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The Siege of Malta, 1565

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the fierce contest for Malta, which the Ottomans tried to prise from the Knights Hospitaller who they they had already driven from Rhodes in 1522.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman's forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated.

The image above is the Death of Dragut at the Siege of Malta (1867), after a painting by Giuseppe Cali. Dragut (1485 – 1565) was an Ottoman Admiral and privateer, known as The Drawn Sword of Islam and as one of the finest generals of the time.


Helen Nicholson
Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University

Diarmaid MacCulloch
Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford


Kate Fleet
Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

50 minutes

Last on

Thu 11 Jan 2018 21:30


Great Siege of Malta – Wikipedia

The Papacy and the Levant (1204-1571), volume IV: The Sixteenth Century by Kenneth M. Setton



Francisco Balbi di Correggio (trans. Ernle Bradford), The Siege of Malta 1565 (Boydell and Brewer, 2011)

Ernle Bradford, The Great Siege: Malta 1565 (first published 1961; Open Road Media, 2014)

Palmira Brummett, Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery (State University of New York Press, 1993)

Emanuel Buttigieg, Nobility, Faith and Masculinity: The Hospitaller Knights of Malta, c.1580 – c.1700 (Continuum, 2011)

Suraiya N. Faroqhi and Kate Fleet (eds.), The Cambridge History of Turkey, vol. II

The Ottoman Empire as a World Power, 1453-1603 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), especially ‘Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean’ by Kate Fleet

Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Islam Three (Brill, forthcoming), especially ‘The Siege of Malta’ by Kate Fleet

Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Molly Greene, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean (Princeton University Press, 2013)

Andrew C. Hess, The Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth-Century Ibero-African Frontier (The University of Chicago Press, 2011)

Noel Malcolm, Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth Century Mediterranean World (Penguin, 2016)

Justin McCarthy, The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923 (Routledge, 1997)

David Nicolle, Knight Hospitaller (2), 1306-1565 (Osprey Publishing, 2001)

Helen Nicholson, Knights Hospitaller (first published 2001; Boydell Press, 2013)

Tim Pickles, Malta 1565: Last Battle of the Crusades (Osprey Publishing, 1998)

Jonathan Riley-Smith, Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St John (Hambledon Continuum, 1999)

Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571, volume IV: The Sixteenth Century from Julius III to Pius V (The American Philosophical Society, 1976), especially chapter 19

Philip Williams, Empire and Holy War in the Mediterranean: The Galley and Maritime Conflict Between the Habsburgs and Ottomans (I.B. Tauris, 2015)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Helen Nicholson
Interviewed Guest Diarmaid MacCulloch
Interviewed Guest Kate Fleet
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 11 Jan 2018 09:00
  • Thu 11 Jan 2018 21:30

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