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Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the…

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the… (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Roger Crowley

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5111619,861 (4.2)32
Very entertaining. The best parts are the descriptions of the battles of Siege of Rhodes (1522), the Siege of Malta (1565) and Battle of Lepanto (1571). Gives context for the 16th century contest for control of the Med between the Ottoman Empire, Corsairs and European powers. Shows how the Med was the center of the world - as it had been for thousands of years - but by the end of the century was secondary to globalization, a momentous historical shift. The great powers turned their back on each other - Ottomans faced east and Spain and Italy to the west (Atlantic). ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 5, 2012 |
English (14)  Spanish (2)  All languages (16)
Showing 14 of 14
This is a magnificent, exciting history, describing the situation from the perspective both of the Christians and the Muslims. It reads like an adventure novel! I literally could not put it down during the final chapters. I highly recommend it. ( )
  baobab | Jan 27, 2015 |
Excellent and balanced account of the battles of the 1500's in the Mediterranean. Very informative, but very engaging.
  GeorgeTM | May 17, 2014 |
This book seems interesting enough, but for some reason I just couldn't get into this one; I gave up half-way through. ( )
  technolepsy | Oct 12, 2013 |
The geopolitical story of how the Ottoman and Spanish empires divided the Mediterranean is told through three main battles: Rhodes, Malta (taking up the large middle section of this book), and finally Lepanto. These battles are told day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes blow by blow. The author tells a good story, and it is clear that he has kept his boyish enthusiasm for re-enacting a hero's fate in battle.
Sadly, the swashbuckling is sometimes accompanied by a similarly boyish ethnocentricity and incomplete grasp of geography. A statement such as "Lepanto was Europe's Trafalgar" points to shoddy geographic concepts. The Greek town of Igoumenitsa is mentioned as "Gomenizza, in front of Corfu" - a case of the author copying his source without verifying current conditions, possibly because the clanking of armour is more important to him than geographical accuracy. Likewise the author uses a blithe disregard for other languages (especially Italian proper names and place names fare badly when quoted in this book). All in all, not bad - but he can't hold a candle to John Julius Norwich for this kind of historical topics. ( )
  fist | Sep 29, 2013 |
I hear good things about this.
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Very entertaining. The best parts are the descriptions of the battles of Siege of Rhodes (1522), the Siege of Malta (1565) and Battle of Lepanto (1571). Gives context for the 16th century contest for control of the Med between the Ottoman Empire, Corsairs and European powers. Shows how the Med was the center of the world - as it had been for thousands of years - but by the end of the century was secondary to globalization, a momentous historical shift. The great powers turned their back on each other - Ottomans faced east and Spain and Italy to the west (Atlantic). ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 5, 2012 |
I enjoyed this much more than the Fenian book I read and reviewed recently. The style was easier to digest, despite there being just as much information for me to acquire, and I learned a lot. What was staggering to me was the amount of incredible cruelty on both sides - not that the author gloated over it or revelled in it, but it was so obviously a part of life at that time that it is impossible to ignore. The military, religious and political jousting that went on between the different nations, even those nominally on the same side, are all well described and explained. I definitely finished this book with a much better understanding of the nuances of that time than when I started to read it.

Wonderful stuff for an alternative history if things had gone the other way, and the Ottoman Empire had sacked Rome (which could have happened relatively easily). ( )
1 vote hugh_ashton | Jun 14, 2011 |
Excellent, fast paced, accurate account of the battle of Lepanto. As usual, the subtitle is a bit overblown, but less than other books,

While this popular history was an excellent read, and I did enjoy it while learning something new, by the end it left me wanting something. Can't describe it better than that. ( )
  Smiley | May 27, 2011 |
Prior to the 20th century, the Battle of Lepanto was the largest naval battle in history. Empires of the Sea features a blow-by-blow account of the battle, a rousing victory for the forces of Christianity amidst a sea of defeats at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, ruled by the mediocre Selim II. Despite huge losses, the Ottomans would remain a powerful force in the Mediterranean and remain so for much of the next four centuries.

The more interesting part detailed the siege of Malta. This epic battle for a strategic location consumed the later years of sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. About 9000 Knights Hospitaller and men-at-arms fended off a force of 40,000 Turks and Barbary corsairs while awaiting relief from Spain and Venice. The Turks took as much as 30,000 casualties in the assault before moving on to easier targets.

Empires at Sea is at times overly melodramatic, but is otherwise a less-than-engaging accounts of these Renaissance-era battles. Part of the problem with Lepanto was, in spite of the massive loss of life and scope of the destruction, the battle didn't really matter -- it didn't change the power balance of the world. Suleiman is a pretty fascinating character, and I think this book gave him short-shrift, as if his legacy was tied to the failure of his subordinates at Malta. The Sultan and his elite Janissaries were the dominant force during this era, but Crowley clings to the Christian successes. At this point in history, the Christian successes during the Reconquista were 80 years past, but the Turks were on the ascendant even if their Berber brothers were faltering. ( )
2 vote JeffV | Jan 13, 2011 |
Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley is a history book that reads like a good novel. I have read several fiction and non-fiction books about the Siege of Malta and I found this one to be the best so far. Crowley combines the right amount of facts and figures into the text and also shows some of the personality of the participants. I plan on reading "1453" soon and look forward to more from Roger Crowley. 4 1/2 STARS ( )
  ecurb | Oct 19, 2010 |
Crowley manages to immerse the reader in the world of international intrigue and historical events set during the 15th and 16th century with such ease it is remarkable.

If you like Harold Lamb's historical novels, Goldsworthy's or Keegan's style you'll enjoy Crowley's book.

Even if you are not into history give this book a try, you will not be disappointed.

Recommended. ( )
  Zare | Nov 24, 2009 |
Even though this book gets off to a bad start by, in the second sentence referring to 'Saint Sophie" instead of "Sancta Sophia" (Holy Wisdom, not Saint Sophie). it is a very good book--popular history but with notes and a bibliogrpahy. The description of the siege of Malta was not too entrancing--maybe because the siege was so dire and filled with misfortune, even though it ended up a Turkish defeat--but the account of the battle of Lepanto is very exciting and does not lag in interest for a single paragraph. And Crowley makes a good case for Lepanto being a most signifcant battle--it seems to me it is just as significant as Charles Martel's victory at Tours, and had a similar long-term effect. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 18, 2009 |
This engaging history, based mostly on secondary sources, has a strong narrative arc, in three parts: the groping of the Ottoman and Spanish Hapsburg empires towards a confrontation in the sixteenth century; the unsuccessful siege of Malta by the Ottoman empire in 1565; and the destruction of a Turkish fleet at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. The author tries to be even-handed, but at crunch points his adverbs ('luckily', 'unfortunately') side with the Christians - though this may be just for purposes of having a satisfying narrative, since at both Malta and Lepanto the Christians are presented as underdogs who win against unlikely odds. The author suggests that Christian Europe was lucky to have survived the two encounters, and that an Ottoman victory in either case might have ultimately resulted in an Ottoman invasion of Rome.

I do not have enough background in the period to evaluate that claim, but have the sense that this book is best read as a dramatic telling of the narrative history, rather than for its analysis. The author's use of quotes suggests a stronger interest in telling the story engagingly than in getting the analysis exactly right. For example, discussing the inflationary effect of Spanish New World silver on naval conflict between 1540 and 1570, Crowley writes, "Warfare had always been costly; in the sixteenth century it rocketed. The price of ship's biscuit - a critical expense in sea warfare - quadrupled in sixty years; the commensurate total cost of operating Spanish war galleys tripled; price increases rippled across Europe and lapped at the shores of the Ottoman world too. War had become an expensive game. 'To carry out a war, three things are necessary,' remarked the Milanese general Marshal Trivulzio presciently in 1499, 'money, money, and yet more money.'" To his credit, Crowley dates the quote - lifted from another 2004 book on the battle of Lepanto - and adds the qualifier 'presciently'. Still, whatever its original context, the quote can't have been referring to the inflation caused by Spanish gold. There are several other moments in this book where I found myself thinking, that's a colorful detail, but it doesn't really support the point being made. However, the reading was a pleasure.

The strongest impression the book leaves - greater for me than any lessons about geopolitical history -- was of the sheer brutality, not just of war, but also of what passed for peace around the Mediterranean in the 1500s. Crowley presents piracy and the wholesale destruction of both Christian and Muslim communities as commonplace. Indeed, the maritime economy ran on a particularly vicious form of slavery -- captive rowers at the oars of pirate ships and warships -- that chewed up lives at an appalling rate. That brutality ultimately makes it hard to root for either side in the wars Crowley describes; it's mostly a relief that they finally reached a stalemate after Lepanto. ( )
1 vote bezoar44 | Jan 18, 2009 |
Roger Crowley's book is titled "Empires of the Sea - the siege of Malta, the battle of Lepanto and the contest for the center of the world". The basic problem I have with this book is that these two claims are wrong: The Ottoman and the Habsburg Empire were not empires of the sea, in the sense that they were sea-based empires such as Venice, the Portuguese, the Dutch or the English. It's no wonder that the Genoese Christopher Columbus and Andrea Doria sailed for the Spanish flag and the Ottomans relied upon the skills of the Barbary Coast pirates. Lacking a maritime tradition and power structure, the Habsburgs and Ottomans bought foreign competence (and paid scrupulous attention on their not getting too powerful). Secondly, the Mediterranean had long ceased to be the center of the world. The sea passage to India and America shifted the focus of geopolitics and wealth to the Atlantic and Northern Europe. The fight for the Mediterranean was basically a rearguard action of three already doomed empires, the Venetians, the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. A fact that all of Crowley's hyperventilating language cannot change.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part builds up to a crescendo of Ottoman power in the Mediterranean, from the fall of Rhodes (1520) to the galleys of the Barbary Coast pirates raiding with impunity. The punitive Tunis expedition of Charles V (1535, in whose memory a wonderful set of tapestries were created, which today are mostly hidden away from the public, protected by a steep flight of stairs, in the attic of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) only momentarily checks the Ottomans, the Spanish maritime defeat at Preveza (1538) hands sea control to the Ottomans. The second part deals with the unsuccessful siege of Malta (1565) where the Ottomans (mostly due to their commanders' ineptitude and communication problems) fail to take the place from the Maltese knights. The Ottoman expansion in the Western Mediterrean is over. The third part announces Lepanto (1571), but the sea battle is covered only in three short chapters (36 pages), the majority of the third part is devoted to the capture of Cyprus with its twin sieges of Nicosia and Famagusta. While the Ottoman lose the battle of Lepanto, they remain in control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Barbary Coast pirates stayed in business until the early 19th century, the Habsburgs and the Venetians continued to battle and trade with the Turks. Thus, the book ends inconclusively on a whim.

Crowley's sins go well beyond a necessary hyping of his topic (a regrettable must in today's "the battle, war, invention that changed the world" book marketing): In order to sustain his clash of civilization approach, he omits crucial information and sets up a trap for his readers. He hypes the terror of a (highly improbable) Turkish invasion of Rome but hardly mentions that Rome was sacked in 1527 by the very Christian troops of Charles V. The neutral Venetians and the sneaky French are Crowley's villains who fail to support their Christian brethren. That the French and Habsburgs fought bitter wars in Italy does not enter into his picture. The major distraction of the reformation is also not covered. Crowley thus paints at best an incomplete, at worst a terribly wrong picture of 16th century Europe. A glance at many of the Amazon.com reviews shows that his readers have taken up Crowley's wrong impression. If the purpose of history is to learn about the past, Crowley fails his readers, even if he succeeds in entertaining them with battle and siege vignettes and tales of the bloody Turk.

Not recommended for beginners in 16th century history. ( )
6 vote jcbrunner | Aug 10, 2008 |
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