Empires of the Sea, The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World.

thCAFUCM0HEmpires of the Sea, The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World. Roger Crowley. Random House, NY, 2008. Hardcover; 336 pp., illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN:978-1-4000-6624-7.

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

G.K. Chesterton, Lepanto, 140

The Muslim lands around the Mediterranean were once Christian. Their conquest by Islam, starting in the seventh century set off a series of confrontations between Christian Europe and the Muslim world that has lasted to this day. Islam penetrated France in the eighth Century, extinguished the Byzantine Empire in the fifteenth and as the sons of the Prophet penetrated Europe, Vienna was besieged in the seventeenth century. In the 1500s Mediterranean Sea became of sea of death, inhabited by corsairs and seemed destined to fall into the hands of the Sultan. Europe held Malta against their advance in 1565 and, having had united briefly during the Crusades, it did again in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto. “…the victory at Lepanto stopped dead the Ottoman expansion in the center of the sea. The events of 1565– 1571 fixed the frontiers of the modern Mediterranean world” [p. 286].

Empires of the Sea is a very readable account of the conditions in the Mediterranean basin in the sixteenth century. Imperial and religious considerations, naval architecture, diplomacy and the contest between sea and land forces verging on modernity are all covered. Characters from emperors to sultans to corsairs to galley slaves are all introduced and the sublimity and depravity of the age are all covered. Very interesting are the descriptions of diplomatic maneuverings, preparation for battle and combat itself, all based on numerous contemporaries sources.

Roger Crowley has a long standing interest in the history of the Mediterranean Sea and is the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.

This book is highly recommended for those who wish to understand the titanic, ongoing clash between East and West, the late Renaissance and the last of the Crusades.

James B. Ronan II

 

 

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