25 August 2010

Nauplion: The Siege of 1500

In the 15th century, July and August were the times for massacres -- Negroponte on 12 July 1471, Otranto on 14 August 1480, Modon on 9 August 1500. Under Ottoman law, a city that did not surrender was up for grabs.  Modon tried to surrender, but the white flag was not seen in the turmoil.  And massacres happened in late summer, because the Ottoman armies could not leave home before mid-May because of the length time needed to send messengers across the expanses of the empire and for men to get to the meeting points.  There is an adequate account of the war here.

On this date in August 1500, Nauplion was put under Ottoman siege.  Expecting a siege, Venice and Crete had sent men and supplies, but most support had to be sent to Modon and much of the available shipping was involved in that disaster. It is difficult to work out the sequence of events  now: more difficult in 1500 as reports did not get to Venice until October, being written days after the events they relate, and arriving out of order.

The Sultan, Beyazid, after watching the executions at Modon, accompanied the Ottoman governor of the Morea and 30,000, or 10,000, or 60-70,000 troops -- reports differ -- to Nauplion. They arrived on the 25th or 26th -- reports differ -- and immediately encountered a band of stratioti to whom it was suggested that Nauplion might surrender. Beyazid's tents were set up by the church of Santa Veneranda on the side of Palamidi. [Now Ag. Pareskevi, the church is still there, on private property.]

On the 26th, Ottoman messengers were sent with formal offers of surrender and were turned away. Polo Contarini, governor of Coron which had insisted on surrender against his own wishes, was used as an emissary.  Januli Stathi reported that he
was brought up to the gate by three Turks, and then there was this conversation: Contarini said, "Modon is taken, Coron has surrendered, and you, poor fellows, what are you going to do?"  Stathi replied, "We are going to fight for our faith. We have all taken an oath that we will all die rather than surrender."  Contarini, "I will die with you."  A moving account, Stathi's.

Contarini's own account said that he had been dressed up by the Turks, given a gold collar, and promised great things should Nauplion surrender.   He was brought up by ten or fifteen Turks to the walls where a row of crossbowmen trained their sights on him.  Terrified -- swords at his back, arrows at his front -- he called out, "Don't you recognize me?" -- he had formerly been castellan in Nauplion -- "I'm Polo Contarini!"  Some men came out and embraced him.  Making a gesture to negate what he was saying, he said what he was supposed to say about handing over the keys of the city.  While they were making their formal response, he broke away from his guards and darted through the city gate.

Inside Nauplion, he found a great deal of confusion, some arguing for surrender and others arguing against.  There was a good supply of food and water, but not of ammunition. That same day, the governors of Nauplion -- Jacomo de Renier and Alvise Barbarigo -- put him with 19 other men on a small boat called a gondola and sent them off to find the Captain General for more information and instructions.  Gorlin of Ravenna, a commander of foot soldiers, sent a letter with them saying they in Nauplion were all united, soldiers and residents alike, and would live and die to the honor of the Signoria.

Contarini and the boatmen spotted the Ottoman fleet down in the bay, and went ashore at Kyparissia.  They went through the mountains and down to Monemvasia, and then Vatika where the Venetian Captain General was anchored with the Venetian fleet.  Two of them were captured by the Turks, but the rest
got through safely. 

Outside the walls of Nauplion, there was frequent skirmishing ["scaramuzava"] between stratioti and Ottomans -- now reported to be 100,000. The stratioti were splendid, at least at the beginning, and were reported riding back and forth with Turkish heads on their short spears.

The Ottoman fleet arrived in the bay on the 28th, and anchored at Kiveri-Myloi, across from Nauplion, where it could take on fresh water.  There was general panic in Nauplion, particularly among the peasants who were unused to city walls and who knew what was happening to their homes and lands. Everyone had heard what happened at Modon. 

To defend against the Ottoman fleet, Renier and Barbarigo had the Venetian galleys unloaded and planks taken to make a great palisade along the marsh [You can see a hint of this if you click on the image below.]  Then five galleys and all the little boats -- all the fishermen's boats -- were sunk around the island fortress and along the harbor to prevent the arriving Ottoman ships from being able to get close. The rest of the boats were burnt. The sailors tented over the plateia with the sails from the galleys.  The Greek and Venetian priests concelebrated a mass on the plateia, and all the men embraced each other in turn, asking forgiveness for any offenses.

The Ottoman fleet left the bay on the 4th, and went to Spetses where it was held for several days by the bora, a N -NE wind.  Then the fleet went to Aigina, and eventually started back to the Dardanelles, with the Venetian fleet in pursuit.

A number of Greeks wanted to go over to the Turks.  The issue was settled when a band of Albanians killed twenty of them and put an end to such talk.  Somehow word of this incident was taken by land across the Morea and then to Corfu, where it was sent on to Venice. Spies were sent from Corfu to get more information about Nauplion but they were captured and killed.  Skirmishing continued, with many reports of Turks "tagliato a pezo." The Turks put a trebuchet on Palamidi, and offered the Manessi and Busichei clans 1000 horses to come over, but they refused.

Meanwhile, Coltrin, was working on the walls.  He reinforced the round tower at the end of the wall that you see below [the inlet had not been dug then] and reinforced the advance wall.  He dug out a cistern for the tower and planned four more, as the autumn rains had begun.  Since boats could now come and go, he sent off an order for 2400 planks, 200 shovels, and other implements for construction. The wall building continued under fire.  Nauplion men and women voluntarily worked day and night, carrying stones and dirt. A German cannonier, Corangian Lanier, arrived from nowhere and was put in charge of the island fortress.

A hundred and twenty-eight men were reported missing -- some known dead, some known to have levanted, some known to have been killed.  There were 551 horses within the walls, many in poor condition, and many more horsemen whose mounts were dead.  There seems to have been a good bit of coming and going, with occasional skirmishes, people going off to find their families, and some joining the Ottoman army.  Not knowing how long the food in storage would have to last, decisions had to be made about how much grain could be spared for the horses.  Gorlin was extremely ill, and was put on a boat to be taken where he could get help.

Then in the early hours of 15 October, the Ottoman army moved out, burning a few houses and leaving mounds of rubble and their dead. A small number of troops were left on the Argos-Nauplion border  -- 4,000 or 10,000 -- to continue the siege. The stratioti continued, as the report said, "to treat them badly," also raiding down in the Morea where they loaded up on loot the Ottomans had had to leave behind.

The withdrawal happened because Beyazid had seen he could do nothing to take Nauplion -- having lost 16,000 men there, or it happened because word had come of a disaster to an Ottoman army in Hungary.  There was extensive evidence of dysentery in the Ottoman camp. Beyazid had gone to Megara.  Or Negroponte.  Or Thessalonike.  Or Constantinople. Bits of news arrived in Venice from all over and no one there was sure what was happening.  What certainly must have happened is that the Ottoman army was short of food.  Without supplies from the fleet, there was no way an army of 10,000 or 100,000 could have kept itself supplied off the countryside.  Further, the Ottoman army normally disbanded in the fall so the men could return home for the winter plowing and sowing.  So an end to the siege might reasonably have been anticipated.

That is pretty much it.  There are no tidy wrap-up reports but there was no massacre in Nauplion in 1500 and very few deaths at all. Barbarigo and Renier saved the city by the simple decision to destroy their boats.  Once the Turkish army had left, there was no produce to bring into the city from the countryside, and no firewood.  People were hungry. Bartolomeo Minio, captain of Crete, sent as much food as he could -- beans, biscuit, some flour, but Crete was stretched thin, having lost many ships and men at Modon, and then having to supply the Venetian fleet.  Nauplion was safe for another 38 years, but it was always under strain as the Turks who occupied the whole Morea, with the exceptions of Monemvasia and Nauplion, put pressure on the boundaries and moved in closer.

The top image is a detail from a 16thC icon  of the Crucifixion. The helmets  and spears are appropriate for 1500 and the Italian soldiers would have had them. The stratioti would have been lucky to have much of anything.  The Camoccio map of Nauplion is the first known, published in 1571 but made before 1540.  It makes clear the advance wall and the Albanian houses between it and the city wall.  The information here comes from Volume 3 of Sanudo's Diarii.

1 comment:

  1. " Without supplies from the fleet, there was no way an army of 10,000 or 100,000 could have kept itself supplied off the countryside."

    And their horses! The bulk of the army would have been akincilar and sipahiler. Tens of thousands of horses that were fed grain and straw.

    " A small number of troops were left on the Argos-Nauplion border -- 4,000 or 10,000 -- to continue the siege."

    Looks like a rear guard or defensive force to me. Such number could not really maintain a meaningful siege.

    " The Turks put a trebuchet on Palamidi, and offered the Manessi and Busichei clans 1000 horses to come over, but they refused."

    I looked up the online telephone directory for the Manesis/Manessis and Bozikis surnames for several parts of Greece. I found:

    Argolid 1 - 7
    Messenia 0 - 0
    Crete 4 - 0
    Cephalonia 2 - 1
    Lefkas 0 - 0
    Zakynthos 19 - 38
    Corfu 46 - 42
    Athens 51 - 21

    I also checked Italia dei Cognomi and there is a sizable cluster of Manessis in the Brescia area. I could not find any Bozikis though I tried several spellings. It looks like the Manessis went mostly to Corfu (the island had lost much of its population in the Turkish attack of 1537) and several to Italy and Zante. The Bozikis seem split almost equally between Corfu and Zante.

    Best regards,



I will not publish Anonymous comments.