Great Siege of Malta

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This article is about the siege in 1565. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_0

For other sieges of Malta, see Siege of Malta (disambiguation). Great Siege of Malta_sentence_1

Great Siege of Malta_table_infobox_0

Great Siege of MaltaGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_0_0
Date18 May – 11 September 1565

(3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days)LocationGrand Harbour, MaltaResult Christian victoryGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_1_0

DateGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_2_0 18 May – 11 September 1565

(3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days)Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_2_1

LocationGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_3_0 Grand Harbour, MaltaGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_3_1
ResultGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_4_0 Christian victoryGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_4_1
BelligerentsGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_5_0
Ottoman EmpireGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_6_0 Relief force:Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_6_1
Commanders and leadersGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_7_0
Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_8_0 Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_8_1
StrengthGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_9_0
35,000-40,000Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_10_0 6,100 (9,000 with civilian help)Great Siege of Malta_cell_0_10_1
Casualties and lossesGreat Siege of Malta_header_cell_0_11_0
25,000-35,000 killed in combat and from diseaseGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_12_0 2,500 troops

7,000 civiliansGreat Siege of Malta_cell_0_12_1

The Great Siege of Malta occurred in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire attempted to conquer the island of Malta, then held by the Knights Hospitaller. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_2

The siege lasted nearly four months, from 18 May to 11 September 1565. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_3

The Knights Hospitaller had been headquartered in Malta since 1530, after being driven out of Rhodes, also by the Ottomans, in 1522, following the Siege of Rhodes. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_4

The Ottomans first attempted to take Malta in 1551 but failed. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_5

In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, made a second attempt to take Malta. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_6

The Knights, with approximately 2,000 footsoldiers and 400 Maltese men, women, and children, withstood the siege and repelled the invaders. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_7

This victory became one of the most celebrated events of sixteenth-century Europe, to the point that Voltaire said: "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_8

It undoubtedly contributed to the eventual erosion of the European perception of Ottoman invincibility, although the Mediterranean continued to be contested between Christian coalitions and the Turks for many years. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_9

The siege was the climax of an escalating contest between the Christian alliances and the Islamic Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean, a contest that included the Turkish attack on Malta in 1551, the Ottoman destruction of an allied Christian fleet at the Battle of Djerba in 1560, and the decisive Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_10

The Knights of Malta Great Siege of Malta_section_0

Further information: History of Malta under the Order of Saint John § Early years Great Siege of Malta_sentence_11

By the end of 1522, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, had forcibly ejected the Knights from their base on Rhodes after the six-month Siege of Rhodes. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_12

From 1523 to 1530 the Order lacked a permanent home. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_13

They became known as the Knights of Malta when, on 26 October 1530, Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Knights, sailed into Malta's Grand Harbour with a number of his followers to lay claim to Malta and Gozo, which had been granted to them by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in return for one falcon sent annually to the Viceroy of Sicily and a solemn Mass to be celebrated on All Saints Day. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_14

Charles also required the Knights to garrison Tripoli on the North African coast, which was in territory that the Barbary Corsairs, allies of the Ottomans, controlled. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_15

The Knights accepted the offer reluctantly. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_16

Malta was a small, desolate island, and for some time, many of the Knights clung to the dream of recapturing Rhodes. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_17

Nevertheless, the Order soon turned Malta into a naval base. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_18

The island's position in the centre of the Mediterranean made it a strategically crucial gateway between East and West, especially as the Barbary Corsairs increased their forays into the western Mediterranean throughout the 1540s and 1550s. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_19

In particular, the corsair Dragut was proving to be a major threat to the Christian nations of the central Mediterranean. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_20

Dragut and the Knights were continually at loggerheads. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_21

In 1551, Dragut and the Ottoman admiral Sinan decided to take Malta and invaded the island with a force of about 10,000 men. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_22

After only a few days, however, Dragut broke off the siege and moved to the neighbouring island of Gozo, where he bombarded the Cittadella for several days. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_23

The Knights' governor on Gozo, Gelatian de Sessa, having decided that resistance was futile, threw open the doors to the Cittadella. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_24

The corsairs sacked the town and took virtually the entire population of Gozo (approximately 5,000 people) into captivity. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_25

Dragut and Sinan then sailed south to Tripoli, where they soon seized the Knights' garrison there. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_26

They initially installed a local leader, Aga Morat, as governor, but subsequently Dragut himself took control of the area. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_27

Expecting another Ottoman invasion within a year, Grand Master of the Knights Juan de Homedes ordered the strengthening of Fort Saint Angelo at the tip of Birgu (now Vittoriosa), as well as the construction of two new forts, Fort Saint Michael on the Senglea promontory and Fort Saint Elmo at the seaward end of Mount Sciberras (now Valletta). Great Siege of Malta_sentence_28

The two new forts were built in the remarkably short period of six months in 1552. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_29

All three forts proved crucial during the Great Siege. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_30

The next several years were relatively calm, although the guerre de course, or running battle, between Muslims and Christians continued unabated. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_31

In 1557 the Knights elected Jean Parisot de Valette Grand Master of the Order. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_32

He continued his raids on non-Christian shipping, and his private vessels are known to have taken some 3,000 Muslim and Jewish slaves during his tenure as Grand Master. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_33

By 1559 Dragut was causing the Christian powers such distress, even raiding the coasts of Spain, that Philip II organized the largest naval expedition in fifty years to evict the corsair from Tripoli. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_34

The Knights joined the expedition, which consisted of about 54 galleys and 14,000 men. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_35

This ill-fated campaign climaxed in the Battle of Djerba in May 1560, when Ottoman admiral Piyale Pasha surprised the Christian fleet off the Tunisian island of Djerba, capturing or sinking about half the Christian ships. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_36

The battle was a disaster for the Christians and it marked the high point of Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_37

Toward the siege Great Siege of Malta_section_1

After Djerba there could be little doubt that the Turks would eventually attack Malta again. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_38

Malta was of immense strategic importance to the Ottoman long-term plan to conquer more of Europe, since Malta was a stepping stone to Sicily, and Sicily in turn could be a base for an invasion of the Kingdom of Naples. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_39

In August 1560, Jean de Valette sent a despatch to all the Order's priories ordering that their knights prepare to return to Malta as soon as a citazione (summons) was issued. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_40

The Turks made a strategic error in not attacking at once, while the Spanish fleet lay in ruins, as the five-year delay allowed Spain to rebuild its forces. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_41

Meanwhile, the Spaniards continued to prey on Turkish shipping. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_42

In mid-1564, Romegas, the Order's most notorious seafarer, captured several large merchantmen, including one that belonged to the Chief Eunuch of the Seraglio, and took numerous high-ranking prisoners, including the governor of Cairo, the governor of Alexandria, and the former nurse of Sultan Suleiman's daughter. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_43

Romegas' exploits gave the Turks a casus belli, and by the end of 1564, Suleiman had resolved to wipe the Knights of Malta off the face of the earth. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_44

By early 1565, Grand Master de Valette's network of spies in Constantinople had informed him that the invasion was imminent. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_45

De Valette set about raising troops in Italy, laying in stores and finishing work on Fort Saint Angelo, Fort Saint Michael, and Fort Saint Elmo. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_46

The armies Great Siege of Malta_section_2

The Turkish armada, which set sail from Constantinople on 22 March, was by all accounts one of the largest assembled since antiquity. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_47

According to one of the earliest and most complete histories of the siege, that of the Order's official historian Giacomo Bosio, the fleet consisted of 193 vessels, which included 131 galleys, seven galliots (small galleys), and four galleasses (large galleys), the remainder being transport vessels, etc. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_48

Contemporary letters from Don Garcia, the Viceroy of Sicily, give similar numbers." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_49

The Italian mercenary Francisco Balbi di Correggio, (serving as an arquebusier in the Spanish corps), gave the forces as: Great Siege of Malta_sentence_50

The Knight Hipolito Sans, in a lesser-known account, also lists about 48,000 invaders, although it is not clear how independent his work is from Balbi's. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_51

Other contemporary authors give much lower figures. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_52

In a letter written to Philip II only four days after the siege began, de Valette himself says that "the number of soldiers that will make land is between 15,000 and 16,000, including seven thousand arquebusiers or more, that is four thousand janissaries and three thousand sipahis." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_53

On the other hand, in a letter to the Prior of Germany a month after the siege, de Valette writes, "This fleet consisted of two hundred and fifty ships, triremes, biremes and other vessels; the nearest estimate we could make of the enemy's force was 40,000 fighting men." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_54

That de Valette gives the enemy fleet as 250 vessels, a number much above any one else's, shows that the Grand Master himself was not above exaggeration. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_55

Indeed, a letter written during the siege by the liaison with Sicily, Captain Vincenzo Anastagi, states the enemy force was only 22,000 and several other letters of the time give similar numbers. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_56

However, Bosio arrives at a total of about 30,000, which is consistent with Balbi's "named troops." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_57

Another early history gives essentially the same figure. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_58

The siege Great Siege of Malta_section_3

Arrival of the Ottomans Great Siege of Malta_section_4

Before the Turks arrived, de Valette ordered the harvesting of all the crops, including unripened grain, to deprive the enemy of any local food supplies. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_59

Furthermore, the Knights poisoned all wells with bitter herbs and dead animals. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_60

The Turkish armada arrived at dawn on Friday, 18 May, but did not at once make land. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_61

The first fighting broke out on 19 May. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_62

A day later, the Ottoman fleet sailed up the southern coast of the island, turned around and finally anchored at Marsaxlokk (Marsa Sirocco) Bay, nearly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Grand Harbour region. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_63

According to most accounts, in particular Balbi's, a dispute arose between the leader of the land forces, the 4th Vizier serdar Kızılahmedli Mustafa Pasha, and the supreme naval commander, Piyale Pasha, about where to anchor the fleet. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_64

Piyale wished to shelter it at Marsamxett Harbour, just north of the Grand Harbour, in order to avoid the sirocco and be nearer the action, but Mustafa disagreed, because to anchor the fleet there would require first reducing Fort St. Elmo, which guarded the entrance to the harbour. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_65

Mustafa intended, according to these accounts, to attack the poorly defended former capital Mdina, which stood in the centre of the island, then attack Forts St. Angelo and Michael by land. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_66

If so, an attack on Fort St. Elmo would have been entirely unnecessary. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_67

Nevertheless, Mustafa relented, apparently believing only a few days would be necessary to destroy St. Elmo. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_68

After the Turks were able to emplace their guns, at the end of May they commenced a bombardment. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_69

It certainly seems true that Suleiman had seriously blundered in splitting the command three ways. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_70

He not only split command between Piyale and Mustafa, but he ordered both of them to defer to Dragut when he arrived from Tripoli. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_71

Contemporary letters from spies in Constantinople, however, suggest that the plan had always been to take Fort St. Elmo first. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_72

In any case, for the Turks to concentrate their efforts on it proved a crucial mistake. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_73

While the Ottomans were landing, the knights and Maltese made some last-minute improvements to the defences of Birgu and Senglea. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_74

The Ottomans set up their main camp in Marsa, which was close to the Knights' fortifications. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_75

In the following days, the Ottomans set up camps and batteries on Santa Margherita Hill and the Sciberras Peninsula. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_76

The attacks on Birgu began on 21 May, while Senglea was first attacked a day later. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_77

Capture of Fort St. Elmo Great Siege of Malta_section_5

Having correctly calculated that the Turks would seek to secure a disembarkation point for their fleet and would thus begin the campaign by attempting to capture Fort St Elmo, de Valette sent reinforcements and concentrated half of his heavy artillery within the fort. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_78

His intent was for them to hold out for a relief promised by Don Garcia, Viceroy of Sicily. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_79

The unremitting bombardment of the fort from three dozen guns on the higher ground of Mt. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_80

Sciberras began on 27 May, and reduced the fort to rubble within a week, but de Valette evacuated the wounded nightly and resupplied the fort from across the harbour. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_81

After arriving in May, Dragut set up new batteries to imperil the ferry lifeline. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_82

On 3 June, a party of Janissaries managed to seize the fort's ravelin and ditch. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_83

Still, by 8 June, the Knights sent a message to the Grand Master that the Fort could no longer be held but were rebuffed with messages that St Elmo must hold until the reinforcements arrived. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_84

The Turks attacked the damaged walls on June 10 and 15, and made an all out assault on June 16, during which even the slave and hired galley oarsmen housed in St Elmo, as well as the native Maltese soldiers, reportedly fought and died "almost as bravely as the Knights themselves." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_85

Two days later, Dragut was seen in a trench cannon emplacement arguing with the Turkish gunners about their level of fire. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_86

At Dragut's insistence a cannon's aim was lowered, but the aim was too low, and when fired its ball detached part of the trench which hit Dragut in the head, killing him, (although according to Bosio, it was a lucky shot from Fort St. Angelo that mortally wounded him). Great Siege of Malta_sentence_87

Finally, on 23 June, the Turks seized what was left of Fort St. Elmo. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_88

They killed all the defenders, totaling over 1,500 men, but spared nine Knights whom the Corsairs had captured. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_89

A small number of Maltese managed to escape by swimming across the harbour. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_90

Although the Turks did succeed in capturing St. Elmo, allowing Piyale to anchor his fleet in Marsamxett, the siege of Fort St. Elmo had cost the Turks at least 6,000 men, including half of their Janissaries. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_91

Mustafa had the bodies of the knights decapitated and their bodies floated across the bay on mock crucifixes. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_92

In response, de Valette beheaded all his Turkish prisoners, loaded their heads into his cannons and fired them into the Turkish camp. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_93

Panic Great Siege of Malta_section_6

By this time, word of the siege was spreading. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_94

As soldiers and adventurers gathered in Sicily for Don Garcia's relief, panic spread as well. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_95

There can be little doubt that the stakes were high, perhaps higher than at any other time in the contest between the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_96

Queen Elizabeth I of England wrote: Great Siege of Malta_sentence_97

All contemporary sources indicate the Turks intended to proceed to the Tunisian fortress of La Goletta and wrest it from the Spaniards, and Suleiman had also spoken of invading Europe through Italy. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_98

However, modern scholars tend to disagree with this interpretation of the siege's importance. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_99

H.J.A. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_100

Sire, a historian who has written a history of the Order, is of the opinion that the siege represented an overextension of Ottoman forces, and argues that if the island had fallen, it would have quickly been retaken by a massive Spanish counterattack. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_101

Although Don Garcia did not at once send the promised relief (troops were still being levied), he was persuaded to release an advance force of some 600 men under the command of Don Melchior de Robles, a Spanish knight. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_102

After several attempts, this piccolo soccorso (Italian: small relief) managed to land on Malta in early July and sneak into Birgu, raising the spirits of the besieged garrison immensely. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_103

The Senglea Peninsula Great Siege of Malta_section_7

St. Michael and Birgu Great Siege of Malta_section_8

After the attack of 7 August, the Turks resumed their bombardment of St. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_104 Michael and Birgu, mounting at least one other major assault against the town on 19–21 August. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_105

What actually happened during those days of intense fighting is not entirely clear. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_106

Bradford's account of the climax of the siege has a mine exploding with a huge blast, breaching the town walls and causing stone and dust to fall into the ditch, with the Turks charging even as the debris was still falling. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_107

He also has the 70-year-old de Valette saving the day by leading towards the Turks some hundred troops that had been waiting in the Piazza of Birgu. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_108

Balbi, in his diary entry for 20 August, says only that de Valette was told the Turks were within the walls; the Grand Master ran to "the threatened post where his presence worked wonders. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_109

Sword in hand, he remained at the most dangerous place until the Turks retired." Great Siege of Malta_sentence_110

Bosio also has no mention of the successful detonation of a mine. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_111

Rather, in his report a panic ensued when the townspeople spied the Turkish standards outside the walls. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_112

The Grand Master ran there, but found no Turks. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_113

In the meantime, a cannonade atop Ft. St. Angelo, stricken by the same panic, killed a number of townsfolk with friendly fire. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_114

Fort St. Michael and Mdina Great Siege of Malta_section_9

The situation was sufficiently dire that, at some point in August, the Council of Elders decided to abandon the town and retreat to Fort St. Angelo. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_115

De Valette, however, vetoed this proposal. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_116

If he guessed that the Turks were losing their will, he was correct. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_117

Although the bombardment and minor assaults continued, the invaders were stricken by an increasing desperation. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_118

Towards the end of August, the Turks attempted to take Fort St. Michael, first with the help of a manta (similar to a Testudo formation), a small siege engine covered with shields, then by use of a full-blown siege tower. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_119

In both cases, Maltese engineers tunneled out through the rubble and destroyed the constructions with point-blank salvos of chain shot. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_120

At the beginning of September, the weather was turning and Mustafa ordered a march on Mdina, intending to winter there. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_121

However the attack failed to occur. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_122

The poorly-defended and supplied city deliberately started firing its cannon at the approaching Turks at pointlessly long range; this bluff scared them away by fooling the already demoralised Turks into thinking the city had ammunition to spare. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_123

By 8 September, the Turks had embarked their artillery and were preparing to leave the island, having lost perhaps a third of their men to fighting and disease. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_124

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  • Great Siege of Malta_item_0_0

Gran Soccorso Great Siege of Malta_section_10

On 7 September, Don Garcia had, at last, landed about 8,000 men at St. Paul's Bay on the north end of the island. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_125

The so-called Grande Soccorso ("great relief") positioned themselves on the ridge of San Pawl tat-Tarġa on the 13th of September, waiting for the Turks who landed again to challenge the Christian force. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_126

It is said that when some hot-headed knights of the relief force saw the Turkish retreat and the burning villages in its wake, they charged without waiting for orders from Ascanio della Corgna. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_127

Della Corgna seeing the troops in such spirits had no choice but to order a general charge which resulted in the massacre of the retreating Turkish force. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_128

The Turks fled to their ships and from the islands on 13 September. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_129

Malta had survived the Turkish assault, and throughout Europe people celebrated what would turn out to be the last epic battle involving Crusader Knights. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_130

The relief force consisted of mainly Spanish and Italian soldiers, sent by the Spanish Empire as well as the Duchy of Florence, the Republic of Genoa, the Papal States, and the Duchy of Savoy. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_131

Aftermath Great Siege of Malta_section_11

The number of casualties is in as much dispute as the number of invaders. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_132

Balbi gives 35,000 Turkish deaths, Bosio 30,000 casualties (including sailors). Great Siege of Malta_sentence_133

Several other sources give about 25,000. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_134

The knights lost a third of their number, and Malta lost a third of its inhabitants. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_135

Birgu and Senglea were essentially leveled. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_136

Still, 9,000 defenders had managed to withstand a siege of more than four months in the hot summer, despite enduring a bombardment of some 130,000 cannonballs. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_137

Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, had a key influence in the victory against the Ottomans with his example and his ability to encourage and hold together people as one man. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_138

This example had a major impact, bringing together the kings of Europe in an alliance against the previously seemingly invincible Ottomans; the result was the vast union of forces against Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto seven years later. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_139

Such was the gratitude of Europe for the knights' heroic defence that money soon began pouring into the island, allowing de Valette to construct a fortified city, Valletta, on Mt. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_140

Sciberras. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_141

His intent was to deny the position to any future enemies. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_142

De Valette himself died in Buskett at a hunting accident next to the Verdala Palaces. Great Siege of Malta_sentence_143

In literature and historical fiction Great Siege of Malta_section_12

Main article: The Great Siege of Malta in literature and historical fiction Great Siege of Malta_sentence_144

See also Great Siege of Malta_section_13

Great Siege of Malta_unordered_list_1

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: Siege of Malta.