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27 Jul

Siege of Rhodes (1480)

The Knights Hospitallers were a religious order founded around 1203 to provide care for injured, sick, or poor pilgrims to the Holy Land.  After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the order assumed military duties under its own charter and was charged with the care and defense of the Holy Land.  After the Holy Land had been retaken by Islamic forces during the Ninth Crusade, the order operated from Rhodes, over which it held sovereignty.

In 1470 and 1475, some of the small Christian-held islands in the area were evacuated to Rhodes under increasing risk of attacks from the Ottoman Empire.  This threat escalated, and on May 23, 1480, an Ottoman fleet of 160 ships and army of 70,000 men approached Rhodes from the Gulf of Trianda.  The Knights Hospitallers, with the addition of 500 knights and 2,000 soldiers from France, numbered about 6,000 men total.

The first objective for the Ottomans was the capture of the Tower of St. Nicholas, the key to the defense of Rhodes’ two harbors.  After a constant bombardment, on June 9 the infantry made a succession of attacks.  With the help of the Grand Master of the order, the Hospitaller garrison was able to push back the enemy after a bloody struggle.  A second attack on the tower focused on the eastern section of the wall, which was controlled by the Italian branch of the Knights Hospitaller and lacked military might.  Under intense bombardment from the Turkish artillery, the Knights and the citizens dug a new moat and constructed new fortifications along the inside of the wall.  After another fierce battle, with heavy losses on both sides, the Knights were once again able to repel their attackers.

On July 27, the tide of war changed.  At dawn, the Turkish forces launched a forceful offensive on the Jewish quarter of the city.  Around 2,500 Janissaries managed to defeat the Italian Hospitallers, and the Ottoman army flooded into the city.  After three hours of vicious fighting, directed by the wounded Grand Master, the Ottoman forces were soundly defeated.  The Knights’ counter-attack sent the Turks into a rag-tag retreat with the commander-in-chief and Grand Vizier in tow.  When the Hospitallers captured the Grand Vizier’s tent, they included the holy standard of Islam as part of their loot.  Between three and four thousand Turks were killed during this battle.  On August 17, the Ottoman fleet finally gave up their attempt to conquer Rhodes and sailed off to lay siege to Otranto.  Sultan Mehmed was enraged and would have cheerfully attacked the island again but for his death in 1481.

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