Battle of Preveza
Part of the Third Ottoman–Venetian War

Battle of Preveza, Ohannes Umed Behzad
Date28 September 1538
Result Ottoman victory
Ottoman Empire

Holy League:

Commanders and leaders
90 galleys and 50 galiots[1] 139 galleys and 70 sailing ships[1]
Casualties and losses
No ships lost[1] 12 ships lost[1]

The Battle of Preveza (also known as Prevesa) was a naval engagement that took place on 28 September 1538 near Preveza in the Ionian Sea in northwestern Greece between an Ottoman fleet and that of a Holy League. The battle was an Ottoman victory which occurred in the same area in the Ionian Sea as the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.[2] It was one of the three largest sea battles that took place in the sixteenth century Mediterranean, along with the Battle of Djerba and the Battle of Lepanto.[3]


A satellite view of Lefkada and the Gulf of Arta. Preveza is located at the entrance of the Gulf.

In 1537, commanding a large Ottoman fleet, Hayreddin Barbarossa captured a number of Aegean and Ionian islands belonging to the Republic of Venice, namely Syros, Aegina, Ios, Paros, Tinos, Karpathos, Kasos, and Naxos, thus annexing the Duchy of Naxos to the Ottoman Empire. He then unsuccessfully besieged the Venetian stronghold of Corfu and ravaged the Spanish-held Calabrian coast in southern Italy.[4]

In the face of this threat, Pope Paul III in February 1538 in assembled a ’’Holy League’’, comprising the Papal States, Habsburg Spain, the Republic of Genoa, the Republic of Venice, and the Knights of Malta, to confront Ottoman fleet under Barbarossa.[5]

Andrea Doria, the Genoese admiral in the service of Emperor Charles V was in overall command.


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Deployment of the opposing fleets

The Holy League assembled its fleet near the island of Corfu. The Papal fleet under Admiral Marco Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia and the Venetian fleet under Vincenzo Capello arrived first. Andrea Doria joined them with the Spanish-Genoese fleet on 22 September 1538.

Prior to Doria's arrival, Grimani attempted to land troops near the Fortress of Preveza, but he retreated to Corfu after suffering a number of casualties in the ensuing encounter with Ottoman forces.

Barbarossa was still at the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea at that time, but he soon arrived at Preveza with the rest of the Ottoman fleet, after capturing the island of Kefalonia on the way. Sinan Reis, one of his lieutenants, suggested landing troops at Actium on the Gulf of Arta near Preveza, an idea that Barbarossa initially opposed, but which later proved to be important in securing the Ottoman victory. With the Turks holding the fortress at Actium, they could support Barbarossa's fleet with artillery fire from there, while Doria had to keep his ships away from the coast. A Christian landing to take Actium probably would have been needed to ensure success, but Doria was fearful of a defeat on land after the initial sortie by Grimani had been repelled. Two more attempts by the Holy League to land their forces, this time near the fortress of Preveza at the opposite shore facing Actium, were repulsed by the forces of Murat Reis on 25 and 26 September.

As Doria's ships kept their distance from the coast, much concerned about adverse winds driving them onto a hostile shore, Barbarossa had the advantageous interior position. During the night of 27–28 September, Doria therefore sailed 30 miles south and, when the wind died down, anchored at Sessola near the island of Lefkada. During the night, he and his commanders decided that their best option was to stage an attack towards Lepanto and force Barbarossa to fight.

The battle

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The Ottoman fleet had a Y-shaped configuration: Barbarossa,[6] together with his son Hasan Reis (later Hasan Pasha), Sinan Reis, Cafer Reis, and Şaban Reis, was at the center; Seydi Ali Reis commanded the left wing;[6] Salih Reis commanded the right wing;[6] while Turgut Reis,[6] accompanied by Murat Reis, Güzelce Mehmet Reis, and Sadık Reis, commanded the rear wing. The Turks swiftly engaged the Venetian, Papal, and Maltese ships, but Doria hesitated to bring his center into action against Barbarossa, which led to much tactical maneuvering but little fighting. Barbarossa wanted to take advantage of the lack of wind which immobilized the Christian barques, which accounted for most of the numerical difference between the two sides. These barques fell as easy prey to the Turks, who boarded them from their relatively more mobile galleys and galliots. Doria's efforts to trap the Ottoman ships between the cannon fire of his barques and galleys failed.[6]


It is widely speculated that Doria's prevarication and lack of zeal were due to his unwillingness to risk his own ships (he personally owned a substantial number of the "Spanish-Genoese" fleet) and his long-standing enmity towards Venice, his home city's fierce rival and the primary target of Ottoman aggression at that time.[7]

Nicolò Zen the younger wrote his History of the War between Venice and the Turks which primarily consisted of an invective against those who had called for the war against the Ottomans in which they had behaved so ingloriously. The text was not published but a manuscript of it was circulated in his household and survived and is now held by the Biblioteca Marciana.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Crowley 2008, pp. 70–71
  2. ^ Hattendorf & King 2013, p. 6
  3. ^ Hattendorf & King 2013, p. 15
  4. ^ Crowley (2008) pp. 67-69
  5. ^ Partridge, Loren (14 March 2015). Art of Renaissance Venice, 1400 1600. Univ of California Press. ISBN 9780520281790.
  6. ^ a b c d e Mikaberidze, Alexander (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 Volumes] A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-Clio. p. 725. ISBN 9781598843378. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  7. ^ Crowley (2008) p. 71
  8. ^ Robilant (2011). Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North.


38°57′33″N 20°45′01″E / 38.95917°N 20.75028°E / 38.95917; 20.75028