Great Siege of Malta

The Great Siege of Malta (Maltese: L-Assedju l-Kbir) took place in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island of Malta, then held by the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights, with approximately 2,000 footsoldiers and 400 Maltese men, women and children, withstood the siege and repelled the invaders. This victory became one of the most celebrated events in sixteenth-century Europe. Voltaire said, "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta", and it undoubtedly contributed to the eventual erosion of the European perception of Ottoman invincibility and marked a new phase in Spanish domination of the Mediterranean.[4]

The siege was the climax of an escalating contest between a Christian alliance and the Islamic Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean, a contest that included the Turkish attack on Malta in 1551, the Ottoman destruction of an allied Christian fleet at the Battle of Djerba in 1560, and the decisive Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Great Siege of Malta
Part of the Ottoman-Habsburg wars
Siege of malta 1

The siege of Malta—"Arrival of the Turkish fleet" (Matteo Pérez de Alesio)
Date18 May – 11 September 1565
(3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days)
Result Christian victory
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
35,000/36,000-40,000 6,100 (9,000 with civilian help)
Casualties and losses
10,000-35,000[2][3] 2,500 troops
7,000 civilians

The Knights of Malta

By the end of 1522, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, had forcibly ejected the Knights from their base on Rhodes after the six-month Siege of Rhodes. From 1523 to 1530 the Order lacked a permanent home. They became known as the Knights of Malta when, on 26 October 1530, Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Knights, sailed into Malta's Grand Harbour with a number of his followers to lay claim to Malta and Gozo, which had been granted to them by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V[5] in return for one falcon sent annually to the Viceroy of Sicily and a solemn Mass to be celebrated on All Saints Day. Charles also required the Knights to garrison Tripoli on the North African coast, which was in territory that the Barbary Corsairs, allies of the Ottomans, controlled. The Knights accepted the offer reluctantly. Malta was a small, desolate island, and for some time, many of the Knights clung to the dream of recapturing Rhodes.

Nevertheless, the Order soon turned Malta into a naval base. The island's position in the centre of the Mediterranean made it a strategically crucial gateway between East and West, especially as the Barbary Corsairs increased their forays into the western Mediterranean throughout the 1540s and 1550s.

Jean de Valette -Antoine Favray
Jean Parisot de Valette

In particular, the corsair Dragut was proving to be a major threat to the Christian nations of the central Mediterranean. Dragut and the Knights were continually at loggerheads. In 1551, Dragut and the Ottoman admiral Sinan decided to take Malta and invaded the island with a force of about 10,000 men. After only a few days, however, Dragut broke off the siege and moved to the neighboring island of Gozo, where he bombarded the Cittadella for several days. The Knights' governor on Gozo, Gelatian de Sessa, having decided that resistance was futile, threw open the doors to the Cittadella. The corsairs sacked the town and took virtually the entire population of Gozo (approximately 5,000 people) into captivity. Dragut and Sinan then sailed south to Tripoli, where they soon seized the Knights' garrison there. They initially installed a local leader, Aga Morat, as governor, but subsequently Dragut himself took control of the area.

Expecting another Ottoman invasion within a year, Grand Master of the Knights Juan de Homedes ordered the strengthening of Fort Saint Angelo at the tip of Birgu (now Vittoriosa), as well as the construction of two new forts, Fort Saint Michael on the Senglea promontory and Fort Saint Elmo at the seaward end of Mount Sciberras (now Valletta). The two new forts were built in the remarkably short period of six months in 1552. All three forts proved crucial during the Great Siege.

The next several years were relatively calm, although the guerre de course, or running battle, between Muslims and Christians continued unabated. In 1557 the Knights elected Jean Parisot de Valette Grand Master of the Order. He continued his raids on non-Christian shipping, and his private vessels are known to have taken some 3,000 Muslim and Jewish slaves during his tenure as Grand Master.[6]

By 1559 Dragut was causing the Christian powers such distress, even raiding the coasts of Spain, that Philip II organized the largest naval expedition in fifty years to evict the corsair from Tripoli. The Knights joined the expedition, which consisted of about 54 galleys and 14,000 men. This ill-fated campaign climaxed in the Battle of Djerba in May 1560, when Ottoman admiral Piyale Pasha surprised the Christian fleet off the Tunisian island of Djerba, capturing or sinking about half the Christian ships. The battle was a disaster for the Christians and it marked the high point of Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean.

Toward the siege

Fort St. Angelo

After Djerba there could be little doubt that the Turks would eventually attack Malta again. Malta was of immense strategic importance to the Ottoman long-term plan to conquer more of Europe, since Malta was a stepping stone to Sicily, and Sicily in turn could be a base for an invasion of the Kingdom of Naples.[7] In August 1560, Jean de Valette sent an order to all the Order's priories that their knights prepare to return to Malta as soon as a citazione (summons) was issued.[8] The Turks made a strategic error in not attacking at once, while the Spanish fleet lay in ruins, as the five-year delay allowed Spain to rebuild their forces.[9]

Meanwhile, the Spaniards continued to prey on Turkish shipping. In mid-1564, Romegas, the Order's most notorious seafarer, captured several large merchantmen, including one that belonged to the Chief Eunuch of the Seraglio, and took numerous high-ranking prisoners, including the governor of Cairo, the governor of Alexandria, and the former nurse of Sultan Suleiman's daughter. Romegas' exploits gave the Turks a casus belli, and by the end of 1564, Suleiman had resolved to wipe the Knights of Malta off the face of the earth.

Sultán Solimán (Palacio del Senado de España)
Suleyman I

By early 1565, Grand Master de Valette's network of spies in Constantinople had informed him that the invasion was imminent. De Valette set about raising troops in Italy, laying in stores and finishing work on Fort Saint Angelo, Fort Saint Michael, and Fort Saint Elmo.[10]

The armies

The Turkish armada, which set sail from Constantinople on 22 March, was by all accounts one of the largest assembled since antiquity. According to one of the earliest and most complete histories of the siege, that of the Order's official historian Giacomo Bosio, the fleet consisted of 193 vessels, which included 131 galleys, seven galliots (small galleys) and four galleasses (large galleys), the remainder being transport vessels, etc.[3] Contemporary letters from Don Garcia, the Viceroy of Sicily, give similar numbers."[11]

The Italian mercenary Francisco Balbi di Correggio, (serving as an arquebusier in the Spanish corps), gave the forces as:[2]

The Knights Hospitaller The Ottomans
500 Knights Hospitaller 6,000 Spahis (cavalry)
400 Spanish soldiers 500 Spahis from Karamania
800 Italian soldiers 6,000 Janissaries
500 soldiers from the galleys (Spanish Empire) 400 adventurers from Mytiline
200 Greek and Sicilian soldiers 2,500 Spahis from Rumelia
100 soldiers of the garrison of Fort St. Elmo 3,500 adventurers from Rumelia
100 servants of the knights 4,000 "religious servants"
500 galley slaves 6,000 other volunteers
3,000 soldiers drawn from the Maltese population Various corsairs from Tripoli and Algiers
Total: 6,100 Total: 28,500 from the East, 40,000 in all

The Knight Hipolito Sans, in a lesser-known account, also lists about 48,000 invaders, although it is not clear how independent his work is from Balbi's.[12] Other contemporary authors give much lower figures. In a letter written to Philip II only four days after the siege began, de Valette himself says that "the number of soldiers that will make land is between 15,000 and 16,000, including seven thousand arquebusiers or more, that is four thousand janissaries and three thousand spahis."[13] On the other hand, in a letter to the Prior of Germany a month after the siege, de Valette writes, "This fleet consisted of two hundred and fifty ships, triremes, biremes and other vessels; the nearest estimate we could make of the enemy's force was 40,000 fighting men."[14] That de Valette gives the enemy fleet as 250 vessels, a number much above any one else's, shows that the Grand Master himself was not above exaggeration.

Indeed, a letter written during the siege by the liaison with Sicily, Captain Vincenzo Anastagi, states the enemy force was only 22,000 and several other letters of the time give similar numbers.[15][16] However, Bosio arrives at a total of about 30,000, which is consistent with Balbi's "named troops."[17] Another early history gives essentially the same figure.[18]

The siege

Arrival of the Ottomans

Before the Turks arrived, de Valette ordered the harvesting of all the crops, including unripened grain, to deprive the enemy of any local food supplies. Furthermore, the Knights poisoned all wells with bitter herbs and dead animals.

The Turkish armada arrived at dawn on Friday, 18 May, but did not at once make land.[19] The first fighting broke out on 19 May.[20] A day later, the Ottoman fleet sailed up the southern coast of the island, turned around and finally anchored at Marsaxlokk (Marsa Sirocco) Bay, nearly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Grand harbour region. According to most accounts, in particular Balbi's, a dispute arose between the leader of the land forces, the 4th Vizier serdar Kızılahmedli Mustafa Pasha,[21] and the supreme naval commander, Piyale Pasha, about where to anchor the fleet. Piyale wished to shelter it at Marsamxett Harbour, just north of the Grand Harbour, in order to avoid the sirocco and be nearer the action, but Mustafa disagreed, because to anchor the fleet there would require first reducing Fort St. Elmo, which guarded the entrance to the harbour. Mustafa intended, according to these accounts, to attack the poorly defended former capital Mdina, which stood in the centre of the island, then attack Forts St. Angelo and Michael by land. If so, an attack on Fort St. Elmo would have been entirely unnecessary. Nevertheless, Mustafa relented, apparently believing only a few days would be necessary to destroy St. Elmo. After the Turks were able to emplace their guns, at the end of May they commenced a bombardment.

It certainly seems true that Suleiman had seriously blundered in splitting the command three ways. He not only split command between Piyale and Mustafa, but he ordered both of them to defer to Dragut when he arrived from Tripoli. Contemporary letters from spies in Constantinople, however, suggest that the plan had always been to take Fort St. Elmo first.[22] In any case, for the Turks to concentrate their efforts on it proved a crucial mistake.

While the Ottomans were landing, the knights and Maltese made some last-minute improvements to the defences of Birgu and Senglea. The Ottomans set up their main camp in Marsa, which was close to the Knights' fortifications.[23] In the following days, the Ottomans set up camps and batteries on Santa Margherita Hill[24] and the Sciberras Peninsula.[25] The attacks on Birgu began on 21 May, while Senglea was first attacked a day later.[26]

Grand Siège de Malte-fr
Map of Malta at the time of the Great Siege

Capture of Fort St. Elmo

The darkness of the night then became as bright as day, due to the vast quantity of artificial fires. So bright was it indeed that we could see St Elmo quite clearly. The gunners of St Angelo... were able to lay and train their pieces upon the advancing Turks, who were picked out in the light of the fires."
— Francisco Balbi, Spanish relief soldier[27]

Having correctly calculated that the Turks would seek to secure a disembarkation point for their fleet and would thus begin the campaign by attempting to capture Fort St Elmo, de Valette sent reinforcements and concentrated half of his heavy artillery within the fort.[28][29] His intent was for them to hold out for a relief promised by Don Garcia, Viceroy of Sicily. The unremitting bombardment of the fort from three dozen guns on the higher ground of Mt. Sciberras began on 27 May,[30] and reduced the fort to rubble within a week, but de Valette evacuated the wounded nightly and resupplied the fort from across the harbour. After arriving in May, Dragut set up new batteries to imperil the ferry lifeline. On 3 June, a party of Janissaries managed to seize the fort's ravelin and ditch.[28][31] Still, by 8 June, the Knights sent a message to the Grand Master that the Fort could no longer be held but were rebuffed with messages that St Elmo must hold until the reinforcements arrived.[28]

The Turks attacked the damaged walls on June 10 and 15, and made an all out assault on June 16, during which even the slave and hired galley oarsmen housed in St Elmo, as well as the native Maltese soldiers, reportedly fought and died "almost as bravely as the Knights themselves." Two days later, Dragut was seen in a trench cannon emplacement arguing with the Turkish gunners about their level of fire. At Dragut's insistence a cannon's aim was lowered, but the aim was too low, and when fired its ball detached part of the trench which hit Dragut in the head, killing him,[32] (although according to Bosio, it was a lucky shot from Fort St. Angelo that mortally wounded him.[28])

Finally, on 23 June, the Turks seized what was left of Fort St. Elmo.[28] They killed all the defenders, totaling over 1,500 men, but spared nine Knights whom the Corsairs had captured. A small number of Maltese, managed to escape by swimming across the harbour.[33]

Although the Turks did succeed in capturing St. Elmo, allowing Piyale to anchor his fleet in Marsamxett, the siege of Fort St. Elmo had cost the Turks at least 6,000 men, including half of their Janissaries.[28]

Dragut Reis

Mustafa had the bodies of the knights decapitated and their bodies floated across the bay on mock crucifixes. In response, de Valette beheaded all his Turkish prisoners, loaded their heads into his cannons and fired them into the Turkish camp.


By this time, word of the siege was spreading. As soldiers and adventurers gathered in Sicily for Don Garcia's relief, panic spread as well. There can be little doubt that the stakes were high, perhaps higher than at any other time in the contest between the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Queen Elizabeth I of England wrote:[34]

If the Turks should prevail against the Isle of Malta, it is uncertain what further peril might follow to the rest of Christendom

All contemporary sources indicate the Turks intended to proceed to the Tunisian fortress of La Goletta and wrest it from the Spaniards, and Suleiman had also spoken of invading Europe through Italy.

However, modern scholars tend to disagree with this interpretation of the siege's importance. H.J.A. Sire, a historian who has written a history of the Order, is of the opinion that the siege represented an overextension of Ottoman forces, and argues that if the island had fallen, it would have quickly been retaken by a massive Spanish counterattack.[28]

Although Don Garcia did not at once send the promised relief (troops were still being levied), he was persuaded to release an advance force of some 600 men. After several attempts, this piccolo soccorso (Italian: small relief) managed to land on Malta in early July and sneak into Birgu, raising the spirits of the besieged garrison immensely.

The Senglea Peninsula

On 15 July, Mustafa ordered a double attack against the Senglea peninsula. He had transported 100 small vessels across Mt. Sciberras to the Grand Harbour, thus avoiding the strong cannons of Fort St. Angelo, in order to launch a sea attack against the promontory using about 1,000 Janissaries, while the Corsairs attacked Fort St. Michael on the landward end. Luckily for the Maltese, a defector warned de Valette about the impending strategy and the Grand Master had time to construct a palisade along the Senglea promontory, which successfully helped to deflect the attack. Nevertheless, the assault probably would have succeeded had not the Turkish boats come into point-blank range (less than 200 yards) of a sea-level battery of five cannons that had been constructed by Commander Chevalier de Guiral at the base of Fort St. Angelo with the sole purpose of stopping such an amphibious attack. Just two salvos sank all but one of the vessels, killing or drowning over 800 of the attackers. The land attack failed simultaneously when relief forces were able to cross to Ft. St. Michael across a floating bridge, with the result that Malta was saved for the day.

The Siege of Malta- Siege and Bombardment of St Michael, 28 June 1565 RMG BHC0255.tiff
The siege of St Michael, showing the Christian Knights cut off from the sea and surrounded in their remaining fortresses of Birgu, St Angelo and St Michael. 

The Turks by now had ringed Birgu and Senglea with some 65 siege guns and subjected the town to what was probably the most sustained bombardment in history up to that time. (Balbi claims that 130,000 cannonballs were fired during the course of the siege.) Having largely destroyed one of the town's crucial bastions, Mustafa ordered another massive double assault on 7 August, this time against Fort St. Michael and Birgu itself. On this occasion, the Turks breached the town walls and it seemed that the siege was over, but unexpectedly the invaders retreated. As it happened, the cavalry commander Captain Vincenzo Anastagi, on his daily sortie from Mdina, had attacked the unprotected Turkish field hospital, killing everyone. The Turks, thinking the Christian relief had arrived from Sicily, broke off their assault.

St. Michael and Birgu

After the attack of 7 August, the Turks resumed their bombardment of St. Michael and Birgu, mounting at least one other major assault against the town on 19–21 August. What actually happened during those days of intense fighting is not entirely clear.

Bradford's account of the climax of the siege has a mine exploding with a huge blast, breaching the town walls and causing stone and dust to fall into the ditch, with the Turks charging even as the debris was still falling. He also has the 70-year-old de Valette saving the day by leading towards the Turks some hundred troops that had been waiting in the Piazza of Birgu. Balbi, in his diary entry for 20 August, says only that de Valette was told the Turks were within the walls; the Grand Master ran to "the threatened post where his presence worked wonders. Sword in hand, he remained at the most dangerous place until the Turks retired."[35] Bosio also has no mention of the successful detonation of a mine. Rather, in his report a panic ensued when the townspeople spied the Turkish standards outside the walls. The Grand Master ran there, but found no Turks. In the meantime, a cannonade atop Ft. St. Angelo, stricken by the same panic, killed a number of townsfolk with friendly fire.[36]

Fort St. Michael and Mdina

Malta Mdina BW 2011-10-05 09-28-08
Mdina fortifications map 1565
View of Mdina (left) and map of the city's fortifications as they were in 1565 (right)

The situation was sufficiently dire that, at some point in August, the Council of Elders decided to abandon the town and retreat to Fort St. Angelo. De Valette, however, vetoed this proposal. If he guessed that the Turks were losing their will, he was correct. Although the bombardment and minor assaults continued, the invaders were stricken by an increasing desperation. Towards the end of August, the Turks attempted to take Fort St. Michael, first with the help of a manta (similar to a Testudo formation), a small siege engine covered with shields, then by use of a full-blown siege tower. In both cases, Maltese engineers tunneled out through the rubble and destroyed the constructions with point-blank salvos of chain shot.

At the beginning of September, the weather was turning and Mustafa ordered a march on Mdina, intending to winter there. However the attack failed to occur. The poorly-defended and supplied city deliberately started firing its cannon at the approaching Turks at pointlessly long range; this bluff scared them away by fooling the already demoralised Turks into thinking the city had ammunition to spare.[37] By 8 September, the Turks had embarked their artillery and were preparing to leave the island, having lost perhaps a third of their men to fighting and disease.

Gran Soccorso

On 7 September, Don Garcia had at last landed about 8,000 men at St. Paul's Bay on the north end of the island. The so-called Grande Soccorso ("great relief") positioned themselves on the ridge of San Pawl tat-Tarġa, waiting for the retreating Turks. It is said that when some hot-headed knights of the relief force saw the Turkish retreat and the burning villages in its wake, they charged without waiting for orders from Ascanio della Corgna. Della Corgna had no choice but to order a general charge which resulted in the massacre of the retreating Turkish force. The Turks fled to their ships and from the islands on 13 September. Malta had survived the Turkish assault, and throughout Europe people celebrated what would turn out to be the last epic battle involving Crusader Knights.

The relief force consisted of mainly Spanish and Italian soldiers, sent by the Spanish Empire as well as the Duchy of Florence, the Republic of Genoa, the Papal States and the Duchy of Savoy.[1]


Levee du Siege de Malte by Charles Philippe Lariviere 1798 1876
Lifting of the Siege of Malta by Charles-Philippe Larivière (1798–1876). Hall of the Crusades, Palace of Versailles.

The number of casualties is in as much dispute as the number of invaders. Balbi gives 35,000 Ottoman deaths, which seems implausible, while Bosio estimates 30,000 casualties, including sailors. Modern estimations from military historians using Turkish archives have put the number of casualties at 10,000 from combat and disease, though it is generally agreed that there were likely far more losses amongst the various volunteers and pirates, which the Turkish sources would not have noted.[38] The knights lost a third of their number, and Malta lost a third of its inhabitants. Birgu and Senglea were essentially leveled. Still, 9,000 defenders had managed to withstand a siege of more than four months in the hot summer, despite enduring a bombardment of some 130,000 cannonballs.

Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, had a key influence in the victory against Ottomans with his example and his ability to encourage and hold together people as one man. This example had a major impact, bringing together the kings of Europe in an alliance against the previously seemingly invincible Ottomans; the result was the vast union of forces against Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto seven years later. Such was the gratitude of Europe for the knights' heroic defense that money soon began pouring into the island, allowing de Valette to construct a fortified city, Valletta, on Mt. Sciberras. His intent was to deny the position to any future enemies. De Valette himself died in Buskett at a hunting accident next to the Verdala Palaces. The main article on de Valette says he died after a stroke not at a hunting accident.

See also


  1. ^ a b Paoletti, Ciro (2008). A Military History of Italy. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780275985059.
  2. ^ a b Francesco Balbi di Correggio / translated by: Ernle Bradford (1965). The Siege of Malta, 1565. London.
  3. ^ a b Giacomo Bosio, Histoire des Chevaliers de l’ordre de S. Iean de Hierusalem, edited by J. Baudoin (Paris, 1643).
  4. ^ Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol. II (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1995).Great Siege of Malta
  5. ^ Abbe de Vertot, The History of the Knights of Malta vol. II, 1728 (facsimile reprint Midsea Books, Malta, 1989).
  6. ^ Godfrey Wettinger, Slavery in the Islands of Malta and Gozo, (Publishers Enterprise Group: Malta, 2002), p. 34
  7. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer (1984). The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. p. 854. ISBN 0-87169-162-0.
  8. ^ Carmel Testa, Romegas (Midsea Book: Malta, 2002), p. 61.
  9. ^ Braudel, op cit.
  10. ^ "Malta prepares for an imminent Ottoman invasion". Heritage Malta. 17 May 2015. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016.
  11. ^ Coleccion de Documentos Ineditos Para La Historia de Espana, vol. 29 (Madrid, 1856).
  12. ^ Arnold Cassola, The 1565 Great Siege of Malta and Hipolito Sans's La Maltea (Publishers Enterprise Group: Malta, 1999).
  13. ^ Coleccion, op. cit., p. 367
  14. ^ Celio Secondo Curione, A New History of the War in Malta, translated from the Latin by Emanuele F. Mizzi (Tipografia Leonina: Rome, 1928).
  15. ^ Giovanni Bonello, Histories of Malta, Volume III, Versions and Perversions (Patrimonju Publishing Ltd: Malta, 2002)
  16. ^ Coleccion, op. cit.
  17. ^ Giacomo Bosio, op. cit.
  18. ^ Richard Knolles, The Generall Historie of the Turke (London, 1603).
  19. ^ "Hostile Ottoman fleet anchored in Malta today". Heritage Malta. 18 May 2015. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Rash decision ruins the day". Heritage Malta. 19 May 2015. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016.
  21. ^ Aurel Decei Istoria Imperiului Otoman, Ed. Ştiinţifică şi enciclopedică, Bucureşti 1978, page 185
  22. ^ Coleccion, op. cit., pp. 6–7
  23. ^ "Ottoman troops land in Malta". Heritage Malta. 20 May 2015. Archived from the original on 6 February 2016.
  24. ^ "Birgu attacked: Greek betrays Order of St John". Heritage Malta. 21 May 2015. Archived from the original on 5 February 2016.
  25. ^ "Liberated prisoners enrolled as soldiers". Heritage Malta. 24 May 2015. Archived from the original on 5 February 2016.
  26. ^ "Turks planning to sabotage Fort St Elmo". Heritage Malta. 22 May 2015. Archived from the original on 5 February 2016.
  27. ^ Grant, R.G. (2005). Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley. p. 133.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g Sire, H. J. A. (1993). "5". The Knights of Malta. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-300-05502-1.
  29. ^ "Refugees ordered to leave Fort St Elmo". Heritage Malta. 25 May 2015. Archived from the original on 6 February 2016.
  30. ^ "Fort St Elmo under fire: Renegade reveals Ottoman plan". Heritage Malta. 27 May 2015. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  31. ^ "Ravelin of Fort St Elmo taken over by Ottomans". Heritage Malta. 3 June 2015. Archived from the original on 5 February 2016.
  32. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer (1984). The papacy and the Levant. vol. 4. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. p. 860. ISBN 9780871691620.
  33. ^ Bruce Ware Allen (22 October 2015). The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John. University Press of New England. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-61168-843-6.
  34. ^ Felix Pryor, Elizabeth I: Her Life in Letters, (University of California Press, 2003), p.39.
  35. ^ Francisco Balbi, The Siege of Malta 1565, translated by H.A. Balbi (Copenhagen, 1961).
  36. ^ Bosio, op. cit., p. 552.
  37. ^ Grima, Noel (15 June 2015). "The Mdina siege of 1429 was 'greater than the Great Siege' of 1565". The Malta Independent. Archived from the original on 15 August 2015.
  38. ^ Arnold Cassola, The 1565 Ottoman Malta Campaign Register, (Publishers Enterprise Group: Malta, 1998), p. 111.


  • Allen, Bruce Ware, The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John, Hanover N.H., ForeEdge 2017 ISBN 1512601160.
  • Bradford, Ernle, Ernle Bradford (1961). The Great Siege: Malta 1565. Wordsworth 1999. ISBN 1-84022-206-9.
  • Bradford, Ernle, The Sultan's Admiral: The Life of Barbarossa, London, 1968.
  • Correggio, Francesco Balbi di (1961). The Siege Of Malta 1565. Copenhagen.
  • Francesco Balbi di Correggio (translated Ernle Bradford in 1965) (1568). "chapter II". The Siege Of Malta 1565. Penguin 2003. ISBN 0-14-101202-1.
  • Currey, E. Hamilton, Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean, London, 1910
  • Pickles, Tim. Malta 1565: Last Battle of the Crusades; Osprey Campaign Series #50, Osprey Publishing, 1998.
  • Rothman, Tony, "The Great Siege of Malta," in History Today, January 2007.
  • Spiteri, Stephen C. The Great Siege: Knights vs. Turks, 1565. Malta, The Author, 2005.
  • Wolf, John B., The Barbary Coast: Algeria under the Turks, New York, 1979; ISBN 0-393-01205-0

External links

Coordinates: 35°53′32″N 14°31′06″E / 35.892242°N 14.518216°E

Alof de Wignacourt

Fra Alof de Wignacourt (1547 – 14 September 1622) was a French nobleman who was the 54th Grand Master of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem from 10 February 1601 to his death in 1622. Unlike a number of the other Grand Masters, he was popular with the Maltese people. Wignacourt is mostly remembered for the construction of the Wignacourt Aqueduct as well as a series of coastal towers which also bear his name.

Wignacourt joined the Order in 1564, aged seventeen, and distinguished himself at the Great Siege of Malta a year later. He was elected Grand Master in 1601.

In order to ensure that the local population continued to celebrate the date of his accession, he declared the date of the shipwreck of St Paul in Malta to be the 10 of February; a date that is celebrated passionately until today.

He was patron of Caravaggio following the artist's arrival in Malta in 1607 until his arrest and subsequent expulsion from the Order in 1608.

His reign was notable for the construction of a number of coastal fortifications (the Wignacourt towers), and of the Wignacourt Aqueduct that brought water from the plateau above Rabat to Valletta. The Wignacourt Arch was built as a part of the aqueduct between Birkirkara and Santa Venera, and it had his coat of arms with three fleur-de-lys on it, giving it the name of the Fleur-de-Lys Gate. A settlement which developed around this area is now known as Fleur-de-Lys, and the three fleur-de-lys from the coat of arms also appear on the flag of Santa Venera.During his reign, in 1614 the Ottomans made their final attempt to conquer Malta. Six thousand men landed at Marsascala Bay, and raided the village of Żejtun. The Order's cavalry and Maltese civilians, however, managed to overcome the Turks who retreated, without a single Christian dead.

His parade armour survives and is one of the treasures of the armoury of the Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta.

Alof de Wignacourt died of apoplexy while he was out shooting on 14 September 1622 at the age of 75.


Birgu (Maltese: Il-Birgu [ɪlˈbɪrɡʊ], Italian: Vittoriosa), also known by its title Città Vittoriosa ("Victorious City"), is an old fortified city on the south side of the Grand Harbour in the South Eastern Region of Malta. The city occupies a promontory of land with Fort Saint Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base. Birgu is ideally situated for safe anchorage, and over time it has developed a very long history with maritime, mercantile and military activities.

Birgu is a very old locality with its origins reaching back to medieval times. Prior to the establishment of Valletta as capital and main city of Malta, military powers that wanted to rule the Maltese islands would need to obtain control of Birgu due to its significant position in the Grand Harbour. In fact, it served as the base of the Order of Saint John and de facto capital city of Malta from 1530 to 1571. Birgu is well known for its vital role in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565.

In the early 20th century, Birgu had a population of over 6000 people. Over the years this decreased, and the population stood at 2,629 in March 2014.

Church of Our Lady of Victories, Valletta

The Our Lady of Victories Church, formerly known as the Saint Anthony the Abbot Church, was the first church and building completed in Valletta, Malta. In 1566, following the Great Siege of Malta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette and his Order showed interest to build a church in the name of the Nativity of the Virgin as a form of thanksgiving; the construction was funded by De Valette.

Fort Saint Elmo

Fort Saint Elmo (Maltese: Forti Sant'Iermu) is a star fort in Valletta, Malta. It stands on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula that divides Marsamxett Harbour from Grand Harbour, and commands the entrances to both harbours along with Fort Tigné and Fort Ricasoli. It is best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565.

Fort Saint Michael

Fort Saint Michael (Maltese: Forti San Mikiel) was a small fort in the land front of the city of Senglea, Malta. It was built in the 1550s, and played a significant role in the Great Siege of Malta of 1565. Following the siege, it was rebuilt as Saint Michael Cavalier (Maltese: Kavallier ta' San Mikiel), and was completed in 1581. The cavalier was partially demolished in the 20th century, and only a part of its base still exists today.

Fort St. Angelo

Fort St. Angelo (Maltese: Forti Sant'Anġlu or Fortizza Sant'Anġlu) is a bastioned fort in Birgu, Malta, located at the centre of the Grand Harbour. It was originally built in the medieval period as a castle called the Castrum Maris (English: Castle by the Sea; Italian: Castello al Mare). It was rebuilt by the Order of Saint John as a bastioned fort called Fort Saint Angelo between the 1530s and the 1560s, and it is best known for its role as the Order's headquarters during the Great Siege of Malta of 1565. A major reconstruction to designs of Carlos de Grunenbergh took place in the 1690s, giving the fort its current appearance.

The fort was garrisoned by the British from 1800 to 1979, at times being classified as a stone frigate known as HMS Egmont or later HMS St Angelo. The fort suffered considerable damage during World War II, but it was later restored. In 1998, the upper part of the fort was handed to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Fort St. Angelo has been on Malta's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1998, as part of the Knights' Fortifications around the Harbours of Malta.

Great Siege Monument

The Great Siege Monument (Maltese: Il-Monument tal-Assedju l-Kbir), also known as the Monument to the Fallen of the Great Siege, is a monument commemorating the Great Siege of Malta located in Valletta, Malta. It consists of three bronze figures symbolizing Faith, Fortitude, and Civilization, standing on top of a granite base. The monument is the work of the sculptor Antonio Sciortino, and it was inaugurated on 8 May 1927.

Jean Parisot de Valette

Fra' Jean Parisot de La Valette (4 February 1495[?] – 21 August 1568) was a French nobleman and 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, from 21 August 1557 to his death in 1568. As a Knight Hospitaller, joining the order in the Langue de Provence, he fought with distinction against the Turks at Rhodes. As Grand Master, Valette became the Order's hero and most illustrious leader, commanding the resistance against the Ottomans at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, sometimes regarded as one of the greatest sieges of all time.The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by Grandmaster La Valette in 1566. He did not live to see Valletta completed, as he died in 1568 and was succeeded by Grandmaster Pierre de Monte.

Mount Sciberras

Mount Sciberras is a hill that rises 56m above the Grand Harbour to the south and Marsamxett Harbour to the north. It is upon this hill that the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Jean Parisot de Valette commissioned the construction of the new city of Valletta in 1566 after the Great Siege of MaltaThis hill gives its name to the Sciberras Peninsula.

Pierre de Monte

Fra' Pietro del Monte (1499 − 26 January 1572) was an Italian nobleman who was the 50th Grand Master of the Order of Saint John from 1568 to 1572.

Pietro del Monte was born in Italy in 1499. His original name was Guido Lotti, but took the name San Savino del Monti in 1550. He was a nephew of Pope Julius III. Prior to his arrival in Malta he was a friar in Capua. He also fought in the siege of Rhodes of 1522.

During the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, del Monte was in command of Fort Saint Michael in Senglea. For most of the siege, the fort was cut off from the bulk of the Order's forces in Birgu. Del Monte managed to hold the fort for 55 days until the arrival of de Toledo's relief force on 8 September.

Del Monte was appointed as Grand Master on 23 August 1568, three days after his predecessor Jean Parisot de Valette's death. During his rule as Grand Master, del Ponte continued the construction of the new capital Valletta. In 1569, he built Del Monte Gate to a design by Francesco Laparelli. This gate was demolished by the British in 1884 to make way for the larger Victoria Gate. The Order officially moved to the city of Valletta during del Monte's reign, on 18 March 1571.

The Order's fleet was also strengthened during his reign, and took part in the victorious Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571.Del Monte died on 26 January 1572 and was succeeded by Jean de la Cassière.

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt and his Page

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt with his Page (c. 1607-1608) is a painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, in the Louvre of Paris.

Alof de Wignacourt joined the Order of the Knights of Saint John (the Knights of Malta) in 1564, aged seventeen, and distinguished himself the next year at the Great Siege of Malta, when the Turks were defeated and never returned to the island. He was elected Grand Master in 1601, determined to enhance the prestige of the Order and its new post-siege capital, Valletta. It was not surprising, therefore, that he would welcome the opportunity to have at his court the most famous painter in Rome and Naples, Michelangelo da Caravaggio.

Caravaggio arrived in Malta from Naples in July 1607 and according to his early biographers Giovanni Baglione and Giovanni Bellori, he began at once with portraits of Wignacourt and other knights from the highest ranks of the Order. This famous portrait shows the Grand Master in formal armour, holding his baton of command, every gleaming inch an image of the military might of the Knights. At the time Wignacourt was about sixty years old. He had strengthened the fortifications of the island, built an aqueduct to guarantee water to the city, and launched several attacks on the Turks. He had turned the Knights into a sovereign power, making himself in effect a prince answerable to no-one except the Pope, with his own increasingly wealthy court.

One of his innovations had been to surround to himself with young pages, in imitation of the fashion of the princely courts. The pages were taken from the most noble Catholic families of Europe. According to John Gash and others the page in the portrait is probably Nicholas de Paris Boissy, a French aristocrat destined for a distinguished career – he became Grand Prior of France in 1657. He is placed a little awkwardly within the composition: his feet are aligned with the feet of de Wignacourt, as if standing beside de Wignacourt, but his hand and the helmet overlap Wignacourt's elbow, giving the impression that from the waist up he is in front of the knight. The fact can be explained by Caravaggio's practice of painting separately from live models – de Wignacourt and the page were apparently not together in the studio at the same time.

The boy's lively expression and alert gaze make him an attractive subject in his own right, to the extent that he was several times copied by later artists visiting Malta. Wignacourt, encased in splendid black and gold Milanese armour, stares upwards and outwards out of the frame in a dignified manner that invites the viewer to gaze upon him in awe, leaving the page, with his look of boyish interest, as the sole thoroughly human presence, and a far more sympathetic one than the self-conscious man of steel. The double-portrait with the pageboy was an unusual combination for the time. It may have been ordered by Wignacourt to stress the dignity of his court, or Caravaggio may have been inspired by a painting by Titian that he could have seen in his youth in Milan, Alfonso d'Avalos Addressing his Troops, showing the Spanish governor of the city addressing his knights with a page beside him holding his helmet.

Saluting Battery (Valletta)

The Saluting Battery (Maltese: Batterija tas-Salut) is an artillery battery in Valletta, Malta. It was constructed in the 16th century by the Order of Saint John, on or near the site of an Ottoman battery from the Great Siege of Malta. The battery forms the lower tier of St. Peter & Paul Bastion of the Valletta Land Front, located below the Upper Barrakka Gardens and overlooking Fort St. Angelo and the rest of the Grand Harbour.

The Saluting Battery was mainly used for firing ceremonial gun salutes and signals, but it also saw military use during the blockade of 1798–1800 and World War II. The battery remained an active military installation until its guns were removed by the British in 1954. It was restored and opened to the public in the early 21st century, and it is now equipped with eight working replicas of SBBL 32 pounders which fire gun signals daily at 1200 and 1600.


Senglea (Maltese: L-Isla [ˈlɪslɐ]), also known by its title Città Invicta (or Civitas Invicta), is a fortified city in the South Eastern Region of Malta. It is one of the Three Cities in the Grand Harbour area, the other two being Cospicua and Vittoriosa, and has a population of slightly below three thousand people. The city's title Città Invicta was given because it managed to resist the Ottoman invasion at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The name is Senglea since the Grand Master who built it, Claude de la Sengle, gave this city a part of his name.

Siege of Malta

Siege of Malta may refer to:

Siege of Malta (1429) by the Moors

Great Siege of Malta, 1565, by the Ottoman Empire against the Knights Hospitaller

Siege of Malta, 1570 heroic poem by the Cretan writer Antonios Achelis, about the above

The Siege of Malta (novel), 1832 novel by Sir Walter Scott, about the above

Siege of Malta (1798–1800) by the British and Maltese against the French

Siege of Malta (World War II), by the Axis powers

The Great Siege of Malta in literature and historical fiction

The 1570 Siege of Malta, written in the immediate aftermath of the events by the Cretan writer Antonios Achelis, is a classic of Cretan Greek literature.

Walter Scott's novel The Siege of Malta, written in 1831-1832 shortly before his death, was not published until 2008.Modern authors have attempted to capture the desperation and ferocity of the siege, with varying degrees of success.

The Great Siege, Malta 1565, Ernle Bradford (1961)

Dorothy Dunnett in "The Disorderly Knights" (1966), the third volume of The "Lymond Chronicles", gives a detailed fiction account of the events of 1551 in Malta, Gozo and Tripoli. Although several of the characters are fictional, the bulk of the personages are historical.

The novel Ironfire: An Epic Novel of Love and War (2003) by David W. Ball is the story of kidnapping, slavery and revenge leading up to the siege of Malta. It takes a somewhat less sympathetic view of the Catholic Knights Hospitaller and maintains a more romantic approach. (The British edition is called "The Sword and the Scimitar.")

Angels in Iron (2004) by Nicholas Prata remains faithful to the historical narrative and tells the story from a distinctly Catholic point of view.

The novel The Religion (2006) by Tim Willocks tells the story of the siege through the eyes of a fictional mercenary called Mattias Tannhauser, who is on Malta fighting (at times) alongside the Knights (referred to primarily as The Religion), while trying to locate the bastard son of a Maltese noblewoman. In this attempt his opponent is a high-ranking member of the Inquisition. The story presents a picture of both sides of the conflict without romanticising or sanitising the content for modern consumption.

It is the main plot of Pirates of Christ (2007), the historical novel by Edward Lamond.

Roger Crowley's Empires of The Sea (2008) has a lengthy section on the siege of Malta.The novel Blood Rock (2008) by James Jackson tells the story of the siege with a focus on a fictional English mercenary called Christian Hardy. Throughout the siege, Hardy works to discover the identity of the traitor within The Religion who works to ensure a Moslem victory. The traitor works on behalf of the French king, Francis I, who believed that peace with the Ottoman Empire was in the French interest and that the marauding Knights Hospitaller, by annoying the Sultan, threatened the security of France.

In the video game Age of Empires III, released in 2005, the story-based campaign mode has a fictional account of the siege of Malta.

Clash Of Empires: The Great Siege (2011), a novel written by Christopher Hart, under the pen name William Napier, focuses on how the events of 1565 effected Nicholas Ingoldsby, a fictional English character, and the son of one of the Knights of St. John.

Eight-Pointed Cross (2011) by Marthese Fenech remains faithful to historical events and tells the story from the perspectives of a Maltese family and an Ottoman family. The narrative culminates with Dragut's 1551 raid of Gozo. Work on the sequel, which focuses on the Siege of 1565, is currently underway.

The novel The sword and the scimitar (2012), by Simon Scarrow, is set around the Siege of Malta, and recounts events through the eyes of the disgraced veteran Knight Sir Thomas Barrett (a fictional character), who is secretly searching for a hidden scroll that is in the possession of the Knights of St. John, that could threaten the reign of his Queen, Elizabeth I.

The novel The Course of Fortune (J. Boylston, 2015), by Tony Rothman, published in three volumes, recounts the events leading up to the Siege of Malta beginning with the 1551 raid on Gozo, in which the corsair Turgut Reis enslaved the island's entire population. The story is told through the eyes of a young Spanish mercenary and relies heavily on early and original sources.

The Siege of Malta (novel)

The Siege of Malta is a historical novel by Walter Scott written from 1831 to 1832 and first published posthumously in 2008. It tells the story of events surrounding the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565.

Toni Bajada

Toni Bajjada was a Maltese spy for the Knights of Saint John during the Great Siege of Malta. He was born in Naxxar.

Valletta Living History

Valletta Living History is a 35 minute audiovisual show depicting the history, culture and lifestyle of Malta and the Maltese. The attraction was created by HD Entertainment Ltd. in Malta in 2010. Falling under the category of a docudrama, the story was penned by international script writer Jonathan Rich who has worked on other docudramas for the BBC. Maltese director, Vice Briffa directed the shooting and Manuel Cauchi is one of the main actors. The story reenacts the Great Siege of Malta and the construction of Valletta, the capital city. It then chronologically goes through the history of Malta with further reenactments of the arrival of Napoleon and French rule, British occupation and 7 June 1919 riots. The show also comprises several computer generated images and archive footage, mainly of the Second World War and the bombardment of Malta. Valletta living History is screened daily at the Embassy Complex in Valletta.

Victory Day (Malta)

Victory Day (or Otto settembre) is a public holiday celebrated in Malta on 8 September and recalls the end of three historical sieges made on the Maltese archipelago, namely: the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottoman Empire ending in 1565; the Siege of Valletta by the French Blockade ending in 1800; and, the Siege of Malta during the Second World War by the Italian army ending in 1943.

This day also coincides with the commemoration of the birth of the Virgin Mary, better known as the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated in the villages of Senglea, Naxxar and Mellieha in Malta, and Xagħra in Gozo. It is locally known as il-Vitorja (the Victory) and il-Bambina (the Baby). The traditional regatta featuring boat races in the Grand Harbour is held on Victory Day.

and battles
of the
Ottoman Empire Major sieges by the Ottoman Empire by century

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