Ottoman invasion of Otranto
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|Battle of Otranto|
|Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
and Ottoman-Hungarian Wars
|Ottoman Empire|| Kingdom of Naples
Crown of Aragon
Kingdom of Hungary
|Commanders and leaders|
|Gedik Ahmed Pasha|| Francesco Largo †
Alphonso II of Naples
Hungary: 2,100 Hungarian heavy infantry
|Casualties and losses|
|Garrisoned forces surrender||Unknown|
approx. 1,600 Hungarians (mostly servants)
The attack on Otranto was part of a planned, yet abortive Ottoman action that occurred in, what has been described as, the "Invasion of Italy". On July 28, 1480, an Ottoman fleet of 128 ships of which 28 were galleys arrived near the Neapolitan city of Otranto in the region Apulia. Possibly these troops came from the siege of Rhodes. On July 29 the garrison and the citizens retreated to the citadel, the Castle of Otranto. On 11 August this fort was taken by the invaders.
According to Christian historiography a raid was held to round up all male citizens. Archbishop Stefano Agricoli and others were killed in the cathedral, while Bishop Stephen Pendinelli and the garrison commander, count Francesco Zurlo, were sawn in two alive. On August 12, 800 citizens who refused to convert to Islam were taken to the Hill of the Minerva and beheaded without mercy or kindness. These 813 victims were canonized as saints in the Roman Catholic Church in May 12, 2013. Some of the remains of the 800 martyrs are today stored in Otranto Cathedral and in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples. The cathedral is said to have been used as a stable after that.
This version has come under some criticism by Muslim scholars. From the Ottoman side it is disputed that large-scale executions took place; the bones to be found in the Cathedral of Otranto are claimed to be actually those of fighters killed during the Ottoman invasion (but recent research have found that some bones were of women and children, erasing the Muslim theory). Italian researchers, on the other hand, conclude that some acts of terror were committed by the Ottoman invaders to create panic among the Italians around Otranto.
In August, 70 ships of the fleet attacked Vieste. On September 12, the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole, which accommodated one of the richer libraries of Europe, was destroyed. In October 1480, the coastal cities of Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi were attacked.
Due to lack of food, Gedik Ahmed Pasha 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 after the winter.
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.
The city was besieged starting May 1, 1481. On 11 August, after a 15-day siege, Gedik Ahmed ordered the final assault, which broke through the defenses and captured the citadel. When the walls were breached the Ottomans began fighting their way through the town. Upon reaching the cathedral, "they found Archbishop Stefano Agricolo, fully vested and crucifix in hand" awaiting them with Count Francesco Largo and Bishop Stefano Pendinelli. "The archbishop was beheaded before the altar, his companions were sawn in half, and their accompanying priests were all murdered." After desecrating the Cathedral, they gathered the women and older children to be sold into Albanian slavery. Men over fifty, small children, and infants were slain.
Eight hundred able-bodied men were told to convert to Islam or be slain. A tailor named Antonio Primaldi is said to have proclaimed "Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him." To which those captive with him gave a loud cheer.
On August 14 they were led to the Hill of Minerva (later renamed the Hill of Martyrs). There they were to be executed with Primaldi to be beheaded first. They were called the Martyrs of Otranto in the following centuries.
Meanwhile, on May 3 the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II, died, with ensuing quarrels about his succession. This possibly prevented the sending of Ottoman reinforcements to Otranto. So in the end the Turkish occupation of Otranto ended by negotiation with the Christian forces, permitting the Turks to withdraw to Albania. However, quite a few of them were still taken captives when the Christian troops occupied Otranto again.
The number of citizens, said to have been nearly 20,000 (a figure disputed by recent research), had decreased to 8,000 by the end of the century. Out of fear of another attack, many of these left the city in the following decades.
- Csaba Csorba, János Estók, Konrád Salamon (1999). Magyarország Képes Története. Budapest, Hungary: Magyar Könyvklub. p. 62. ISBN 963-548-961-7.
- Bunson, Matthew. "How the 800 Martyrs of Otranto Saved Rome". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
- "Martyrs of Otranto, entire village that chose death instead of renouncing their faith". Rome Reports. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
- Paolo Ricciardi, Gli Eroi della Patria e i Martiri della Fede: Otranto 1480-1481, Vol. 1, Editrice Salentina, 2009
- How the Eight Hundred Men of Otranto Saved Rome
- The Crusades Wiki