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Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Joe Zam­mit Ciantar Mat­tia Preti

When, on 7 Oc­to­ber 1571, the Chris­tian and the Ot­toman fleets clashed at Lepanto near the north­ern edge of the Gulf of Corinth in western Greece, a bat­tle of cat­a­clysmic pro­por­tions en­sued. It was the last great sea bat­tle be­tween gal­leys in the Mid­dle Sea and it was to as­sume great sym­bolic im­por­tance for sev­eral his­to­ri­ans who tended to see in it the ul­ti­mate check that the Ot­tomans re­ceived in the Mediter­ranean which came just six years af­ter they were hum­bled in Malta in the sum­mer of 1565. Miguel Cer­vantes, who ac­tu­ally fought in the bat­tle, wrote that it was ‘the great­est event wit­nessed by ages past, present, and to come’.

On the other hand, some mod­ern re­vi­sion­ist his­to­ri­ans see in both events mere hic­cups in the Ot­toman Em­pire’s west­ward ad­vance. The Turks soon re­cov­ered their naval strength but the great num­ber of ships they lost meant they of­ten had to re­sort to new un-aged tim­ber for their ves­sels which was to prove a real hin­drance. Even the loss of man­power was direly felt for a few gen­er­a­tions in spite of the huge hu­man re­sources of the Porte.

The Or­der of St John took part in the en­gage­ment by con­tribut­ing its gal­leys which even­tu­ally suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age; the leg­endary knight Romegas was di­rectly in­volved, but as the su­per­in­ten­dent of the pa­pal squadron.

Much has been writ­ten about this great clash. Voltaire’s oft-re­peated as­ser­tion that noth­ing was as well-known as the siege of Malta could eas­ily be ex­tended to in­clude the naval en­gage­ment at Lepanto.

Many un­pub­lished ac­counts of the bat­tle still sur­vive in var­i­ous archives all over Europe, in­clud­ing our National Li­brary, in Val­letta. Paul Ge­orge Pisani’s heav­ily an­no­tated edi­tion of an un­pub­lished ac­count by Ab­bot Luca Cenni (1623–85) – found in the lat­ter – is an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion in its own right.

The Neapoli­tan Luca Cenni was a reg­u­lar canon of the Or­der of the Holy Saviour who had been cho­sen by the Or­der of St John (in Malta) to con­tinue Bo­sio’s mag­nif­i­cently de­tailed his­tory of the broth­er­hood that comes to an end in 1571 with the move to the new city, Val­letta. He worked partly in Malta and was to be paid the con-

Bat­tle of Lepanto ex-voto panel by An­tonello Ric­cio (Malta Mar­itime Museum)

Lepanto Book - pp. 84 & 85 where the ac­count by Cenni be­gins

The Bat­tle of Lepanto book cover

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