The Albanian rebellion of 1481 is a little-known chapter in history, but one of vital importance that saved Rome from suffering the same fate as Byzantium. Having conquered Constantinople and having finally subdued Albania after the long and fierce resistance by the Albanian people led by George Castriota Scanderbeg, Mehmed II next set his sights on Italy. He hoped to achieve his long-desired aim of subjecting Rome to Islamic rule. The Sultan had once famously bragged that he would feed his horses on the altar of St. Peter’s basilica and turn it into a mosque as he had previously done with the basilica of the Hagia Sophia after the fall of Byzantium to his forces in 1453. Now he prepared to launch the Ottoman invasion of Italy.
The Ottoman invasion force landed on the shores of Puglia, in the kingdom of Naples, on 28 July 1480. After sending out an advance force to conduct reconnaissance and pillage the countryside, the Sultan’s commander, Ahmed Gedik Pasha, disembarked the main body of his troops and laid siege to the city of Otranto. This had been the Pasha’s intention all along, provided that the landing could be effected without serious opposition. With the aid of Venice, which had shamelessly provided transport ships to the Ottomans, Ahmed Gedik Pasha had brought artillery and siege machinery to Italy for this very purpose.
The bold invasion by Ottoman forces caught the Italians at Otranto by surprise. The city tried to hold out against the Islamic invaders in hopes that King Ferrante of Naples could send relief, but it was to no avail. On 11 August 1480, the Ottomans launched an assault and captured the city. Mehmed the Conqueror now had a foothold on Italian soil from which he could strike out at his arch-enemies, Ferrante and Pope Sixtus IV.
Before his dream could be realized, Mehmed II died on May 3, 1481. Italy remained in peril, however, as his son Bayezid II took aggressive action to realize his father’s vision of extending Islamic rule over the peninsula. But soon a rebellion in Albania, led by Scanderbeg’s son, John Castriota, dashed these hopes. The Albanian uprising threatened Ottoman positions throughout the country and interfered with the new Ottoman commander, Suleiman’s efforts to relieve the garrison at Otranto, then under siege by Neapolitan and Papal forces. Instead of sending his troops to Italy as planned, Suleiman had to keep them in Albania to reinforce the garrisons in the cities and fortresses that came under attack by the Albanian insurgents.
The defeat of Suleiman Pasha Eunuch in Albania, and the capture of Himara and Sopot by Albanian forces, ended any hopes that support would reach the Ottoman garrison at Otranto. Realizing the precarious nature of their position, on 10 September 1481, less than two weeks after the Albanians captured Himara, Ottoman forces in Italy surrendered to the Duke of Calabria. The Sultan eventually quelled the uprising in Albania and John Castriota returned to his family lands in the Kingdom of Naples that Ferrante had granted to his father in return for his outstanding service to the Christian cause. Nevertheless, the heroic resistance of the Albanian people had saved Rome and Italy from the most serious threat of Islamic conquest that it would ever face.
For more on the Ottoman invasion of Italy and the Albanian rebellion led by John Castriota, see Scanderbeg: A History of George Castriota and the Albanian Resistance to Islamic Expansion in Fifteenth Century Europe by A.K. Brackob, available at Amazon and at Histria Books.com.
© 2018 by Histria LLC. All rights reserved.