450 Years Since the End of the Great Siege
Last week Malta was celebrating the end of the Great Siege of Malta that took place in 1565. During this time Malta was ruled by the Knights of Malta, also known as the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. Many historians describe the siege as the climax of an escalating battle between the Ottoman Empire and a Christian Alliance for control of the Mediterranean Sea and Malta's location right in the middle of the Mediterranean meant that it was an important strategic position for both sides.
The history books tell us that the Ottomans had hundreds of ships and an army that was made up of around 40,000 soldiers. While the Order only had an army of 700 knights and around 8000 regular troops mostly made up of peasant soldiers. Being so greatly outnumbered meant that Grandmaster Jean Parisot De La Vallette had to keep his troops motivated because despite the odds, he refused to accept the Ottoman's terms of surrender.
This battles is said to be one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the world, and it is the basis for many legends up until today. One of the goriest stories is that at one point during the battle, the Ottomans floated crucified, headless corpes of captured Knights across the Grand Harbour. This was meant to intimidate the Knights and to harm their psychological strength. On hearing the news about the corpses, La Vallette decided to use his own psychological warfare: he ordered all the Ottoman prisoners to be executed, without negotiation or compromise, and their heads to be used as cannon balls to fire back towards the enemy.
Having underestimated the Knights and the Maltese army, by September the Ottomans were concerned about having to remain in Malta throughout the winter and their morale begin to fade. At this point, Vallette's long-awaited relief forces from all around Europe finally reached Malta and helped take control of different parts of the island. Almost trapped, the Ottomans retreated.
The Great Siege ended on the 08th September 1565 and 450 years later, we still commemorate this win with a public holiday and a feast celebrating Il-Vittorja, or Our Lady of Victories. Malta's magnificent capital city, Valletta, commissioned by and named after Grand Master Jean de la Vallette, was founded as a result of this siege.
Want to read more about the siege? Click here to visit Heritage Malta's official website.