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Ottoman invasion of Otranto

Battle of Otranto
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
and Ottoman-Hungarian Wars
Date July 1480–1481
Location Otranto, Kingdom of Naples
Result Ottoman forces seize the city; Christian forces recapture the city
Ottoman Empire Kingdom of Naples
Crown of Aragon
Kingdom of Hungary
Commanders and leaders
Gedik Ahmed Pasha Francesco Largo 
Alphonso II of Naples
Balázs Magyar
18,000 infantry
700 cavalry
128 ships
Hungary: 2,100 Hungarian heavy infantry[1]
Casualties and losses
Garrisoned forces surrender Unknown
Civilian casualties:
approx. 1,600 Hungarians (mostly servants)
Inside Otranto cathedral.

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 and its citadel. After capture, more than 800 of its inhabitants – who refused to convert to Islam – were executed. The Martyrs of Otranto are still celebrated in Italy. A year later the Ottoman garrison surrendered the city following a siege by Christian forces.


  • Background 1
  • Invasion of Italy 2
    • Siege 2.1
    • Martyrs of Otranto 2.2
    • Stalled advance 2.3
    • European response 2.4
    • Recapture 2.5
  • Aftermath 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The attack on Otranto was part of an abortive attempt by the Ottomans to invade and conquer Italy. 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. After it fell, its garrison and inhabitants were executed or sold into slavery. In response, Pope Sixtus IV issued his second call for a Crusade. Several Christian monarchs responded with military support.

In May 1481, a Christian army composed of Neapolitans and Hungarians besieged Otranto. Two days after the siege began, Sultan Mehmed II died. The resulting succession crisis prevented the Turks from sending further reinforcements to Italy. Otranto was retaken from the Ottomans.

Invasion of Italy


On July 28, 1480, 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 Ottomans began fighting their way through the town to the cathedral and citadel. 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. A total of 12,000 were claimed by the Church to have been killed and 5,000 enslaved, including victims from the territories of the Salentine peninsula around the city, although these figures and account of events have come under criticism by modern historians.[2]

Martyrs of Otranto

Following the city's capture, the Ottomans launched a raid to round up all the remaining male citizens. Up to 800 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 the captives with him gave a loud cheer.

After refusing to convert, they all were led to the Hill of Minerva on August 14 (later renamed the Hill of Martyrs) were they were executed one-by-one. Primaldi was said to have been the first to be beheaded.[3] The Martyrs of Otranto were collectively canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church in May 12, 2013.[4] Their remains are claimed to be stored today in Otranto Cathedral and in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples.

The Christian historiography has come under some criticism by later historians. The Ottomans 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 Italian researchers conclude that some acts of terror were committed by the Ottoman invaders to create panic among the local populace around Otranto. Recent scholarship has questioned whether any victims were actually slaughtered, finding it more likely that prisoners of war were sold into slavery instead.[5]

Stalled advance

In August 1480, 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. 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 cavalry behind to defend Otranto. It was assumed he would return with his army after the winter.

European response

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 1481 an army was raised by king Ferdinand I of Naples to be led by his son Alphonso II of Naples. A contingent of troops was provided by king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.


Between August and September 1480, King Ferdinand of Naples, with the help of his cousin Ferdinand the Catholic and the Kingdom of Sicily, tried unsuccessfully to recapture Otranto.[6] The Christian forces besieged the city on May 1, 1481. However, on May 3 the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II, died without the quarrels about his succession being finalized. The subsequent succession crisis resulted in the failure to send Ottoman reinforcements to relieve Otranto. The Turkish garrison in Otranto was forced to negotiate with the Christian forces which permitted the Turks to withdraw to Albania.


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.

See also


  1. ^ Csaba Csorba, János Estók, Konrád Salamon (1999). Magyarország Képes Története.  
  2. ^ Paolo Ricciardi, Gli Eroi della Patria e i Martiri della Fede: Otranto 1480–1481, Vol. 1, Editrice Salentina, 2009
  3. ^ Bunson, Matthew. "How the 800 Martyrs of Otranto Saved Rome". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  4. ^ "Martyrs of Otranto, entire village that chose death instead of renouncing their faith". Rome Reports. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Nancy Bisaha (2004). Creating East And West: Renaissance Humanists And the Ottoman Turks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 
  6. ^ G. Conte, Una flotta siciliana ad Otranto (1480), in "Archivio Storico Pugliese", a. LXVII, 2014

External links

  • How the Eight Hundred Men of Otranto Saved Rome

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