Just got done reading a great book: Roger Crowley’s EMPIRES OF THE SEA, a fascinating account of the battle for control of the Mediterranean during the sixteenth century between the Ottoman Empire and the Hapsburgs of Spain/Austria. Crowley’s first book, 1453, came out in 2006: it was a well-executed account of the fall of Constantinople, but I’ve read a bunch of those before. EMPIRES OF THE SEA breaks new ground, however, documenting the relentless expansion of the Ottoman Turks westward after Constantinople’s fall.
Initially, the main thrust was on land—but after the Ottomans were turned back from Vienna (!) in 1529, the sea war took on new life. Everything came to a head at the siege of Malta in 1565; following the Ottoman failure there, the Holy League (an alliance of the Hapsburgs, the Papacy, Venice and Genoa) outfitted a gigantic fleet and defeated the Turks at Lepanto, an absolutely colossal contest of which Cervantes (who was wounded there) was to write, “The greatest event witnessed by ages past, present, and to come.”
And maybe he was right. God knows history has seen plenty of epic stuff since then. But Lepanto was the last serious challenge that Europe would face in its rise to global domination. Prior to that point, Islam and Christiandom had been at each others’ throats for almost a thousand years—but with the decline of the Ottomans, Islamic expansion was effectively over. But historical verdicts are always subject to appeal, and it’s worth bearing in mind that, as much as 9-11 seemed like the inauguration of a whole new era of history to so many of us, those who unleashed it saw it merely as the continuation of a much deeper, older struggle.