The 16th Century previous_inactive 1/1 next

Venice's Mediterranean policy from the late fifteenth century to the victory of Lepanto (1571)
Between the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Venice lost its naval supremacy in the Mediterranean because of the growing influence of the Ottoman and Spanish empires. It was in this brief interval of time that the Turks began to garrison the Aegean to defend their own trade from the attacks of pirates and Christian Crusaders; in 1517 they reconquered Syria and Egypt, and they occupied Rhodes in 1522. Even more important was the successful occupation of Algiers in 1529 by Khair ad-din, who was actually born in Greece, and better known as Barbarossa in the West. Thus the Ottoman Empire extended its control to the shores of the southern Mediterranean, from Albania to Morocco.

The Spanish acquired their maritime power in much the same way as the Turks did - in 1501-03 they conquered Naples, and in 1509 they deprived the Serenissima of its ports in Puglia. Charles of Hapsburg, who became Emperor in 1509 under the name Charles V, led the greatest fleet that the Mediterranean had ever seen against Tunisia in 1535. Before the creation and the consolidation of these two powers, Venice pursued a shrewd diplomatic policy in an attempt to achieve a very difficult balance. This was especially challenging after 1527, when Charles V had become the uncontested lord of the Peninsula after the sack of Rome. In 1537-40 and in 1570-73 Venice was allied with the Hapsburgs in the League Crusades led against the Turks by Charles V and his son and successor, Philip II. In the first of the two wars the Christian fleet under the command of the Genoese Andrea Doria suffered a stunning defeat at Prevesa . The untrustworthiness of the commander and Charles' clear disinclination not to strengthen Venice's position in Greece forced the Serenissima to stipulate a separate peace in 1540. The conclusion of the war undermined Venice's international supremacy due to the continuous sacking carried out by the Turks, and the elimination of all remaining territories belonging to Venetian nobles on the islands of the Aegean to the north of Candia.

Instead, the Christian league led by Don Juan of Austria achieved a great victory at Lepanto  in 1571, which blocked the Ottoman advance and saved the Ionian islands and Dalmatia (under Venetian control) from Turkish conquest. This war too concluded in a humiliating peace for Venice. Philip II was interested in having Venice as an ally against the Turks, but he did not intend to favour its political expansion in the Mediterranean. Venice thus obtained peace, but at the price of the loss of Cyprus.

Venezia e il mare
Le isole, le fortezze, le difese contro i Turchi
© 1997 by the VENIVA consortium