The Great Siege

From Passport [1]:

The Great Siege of Malta was one of the most remarkable military showdowns between Christian and Muslim, between the might of the Crescent and the forces of the Cross. In 1565 the Knights of St. John, with some 9,000 men, defended the tiny island against a Turkish force of 40,000 and a fleet of 180 ships.
Well before the siege began it was common knowledge that Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of Turkey, was planning to annihilate those 'sons of dogs.' Christendom was not united and for most of the four-month siege the Knights were left to go it along. They were, however, renowned for their physical courage and, as the historian Edward Gibbons sardonically put it, they 'neglected to live, but were prepared to die, in the service of Christ.'
The Turkish commander, Piali Pasha, began the siege with an attack on Fort St. Elmo. The defenders fought to the death, pouring down cauldrons of pitch and hoops of fire. The Turks eventually took the fort, but they lost 8,000 men to 1,500 Christians. The handful of surviving Knights were butchered, nailed to crosses and floated out of the Grand Harbour. Not to be outdone in barbarity, Grand Master La Valette ordered the severed heads of Turkish prisoners to be cannon-fired into the enemy camp.
The Turks then turned their attention to Birgù, mercilessly firing a barrage at the buildings until they breached the fortress walls. Even so, their casualties were huge: on a single day they lost some 2,500 men. On 6 September the Viceroy of Sicily finally sent modest reinforcements to support the Knights. The crafty La Valette released a Turkish prisoner, having tricked him into believing that the relief force was enormous. When this news was conveyed to the Muslims, it proved to be the last straw. Demoralised by fever and dysentery, they evacuated Malta on 8 September and sailed back to Constantinople, entering the city under cover of darkness out of shame.
The Christian world had watched with baited breath. Now, even the Protestant English Queen Elizabeth I gave orders for thanksgiving prayers to be said.


  1. Cook, Thomas, Passport's Illustrated Travel Guide to Malta, from Thomas Cook, Passport Books, a division of NTC Publishing Group, Lincolnwood, Illinois USA, 1994, pp 10-11
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