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"Battle of Otranto" redirects here. For the naval battles, see Battle of the Strait of Otranto.
Battle of Otranto
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
and Ottoman-Hungarian Wars
Otranto castello.jpg
Date July 1480–1481
Location Otranto, Kingdom of Naples
Result Ottoman forces seize the city; Christian forces recapture the city
 Ottoman Empire  Kingdom of Naples
Royal Banner of Aragón.svg Crown of Aragon
Flag of Hungary (15th century, rectangular).svg Kingdom of Hungary
Commanders and leaders
Ottoman Empire Gedik Ahmed Pasha Kingdom of Naples Francesco Largo 
Kingdom of Naples Alphonso II of Naples
Flag of Hungary (15th century, rectangular).svg Balázs Magyar
18,000 infantry
700 cavalry
128 ships
Hungary: 2,100 Hungarian heavy infantry[1]
Casualties and losses
Garrisoned forces surrender Unknown
Civilian casualties:
approx. 1,600 Hungarians (mostly servants)
Inside Otranto cathedral.

In 1480 and 1481, the city and fort of Otranto, in Apulia, southern Italy, was attacked and invaded by Ottoman troops. Since then, the memory of the Martyrs of Otranto is still celebrated in Italy.


The attack on Otranto was part of a planned, yet abortive Ottoman action that occurred in, what has been described as, the "Invasion of Italy". On July 28, 1480, an Ottoman fleet of 128 ships of which 28 were galleys arrived near the Neapolitan city of Otranto in the region Apulia. Possibly these troops came from the siege of Rhodes. On July 29 the garrison and the citizens retreated to the citadel, the Castle of Otranto. On 11 August this fort was taken by the invaders.

According to Christian historiography, a raid was held to round up all male citizens. Archbishop Stefano Agricoli and others were killed in the cathedral, while Bishop Stephen Pendinelli and the garrison commander, count Francesco Zurlo, were sawn in two alive. On August 12, 800 citizens who allegedly refused to convert to Islam were taken to the Hill of the Minerva and beheaded.[2] These 813 victims were canonized as saints in the Roman Catholic Church in May 12, 2013.[3] Some of the remains of the 800 martyrs are claimed to be stored today in Otranto Cathedral and in the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello in Naples. The cathedral is said to have been used as a stable after that.[citation needed]

This version has come under some criticism by historians in recent times. From the Ottoman side it is disputed that large-scale executions took place; the bones to be found in the Cathedral of Otranto are claimed to be actually those of fighters killed during the Ottoman invasion. Italian researchers, on the other hand, conclude that some acts of terror were committed by the Ottoman invaders to create panic among the Italians around Otranto. Recent scholarship has questioned whether any victims were actually slaughtered, finding it more likely that prisoners of war were sold into slavery instead.[4]

In August, 70 ships of the fleet attacked Vieste. On September 12, the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole, which accommodated one of the richer libraries of Europe, was destroyed. In October 1480, the coastal cities of Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi were attacked.

Due to lack of food, Gedik Ahmed Pasha returned with most of his troops to Albania, leaving a garrison of 800 infantry and 500 cavalry behind to defend Otranto. It was assumed he would return after the winter.


Since it was only 27 years after the fall of Constantinople, there was some fear that Rome would suffer the same fate. Plans were made for the Pope and citizens of Rome to evacuate the city. Pope Sixtus IV repeated his 1471 call for a crusade. Several Italian city-states, Hungary and France responded positively to this. The Republic of Venice did not, as it had signed an expensive peace treaty with the Ottomans in 1479.

In 1481 an army was raised by king Ferdinand I of Naples to be led by his son Alphonso II of Naples. A contingent of troops was provided by king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.


The city was besieged starting May 1, 1481. On 11 August, after a 15-day siege, Gedik Ahmed ordered the final assault, which broke through the defenses and captured the citadel. When the walls were breached the Ottomans began fighting their way through the town. Upon reaching the cathedral, "they found Archbishop Stefano Agricolo, fully vested and crucifix in hand" awaiting them with Count Francesco Largo and Bishop Stefano Pendinelli. "The archbishop was beheaded before the altar, his companions were sawn in half, and their accompanying priests were all murdered."

According to some historical accounts, a total of 12,000 were killed and 5,000 enslaved, including victims from the territories of the Salentine peninsula around the city.[5]

Eight hundred able-bodied men were told to convert to Islam or be slain. A tailor named Antonio Primaldi is said to have proclaimed "Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him." To which those captive with him gave a loud cheer.

On August 14 they were led to the Hill of Minerva (later renamed the Hill of Martyrs). There they were to be executed with Primaldi to be beheaded first. They were called the Martyrs of Otranto in the following centuries.

Meanwhile, on May 3 the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II, died, with ensuing quarrels about his succession. This possibly prevented the sending of Ottoman reinforcements to Otranto. So in the end the Turkish occupation of Otranto ended by negotiation with the Christian forces, permitting the Turks to withdraw to Albania. However, quite a few of them were still taken captives when the Christian troops occupied Otranto again.


The number of citizens, said to have been nearly 20,000 (a figure disputed by recent research), had decreased to 8,000 by the end of the century.[citation needed] Out of fear of another attack, many of these left the city in the following decades.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Csaba Csorba, János Estók, Konrád Salamon (1999). Magyarország Képes Története. Budapest, Hungary: Magyar Könyvklub. p. 62. ISBN 963-548-961-7. 
  2. ^ Bunson, Matthew. "How the 800 Martyrs of Otranto Saved Rome". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Martyrs of Otranto, entire village that chose death instead of renouncing their faith". Rome Reports. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Nancy Bisaha (2004). Creating East And West: Renaissance Humanists And the Ottoman Turks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 
  5. ^ Paolo Ricciardi, Gli Eroi della Patria e i Martiri della Fede: Otranto 1480-1481, Vol. 1, Editrice Salentina, 2009

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_invasion_of_Otranto — Please support Wikipedia.
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