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Crescent and Cross: The Battle of Lepanto…

Crescent and Cross: The Battle of Lepanto 1571

by Hugh Bicheno

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The battle of Lepanto was a titanic naval battle between declining empires that lives on its faded glory. In Barcelona, one can marvel at the reconstructed galley of Juan d'Austria. In Venice and Madrid, one can admire giant commemorative paintings. Long considered one of the decisive battles of the world, it wasn't decisive at all. Instead, the Ottoman defeat only momentarily stopped its absorption of the remains of the Venetian empire. Together with the successful defense of Malta in 1565, the battle of Lepanto marks the division of the Mediterranean Sea into an Eastern and Western zone of influence (which was broken up by the new naval powers of France and Britain).

Hugh Bicheno's book consists of a good, readable account of the battle (part II), with a lot of meaty appendices and excellent maps. In contrast to most authors on the battle, Bicheno downplays the influence of the Venetian galleasses, according them mostly a nuisance value and giving the victory to the superior Spanish soldiers. Given, as Bicheno himself refers, that the Ottomans rebuilt their fleet with a focus on artillery and included galleasses into their arsenal, I tend towards the majority opinion. I agree with Bicheno about the poor showing of the Venetians. In their defense, unlike the rich Spaniards, they had to husband their forces. Apart from Crete and fortresses on the Adriatic coasts, not much of the Venetian empire remained to rebuild their strength.

The first part of the book is a mixed bag of facts and opinions, pertinent or not, valid or not; somewhat like a fireside chat with a slightly demented uncle chasing his personal dragons. In the case of Hugh Bicheno, this happens to be a rabid anti-Catholicism, which I thought had long died out in the United Kingdom, and the paradoxical need to both connect the battle of Lepanto to recent events in Afghanistan and defend Islam from accusations of aggressiveness. The comparison of the huge, modern and highly cultured Ottoman Empire to the landlocked, isolated and backward warlords of Afghanistan is not really helpful in understanding the battle.

Overall, read part I for amusement and with a grain of salt or skip directly to the more valuable part II. The best part of the book are map 3 illustrating the Mediterranean currents and wind patterns as well as the ships' order of battle in the appendix. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Apr 25, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0304363197, Hardcover)

In 1571, at the gulf between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, the fleets of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League clashed in a final great battle between oared fighting ships. This is the first major history for decades--and the first ever original study in English--on this epic encounter between two important cultures that marked a significant turning point in history. As a description of the age-old conflict between Christianity and Islam, it still resonates powerfully today and is a must read for anyone interested in why the two worlds seem perpetually at war.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:06 -0400)

"For much of the last fourteen hundred years the relationship between Christianity and Islam has been extremely troubled. Competition, misunderstanding and fanaticism led to frequent conflicts between those marching under the banners of the two religions, often ferocious in the extreme and studded with atrocities. Yet between these episodes - even at times in the midst of them - Muslims and Christians traded and associated with each other without any inherent animosity." "This book describes an event widely believed to herald the ultimate supremacy of western culture. On the morning of 7 October 1571, at the mouth of a gulf in western Greece, the fleets of the Muslim Ottoman Empire and the Roman Catholic Holy League collided in the last great battle ever to be fought between oared fighting ships. The Battle of Lepanto was the outstanding military event in a sixteenth century marked by constant warfare, and the greatest single battle ever fought between crescent and cross. Many believe that it changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean forever, and turned back a Muslim tide that threatened to engulf Europe." "However, as Hugh Bicheno shows here, the symbolic importance of Lepanto far outweighed its military significance. This timely book is the first major study of the battle ever written in English, and the first for many years in any language. It is enormous in scope, tracing the lines of history that came together at that time and place to explain why an event that barely affected the geopolitical balance in the Mediterranean is regularly counted among the decisive battles of history. Not least, as an illustration of the complex human reality behind an age-old conflict, the story is acutely relevant to the history we are living at present."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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