Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque. Orazio CORSAIRS. OTTOMAN EMPIRE. Nocella, 16th c.
Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque.
Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque.
Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque.
Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque.

Commentariorum de bello aphrodisiensi libri quinque.

Rome: apud Valerium et Ludovicum fratres Brixienses, 1552.

Price: $4,500.00

Octavo: 16.2 x 10.3 cm. 368 [i.e. 358], [10] p. (last [2] p. blank). Collation: A-Z8 (balnk Z8 present)

FIRST EDITION.

Bound in a contemporary vellum binding using a re-purposed manuscript leaf). Printed in an elegant cursive by the Brescian brothers Valerio e Luigi Dorico, fine engravers and printers active in Rome from 1538 to 1559. A very good copy, with variable light spotting, outer corners slightly trimmed. With a two-page map showing part of Sicily with the Aegadian Islands, and north Africa (Tunisia). With the woodcut arms of the dedicatee, Pope Julius III, on title. With a small unidentified armorial stamp (possibly 16th c.) on the title and leaf Z2. Scarce. I locate six copies in North America: Harvard, BYU, UCLA, Yale, Folger, Princeton.

First edition, dedicated to Pope Julius III, of a contemporary, eyewitness account of the siege of the Ottoman stronghold of al-Mahdīyah in Tunisia, base of operations of the infamous corsair and celebrated Ottoman admiral Turgut Reis (1485-1565), known as “The Drawn Sword of Islam”. The military campaign was undertaken by the imperial forces of Charles V, led by military commanders from Genoa, Naples, and Sicily, chief among them the Genoese Andrea Doria, Prince of Melfi (1466-1560), and the Knights of Malta. The city was defended by Turgut’s nephew Hesar, and Turgut himself provided limited naval support early in the campaign.

The author, the adventurer and diplomat Orazio Nocella of Terni attests that he witnessed the events described and has been ordered by the Viceroy of Sicily, Juan de Vega (under whom Nocella served at al-Mahdīyah), to publish this account. The map on pp. 8-9 shows the theater of war along the coasts of Sicily and (modern) Tunisia. Nocella’s account concludes with an unexpected and vivid description of his embassy’s arrival in Rome with the spoils of war and the reactions of the Romans upon seeing Turkish captives, lions, African animals, and other marvels.

I. Turgut the Corsair and the European Campaign Against al-Mahdīyah:

“Born in Asia Minor, Turgut had taken to the sea at an early age, and acquired a sinister reputation by preying on Venetian shipping in the Aegena. Present at Prevesa (in 1538), Turgut had been captured by mid-June, 1540 by Andrea Doria’s nephew Giannetino in the bay of Girolata on the west coast of Corsica. Giannetino had brought Turgut in chains to Genoa, where the fearsome pirate was reduced to a galley slave. At the beginning of the year 1541 he was ransomed, at the behest of Barbarossa and with Andrea Doria’s approval, for the paltry sum of 3,500 ducats. Time would soon show that it was a bad mistake.”(Setton, The Papacy and the Levant, (1204-1571), p. 532 ff.)

In July 1549, the Ottoman sultan Suleiman took Turgut into his service, made him admiral, and put him in charge of the Ottoman possessions in North Africa. The Venetian Senate ordered the Venetian fleet to steer clear of Turgut unless he should attack the Republic’s subjects or possessions.

“As a full-fledged Ottoman admiral, Turgut had become doubly dangerous, for now he was plying the sea as an unspoken ally of Henri II of France. He had just established imself in the stronghold of al-Mahdīyah, built at the head of a mile-long promontory called Cape Africa, on the eastern coast of Tunisia. Al-Mahdīyah was well-fortified, and within easy striking distance of Sicily. With each new exploit of Turgut, Charles V’s apprehension had grown, and in June 1550 an imperial fleet embarked upon the siege of al-Mahdīyah, which lasted through a long, hot summer. Turgut’s fame was such as to fasten the eyes of Europe upon the expedition.”(ibid.)

II. The Siege:

The imperial operations commenced in June. On 28 June, the Spanish fleet, led by Bernardino de Mendoza, Captain general of the Spanish galleys, arrived at the African coast; the Spanish army, protected by the fleet’s cannons, disembarked and repulsed the Ottoman infantry and cavalry. Overnight, the Spanish surrounded the city with trenches and fortified their positions with artillery. The initial assault was frustrated by Ottoman artillery and the city’s moat and the Spanish made little progress through July.

In late July, Turgut arrived with his fleet and landed a force of about 4,500 troops under cover of night. On the morning of 25 July, this force, assisted by the city’s garrison, attacked the Spanish. The Spanish troops, aided by their fleet’s cannons, defeated the Ottoman attackers and drove those who remained back to the city. The Spanish also sustained heavy losses, including Luis Pérez de Vargas, commander of the artillery. Several galleons transported the wounded to Sicily.

While the Spanish waited for reinforcements from Milan, Florence, Lucca, and Genoa, plans were made to bombard the walls of al-Mahdīyah from the sea. For this purpose, two galleons were fastened together and anchored within range of the walls.

On 8 September, the newly-constructed battery of nine cannons, in concert with the Spanish land artillery, fired upon al-Mahdīyah’s walls. The bombardment lasted for two days. With the walls successfully breached, the Spanish troops invaded the city. After a valiant defense by the Ottomans, the city capitulated. A Spanish garrison occupied al-Mahdīyah until 1553, when Charles V ordered the walls razed.

III. Turgut’s Fortuna:

As for Turgut, during the winter of 1550-1551 the corsair prowled the seas, menacing Christian merchants. In April 1551, Andrea Doria blockaded his fleet near Jerba, but the corsair escaped again. He would never fall into enemy hands again.

Under Turgut’s command, the Ottoman fleet remained a powerful force in the Mediterranean into the 1560s. One of his greatest victories was had in May 1560 at Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. In that decisive battle, the Ottoman Turkish fleet, co-commanded by Piyale Pasha and Turgut, defeated and largely destroyed the fleet of the European Holy League. The Ottoman victory marked the apex of Turkish naval strength in the Mediterranean. Turgut fell in battle at the Siege of Malta in 1565.

Gay, Bibliographie d'Afrique et d'Arabie, no. 378; Adams; N-368; Atabey 881. Moncada 1599; BM STC Italian, 1465-1600 (suppl.), p. 60; Ascarelli, Cinquecentine romane, p. 179; EDIT 16; CNCE 34624

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