During the Venetian-Ottoman wars, a group of seven men attempted a secret attack on the Ottoman base at Gallipoli. The attack did not go completely as planned…
The newly published book The Deeds of Commander Pietro Mocenigo offers an eyewitness account of warfare in the Eastern Mediterranean during the years 1470 to 1474. It was written by Coriolano Cippicio, a Dalmatian nobleman who served as a galley captain in the Venetian fleet, which was commanded by the admiral Pietro Mocenigo. The work offers a vivid account of the naval activities of the fleet, including raids along the Anatolian coastline and taking control of the island of Cyprus. It was also written in a classical style and is considered “one of the finest pieces of Renaissance history writing.”
While tensions between the Venetian and Ottoman empires remained high during the fifteenth-century, their lucrative trade connections prevented any outbreak of war until the year 1463. In that year an Albanian slave of the Ottoman commander of Athens fled to Venetian territory, taking with him 100,000 silver coins. When the slave converted to Christianity, the Venetian authorities refused to extradite him, the Ottoman commander attacked one of their fortresses, and within months Venice had declared war.
Cippicio’s account begins in 1470, when the Venetian senate choosing Pietro to be the new commander of their fleet, as he “was highly esteemed for his godly life and the integrity of his faith as he was for for his indomitable spirit and experience in warfare. He had always enjoyed the reputation of a valorous commander, a distinguished senator and a great citizen.”
The episode that took place at Gallipoli is at the start of Book Two of the Deeds, when Pietro and his fleet were at Nauplion (now known as the Greek city of Nafplio):
While the commander attended to the work on the fortifications a certain Antonio came to see him, a Sicilian youth of great audacity, virtuous and courageous, determined to accomplish a memorable feat. He told the commander that he had been captured at Chalcis by the Turks and then spent a long time as a slave in Gallipoli. There he noticed that the naval arsenal of the Ottoman in Gallipoli was not guarded at night.
Also, there was a large warehouse in the arsenal, stockpiled with all kinds of of naval equipment such as sails, hemp ropes and other necessities for rigging vessels, sufficient to outfit superbly over a hundred galleys. He told the commander that he was ready to burn down the warehouse together with the fleet, provided he was given what he needed to accomplish this. He requested a fishing boat manned by six companions with whom he would pass through the straights of the Hellespont called the Dardanelles pretending to be a merchant.
Commander Mocenigo agreed to the plan and gave Antonio a boat. Once he was ready, Antonio and six companions sailed through the Hellespont carrying a cargo of apples, and arrived at Gallipoli. Cippicio continues:
After nightfall, during the second watch, he sneaked to the warehouse, which he was familiar with and knew well, broke the lock chains with a set of pliers, went inside, and set fire to several corners of the place. And because among other things there were large quantities of pitch and tallow, the fire surged at once, engulfed everything in no time, and its flames burst outside of the building. While Antonio sped to the arsenal to set fire to the boats the locals, awoken by the roar of the conflagration, gathered from all sides.
Alarmed by the multitude and by the shouts of the people who rushed to the blaze, Antonio gave up on the arsenal, hurried to his boat and attempted to sail out of the Hellespont. But as he set out for the opposite shore, the torch that he had hastily tossed in the boat ignited some sulfuric powder laying there and the vessel was engulfed in flames. The boat sank and Antonio and his comrades got to the shore and hid themselves in a nearby forest. Meanwhile the warehouse and everything inside it burned to the ground.
The next day the local Ottoman commander ordered a search for the arsonists, and his men, after seeing the many apples floating around in the waters, discovered the sunken ship. Concluding that they were responsible for the attack, the Ottomans followed their tracks into forest.
As they neared the place where Antonio hid, one of his comrades, a courageous young man by the name of Rado, a Dalmatian from the district of Budua, desiring to die valiantly, leaped out and hurled himself on the enemy with a sword in hand and cut down two of them; then arrows and stones from all sides felled him.
Antonio and the other five men were then captured, and according to Cippicio were sent to the Ottoman Sultan. In a conversation modelled on a popular story from ancient Rome, he has the young Antonio bravely denounce the Sultan to his face, telling him that he was “the common pest of all peoples” and that “I wish that I could to do the same to you!” The amazed Sultan then ordered him and his companions to all be executed. Cippicio concludes:
This is how the valiant young man perished, eager to accomplish a feat beyond his powers. The Venetian senate, unable to reward Antonio according to his merits, compensated his younger brother and his virgin sister. His brother received a yearly stipend and his sister was a granted a dowry from the public funds.
The Deeds of Commander Pietro Mocenigo, by Coriolano Cippicio, is edited and translated by Kiril Petkov and is published by Italica Press –
Top Image: Ottoman Gallipoli – painting by Antoine-Laurent Castellan (1772–1838)