At Lepanto, on the morning of October 7, 1571, two massive fleets joined battle at the rocks of Curzolari at the entrance of the Gulf of Patras, off the coast of western Greece. The armada of the Holy League, a coalition of Venetian, Spanish, and papal vessels, augmented with squadrons from the duchies of Tuscany, Savoy, Parma, and Urbino, the Knights Hospitaller of Malta, the Republic of Genoa, and other Christian allies, confronted a comparable Ottoman naval force augmented with North African corsairs.
More than four hundred and fifty heavily armed galleys with over one hundred and fifty thousand sailors, oarsmen, and soldiers clashed in a short but fierce fight. Little quarter was sought, or given, by either side. In terms of hardware, manpower, and logistics, it was the largest-ever encounter of oared vessels of the pre-modern world. The Battle of Lepanto was the peak of the war between the Ottomans and the Mediterranean Christian powers.
In the chorus of eyewitness and contemporary accounts of the battle and the events that led to it, Giovanni Pietro Contarini’s History of the Events, which occurred from the Beginning of the War Brought against the Venetians by Selim the Ottoman, to the Day of the Great and Victorious Battle against the Turks holds the pride of place. Published in 1572, a few months after Lepanto, the History is the first comprehensive account of the war, and the only one to attempt a concise but complete overview of its course and the Holy League’s triumph.
Contarini’s account was also the first to go beyond effluent praise and mere factual reporting to examine the meaning and importance of these events. Significantly, it is also the only full historical account by an immediate commentator. Despite falling short of the best contemporary humanist historiography, Contarini blended his straightforward narrative with keen and consistent reflections on the political philosophy of conflict in the context of the Ottoman-Catholic confrontation in the early modern Mediterranean.
Kiril Petkov provides the first complete English translation of Contarini’s History. His introduction places it within its historical context of international diplomacy and war, ideological conflict, and individual agency.
188 pp., illustrated, introduction, annotated English translation, glossary, bibliography, index.
History, Mediterranean Studies
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