civilian al-Fatat and the military al-Ahd, were now prepared to join Emir Hussein in revolt against the Turks.

Such a partnership would come with a price, though: British recognition of an independent Arab nation encompassing virtually the entire Arab world, from Iraq in the east to Syria in the west and extending down to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The precise parameters of this Arab nation were open to some limited negotiation—the would-be rebels recognized Britain’s colonial claim to Aden and its commercial interests in southern Iraq—but the one absolute precondition was that the French were not to have a controlling presence anywhere. If all that was agreed to, Faroki explained, then the British could have their revolution in the heart of the Ottoman world.

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Death of Venice’s Stato da Mar, c. 1500

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 5454-5511:

Vasco da Gama returned from India in September 1499, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Republic dispatched an ambassador to the court of Lisbon to investigate; it was not until July 1501 that his report came in. The reality of it fell on the lagoon like a thunderclap. Terrible foreboding gripped the city. For the Venetians, who lived with a particularly intense awareness of physical geography, the implications were obvious. Priuli poured his gloomiest predictions into his diary. It was a marvel, incredible, the most momentous news of the time:

… which will take a greater intelligence than mine to comprehend. At the receipt of this news, the whole city … was dumbfounded, and the wisest thought it was the worst news ever heard. They understood that Venice had ascended to such fame and wealth only through trading by sea, by means of which a large quantity of spices were brought in, which foreigners came from everywhere to buy. From their presence and the trade [Venice] acquired great benefits. Now from this new route, the spices of India will be transported to Lisbon, where Hungarians, Germans, the Flemish, and the French will look to buy, being able to get them at a better price. Because the spices that come to Venice pass through Syria and the sultan’s lands, paying exorbitant taxes at every stage of the way, when they get to Venice the prices have increased so much that something originally worth a ducat costs a ducat seventy or even two. From these obstacles, via the sea route, it will come about that Portugal can give much lower prices.

Cutting out hundreds of small middlemen, snubbing the avaricious, unstable Mamluks, buying in bulk, shipping directly: To Venetian merchants, such advantages were self-evident.

There were countering voices; some pointed out the difficulties of the voyage:

… the king of Portugal could not continue to use the new route to Calicut, since of the thirteen caravels which he had dispatched only six had returned safely; that the losses outweighed the advantages; that few sailors would be prepared to risk their lives on such a long and dangerous voyage.

But Priuli was certain: “From this news, spices of all sorts will decrease enormously in Venice, because the usual buyers, understanding the news, will decline, being reluctant to buy.” He ended with an apology to future readers for having written at such length. “These new facts are of such importance to our city that I have been carried away with anxiety.”

In a visionary flash, Priuli foresaw, and much of Venice with him, the end of a whole system, a paradigm shift: not just Venice, but a whole network of long-distance commerce doomed to decline. All the old trade routes and their burgeoning cities that had flourished since antiquity were suddenly glimpsed as backwaters—Cairo, the Black Sea, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Smyrna, the ports of the Red Sea, and the great cities of the Levant, Constantinople itself—all these threatened to be cut out from the cycles of world trade by oceangoing galleons. The Mediterranean would be bypassed; the Adriatic would no longer be the route to anywhere; important outstations such as Cyprus and Crete would sink into decline.

The Portuguese rubbed this in. The king invited Venetian merchants to buy their spices in Lisbon; they would no longer need to treat with the fickle infidel. Some were tempted, but the Republic had too much invested in the Levant to withdraw easily; their merchants there would be soft targets for the sultan’s wrath if they bought elsewhere. Nor, from the eastern Mediterranean, was sending their own ships to India readily practical. The whole business model of the Venetian state appeared, at a stroke, obsolete.

The effects were felt almost immediately. In 1502, the Beirut galleys brought back only four bales of pepper; prices in Venice steepled; the Germans reduced their purchases; many decamped to Lisbon. In 1502, the Republic dispatched a secret embassy to Cairo to point out the dangers. It was essential to destroy the Portuguese maritime threat now. They offered financial support. They proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. But the Mamluk dynasty, hated by its subjects, was also in decline. It proved powerless to see off the intruders. In 1500, the Mamluk chronicler Ibn Iyas recorded an extraordinary event. The balsam gardens outside Cairo, which had existed since remote antiquity, produced an oil with miraculous properties highly prized by the Venetians. Its trade symbolized the centuries-old commercial relationship between Islamic countries and the West. That year, the balsam trees withered away and vanished forever. Seventeen years later, the Ottomans strung up the last Mamluk sultan from a Cairo gate.

Tome Pires, a Portuguese adventurer, gleefully spelled out the implications for Venice. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca on the Malay Peninsula, the market for the produce of the Spice Islands. “Whoever is lord of Malacca,” he wrote, “has his hand on the throat of Venice.” It would be a slow and uneven pressure, but the Portuguese and their successors would eventually squeeze the life out of the Venetian trade with the Orient. The fears that Priuli expressed would in time prove well-founded; and the Ottomans meanwhile would systematically strip away the Stato da Mar.

The classical allusions of de’ Barbari’s map already contain a backward-looking note; they hint at nostalgia, a remaking of the tough, energetic realities of the Stato da Mar into something ornamental. They perhaps reflected structural changes within Venetian society. The recurrent bouts of plague meant that the city’s population was never self-replenishing; it relied on immigrants, and many of those from mainland Italy came without knowledge of the seafaring life. It was already noticeable during the Chioggia crisis that the volunteer citizens had to be given rowing lessons. In 1201, at the time of the adventure of the Fourth Crusade, the majority of Venice’s male population were seafarers; by 1500, they were not. The emotional attachment to the sea, expressed in the Senza, would last until the death of the Republic, but by 1500, Venice was turning increasingly to the land; within four years, it would be engaged in a disastrous Italian war that would again bring enemies to the edge of the lagoon. There was a crisis in shipbuilding, a greater emphasis on industry. The patriotic solidarity that had been the hallmark of Venetian destiny had been seen to fray: A sizable part of the ruling elite had demonstrated that, though still keen to recoup the profits of maritime trade, they were not prepared to fight for the bases and sea-lanes on which it depended. Others, who had made fortunes in the rich fifteenth century, stopped sending their sons to sea as apprentice bowmen. Increasingly, a wealthy man might look to reinvest in estates on the terra firma, to own a country mansion with escutcheons over the door; these were respectable hallmarks of nobility to which all self-made men might aspire.

It was Priuli again, acute and regretful, who caught this impulse and pinpointed the declining glory it seemed to imply. “The Venetians,” he wrote in 1505, “are much more inclined to the Terra Firma, which has become more attractive and pleasing, than to the sea, the ancient root cause of all their glory, wealth, and honor.”

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Smyrna, 1919: Mustafa Kemal’s Last Chance

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 240-242:

The armistice was barely a month old when Mustafa Kemal reached Constantinople, after month of fighting the Arabs. He found the enemy everywhere – British warships in the Bosporus, French troops in the capital, Italians guarding the railways. The Ottoman Empire had been smashed, all the leaders of the Young Turks were abroad in hiding, the Government was led by an old pro-British diplomat from the reign of Abdul Hamid called Tewfik Pasha.

Mustafa Kemal should have been in a unique position, for with Enver gone he had no rival as the only successful general in Turkey. He was also kn own to have consistently opposed joining the Germans in the war. Yet political power eluded him, largely because of his own lack of tact. He passionately advocated ‘Turkey for the Turks’ in political speeches, demanding generous peace terms. He publicly attached Tewfik’s government and the occupation forces; he tried to stem the timid acceptance of total defeat; he tried to form a new political party as the months rolled by – until Turkey was shocked by a blow which to them was even graver than defeat.

In February 1919, Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister, made a formal claim to the Peace Conference in Paris for the possession of the city of Smyrna on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. It was the price which Britain and France had already agreed on as a reward for Greek entry into the war. So many Greeks lived on the Aegean coast that Venizelos’ demands seemed reasonably fair, but there was also a more cogent argument in favour of them. Lloyd George regarded Venizelos as ‘the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since the days of Pericles’ and it seemed to him highly expedient for the Greeks to replace the Turks as protectors of the British route to India. To President Wilson, a Greek occupation of Smyrna would be preferable to Italian threats to make the Mediterranean an Italian lake. According to the American author Edward Hale Bierstadt, ‘at the suggestion of President Wilson Greece was authorised to occupy Smyrna in order to forestall any Italian move in that direction’.

Three months later, on 15 May, 20,000 Greek troops landed at Smyrna, backed by British, American and French warships, and, as Churchill put it, ‘set up their standards of invasion and conquest in Asia Minor’. Delirious crowds of Greeks – for centuries a subject race of the Ottoman Empire – welcomed their ‘liberators’ who immediately sought revenge by massacring as many Turks as they could find in the city and province.

At first the Turks could not believe the Greeks were in Smyrna. It was one thing to suffer the occupation even of Constantinople by alien troops of the victorious Western powers, but for a former subject people to be presented with one of the greatest cities in Anatolia was an altogether different kind of humiliation. A crowd of 50,000 gathered in protest before the mosque of Sultan Ahmed in Constantinople. Under the machine guns of Allied troops, they carried black flags while black curtains shrouded the national flag of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal was there and (as he later wrote) was obsessed with only one thought – somehow to reach Anatolia and organise resistance to the Greeks, and the docile Turkish government which had given Smyrna away.

To Mustafa Kemal, distrusted by both Turks and British, it must have seemed an impossible dream. He was already known to the Allied occupation authorities as an intractable hotthead with dangerous left-wing sympathies. And, though respected for his military prowess, he was at this time hardly a figure to inspire confidence. Furious and impotent, he had let himself run to seed. Down-at-heel, short of money, he was living at the modest Pera Palace Hotel overlooking the Golden Horn. His face was lined and grey from a recurrence of his disease.

Yet, unknown to Mustafa Kemal, the British, even before the Greeks stepped ashore at Smyrna, had suggested that the Sultan should send a high-ranking officer to deal with increasing violence in the area. The request was not exactly a threat, but it masked an alternative distasteful to the Sultan. If the Turks could not keep their Anatolian house in order, the Allies would have to send in troops.

Mustafa Kemal was the last man anyone would have imagined would be nominated to handle the gathering storm in Anatolia. And yet that is exactly what happened, for he was the last man – the only man – available. At their wits’ end, the Sultan and Damad Ferid, the Grand Vizier, turned to him. The British were horrified; they already had evidence that he was concerned with plots to prepare centres of resistance, and his name was on a list for possible deportation to Malta. The Grand Vizier, however, finally persuaded the British that the troubles in Anatolia were due to rebel factions loyal to the memory of Enver and anxious to restore the Committee of Union and Progress….

Mustafa escaped from Constantinople by barely and hour, thanks to the blundering jealousies of the Allies. Urgent orders were certainly sent to intercept him, but the British, French and Italians all played varying parts in the control of passenger vessels, and each distrusted the others. While they were bickering, Mustafa Kemal slipped through the net.

He landed at Samsun on the Black Sea coast on 19 May 1919 – four days after the Greeks had occupied Smyrna. His orders were to disband the Turkish forces in the area. Instead he immediately started to organise a resistance movement and raise an army.

The Anatolian Greeks and Armenians would pay an especially dear price for these external interventions.

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Venice’s Indecisive Leader, Decisive Loss, 1470

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4978-5023:

On the morning of July 11 [1470], after three days of heavy gunfire, [Sultan Mehmet II] was about to launch what he hoped might prove the final assault when he was stopped dead in his tracks.

Ottoman lookouts suddenly became aware of the Venetian fleet sweeping down the Euripus channel from its northern end. There were seventy-one ships, short of Longo’s recommended hundred, but still a sizable force, including a powerful squadron of fifty-two war galleys and one weighty great galley, much feared by the Turks. They were under sail, making strong headway down the strait with the breeze and the tidal bore behind them. At a stroke Mehmet II was horribly vulnerable. The fleet had only to smash the pontoon bridges to sever the Ottoman line of retreat and isolate it on the island. Mehmet was said to have shed tears of impotent rage at the imminent ruin of his plan; he mounted his horse ready to escape from the island. On the walls of the citadel the defenders’ spirits rose. Relief seemed certain. Another hour and the bridges would be broken.

Then, quite inexplicably, the fleet stopped and anchored upstream. And waited.

Niccolò da Canal, captain-general of the sea, was a scholar and a lawyer rather than a seaman, more used to carefully weighing legal options than to decisive action. At that moment the lawyer’s instinct came into play. He was worried for the safety of his ships against gunfire and unnerved by the strange shifts of the current. He ordered the fleet to pause. His captains urged him forward; he resisted. Two Cretans begged to charge the first pontoon bridge in the great galley with the momentum of the wind and the tidal bore. Some of the sailors had family in the city; the will was there to do or die. Reluctantly permission was granted. The galley raised sail, but just as it was under way, da Canal changed his mind. It was commanded back by cannon shot.

On the walls, the defenders watched all this—first with joy at the prospect of rescue, then with disbelief, finally with horror. They sent increasingly desperate signals to the static fleet—torches were lit and extinguished, then the standard of Saint Mark was raised and lowered. Finally, according to Angiolello, “a great crucifix, the size of a man, was constructed and carried along the side of the city facing toward our fleet, so the commanders of the fleet might be moved to have some pity on us in ways that they could well imagine for themselves.” To no avail. Da Canal took his fleet back upstream and anchored. “Our spirits sank,” remembered Angiolello, “and [we] were left with almost no hope of salvation.” Others cursed: “May God forgive the individual who failed to perform his duty!”

Mehmet was quickest to react. Responding to this surprising turn of events, he immediately announced an all-out attack early next day and personally toured the camp on horseback promising the troops everything in the city by way of plunder. He then commanded a large detachment of handgunners to the upper bridge to protect it from da Canal’s fleet. In the dark hours before dawn, to the customary din of drums and trumpets, he ordered forward his least reliable troops—“the rabble”—to wear down the defense. As they were shot down, the regulars advanced over the trampled corpses and stormed their way in. The whole population, men, women, and children, participated in a last-ditch defense, barricading the narrow lanes and hurling scalding water, quicklime, and boiling pitch on the enemy as it battled forward, foot by foot, street by street. By midmorning, they had reached the central square; from the fortress on the bridge, the defenders hoisted a black flag as a last despairing plea for help. Da Canal responded too little and too late. A halfhearted assault was mounted on the pontoon, but when the sailors saw the Ottoman flag fluttering from the walls, the captain-general raised his anchor and sailed off, leaving the despairing populace to a ghastly fate….

Those who surrendered were slaughtered on the spot. Others were pointedly taken to the Church of the Holy Apostles to be killed. Their heads were piled up outside the patriarch’s house. In cold fury, Mehmet ordered any of his men hiding profitable captives to be beheaded along with their victims; he had the galleys searched accordingly.

So many tried to escape over the bridge that it collapsed, hurling them into the sea, but the fort in the middle was unreachable and still holding out. Eventually, the defenders surrendered with a promise of safe conduct. When this was reported to Mehmet, he turned furiously on the pasha responsible: “If you gave your word [to spare their lives], you did not remember my oath.” They were all killed. In some accounts, it was reported that the bailo was among those on the bridge and that Mehmet had agreed to spare his head. He complied to the letter: The bailo was sandwiched between planks and sawn in half. More likely he had died at the walls. It does appear that the sultan exacted terrible revenge. Particularly enraged by the mere boys who had shot down his men so effectively, he had all the male survivors ten years and older, about eight hundred, brought into his presence. Their hands were tied behind their backs; they were made to kneel in a large circle, then beheaded one by one, creating a pattern of corpses. The bodies were thrown in the sea, the surviving women and children marched off into slavery.

Despite Mehmet’s oath, a few did survive, among them Giovan-Maria Angiolello, taken off as a slave; and a monk, Jacopo dalla Castellana, who was probably able to disguise himself. His short account ends autobiographically: “I, Brother Jacopo dalla Castellana, saw all these events, and escaped from the island because I speak both Turkish and Greek.”

The Venetian fleet ineffectually tracked the enemy convoy back to Gallipoli, then trailed home in disgrace. The news from Negroponte was, if anything, more devastating than that from Constantinople seventeen years earlier.

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Venetian Portrait of Mehmed II after 1453

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4642-4663:

A few years after the fall of Constantinople, the physical appearance, character, and ambitions of the young sultan with whom the Republic now had to deal were analyzed by a Venetian visitor to the city. Giacomo de’ Languschi’s account was both chilling and acute:

The sovereign, the Grand Turk Mehmed Bey, is a youth of twenty-six, well built, of large rather than medium stature, expert at arms, of aspect more frightening than venerable, laughing seldom, full of circumspection, endowed with great generosity, obstinate in pursuing his plans, bold in all undertakings, as eager for fame as Alexander of Macedonia. Daily he has Roman and other historical works read to him by a companion called Ciriaco of Ancona and another Italian.… He speaks three languages, Turkish, Greek, and Slavic. He is at great pains to learn the geography of Italy and to inform himself … where the seat of the pope is and that of the emperor, and how many kingdoms there are in Europe. He possesses a map of Europe with the countries and provinces. He learns of nothing with greater interest and enthusiasm than the geography of the world and military affairs; he burns with desire to dominate; he is a shrewd investigator of conditions. It is with such a man that we Christians have to deal. Today, he says, the times have changed, and declares that he will advance from east to west as in former times the Westerners advanced into the Orient. There must, he says, be only one empire, one faith, and one sovereignty in the world.

Languschi’s sharply drawn portrait was prescient of all the trouble that lay ahead. It caught exactly the truth about the new sultan’s personality: intelligent, cold, quixotic, secretive, ambitious, and deeply frightening. Mehmet was a force of nature; relentless and ruthless, unpredictably prone both to bouts of homicidal rage and moments of compassion. His role model was Alexander the Great; his ambition was to reverse the flow of world conquest; his interest in maps and military technology, supplied in large part by Italian advisers, was purely strategic. Knowledge for Mehmet was practical. Its purpose was invasion. His goal was to be crowned as Caesar in Rome.

In the thirty years of his reign, he would wage almost unceasing war, during which time he led nineteen campaigns in person; he fought until his exhausted troops refused to fight on; he spent money until he had devalued the coinage and emptied the treasury; he lived a life of personal excess—food, alcohol, sex, and war—until gout had swollen and disfigured him. He was estimated to have caused the deaths of some 800,000 people. His life would be bookended by a second Venetian portrait, this time in oils by the painter Gentile Bellini. In the interval between the two, Mehmet would test the military and diplomatic skills of the Venetian Republic to the outer limit.

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Venice’s Victory at Gallipoli, 1416

From: City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley (Random House, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4426-4457:

On June 1, 1416, the Venetians engaged an Ottoman fleet at sea for the first time. The captain-general, Pietro Loredan, had been sent to the Ottoman port at Gallipoli to discuss a recent raid on Negroponte. What happened next he related in a letter to the doge and the Signoria.

It was dawn. As he approached the harbor, a signal to parley was misinterpreted as a hostile attack. The lead ships were met with a hail of arrows. In a short time, the encounter had turned into a full-scale battle.

As captain, I vigorously engaged the first galley, mounting a furious attack. It put up a very stout defense, as it was well manned by brave Turks who fought like dragons. But thanks to God, I overcame it and cut many of the Turks to pieces. It was a tough and fierce fight, because the other galleys closed on my port bow and they fired many arrows at me. I certainly felt them. I was struck on the left cheek below my eye by one, which pierced my cheek and nose. Another hit my left hand and passed clean through it … but by fierce combat, I forced these other galleys to withdraw, took the first galley, and raised my flag on her. Then, turning swiftly about, … I rammed a galliot with the spur [of my galley], cut down many Turks, defeated her, put some of my men aboard, and hoisted my flag.

The Turks put up incredibly fierce resistance because all their [ships] were well manned by the flower of Turkish sailors. But by the grace of God and the intervention of Saint Mark, we put the whole fleet to flight. A great number of men jumped into the sea. The battle lasted from morning to the second hour. We took six of their galleys with all their crews, and nine galleots. All the Turks on board were put to the sword, amongst them their commander … all his nephews and many other important captains.… After the battle we sailed past Gallipoli and showered those on land with arrows and other missiles, taunting them to come out and fight … but none had the courage. Seeing this, … I drew a mile off Gallipoli so that our wounded could get medical attention and refresh themselves.

The aftermath was similarly brutal. Retiring fifty miles down the coast to Tenedos, Loredan proceeded to put to death all the other nationals aboard the Ottoman ships as an exemplary warning. “Among the captives,” Loredan wrote, “was Giorgio Callergis, a rebel against the Signoria, and badly wounded. I had the honor to hack him to pieces on my own poop deck. This punishment will be a warning to other bad Christians not to dare to take service with the infidel.” Many others were impaled. “It was a horrible sight,” wrote the Byzantine historian Ducas, “All along the shore, like bunches of grapes, sinister stakes from which hung corpses.” Those who had been compelled to the ships were freed.

In this first hostile engagement, Loredan had almost completely destroyed the Ottoman fleet—and the means quickly to re-create it. The Venetians understood exactly where the source of Ottoman naval power lay. Many of the nominal Turks in their fleet were Christian corsairs, sailors, and pilots—maritime experts without whom the sultan’s embryonic navy was unable to function. The Republic’s policy was to remain unbending in this respect: Snuff out the supply of skilled manpower and the Ottomans’ naval capability would wither. It was for this reason that they butchered the sailors so mercilessly. “We can now say that the Turk’s power in this part of the sea has been destroyed for a very long time,” wrote Loredan. No substantial Ottoman fleet would put to sea again for fifty years.

The accidental battle of Gallipoli bred a certain overconfidence in Venetian sea power. For decades after, galley commanders reckoned that “four or five of their galleys are needed to match one of ours.” Touchy about their Christian credentials, they also used the victory to point out to the potentates of southern Europe their reputation as “the only pillar and the hope for Christians against the Infidels.”

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Ottoman Sultans Raised in the Cage

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 77-81:

Mahomet [Mehmed III]… was the last sultan ever to be trusted with liberty during the lifetime of his predecessor. And his nineteen brothers were the last to be strangled under the law of fratricide. (This did not prevent some future heirs to the Sultan from living in terror of the bowstring, often with reason.)

Not long afterwards [his Venetian mother, Safiye Sultan Sofia Bellicui] Baffo was strangled in her bed; her death did not mark the end of the harem rule, but another influence dominated the lives of the princes who followed Mahomet. It was a fate in many ways more grim than death itself. To make certain they would never become involved in plots against the reigning Sultan, any possible heirs were immured in a building in the Grand Seraglio. It was called the Kafes. Its literal translation is ‘The Cage’.

The Kafes was not a barred cage in the accepted sense of the word, but it was most certainly bolted. It consisted of a two-storied grey building tucked away behind a high wall in the heart of the Grand Seraglio, almost opposite the rooms of the first Sultana. It had handsome courtyards and gardens, and its tiled walls were among the most beautiful in the Seraglio. There was, however, one sinister note. There were no windows on the ground floor, though those on the second floor looked out to sea.

For the next two centuries heirs to the throne were immured, sometimes from the age of two, until they were either called to the throne, or their miserable lives were mercifully ended with the bowstring. One heir was to remain nearly fifty years without ever leaving the building, and when he emerged to be proclaimed Sultan he had all but lost the power of speech. The princes’ only companions were deaf mutes [who also served as the Sultan’s assassins] unable to give news of the outside world, and a modest harem of concubines, the only living creatures to who they could talk. Once inside, the odalisques suffered the fate of their masters. They never left the Cage unless one carelessly became pregnant, in which case she was immediately drowned. This happened very rarely for great care was taken to make these women barren – either by the removal of their ovaries or by the use of pessaries (made up by the Seraglio doctors from a bewildering assortment of ingredients, including musk, amber, aloes, cardamom, ginger, pepper and cloves.)

Sultan Ahmed I, who succeeded Mahomet in 1603, founded the cages because he rebelled against the barbaric custom of fratricide; perhaps he was ever proud of discovering such a humane method of guarding his brothers’ lives. But it is not difficult to imagine the debasing effects of years of solitary confinement on men who were expected to take up the reins of office at a moment’s notice after half a lifetime in which their minds and bodies had vegetated. As N. M. Penzer, a leading authority on the harem, wrote, ‘The Kafes has been the scene of of more wanton cruelty, misery and bloodshed than any palace room in the whole of Europe. To its institution are due the weakness, vices and imbecility of so many of the Sultans and, to a large extent, the gradual decay and fall of the Ottoman Empire.’ …

During Ahmed’s reign Mustafa, who succeeded him, spent more than ten years in the Cage, providing the first terrible evidence of its effect on human beings, as each succeeding sultan seemed more made, avaricious, debauched and besotted than his predecessor. By the time Mustafa I became Sultan he was completely demented. He appointed to favourite pages – scarcely out of their infancy – to be Governors of Cairo and Damascus. He dismissed a high-ranking officer so that he could offer the post to a peasant who gave him a drink of water when hunting. He clapped the French Ambassodor in the Castle of Seven Towers on the flimsiest pretext. After three months he was deposed – very politely. A five-day hunting trip was arranged for his enjoyment, and when he returned he was no longer Sultan. He went back to the Cage. His nephew Osman II, who succeeded him in 1618 … was even madder. His favorite pastime was archery, but he only enjoyed the sport when using live targets. Prisoners of war were considered fair game for the Sultan, but when there was an insufficient supply. After four years of misrule – or, rather, no rule at all – the Janissaries decided he must go…. It was the first regicide in Ottoman history.

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