The Republic of Venice was one of the Ottoman Empire’s most important trade partners in the Mediterranean during its early years. In 1460, this relationship turned sour when the Ottoman Empire attacked and conquered the Peloponnese Peninsula (Morea). The first war between the rivals in the Mediterranean flared up three years later. It was followed by a series of Ottoman wars with Venice between the 15th-century and into the 17th-century. The last Ottoman-Venetian War (the sixth) was concluded only in 1699 when the two sides signed the Treaty of Karlowitz. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline with World History.
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The Struggle for Supremacy: The First and Second Ottoman-Venetian Wars
The Republic of Venice possessed one of the most formidable navies in the Mediterranean during the 15th century. But over in Istanbul, Sultan Mehmed I (1413-1421) decided to improve the Ottoman fleet. The rulers of Venice knew that they would soon have a powerful rival in the occupation of the eastern Mediterranean, and they were not mistaken in their assumption.
The Ottoman occupation of Morea in 1460 and the possible loss of its colonies in Greece drove the Venetians to declare war against the Turks in 1463. It marked the First Ottoman-Venetian War which lasted for 16 more years. The loss of its Crimean trading ports to the Ottomans forced Venice to sue for peace in 1479.
The Second Ottoman-Venetian War flared up in 1499 after Sultan Bayezid II’s navy attacked the Greek city of Nafpaktos (Lepanto). The navy’s close proximity to Venice’s Morean colonies forced the Republic to declare another war against the Ottomans. This did not end well for the Venetians as the Ottomans successfully took the trading ports of Modon and Coron from them in 1500. In the same year, the Ottomans drove out the remaining Venetians from the Peloponnese Peninsula and occupied it as their own. In 1503, Venice once again sued for peace.
Third Ottoman-Venetian War
During his reign, Suleiman I entered into an alliance with the French king Louis XI to counter the threat posed by the Habsburg ruler Charles V. The sultan also offered this alliance to the Venetians, but they refused it as they feared the Habsburg king. While this conflict continued to rage, the navies of both sides continued to fight minor battles in the Adriatic. By 1537, the skirmishes turned into the Third Ottoman-Venetian War when Suleiman decided to launch an attack on Rome.
Suleiman’s trusted admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa gathered his forces near Vlore in Albania. He led the Ottoman navy in attacking Otranto, while Suleiman led the assault on the Venice-held island of Corfu. The Venetian defenders of the island fought hard, so the sultan had no choice but to retreat.
Before the double assaults, the Venetian had always been hesitant in confronting the Ottomans head-on. Any full-scale war with the Ottomans was a venture that they could not afford. The attacks on Otranto and Corfu, however, sealed their decision to join the alliance offered by the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
On September 27, 1538, a combined fleet led by the Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria faced off with the Ottomans off the coast of Preveza. The European fleet was crushed, and the disappointed Venetian rulers agreed to sign a peace treaty in 1539. It was finalized in 1540, and the Venetians finally gave up some of their last few ports in Greece. They were also forced to pay a hefty compensation to the Ottomans as part of the new peace treaty.
Suleiman I died in 1566, and he was succeeded by his son, Selim II. Like his father before him, Selim II’s reign was plagued by naval wars.
Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War
The Lusignan kings of Cyprus had ruled the island since the time of the Crusaders. But everything changed when the last potential Lusignan king died in infancy. Because of this, the administration passed on to his Venetian mother, Caterina Cornaro. With no one to help her, the queen was later forced to give the island up to the Venetian rulers who took over in 1489. Venice ruled Cyprus until the Ottoman navy wrested the island from them during the Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War.
The island of Cyprus was one of the few Mediterranean islands that belonged to the Venetians after the last war. This changed when the Ottomans learned that the Venetians in Cyprus protected the corsairs who attacked Ottoman ships which passed by the area. For the Ottomans, this act was a direct violation of the peace treaty the two parties signed years before. The Ottomans finally decided to take the island from the Venetians to prevent them from disrupting trade and communication with Egypt.
Preparations for a new naval attack against Cyprus took place in 1569. Lala Mustafa Pasha led the Ottoman army, while Admiral Muezzinzade Ali Pasha led the naval forces. He was assisted by Piyale Pasha. Rumors of the attack reached the Venetian rulers, so they hurriedly fortified Cyprus between 1568 to 1569. In 1570, the dreaded letter from Selim II arrived in Venice. As usual, the sultan demanded that the Venetians give up Cyprus which Venice refused to do. But it was already too late as the Ottoman forces had already occupied Nicosia in Cyprus in the same year.
The rulers of Venice had no one in Europe to turn to except for the Pope. The powerful Habsburg rulers were unwilling to help them as the Venetians could not be counted on to take their side in the past wars. In addition, there was simply no incentive for the House of Habsburg to join a costly war. But in 1571 the Pope arranged an alliance between the House of Habsburg and Venice. The condition, however, was that the Republic would help Habsburg Spain in North Africa. The rulers of Venice agreed.
On September 1571, Charles V’s son Philip II and his half-brother Don Juan of Austria sailed from Italy to Cephalonia in Greece. But by late 1571, the Ottomans had already occupied some important areas in Cyprus so the Habsburg fleet’s main task was now to recapture the island. The fleet tried to continue to Cyprus, but they encountered the Ottoman warships in the Gulf of Patras. The encounter resulted in a major naval battle when the two sides finally faced off near the coast of Nafpaktos (Battle of Lepanto).
The result was an overwhelming victory for Don Juan’s fleet. The Ottoman navy suffered heavy casualties, and among the dead was Muezzinzade Ali Pasha. He was replaced by Kilic Ali Pasha at the helm. Naval battles off the coast of Morea continued in 1572, but there was no decisive winner. In 1573, the beleaguered Venice once again sued for peace and was forced pay another compensation to the Ottomans.
Fifth Ottoman-Venetian War
The Fifth Ottoman-Venetian War flared up more than seventy years after the last peace treaty between the two powers. The Mediterranean had long been plagued by pirates, and some of the most notorious were the Maltese corsairs. In 1644, some Maltese pirates attacked an Ottoman fleet bound for Mecca off the island of Karpathos. On board were some important Ottoman pilgrims from whom the Maltese pirates stole some treasures. They later sold the booty on the island of Crete which was then held by the Venetians.
The attack provoked the Ottomans who saw this as a violation of the treaty they signed more than seventy years before. The Venetians were not eager to face the Ottomans in another naval battle as they could not expect help from the Cretans who resented their rule. But the Ottomans had already sent their fleet to Crete, and their forces arrived on the 26th of June, 1645. The defenses of Crete were no match for the Ottoman fleet, so the invading forces immediately occupied Chania. Many of the island’s churches were converted into mosques during the occupation.
The Ottomans took Rethymno in 1646, while Iraklion fell the following year. By 1648, the Ottomans occupied a large part of Crete, but they were often harassed by small Venetian ships which lurked off the coast. To counter the Ottomans and prevent them from resupplying troops in Crete, the Venetians sent a fleet to blockade the Dardanelles. The Ottomans were forced to move their base to the port of Cesme on the Aegean to bypass the blockade.
It was not only the Venetians who were having problems. The Ottoman power had deteriorated over the years, and it was no better when Sultan Ibrahim (the Mad) took the throne. Palace intrigues, a weak economy, banditry in the Anatolian countryside, and rebellions in Istanbul plagued the empire. The Janissary corps who were resettled in Crete were also unhappy in the island. They rebelled and promptly went home. This left the island open once again to the Venetians.
The battles between the Ottomans and the Venetians continued in the next few years. The Venetians scored victories in 1651 off the coasts of Naxos and Santorini. In 1654, the Ottomans won a naval battle in the Dardanelles, but they also lost the actual battle that the Ottomans negotiated with the ambassador of Venice. In this treaty, the Ottomans would let Venice keep Iraklion, but they would have to pay a hefty compensation plus annual tributes. Cash-strapped Venice refused.
The Grand Vizier Fazil Ahmed Pasha led thousands of Ottoman soldiers from Edirne, Istanbul, and Peloponnese peninsula to attack Crete. They besieged the Venetian stronghold in Iraklion between 1667 and 1668. The defense could only hold for so long, and Venice (once again) sued for peace in 1668. The Ottomans, however, refused to negotiate. The Venetians had appealed to Louis XIV of France for help, so he sent his navy to help them in 1669. The French navy fought against the Ottomans for one month until it had to limp home in defeat. The Ottoman navy was just too strong.
Francesco Morosini, the leader of the Venetian defenders in Crete, finally surrendered to the Ottomans in 1669. The Ottomans allowed the Venetians to keep the fortresses of Suda, Spinalonga, and Gramvousa.
Sixth Ottoman-Venetian War
The Ottoman Empire was plagued with wars on almost all fronts during the latter part of the 17th century. Internal problems and a powerful European alliance (the Holy League) threatened the Ottoman power in Europe and the Mediterranean. They were forced to retreat after the disastrous Battle of Vienna in 1683. Sultan Mehmed IV was later deposed by his court, but their problems were far from over as he was succeeded by weak rulers.
In 1684, the Venetians joined the Holy League led by the House of Habsburg. They were emboldened when they saw that the Ottoman troops had somewhat weakened, so they took the opportunity to attack Ottoman ports in Morea, Dalmatia, and Albania. By 1685, they had a solid foothold in Dalmatia and in Athens itself. The naval and land battles which went on between 1688 and 1695 mostly took place in Crete. The Venetians also besieged Ottoman-held Lesbos, Bozcaada, and some territories in Dalmatia.
In 1699, the hard-pressed Ottomans were forced to surrender a large part of their European territories to the members of the Holy League. Venice regained Morea, Dalmatia, and other Aegean islands in the Treaty of Karlowitz. This ended the series of wars between Venice and the Ottoman Empire.
Picture by:Unknown – National Maritime Museum (BHC0261), Public Domain, Link
Carsten, F. L., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History, The Ascendancy of France: 1648-88. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1961.
Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.
Kia, Mehrdad. The Ottoman Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.
Shaw, Stanford Jay. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey : Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
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