Ottoman invasion of Otranto

Last updated

Battle of Otranto
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
and Ottoman–Hungarian Wars
Otranto castello.jpg
Date28 July 1480 – September 1481
Result Ottoman forces seize the city; Christian forces recapture the city
Fictitious Ottoman flag 4.svg Ottoman Empire Flag of the Papal States (1825-1870).svg  Papal States
Commanders and leaders
Gedik Ahmed Pasha
  • 18,000 infantry
  • 700 cavalry
  • 128 ships
  • Unknown
  • Hungary: 2,100 Hungarian heavy infantry [1]
Casualties and losses
Garrisoned forces surrender Unknown
Civilian casualties:
  • 12,000
  • approx. 1,600 Hungarians (mostly servants)
Relics of the Martyrs of Otranto inside Otranto Cathedral. Otranto cathedral martyrs.jpg
Relics of the Martyrs of Otranto inside Otranto Cathedral.

The Ottoman invasion of Otranto occurred between 1480 and 1481 at the Italian city of Otranto in Apulia, southern Italy. Forces of the Ottoman Empire invaded and laid siege to the city and its citadel. According to a traditional account, after capture more than 800 of its inhabitants were beheaded. The Martyrs of Otranto are still celebrated in Italy. A year later the Ottoman garrison surrendered the city following a siege by Christian forces and the intervention of Papal forces led by the Genoese Paolo Fregoso.



The attack on Otranto was part of an abortive attempt by the Ottomans to invade and conquer Italy. In the summer of 1480, a force of nearly 20,000 Ottoman Turks under the command of Gedik Ahmed Pasha invaded southern Italy. The first part of the plan was to capture the port city of Otranto.

Invasion of Italy


On 28 July 1480, an Ottoman fleet of 128 ships, including 28 galleys, arrived near the Neapolitan city of Otranto. Many of these troops had come from the siege of Rhodes. The garrison and citizens of Otranto retreated to the Castle of Otranto. On 11 August, after a 15-day siege, Gedik Ahmed ordered the final assault. When the walls were breached the Turkish army methodically passed from house to house, sacking, looting and setting them on fire. Upon reaching the cathedral, "they found Archbishop Stefano Agricolo, fully vested and crucifix in hand" awaiting them with Count Francesco Largo, the garrison commander and Bishop Stefano Pendinelli, who distributed the Eucharist and sat with the women and children of Otranto while a Dominican friar led the faithful in prayer. A total of 12,000 were killed and 5,000 enslaved, including victims from the territories of the Salentine peninsula around the city, and the cathedral turned into a mosque. [2] [ page needed ]

Martyrs of Otranto

According to a traditional account, a small group of 800 were left alive, whom the Turks tried to forcibly convert. Eight hundred men chained together, who had lost home and family, were given the option of Islam or death, and chose death. One man, a textile worker named Antonio Primaldo Pezzula, turned to his fellow citizens and declared: "My brothers, we have fought to save our city; now it is time to battle for our souls!" The 800 men, aged 15 and older, unanimously decided to follow Antonio's example and offered their lives to Christ.

The Turks offered to return their women and children from the chains of slavery if the men would embrace Islam, and threatened the men with beheading if they refused to agree. The men still refused. On 14 August 1480, on the vigil of the Assumption, the 800 men were led outside the city and beheaded by the Turks. Their remains were later collected and are to this day kept in the Cathedral of Otranto.

The Martyrs of Otranto were collectively canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church in 12 May 2013. [3] Their remains are claimed to be stored today in Otranto Cathedral and in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples.

The traditional Christian historiography has come under criticism by later historians. [4] Recent scholarship has questioned whether conversion was imposed as a condition for clemency. [4] Although one contemporary Ottoman account justifies the massacre on religious grounds, Ilenia Romana Cassetta writes that it seems rather to have been a punitive action whose goal was intimidation. [5]

Stalled advance

In August 1480, 70 ships of the fleet attacked Vieste. On 12 September, the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole, which accommodated one of the richer libraries of Europe, was destroyed. By October attacks had been conducted against the coastal cities of Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi.

However, due to lack of supplies, the Ottoman commander, Gedik Ahmed Pasha, did not consolidate his force's advance. Instead he returned with most of his troops to Albania leaving a garrison of 800 infantry and 500 cavalry behind to defend Otranto. It was assumed he would return with his army after the winter.

Catholic response

Since it was only 27 years after the fall of Constantinople, there was some fear that Rome would suffer the same fate. Plans were made for the Pope and citizens of Rome to evacuate the city. Pope Sixtus IV repeated his 1471 call for a crusade. Several Italian city-states, Hungary and France responded positively to this. The Republic of Venice did not, as it had signed an expensive peace treaty with the Ottomans in 1479.

In April 1481 Sixtus IV called for an Italian crusade to liberate the city, and Christian forces besieged Otranto in May 1481. An army was raised by king Ferdinand I of Naples to be led by his son Alfonso, Duke of Calabria. A contingent of troops was provided by king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.


Between August and September 1480, King Ferdinand of Naples, with the help of his cousin Ferdinand the Catholic and the Kingdom of Sicily, tried unsuccessfully to recapture Otranto. [6] The Christian forces besieged the city on 1 May 1481. Turkish Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was preparing for a new campaign on Italy but he lost his life on 3 May 1481. Ongoing succession issues prevented the Ottomans from sending reinforcements to Otranto. After the negotiation with the Christian forces, the Turks surrendered in August and left Otranto in September 1481, ending the 13-month occupation.


The number of citizens, said to have been nearly 20,000, had decreased to 8,000 by the end of the century.[ citation needed ] Out of fear of another attack, many of these left the city in the following decades.

See also

Related Research Articles

The 1480s decade ran from January 1, 1480, to December 31, 1489.

Year 1480 (MCDLXXX) was a leap year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar.

Ferdinand I of Naples King of Naples

Ferdinand I, also called Ferrante, was King of Naples from 1458 to 1494. He was the son of Alfonso V of Aragon and his mistress, Giraldona Carlino.

Otranto Comune in Apulia, Italy

Otranto is a town and comune in the province of Lecce, in a fertile region once famous for its breed of horses.

Great Siege of Malta Ottoman Empires invasion of Malta in 1565

The Great Siege of Malta took place in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island of Malta, then held by the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights, with approximately 2,000 footsoldiers and 400 Maltese men, women and children, withstood the siege and repelled the invaders. This victory became one of the most celebrated events in sixteenth-century Europe. Voltaire said, "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta", and it undoubtedly contributed to the eventual erosion of the European perception of Ottoman invincibility and marked a new phase in Spanish domination of the Mediterranean.

Classical Age of the Ottoman Empire

The Classical Age of the Ottoman Empire concerns the history of the Ottoman Empire from the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453 until the second half of the sixteenth century, roughly the end of the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. During this period a system of patrimonial rule based on the absolute authority of the sultan reached its apex, and the empire developed the institutional foundations which it would maintain, in modified form, for several centuries. The territory of the Ottoman Empire greatly expanded, and led to what some historians have called the Pax Ottomana. The process of centralization undergone by the empire prior to 1453 was brought to completion in the reign of Mehmed II.

Gedik Ahmed Pasha was an Ottoman statesman and admiral who served as Grand Vizier and Kapudan Pasha during the reigns of sultans Mehmed II and Bayezid II.

Siege of Krujë (1466–1467) Albanian resistance of The Ottomans

The second siege of Krujë took place from 1466 to 1467. Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire led an army into Albania to defeat Skanderbeg, the leader of the League of Lezhë, which was created in 1444 after he began his war against the Ottomans. During the almost year-long siege, Skanderbeg's main fortress, Krujë, withstood the siege while Skanderbeg roamed Albania to gather forces and facilitate the flight of refugees from the civilian areas that were attacked by the Ottomans. Krujë managed to withstand the siege put on it by Ballaban Badera, sanjakbey of the Sanjak of Ohrid, an Albanian brought up in the Ottoman army through the devşirme. By 23 April 1467, the Ottoman army had been defeated and Skanderbeg entered Krujë.

Siege of Rhodes (1480)

In 1480 the small Knights Hospitaller garrison of Rhodes withstood an attack of the Ottoman Empire.

Turks in Italy are Italian citizens of Turkish origin. The term Turk or Turkish used in Italy may apply to immigrants or the descendants of immigrants born in the Ottoman Empire before 1923, in the Republic of Turkey since then, or in neighbouring countries once part of the Ottoman Empire that still have a population whose language is Turkish or who claims a Turkish identity or cultural heritage, in contrast to the many other peoples from present-day Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire, who identify with their own communities.

Giulio Antonio Acquaviva Condottieri

Giulio Antonio Acquaviva was an Italian nobleman and condottiere. He was 7th Duke of Atri and 1st of Teramo, Count of Conversano and San Flaviano and Lord of Padula and Roseto.

Siege of Shkodra

The Siege of Shkodra of 1478–79 was a confrontation between the Ottoman Empire and the Albanians and Venetians at Shkodra and its Rozafa Castle during the First Ottoman-Venetian War (1463–79). Ottoman historian Franz Babinger called the siege "one of the most remarkable episodes in the struggle between the West and the Crescent". A small force of approximately 1,600 Albanian and Italian men and a much smaller number of women faced a massive Ottoman force containing artillery cast on site and an army reported to have been as many as 350,000 in number. The campaign was so important to Mehmed II "the Conqueror" that he came personally to ensure triumph. After nineteen days of bombarding the castle walls, the Ottomans launched five successive general attacks which all ended in victory for the besieged. With dwindling resources, Mehmed attacked and defeated the smaller surrounding fortresses of Žabljak Crnojevića, Drisht, and Lezha, left a siege force to starve Shkodra into surrender, and returned to Constantinople. On January 25, 1479, Venice and Constantinople signed a peace agreement that ceded Shkodra to the Ottoman Empire. The defenders of the citadel emigrated to Venice, whereas many Albanians from the region retreated into the mountains. Shkodra then became a seat of the newly established Ottoman sanjak, the Sanjak of Scutari. The Ottomans held the city until Montenegro captured it in April 1913, after a six-month siege.

Terra di Otranto province of the Kingdom of Naples/Kingodm of the Two Sicilies

The Terra di Otranto, or Terra d’Otranto, is an historical and geographical region of Apulia, anciently part of the Kingdom of Sicily and later of the Kingdom of Naples, which became a province of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Siege of Famagusta siege

The Siege of Famagusta happened in Venetian-controlled Famagusta, the last Christian possession in Cyprus. Famagusta fell to the Ottomans in August 1571 after a siege that lasted nearly a year.

Martyrs of Otranto Italian saint

St. Antonio Primaldo and his companion martyrs, also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, were 813 inhabitants of the Salentine city of Otranto in southern Italy who were killed on 14 August 1480 when the city fell to an Ottoman force under Gedik Ahmed Pasha. According to a traditional account, the killings took place after the Otrantins refused to convert to Islam.

Otranto Cathedral church building in Otranto, Italy

Otranto Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Italian city of Otranto, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It is the archiepiscopal seat of the Archdiocese of Otranto. The cathedral was consecrated in 1088. It is 54 metres long by 25 metres wide and is built on 42 monolithic granite and marble columns from unknown quarries. Its plan is a three-aisled nave with an apsidal east end. On either side of the west façade are two lancet windows.

Stefano Pendinelli Roman Catholic archbishop

Stefano Pendinelli was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Otranto, Italy. He was slain in 1480, along with all his priests, by the Ottoman force that invaded Otranto. He is among the 813 martyrs of Otranto canonized by Pope Francis in 2013.

The Portuguese expedition to Otranto in 1481, which the Portuguese call the Turkish Crusade, arrived too late to participate in any fighting. On 8 April 1481, Pope Sixtus IV issued the papal bull Cogimur iubente altissimo, in which he called for a crusade against the Turks, who occupied Otranto in southern Italy. The Pope's intention was that, after recapturing Otranto, the crusaders would cross the Adriatic and liberate Vlorë (Valona) as well.

Beheading was a standard method of execution in pre-modern Islamic law, similarly to pre-modern European law. Its use had been abandoned in most countries by the end of the 20th century. Currently, it is used only in Saudi Arabia. It also remains a legal method of execution in Qatar, Yemen, and was reportedly used in 2001 in Iran according to Amnesty International, where it is no longer in use.

Pirro Del Balzo was a southern Italian nobleman, a protagonist of resistance against the House of Aragon kings of Naples and Sicily.


  1. Csaba Csorba; János Estók; Konrád Salamon (1999). Magyarország Képes Története. Budapest, Hungary: Magyar Könyvklub. p. 62. ISBN   963-548-961-7.
  2. Paolo Ricciardi, Gli Eroi della Patria e i Martiri della Fede: Otranto 1480–1481, Vol. 1, Editrice Salentina, 2009
  3. "Martyrs of Otranto, entire village that chose death instead of renouncing their faith". Rome Reports. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  4. 1 2 Nancy Bisaha (2004). Creating East And West: Renaissance Humanists And the Ottoman Turks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 158. Recently, though, historians have begun to question the veracity of these tales of mass slaughter and martyrdom. Francesco Tateo argues that the earliest contemporary sources do not support the story of the eight hundred martyrs; such tales of religious persecution and conscious self-sacrifice for the Christian faith appeared only two or more decades following the siege. The earliest and most reliable sources describe the execution of eight hundred to one thousand soldiers or citizens and the local bishop, but none mention a conversion as a condition of clemency. Even more telling, neither a contemporary Turkish chronicle nor Italian diplomatic reports mention martyrdom. One would imagine that if such a report were circulating, humanists and preachers would have seized on it. It seems likely that more inhabitants of Otranto were taken out of Italy and sold into slavery than were slaughtered.
  5. Ilenia Romana Cassetta, ELETTRA ercolino, "La Prise d'Otrante (1480–81), entre sources chrétiennes et turques", in Turcica, 34, 2002 pp. 255–273, pp. 259–260: "L'unique historien qui décrit la chute de la ville et le meurtre d'un grand nombre d'habitants est Ibn Kemal. Il justifie le massacre des chrétiens par des motivations religieuses. En réalité, cet événement semble avoir eu davantage un caractère punitif et d'intimidation qu'une connotation religieuse." (p. 259)
  6. G. Conte, Una flotta siciliana ad Otranto (1480) , in "Archivio Storico Pugliese", a. LXVII, 2014

Further reading