The reasons for the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottomans

We read from Athanasios Sakellarios (1890) that the Ottomans wish to conquer Cyprus goes back to 1517 when the Venetians terminated the tribute deposit of 8,000 golden ducats on an annual basis. The Ottomans saw themselves as legal heirs of the sultan of Cairo. Suleyman the II moved to conspire with the Duke of Savoy (the legal heir of Cyprus following the death of Carlotta) towards the seizure of Cyprus, something that the Duke refused, probably around 1564, due to the fact that he didn’t want to be subdued to a Muslim, and soon afterwards he took part in the coalition emerged against him. Having the Venetians known the news by the bailo of Istanbul, they thanked the Duke of Savoy for his attitude and began to strengthen the fortresses of the island, expecting a war on behalf of the Ottomans [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

According to a letter of Fra Angelo Calepio, who witnessed the conquest of Cyprus, before the Ottomans decided to conquer Cyprus, “two Cypriots had arrived with letters [to the Emperor], which expressed the desire of many peasants of the parici class [slaves] to be ruled by the Grand Turk, pleading that they were sore burdened: upon which Bragadino [Venetian Captain], with magnificent gifts, won over the Mehmed Pasha [recipient of the letters], who sent back to him these two messengers and their letters, without presenting them to the Sultan [Emperor Selim]” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895].

Additionally, according to Angelo Calepio the real reasons-motives that drove Selim the Emperor to conquest Cyprus were the following:

  • to acquire income for the mosque he wanted to build in Adrianople [it was built between 1568 and 1575], because, according to their law, Selim could not endow the building he proposed to erect from the revenues of the Empire, or from his Treasury [Indeed, according to the German pilgrim Reinhold Lubenau, who travelled to Cyprus in 1588, recorded that the majestic Selimiye mosque in Edirne was paid for with the spoils of the Cyprus campaign. Tamás Kiss (2016) opposes this theory claiming that it wasn’t built with the war booty, but he doesn’t prove where the “massive” spoils of the war ended up or how they were utilized] [Matthew Lubin, 2012].
  • Also, he suggests that the Mufti urged Selim to the conquest of Cyprus, in order to prove himself and
  • to make sure that the sea, ravaged by western pirates, who laid securely in Cyprus’s ports, threatened the safety of pilgrims to Mecca, and of Turkish merchants who traded with Syria and Egypt [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. [According to Isiksel (2012) only between September 1568 and September 1569 fifty dispacci to the Serenità report on cases of piracy causing trouble between Venice and the Porte. One particular episode of piracy according to Katib Çelebi (early 17th cent.) who claims that it was specifically the plundering of Selim’s personal cargo that sparked the flame [Tamás Kiss, 2016]. According to Jennings (1992), the war did not solve the piracy problem [a pretext?] [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. According to Giovanni C. Scaramelli in 1603, after 1571 it was the Ottomans who were accused of harbouring pirates in Cyprus, regardless of the pirates’ affiliations [Tamás Kiss, 2016].

Selim’s causations for war against Venice

According to Hill (1940), the strained diplomatic relations between the Porte and Venice reached their pinnacle in early 1570 when Selim sent Venice his ultimatum [according to Isiksel (2012) due to the Republic’s breaking of the treaty by harbouring pirates in Cyprus or expect war]: “We demand of you Cyprus, which you shall give us willingly or perforce; and do not irritate our horrible sword, for we shall wage most cruel war against you everywhere”. According to Paruta (16th cent.), Venice sent a message to the Porte that the war was accepted [Tamás Kiss, 2016].

While the Sultan’s casus belli to demand Cyprus from Venice was piracy and Venetian violations of the existing agreements, in Istanbul another, completely different justification was in the making for domestic use: Selim sought to recover Muslim religious buildings [colleges and mosques] neglected and abused by Christians with whom peace was secured by a treaty [of the Byzantine Era]. In essence, deeming the ahdname [for the religious buildings] with Venice illegitimate in religious terms was a domestically more resonant argument for breaking the treaty than the accusation that Venice had violated the agreements [piracy]. Furthermore, the dating of the two casus belli reveals more about the Ottoman court’s attempts to find the most suitable reason [pretext] to declare war on Venice: in mid-January 1569 Barbaro the bailo [ambassador to the Sublime Porte] reported Venice having been accused of mistreating Muslim religious sites in Cyprus. According to the ASV [Venetian State Archives], Barbaro replied to the Grand Dragoman that Cyprus had never been a land of Islam, and they simply had no memory of anything that would refute this [Tamás Kiss, 2016].

Athanasios Sakellarios adds a third causation to the above mentioned, he remarks that Cyprus was conquered by the sultan of Cairo during the reign of Janus, King of Cyprus, and with the tribute, the Muslims preserved the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Hence, since Egypt was now territory of the Ottomans, the Venetians at a minimum ought to pay this tribute to them, for the same purpose [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

The capture of Nicosia in 1570

With what Fabriano Falchetti and Giovanni Sozomeno tell us in 1750, the Turks somehow easily conquered Nicosia in September 1750. They firstly accessed the Larnaca salt lake with no resistance in July [Giacomo Diedo (1571) writes “this happy beginning gave them courage, and they won over to their side many of the inhabitants”, adding “The Turks found no opposition on the way: the inhabitants, through inconstancy of temperament, or because the yoke of slavery imposed on them by the Cypriot nobles made them flatter themselves that they might find better luck under a new master, even offered them provisions, and gave them the fullest information as to the position of affairs and the condition of the island”], while simultaneously the small Venetian army retired back in Nicosia. Five hundred horsemen only were despatched from the Salines to Famagusta, to prevent any help coming to Nicosia. Diedo writes “the Ottoman main camp extended from Santa Marina to Anglantzia [22nd of July according to Paolo Paruta]”. According to Diedo, “there were 10,000 infantry in Nicosia, all untried men collected from the villages of the island, and a reserve of 1,500 Italians. The number of pioneers was large [4000+]”. Giacomo Diedo says “Mustafa [Pasha] in a few days he had assembled with the colours 50,000 infantry [elsewhere mentioned 25,000], 2,500 cavalry, as many more carriers, 3,000 pioneers, with thirty pieces of large artillery and fifty of lesser calibre”. At the 9th of September, the slaughter lasted until three o’clock. Paolo Paruta wrote, “the Turks ran without any order or discipline all over the City, plundering the houses, destroying the churches, dishonouring matrons, violating virgins, and putting all to the sword, without any distinction either of sex, age, or condition. The Turks slew that day above 20,000 persons ” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. According to Sakellarios, there were women that threw themselves off the roofs of the houses and others who killed their daughters to avoid enslavement and disgrase from the Ottomans [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

Regarding the outcome, Sozomeno writes:  “If this capital (and the remainder of the Kingdom) had had a good government and a larger number of soldiers it might have held out for a long time”, adding the negative fact that the Turks landed without resistance in Larnaca”. “The greater part of the slaves, male and female, were taken off the island. The flower of the youth, with much rich spoil, was embarked on a galleon of Mohammed Pasha, and on a caramosolin and a galley destined as presents to the Grand Signor and to Mehmed Pasha. But one of these [possibly noble] ladies set fire to the ammunition, which blew up with the galleon, the caramosolin and the galley [October 3rd according to Calepio]” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. Around 1,000 youths died in the explosion according to Sakellarios [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890]. According to Alexander Drummond [in Cyprus 1745 & 1750] claims the following: “20,000 were butchered in Nicosia after the town was taken; the old of both sexes, with the ugly women and children unfit for service, were built up within one funeral pile, in the market-place, and there burned alive: an action which, in horror, transcends anything I have seen upon record. All the rest were loaded with chains, about five and twenty thousand were carried off the island and sold to slavery, and two of the largest vessels were filled with jewels, plate and furniture of prodigious value” [what he says may make sense because according to Ronald Jennings’s ottoman records of that era, extremely few people were found to live in the city of Nicosia after the conquest]. Also, according to Calepio, “the day after the capture of the city was held a general bazaar or auction of the spoil. First were sold the good looking youths and pretty girls, the buyers taking no thought or count of their noble birth, but only of the beauty of their faces. The rest of the men were sold at extremely low prices, though something more was paid for those who were fit for work in the galleys” [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]. The Ottomans, in the process of conquest, enslaved thousands of Venetian soldiers. Many of them were immediately sold to slave markets in Syria and Anatolia, [a few] others may have remained in Cyprus with their new masters [Ronald Jennings, 1992]. According to the Esir Defteri records, Nicosia’s prisoners of war that were sent to the Empire as slaves were 14,000. According to B. Arbel (1984), Nicosia prior to the conquest had 56,000 inhabitants. Based on Jenning’s research on the taxation on non-Muslims of Nicosia after the conquest, Vera Costantini estimates around 880 non-Muslims residents were left in Nicosia, hence the plague of that period, the massacres and the enslavement, vanished 55,000 residents [Vera Costantini, 2019].

The conquest of Famagusta in 1571

Then, according to Diedo, the Turkish army left Nicosia, on its way to Famagusta, the only town which remained faithful to the Venetians; for the other districts of the kingdom [were undefended], as well as the hill-folk, had quietly accepted the Turkish yoke. According to Paolo Paruta, the rulers of Famagusta did not accept to surrender. Then, they waited for the winter to pass, and in April of 1571, they started the ground preparations for the attack. In the meantime, the Venetians expelled from the city all the useless mouths, perhaps 8,000 in all, who went to the villages without interference from the Turks. They next took a census of those who remained within the walls and found seven thousand able-bodied men (3,500 Italian infantry, 3500 Greeks enrolled for service [Calepio writes 4,000 infantry, 800 Cernide, 3,000 citizens and peasants, and 200 Albanians]). Marc’ Antonio Bragadino was the  Governor-General of Famagusta. The Turks launched their first attack in May. As time passed, the besieged ended up eating the flesh of donkeys, horses, and dogs [Calepio adds cats]. According to Calepio, on the first of August, the white flag was rose. Discussion with the terms of the surrender followed, accepted by Mustafa Pasha. August 5th, Signor Bragadino sent out Count Nestor Martinengo with a letter to Mustafa to say that the same evening he proposed to come out to see the Pasha, and to hand to him the keys of the city. Indeed they met, and they passed from one subject to another, then a complaint arose during the truce on behalf of Mustafa that made him eventually furious towards Bragadino [Claude Delaval Cobham, 1895]: According to Lokman’s 1581 manuscript, the incarceration of Muslims by Venetians was the reason [or pretext] that Bragadino had to suffer a most gruesome death by flaying. Those fifty Muslim captives that the Ottomans allegedly found were in the fort of Famagusta upon entering the walled city [Tamás Kiss, 2016]. Sakellarios on the contrary speaks of fifty Muslim pilgrims allegedly killed by Bragadino during truce [Athanasios Sakellarios, 1890].

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