Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Fine Art Tuesday


The Battle of Lepanto 1571 marked the western high-water mark of the Ottoman Empire's conquest of the Mediterranean Sea.

The clash between the Christian forces and the Muslim forces turned in the Christian's favor when the Greek slaves manning the oars of the Ottoman ships joined the battle on the side of the Christians.

The naval battles of the day were unlike current practice. The top-deck of the ships were crammed with men (some wearing armor) and when the ships closed and grappled, the battle was a scrum similar to the clash between two ancient Greek phalanx.


Do the math. 65k men on 200 galleys is over 300 men (150 soldiers, typically on the top-deck during attack) per boat. Length was typically 32 meters and beam was typically only 4 meters which noodles out to around 1.5 soldiers per square-meter of deck.

The Christian fleet had approximately 15% KIA and 23% WIA. The Ottoman fleet had approximately 30% KIA and an unknown number WIA.

This event was as pivotal as the Polish Winged Hussars at the Gates of Vienna but gets less attention.

Seventeen years later the Spanish Armada got whipped by the British, in part because the Spanish ships were not sea-worthy due to being top-heavy with artillery and...way too many armored men on the top-deck.

The British strategy of "cannon from a distance and let them swim home" proved superior to the Spanish strategy of "Grapple and win via hand-to-hand melee"


  1. "And let them swim home'
    I really like that.

  2. My understanding is that the Spanish and others treated naval battles as land battles on water and assumed raw numbers were the way to go. In contrast, the British optimized their fighting for the environment and used naval professionals to mitigate the Spanish advantage in numbers.

  3. The British also had a much larger and better quality supply of gunpowder, which allowed them to practice gunnery to a far greater extent and hence become more proficient at long range shooting. India was a very good source for saltpetre and sulphur.

  4. ERJ - Thanks for posting the pictures.

    When we were in Greece last year, we went to Nafpaktos (Naupactos), which the Venetians called Lepanto, the overall site of the battle (the actual site, obviously, being in the ocean). On thing that was surprising to me and not obvious from the pictures is that the battle took place in the Gulf of Corinth, a relatively narrow body of water. The geography made the battle make more sense.

  5. The historian William Federer has written informatively on the battle at Lepanto.

  6. A bit of pedantry. The Spanish Armada was fighting the English fleet. Baron Howard of Effingham (honestly), Sir Francis Drake and his game of bowls etc. Not until after Elizabeth First died did the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James Sixth of Scotland become James First of a United Kingdom. England, with Wales and Ireland joining Scotland. Declaration of interest - I am proud to be both Scottish and a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Much like any US citizen can by proud of both State and Nation.


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