Morean War

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Venetian medal of 1688, struck in honor of Morosini's conquest of the Morea and his election as Doge of Venice

The Morean War (Italian: La guerra di Morea) was a campaign fought during the Great Turkish War between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire in the Peloponnese (Morea) and the Aegean Sea between 1684-1699 (in effect, together with Venetian operations in Dalmatia, it comprises the seventh Turkish-Venetian War). The war, Venice's last major expansionist campaign, was ended by the Treaty of Karlowitz, whereby the Morea and parts of Dalmatia were ceded to Venice.

On the one hand, this was one of many clashes that took place between the European and the Ottoman spaces during the long period of European-Ottoman hostility. On the other hand, conflict did not always characterize relations; in fact, Venice was a major trading partner with Turkey, maintained commercial outposts across the Muslim world and entered a significant number of peace-treaties with the Ottomans. Immediately after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 they negotiated a treaty that allowed them to retain their colony there and to trade freely. Without denying that many battles were fought and much blood shed, a balanced historical reconstruction needs to offset the story of battles and wars, including those between Venice and Turkey, alongside episodes when commerce has thrived and peace has flourished.


Venice had held several islands in the Aegean and the Ionian seas, together with strategically positioned forts along the coast of the Greek mainland since the carving up of the Byzantine Empire after the Fourth Crusade. However, with the rise of the Ottomans, during the 16th and early 17th centuries, they lost most of these, such as Cyprus and Euboea (Negropont) to the Turks. Between 1645 and 1669, the Venetians and the Ottomans fought a long and costly war over the last major Venetian possession in the Aegean, Crete. During this war, the Venetian commander, Francesco Morosini, came into contact with the rebellious Maniots, for a joint campaign in the Morea. In 1659, Morosini landed in the Morea, and together with the Maniots, he took Kalamata. However, he was soon after forced to return to Crete, and the Peloponnesian venture failed.

In 1683, a new war broke out between Austria and the Ottomans, with a large Ottoman army advancing towards Vienna. In response to this, a Holy League was formed. After the Ottoman army was defeated in the Battle of Vienna, the Venetians decided to use the opportunity of the weakening of Ottoman power and its distraction in the Danubian front so as to reconquer its lost territories in the Aegean and Dalmatia. On April] 5 1684, the Most Serene Republic declared war on the Ottomans.[1]

Aware that she would have to rely on her own strength for success, Venice prepared for the war by securing financial and military aid in men and ships from the Knights of Malta, the Duchy of Savoy, the Papal States and the Knights of St. Stephen. In addition, the Venetians enrolled large numbers of mercenaries from Italy and the German states, especially Saxony and Brunswick,[2] and raised levies from their own territories in Italy and Dalmatia. Morosini, having had a distinguished record and great experience in of operations in Greece, was chosen to command the fleet.

The Venetian Offensive

Operations in the Ionian Sea

In mid-June, the Venetian fleet moved from the Adriatic towards the Venetian-held Ionian Islands. The first target was the island of Lefkada (Santa Maura), which fell, after a brief siege of 16 days, on 6 August 1684. The Venetians, aided by Greek irregulars, then crossed into the mainland and started raiding the opposite shore of Acarnania. Most of the area was soon under Venetian control, and the fall of the forts of Preveza and Vonitsa in late September removed the last Ottoman bastions.[3] These early successes were important for the Venetians not only for reasons of morale, but because they secured their communications with Venice, denied to the Ottomans the possibility of threatening the Ionian Islands or of ferrying troops via western Greece to the Peloponnese, and because these successes encouraged the Greeks to cooperate with them against the Ottomans.

The Conquest of the Morea

Having secured his rear during the previous year, Morosini set his sights upon the Peloponnese, where the Greeks, especially the Maniots, had begun showing signs of revolt and communicated with Morosini, promising to rise up in his aid. Ismail Pasha, the new military commander of the Morea, learned of this and invaded the Mani peninsula with 10,000 men, reinforcing the three forts that the Ottomans already garrisoned, and compelled the Maniots to give up hostages to secure their loyalty.[4] As a result, the Maniots remained uncommitted when, on 25 June 1685, the Venetian army, 8,100 men strong, landed outside the former Venetian fort of Koroni and laid siege to it. The castle surrendered after 49 days, on 11 August, and the garrison was massacred. After this success, Morosini embarked his troops towards the town of Kalamata, in order to encourage the Maniots to revolt. The Venetian army, reinforced by 3,300 Saxons and under the command of General Degenfeld, defeated a Turkish force of ca. 10,000 outside Kalamata on 14 September, and by the end of the month, all of Mani and much of Messenia were under Venetian control.[5]

Nafplion, or Napoli di Romagna, in the mid-16th century.

In October 1685, the Venetian army retreated to the Ionian Islands for winter quarters, where a plague broke out, something which would occur regularly in the next years, and take a great toll on the Venetian army, especially among the German contingents. In April next year, the Venetians helped repulse an Ottoman attack which threatened to overrun Mani, and were reinforced from the Papal States and Tuscany. The Swedish marshal Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck was appointed head of the land forces, while Morosini retained command of the fleet. On 3 June Königsmarck took Pylos, and proceeded to lay siege the fortress of Navarino. A relief force under Ismail Pasha was defeated on June 16, and the next day the fort surrendered. The garrison and the Muslim population were transported to Tripoli. Methoni (Modon) followed on 7 July, after an effective bombardment destroyed the fort's walls, and its inhabitants were also transferred to Tripoli.[6] The Venetians then advanced towards Argos and Nafplion, which was then the most important town in the Peloponnese. The Venetian army, ca. 12,000 strong, landed around Nafplion between July 30 and August 4. Königsmarck immediately led an assault upon the hill of Palamidi, then unfortified, which overlooked the town. Despite the Venetians' success in capturing Palamidi, the arrival of a 7,000 Ottoman army under Ismail Pasha at Argos rendered their position difficult. The Venetians' initial assault against the relief army succeeded in taking Argos and forcing the pasha to retreat to Corinth, but for two weeks, from 16 August, Königsmarck's forces were forced to continuously repulse attacks from Ismail Pasha's forces, fight off the sorties of the besieged Ottoman garrison and cope with a new outbreak of plague. On August 29 1686 Ismail Pasha attacked the Venetian camp, but was heavily defeated. With the defeat of the relief army, Nafplion was forced to surrender the on September 3.[7] News of this major victory were greeted in Venice with joy and celebration. Nafplion became the Venetians' major base, while Ismail Pasha withdrew to Achaea after strengthening the garrisons at Corinth, which controlled the passage to Central Greece.

Despite losses to the plague during the autumn and winter of 1686, Morosini's forces were replenished by the arrival of new German mercenary corps form Hannover in spring 1687. Thus strengthened, he was able to move against the last major Ottoman bastion in the Peloponnese, the town of Patras and the fort of Rion, which along with its twin at Antirrion controlled the entrance to the Corinthian Gulf (the "Little Dardanelles"). On July 22 1687, Morosini, with a force of 14,000, landed outside Patras, where the new Ottoman commander, Mehmed Pasha, had established himself. Mehmed, with an army of roughly equal size, attacked the Venetian force immediately after it landed, but was defeated and forced to retreat. At this point panic spread among the Ottoman forces, and the Venetians were able, within a few days, to capture the citadel of Patras, and the forts of Rion, Antirrion, and Nafpaktos (Lepanto) without any opposition, as their garrisons abandoned them. This new success caused great joy in Venice, and honors were heaped on Morosini and his officers. Morosini received the victory title "Peloponnesiacus," and a bronze bust of his was displayed in the Great Hall, something never before done for a living citizen.[8] The Venetians followed up this success with the reduction of the last Ottoman bastions in the Peloponnese, including Corinth, which was occupied on 7 August,[9] and Mystra, which surrendered later in the month. The Peloponnese was under complete Venetian control, and only the fort of Monemvasia (Malvasia) in the southeast continued to resist, holding out until 1690.

The Campaign against Athens and Negropont

Engraving depicting the Venetian siege of the Acropolis of Athens, September 1687. The trajectory of the shell that hit the Parthenon, causing its explosion, is marked.

After these victories had cleared the Peloponnese of Turkish forces, Morosini decided to campaign in Central Greece, especially against the Ottoman strongholds of Thebes and Chalkis (Negropont). Thus, on 21 September 1687, Königsmarck's army, 10,750 men strong, landed at Eleusis, while the Venetian fleet entered Piraeus. The Turks quickly evacuated the town of Athens, but the garrison and much of the population withdrew to the ancient Acropolis. The Venetian army began now a siege of the Acropolis, which would last six days (September 23-29) and would cause much destruction to the ancient monuments. The Ottomans first demolished the temple of Athena Nike to erect a cannon battery, but the most important damage caused was the destruction of the Parthenon. The Turks used the temple for ammunition storage, and when, on the evening of on September 26 1687, a mortar shell hit the building, the resulting explosion led to the complete destruction of the temple's roof and most of the walls. Despite the enormous destruction caused by the explosion and the loss of ca. 200 men, the Turks continued to defend the fort until a relief attempt from the Ottoman army of Thebes was repulsed on September 28. The garrison then capitulated, on condition of being transported to Smyrna.[10]

Despite the fall of Athens, Morosini's position was not secure. The Ottomans were amassing an army at Thebes, and their cavalry effectively controlled Attica, limiting the Venetians to the environs of Athens. In December, the 1,400-strong Hannoverian contingent departed, and a new outbreak of the plague during the winter further weakened his forces.[11] Thus the Venetians were forced to retreat to the Peloponnese in April. The Venetians took with them several looted architectural monuments such as the Piraeus Lion, which today stands at the entrance of the Venetian Arsenal. In at least one case, this looting resulted in the destruction of the antiquities concerned: the statue of Poseidon and the chariot of Victory were broken while workmen tried to remove them from the Parthenon's western pediment. Morosini's withdrawal prompted several thousand Greeks, who feared Turkish retributions, to flee to the Peloponnese and to neighboring islands.

Did you know?
The Morean War against the Ottoman Empire was the Republic of Venice's last expansionist campaign

In July 1688, however, Morosini, by now having been elected as the new Doge of Venice, landed at Chalkis (Negroponte) and laid siege to it. The Venetians had assembled a substantial force, 13,000 troops and further 10,000 men in the fleet, against the Ottoman garrison of 6,000 men, which offered determined resistance. The Venetian fleet was unable to fully blockade the city, which allowed Ismail Pasha's forces, across the Euripus Strait, to ferry supplies to the besieged castle. The Venetians and their allies suffered great losses, especially from another outbreak of the plague, including General Königsmarck, who succumbed to the plague on September 15. After a last assault on October 12 proved a costly failure, Morosini had to accept defeat.[12] On October 20, the Venetian army, having lost in total ca. 9,000 men, left Euboea and headed for Argos. The failure at Negropont had severe repercussions on the Venetian camp. The remaining German mercenaries left in early November. Morosini attempted an unsuccessful attack on Monemvasia in 1689, but his failing health forced him to return to Venice soon after. This marked the end of Venetian ascendancy, and the beginning of a number of successful, although in the end not decisive, Ottoman counteroffensives.

Ottoman resurgence

The successive defeats in Hungary and the Peloponnese had severe repercussions in Constantinople. Sultan Mehmed IV was deposed in 1687 in favor of his brother, Suleiman II. Although initially desiring a peace settlement, the outbreak of the War of the League of Augsburg in 1688, and the following diversion of Austrian resources towards France, encouraged the Ottoman leadership to continue the war. Under the capable leadership of the new Grand Vizier, Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Pasha, the Ottomans went over to the counteroffensive.[13] However, as the main effort was directed against Austria, the Ottomans were never able to spare enough men to reverse the Venetian gains completely.

The actions of Limberakis Gerakaris

In 1688, the Turks turned for help to the infamous Maniot pirate, Limberakis Gerakaris, whom they held in prison at Constantinople. He was released, invested as "Bey of Mani," allowed to recruit a force of a few hundreds, and joined the Ottoman army at Thebes.[14] Gerakaris was to play a major role in the latter stages of the war, since his daring and destructive raids into Venetian-held territory were a major threat and a continuous drain on the Republic's resources.

By that time, a large swathe of no man's land extended across Central Greece, between the Ottoman strongholds in the east and the Venetian-held territories in the west. Much of the mountainous interior of Phocis and Evrytania was in the hands of warbands composed of Greeks, Albanians and Dalmatian deserters of the Venetian army. Gerakaris initially attempted to persuade these groups to enter Ottoman service, but without success. In 1689, he conducted his first raid against Messolonghi, with a mixed force of 2,000 Turks, Albanians and Greeks. In the next year, the Ottoman forces swept through central Greece, and although they were repulsed at Nafpaktos (Lepanto), they re-established Ottoman control over the interior.[15] However, at the same time, the Venetians took Monemvasia, thus removing the last Ottoman bastion in the Morea.

In 1692, Gerakaris spearheaded an Ottoman invasion of the Peloponnese. He took Corinth, and unsuccessfully besieged the Acrocorinth and Argos, before being forced to withdraw by the arrival of Venetian reinforcements. However, after renewed invasions into the Peloponnese in 1694 and 1695, Gerakaris went over to the Venetian camp. However, his brutal and savage treatment of the civilian population and his intriguing for the position of Bey of Mani could not be tolerated for long by Venice, and after the brutal sack of Arta in August 1696, Gerakaris was arrested and imprisoned at Brescia.

Operations in Epirus and Venetian attack on Crete

In an effort to aid the Greeks of Himara, who had rebelled against the Turks, and after some successes in northern Albania and Montenegro, the Venetian fleet launched an attack against the Adriatic Ottoman port and fortress of Valona. The siege, lasting from 11-18 September, was successful, and led to the spreading of the revolt in the area. In 1691 however, the resurgent Ottomans were able to launch a massive counteroffensive in the area, and by March 14, the area had been subdued.

In 1692, a Venetian fleet under Domenico Mocenigo attacked Crete and laid siege to its capital Candia, while at the same time the Christians of the island rose up against the Ottomans. Despite this, the attempt to retake Crete failed. The Ottomans even managed to take the Venetian fortress on the island of Gramvousa by treason.

The last years of the war

Hoping to reinvigorate the Venetian cause, Morosini himself returned to the Morea in 1693. His advanced age denied him the chance to prove his abilities again, however, and on January 16 1694, he died at Nafplion. His successor Zeno, against the advice of his officers, led an expedition against the rich island of Chios, off the coast of Asia Minor. The island was taken easily, but the Turkish response was swift and massive, resulting in a humiliating Venetian withdrawal.[16]

The Ottomans were encouraged to invade the Morea again, but were defeated by General Steinau and driven back to their base at Thebes. At the same time, Steinau succeeded in brining Gerakaris to come over to the Venetian side (see above).[17]

Naval operations in the Aegean

There were several naval clashes between the opposing fleets, such as at Lesbos in 1690, the Action of February 9 1695, at Andros in 1696, at Lemnos in July 1697, and at Samothrace in 1698, but they were generally indecisive and failed to shift the balance of forces.


The Treaty of Karlowitz, signed in January 1699, confirmed the Venetian possession of Kephalonia, and the Morea with the island of Aigina, which became organized as the "Kingdom of the Morea," divided into four provinces: Romania, with seat at Nafplion (Napoli di Romania), Laconia, with seat at Monemvasia (Malvasia), Messenia, with seat at Navarino, and Achaea, with seat at Patras (Patrasso). The war however had created a demographic and economic crisis in the Peloponnese.[18] The Venetians tried to address the issue, but failed to win the trust of their Greek Orthodox subjects, who were used to a relative autonomy under the Turks and resented the Venetian bureaucracy. The Venetians also launched a great fortification project throughout the Morea, whose results can still be seen today. Nevertheless, Venice itself was too weakened to effectively assert its authority, and in 1715 a swift Ottoman campaign reclaimed the Morea.


The Morean War and other conflicts between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman space are part of a complex legacy. Venice was a trading power and, rather like the Carthaginian Empire only became involved in war to protect commercial routes and interests. Because of its independence, Venice was also an important cultural and intellectual center during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In fact, Venice traded across the Ottoman Empire and even used Crete as a base to continue trade when the Papacy called for a boycott. From the fifteenth century, many works of Islamic learning were also printed in Venice. However, as the Ottoman developed their maritime capabilities clash with Venice became inevitable, just as class occurred elsewhere where European and Ottoman frontiers met, especially in the Balkans. By listing all the wars that took place between various Muslim and European powers (identifiably Christian at the time) a case for deep rooted, historical enmity can be constructed. Some even suggest that civilizational clash, especially Christian-Muslim is inevitable, that deep differences exist between these two spheres making co-existence and cooperation impossible. On the one hand, much bloodshed and conflict has occurred. On the other hand, conflict has not always characterized relations; in reality, conflict has been interspersed with what the Spanish call convivencia, era of coexistence and commingling.

In an increasingly interdependent and pluralist world, it is necessary to offset the story of battles and wars, including those between Venice and Turkey, alongside episodes when commerce has thrived between the two and peace has flourished. Venice enjoyed a series of peace treaties with the Ottomans. Immediately after the Fall of Constaninople in 1453 they negotiated a treaty that allowed them to retain their colony there and to trade freely. The Doge told the Emperor that the Venetians intended to live in peace.[19] There was also another peace treaty in 1470, one in 1481 and there would be a treaty after the Morean War in 1718, which [20] Venice even suffered economically from the decline of Ottoman finances, "The overall decline of the Ottoman empire had made the Turks less dangerous enemies ... and had also made them less profitable customers." Nonetheless, Venice continued not only to trade with Turkey but even to repair clocks for Turkish clients, "the Turks loved clocks, but they could never repair them." Many of these clocks had been gifts from "Venetian ambassadors."[21] Venice continued to maintain its fondaco stations (self-governing trade outposts) across the Muslim world even during the epochs of hostility.[22] Describing relations between Venice and the Ottoman space for at least some of the time, Jardine writes; "In general terms, the [[commerce|commercial world" in which the merchants on both sides operated "was one of tolerance, in which all three 'religions of the book' (Christianity, Islam,Judaism could co-exist and thrive." It was "Venetians as well as the Turks who benefited from mutual tolerance, growing rich and powerful as a result."[19]


  1. George Finlay, The history of Greece under Othoman and Venetian domination (Boston, MA: Admmant, 2005, ISBN 978-1402172137), 205-206.
  2. The rulers of Saxony and Brunswick undertook, in December 1684, to furnish each 2400 men. These troops, 2500 Hannoverians and 3,300 Saxons, arrived in Greece in 1685. Finlay, 2005, 210-211.
  3. Finlay, 2005, 209.
  4. Finlay, 2005, 211-212.
  5. Finlay, 2005, 213-214.
  6. Finlay, 2005, 215-216.
  7. Finlay, 2005, 218.
  8. Finlay, 2005, 220.
  9. Finlay, 2005, 221.
  10. Finlay, 2005, 223.
  11. Finlay, 2005, 224.
  12. Finlay, 2005, 227-228.
  13. L.S. Stavrianos and Traian Stoianovich, The Balkans since 1453 (London, UK: Hurst, 2002, ISBN 978-1850655503), 174.
  14. Finlay, 2005, 230-231.
  15. Finlay, 2005, 231.
  16. Finlay, 2005, 232.
  17. Finlay, 2005, 233.
  18. Finlay, 2005, 234.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Lisa Jardine, Worldly goods: a new history of the Renaissance(New York, NY: Nan A. Talese, 1996, ISBN 978-0385476843), 46.
  20. Randall Lesaffer, Peace treaties and international law in European history: from the late Middle Ages to World War One (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0521827249), 335.
  21. Kenneth Meyer Setton, Venice, Austria, and the Turks in the seventeenth century. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, v. 192 (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1991, ISBN 978-0871691927), 455-457.
  22. Rosamond E. Mack, Bazaar to piazza: Islamic trade and Italian art, 1300-1600 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0520221314), 21-22.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Finlay, George. The history of Greece under Othoman and Venetian domination. Edinburgh, UK: W. Blackwood and Sons; Boston, MA: Admmant, 2005. ISBN 978-1402172137.
  • Jardine, Lisa. Worldly goods: a new history of the Renaissance. New York, NY: Nan A. Talese, 1996. ISBN 978-0385476843.
  • Lane, Frederic Chapin. Venice, a maritime republic. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. ISBN 978-0801814457.
  • Lesaffer, Randall. Peace treaties and international law in European history: from the late Middle Ages to World War One. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0521827249.
  • Mack, Rosamond E. Bazaar to piazza: Islamic trade and Italian art, 1300-1600. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0520221314.
  • Reynolds, Clark G. Navies in history. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998. ISBN 978-1557507167 .
  • Setton, Kenneth Meyer. Venice, Austria, and the Turks in the seventeenth century. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, v. 192. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1991. ISBN 978-0871691927.
  • Stavrianos, L.S., and Traian Stoianovich. The Balkans since 1453. London, UK: Hurst, 2002. ISBN 978-1850655503.
  • Zlatar, Zdenko. Between the double eagle and the crescent: the republic of Dubrovnik and the origins of the eastern question. East European monographs, no. 348. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1992. ISBN 978-0880332453.


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