Ottoman invasion of Otranto

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Battle of Otranto
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
and Ottoman–Hungarian Wars
Otranto castello.jpg
Castle of Otranto
Date28 July 1480 – 10 September 1481
  • Ottoman forces conquer Otranto[1][2]
  • Christian forces recapture the city in September 1481
Fictitious Ottoman flag 4.svg Ottoman Empire  Papal States
Commanders and leaders
Gedik Ahmed Pasha
  • 18,000 infantry
  • 700 cavalry
  • 128 ships
  • Unknown
  • Hungary: 2,100 Hungarian heavy infantry[3]
Casualties and losses
Garrisoned forces surrender
  • 12,000 killed in action
  • 5,000 enslaved

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, they captured it on 11 August 1480 establishing the first Ottoman outpost in Italy.[4] According to a traditional account, more than 800 inhabitants were beheaded after the city was captured.[5][6] The Martyrs of Otranto are still celebrated in Italy. A year later the Ottoman garrison surrendered the city following a siege by Christian forces, uncertainty upon the death of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror 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—especially Rome. 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. The 15 years long war between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Sultanate, the two most dominant powers, in terms of trade and military force, over the whole of the Mediterranean Sea, including the Black Sea, had just ended resulting in the Peace of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmed II Fatih had declared himself "Kaysar-i Rûm" after taking control of Constantinople in 1453, restoring the Greek Orthodox Church, but banning the Roman Catholics.

Invasion of Italy[edit]


On 28 July, 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.[7]

Martyrs of Otranto[edit]

The Martyrs of Otranto were collectively canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church on 12 May 2013.[8] 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.[9] Recent scholarship has questioned whether conversion was imposed as a condition for clemency.[9] 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.[10]

Stalled advance[edit]

In August, 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 sipahi behind to defend Otranto. It was assumed he would return with his army after the winter.

Catholic response[edit]

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. 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, King Ferdinand of Naples, with the help of his cousin Ferdinand the Catholic and the Kingdom of Sicily, tried unsuccessfully to recapture Otranto.[11] 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. 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.[12] 500 Sipahis settled in Otranto by Gedik Ahmet Pasha went into the service of the King Ferdinand of Naples when the control of the region passed to the Kingdom of Naples. With these 500 Sipahis, the Kingdom of Naples dominated other wars in Italy.

The Ottomans had also briefly held Otranto once more after conquering it in 1537.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Americana, Volume 9
  2. ^ The Ottoman Empire: A Short History Page 44
  3. ^ Csaba Csorba; János Estók; Konrád Salamon (1999). Magyarország Képes Története. Budapest, Hungary: Magyar Könyvklub. p. 62. ISBN 963-548-961-7.
  4. ^ Savvides, Alexios, and Photeine Perra. "Hospitallers and Ottomans Between the Two Great Sieges of Rhodes (1480–1522/1523) 1." In The 1522 Siege of Rhodes, pp. 11-39. Routledge, 2022.
  5. ^ "Pope canonises 800 Italian Ottoman victims of Otranto". BBC News. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  6. ^ "HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS". 12 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  7. ^ Paolo Ricciardi, Gli Eroi della Patria e i Martiri della Fede: Otranto 1480–1481, Vol. 1, Editrice Salentina, 2009
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ G. Conte, Una flotta siciliana ad Otranto (1480), in "Archivio Storico Pugliese", a. LXVII, 2014
  12. ^ Andrews, Robert.; Belford, Ros; Buckley, Jonathan Buckley; Dunford, Martin; Jepson, Tim; Ratcliffe, Lucy; Woolfrey, Celia (2012). Puglia Rough Guides Snapshot Italy. United Kingdom: Rough Guides. ISBN 9781409362333.
  13. ^ The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire By Doç. Dr. Raşit GÜNDOĞDU
  14. ^ Discovering Turkey Page 63

Further reading[edit]

  • Hubert Houben, ed. La conquista turca di Otranto (1480) tra storia e mito: atti del convegno internazionale di studio, Otranto–Muro Leccese, 28–31 marzo 2007. 2 vols. Galatina, 2008.

External links[edit]